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During the week, we consume words in snack able, tweet able bites. But on the weekends, we have the time to take a dive into the murkier, lengthier depths of the Internet and expand our attention spans beyond 140 characters. We can brew a cup of coffee and lie back with our iPads, laptops, Smartphone’s and Kindles.

Since you're bound to miss a few things during the daily grind, we present to you, in our weekly installation of Mashable Must Reads, a curated list of can't-miss stories from around the web to read and reflect on.

The Year in Racial Amnesia

The 21st century has been hailed as a post-racial America, a country where an African-American is serving his second term in the nation's very highest office. But, Cord Jefferson argues, that's a narrow, utopian and skewed perception. His essay is as thoughtful as it is disheartening: "A person's skin color as it relates to crime only becomes pertinent when that person's skin is dark."

How Will New York City's Tech Industry Fare Under Mayor de Blasio? 

As Michael Bloomberg, who put technological advancement at the forefront of his mayor ship, exited office this week, companies nervously bit their fingernails. Would Bill de Blasio, a man who campaigned to the everyman, the opposite of the tech billionaire, place the same emphasis on digital innovation? De Blasio plans to continue some of Bloomberg's work with Silicon Alley, but with any regime shift comes a refreshed list of priorities. 



Jesse Willms, the Dark Lord of the Internet 


Ecommerce rears its ugly head in the form of Jesse Willms, the man behind most of those inescapable spammy ads that pollute the Internet; he defrauded customers of hundreds of millions of dollars. This profile weaves the story of a hustler who gives new definition to the word "hustle" — an important read for anyone who has ever sold or purchased anything online.


Could Bidding for Players Fix the NCAA?


College athletes don't get paid what they deserve; that much has been argued many, many times. The NCAA is an unforgiving monopoly that doesn't pay athletes more than a free ride to school, Jonathan Mahler argues, even while colleges are raking in hundreds of millions from ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and TV contracts. But if colleges simply placed bids to bring on high school recruits — well, that could change the game.


Marketers Learn to Play by Facebook's Changing Rules


As Facebook continues to tweak its News Feed algorithms, companies and their social media marketers watch as years of work are undermined seemingly overnight. Yet they can't do anything but throw their hands up in the air, take a deep breath, and start anew at adapting to the changes. Otherwise, they'll be left behind.


A Deadly Mix in Benghazi 


In a thorough investigation, the Times examine the reality behind the deadly attack on American outposts: one that is much murkier and complex than initially believed, or at least initially conveyed to the public. This conspiracy theory takedown reports that the violence was fueled entirely by something other than al Qaeda.


Facebook in 2014: Fighting for Social Supremacy | Mashable


You'd be hard-pressed to find a more popular, yet polarizing, service than Facebook over the last decade. While 2014 is, in all truth, just another year for the social media giant to collect users, data and revenues, it's also a reminder of how far Facebook   has come — and how quickly the tech world evolves.




How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood


To understand how people look for movies, Netflix makes up micro-genres. 76,897 of them, to be exact, from "Cult Evil Kid Horror Movies" to "Romantic Chinese Crime Movies." These micro-genres, a strange confluence of human intelligence and machine intelligence, even take priority over a movie's rating. Alexis Madrigal delves inside the system to uncover the video streaming service's business model.




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You're tired. You've had a rough day. You're just not feeling up to giving your elevator pitch 25 times in the span of two hours. And that networking event you're scheduled to attend tonight is the last place on Earth you'd like to be.

Believe me, you're not alone. I've never met someone who finds networking easy all the time. Extroverts, introverts, shy people, gregarious people: No matter what your personality, there will be a time in your life when you just don't want to network.

But, if you have to network anyway, you should go in with the right attitude. Whatever the cause of your networking dread, we've got the solution. Read below for three common networking pain points—and what to remind yourself to stay strong (tonight!).

1. "I'm Networked Out"

Maybe you're looking for a new job or are trying to build relationships in a new city—whatever the reason, your schedule has been jam-packed with events lately, and you just want a break.

And sure, sometimes, you should honor that. If you're truly networked out, it's totally OK to take a night off. But there are also times when you need to grin and bear it: when you're dealing with unemployment, when you've already skipped three events this week, and when you know this is a really cool opportunity but you just don't want to go, to name a few.

Remind Yourself: "The Next Person I Talk to Could Change My Life"

At times like this, it's best to tap into your inner FOMO and remind yourself that, by not going, you could miss out on a life-changing connection. Someone you've always wanted to meet could be at this event. The next person you talk to at one of these events could be looking to hire someone exactly like you.

If that's not enough to motivate you to put your networking shoes on, try basic bribery. Think of what you'd rather be doing instead of going to the event, and set it up as a reward for yourself for after you go. Make sure to set a goal for how many connections you'll make, too: Say, if you leave the event with three business cards, you're allowed to meet your friends for a drink or rent a movie for the night. That way, you'll get some solid networking in but still have time to rejuvenate.

2. "I Never Talk to Anyone Good"

Maybe the reason you want to avoid this next networking event is that you feel like they're always fruitless. You show up, get a drink or some snacks to keep yourself occupied, maybe chat for a few minutes with a couple people, but never leave with the seeds of any meaningful relationships. Besides the free food and booze, you just don't see the value in going through this again.

Remind Yourself: "People Want to Know Me as Much as I Want to Know Them"

This is my biggest networking pain point, so I understand. Especially if you're a little shy or unsure of yourself, it can be a hard one to overcome.

I've found one of the best ways to push past this is to remind yourself that, yes you're interesting and people will want to get to know you, but only as much as you want to get to know them. More importantly, people will want to get to know you more if you look like you want to get to know them.

Translation: If you're hovering by the snack table looking unhappy and glancing up at the clock every so often to see how much longer until you can go, you're not exactly inviting people to approach you. And you're not helping anyone — least of all yourself.

But, if you remind yourself of this point, step out into the middle of the room, stand tall, and smile, you've done almost all of the work. People will likely start approaching you. And then, if you actively listen and stay engaged, the conversation will likely keep rolling. Even if you barely say a word, they'll leave with a great impression of you. People like to feel like they're being listened to. They don't like to feel like you don't want to be there. Simple as that.

3. "I'm Sick of the Small Talk"

If you have to ask one more person, "So, what brings you here tonight?" you're going to flip. You know that relationship-building involves a certain amount of getting to know each other, but you're just sick and tired of the surface-level chit-chat that seems to fill the time at most networking events.

Remind Yourself: "Networking Doesn't Have to Be Schmoozing"

If this is your current pain point with networking, there are a couple of solutions. First, try updating your repertoire of networking conversation starters. By approaching the conversation with a more unusual question, you might get somewhere more interesting than "What do you do?" and "Where are you from?"
Or, it may be time to mix up your venues for building these relationships. Remember, not all networking has to happen at cocktail hour types of events. In fact, some of the most interesting relationship-building can happen elsewhere. So, instead of looking for your run-of-the-mill events, see if there's a conference you can attend, a hackathon or similar event you can participate in, or even a project you can help with. These sorts of events will put you in a much more collaborative environment that will allow you to get to know people in a different way than by simply drilling them with questions.

I know: Nothing I can tell you will make networking easy all of the time. But with these mantras in mind, you should be able to walk into your next networking event with the right attitude—and walk out with a big stack of business cards.

Image: Mashable composite. Images: iStock,  MarylB

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan took the whole "season of giving" thing to heart once again in 2013.

For the second straight year, the 

couple gave away 18 million Facebook shares — a gift worth more than $970 million — to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in December.

The donation was the largest charitable gift on public record in 2013, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and marked the first time that donors under the age of 30 were responsible for the year's largest donation. Zuckerberg and Chan's 2013 donation was equal in shares to the gift the couple gave the same foundation in December 2012. That gift was valued at just under $500 million at the time, but the success of Facebook's stock over the past 12 months more than doubled the value of the 2013 donation.

The Siicon Valley Community Foundation serves as a gatekeeper to a number of different charitable causes. Donors provide the financial capital, and the foundation assists them in making sure their gift is presented to the appropriate charities. In 2013, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation awarded more than 10,000 grants to over 29 different countries, according to its website.

Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife Penelope were responsible for the second largest donation on public record in 2013: a $500 million pledge to the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation for cancer research.


Of the top 15 public gifts in 2013, 12 were awarded to college or universities, including a $350 million pledge by Michael Bloomberg to Johns Hopkins University. In all, 15 different individuals (or couples) donated gifts of $100 million or more in 2013, an increase over 11 individuals in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Zuckerberg and Chan haven't stopped their charitable giving at 36 million shares. Zuckerberg signed the "Giving Pledge" in 2010, an agreement to give more than half of his wealth to charity over his lifetime or after his death. The "Giving Pledge" currently has more than 120 commitments, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and wife Melinda, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, and businessman Carl Icahn.





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Self-proclaimed "social media gurus" are a dime a dozen these days.

When it comes to a successful social media marketing strategy, it can be tough for small businesses to sort through the noise, statistics and flurry of misinformation.

One statistic we found online, for instance, claims that a Facebook fan is worth about $174 — but ask a small business with 300 Facebook fans if they've seen that $52,200 reflected in their revenues and you're likely to get a skeptical look or chuckle.

For small businesses seeking to engage audiences via social media and get the most bang for their buck, figuring out where to start — and more importantly, how to leverage the huge potential of an engaged online audience — can be a daunting task.

Let's forget about the statistics and wild claims, and focus instead on good, old-fashioned advice. Below, we've talked to entrepreneurs and marketers from companies with successful social strategies to get a grasp on some best practices for building and retaining an audience on social media.

1. "Pay-to-Play"

Beware of "experts" that tout the distorted notion that social media is free marketing. While most of the platforms themselves are free, RG Logan, director of strategy at Carrot Creative, points out that social is an increasingly "pay-to-play" endeavor. Logan suggests that businesses serious about entering the social space allocate a marketing budget specifically for social media.

"It's quite difficult to break through if you're not putting money behind your efforts,"

"It's quite difficult to break through if you're not putting money behind your efforts," he says. Last year, Facebook admitted that the average brand post is seen by just 16% of the page's followers, and paying to promote boosts your reach and thus your impact.

Not all hope is lost for small businesses that simply can't afford to splurge on social, however. "The key should be quality over quantity. If you can't compete on a paid level, then you should focus on building the right audience on social — this means getting your most avid customers to become a part of your social media audience and providing value for them once they're there," says Logan. "If you take care of that core and show them that you care, they'll reciprocate by singing your praises to their own networks, thus increasing the opportunity to build your audience more organically."



For businesses that don't promote via paid channels, it's especially crucial to get the word out about social efforts by taking advantage of as many avenues as possible — add social media widgets to your company's website, put Facebook URLs or Twitter handles on business cards and email signatures and post flyers in-store that clearly direct customers to your social pages.

But with more and more social platforms introducing advertising (both Instagram and Pinterest launched advertising services this year), and Facebook advertising becoming increasingly important for fan pages that wish to drive sales, there's little doubt left that businesses should expect to fork over some cash for a truly successful social strategy.

2. Pick Your Platform(s) Wisely

Not every business needs a presence on every social platform. Certain businesses will flourish on visually rich sites such as PinterestInstagram and YouTube, while others may have more success with Twitter's 140-character format (though it's important to note that visuals generally perform better than text-only posts, regardless of the platform on which they're posted).

"I think the best advice for businesses that are trying to take things online and create a presence is first to watch — instead of jumping in — and look at pages that you like and make active observations about what's going on," says Doug Quint, owner of Big Gay Ice Cream. "Secondly, if you're not comfortable on one of these streams, don't sign up. I didn't go on Foursquare for three years because I couldn't make sense of it for me and how I wanted it to come across. So don't go places where you're not comfortable."

3. Create a Community of 'Insiders'

One of the biggest appeals of "liking" a brand on Facebook or following your local coffee shop on Twitter is the promise of being in-the-know about events, promotions and special offers or discounts. In addition, social media provides brands with a unique opportunity to show their audiences a behind-the-scenes look — or the human side — of their businesses.

“We interact with our followers individually to breed a close community of brand ‘insiders’ who feel comfortable regularly engaging with us,”

“We interact with our followers individually to breed a close community of brand ‘insiders’ who feel comfortable regularly engaging with us,” says AJ Nicholas, senior director of public relations and marketing for Rent the Runway.

Along with a community-centric attitude and promoting your pages, it's important to listen to the fans and followers who take the time to find you online, and take their suggestions or feedback to heart — even if the comments are negative. Community managers or small businesses should think long and hard about ignoring or deleting customer feedback without first addressing the stated concerns. Not only is this a poor customer service practice, it can potentially blow up into a PR nightmare.

"We respond to everyone — from fielding personal inquires and suggestions in our general inquiry box to answering comments on Instagram or Facebook, every fan and follower is important to us. We appreciate our dedicated fans who take the time to send submissions — it's in best practice to take everyones comments into considerations. It's because of this [feedback] we use faux fur versus real fur in projects," says Erica Domesek of P.S. I Made This.

4. Social Is Not a Hard Sell

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Social channels are not the place to force your brand messaging on unsuspecting fans. Online audiences are particularly wary of thinly veiled advertising labeled as "content." This can be a hard pill for businesses to swallow, particularly for enthusiastic small business owners that want to share their innovative new concept with as many people as possible. I love hearing about my company and how awesome we are, so why wouldn't everyone else? This attitude is a terrific way to drive fans to "unlike".


Don't be the overly promotional fan page — it's the equivalent of your annoying, Ivy-League-educated relative who dominates every dinner conversation bragging about various accomplishments. The occasional humblebrag might fly with your audiences — particularly if your brand or business is creating something newsworthy or is up for an award — but there's a fine line between sincerity and smugness. Your social audience knows the difference.

Domesek advises businesses to adopt a content strategy that appeals to audiences' emotions. "It's a balance. Focus on emotional analytics as well as numerical ones. Pushing out content that is strong, conversational, and that especially evokes an emotional response will build stronger engagement and audience growth." She adds that people are more likely to comment, retweet or share "feel-good" content that elicits memories or positive associations. 

"You're marketing to humans, not robots,"

"You're marketing to humans, not robots," she says.

And it's not just what you say, it's how you say it — delivery is key. "While we find it important to share aspirational content to pique the interest of our demographic, we take care to deliver it in an accessible and personable way," says Rent the Runway's Nicholas.

5. Social Is 24/7

Show us a job listing for a nine-to-five social media manager position, and we'll show you a thousand and one missed opportunities. The truth is that your customers are likely going to be online during off-hours (nights and weekends), and the ideal social strategy doesn't shut off completely for hours or days on end.

Jon Crawford, CEO and founder of Storenvy, says the company owes its success in large part due to a dedicated social strategy. "Social media is an extremely powerful avenue for everything from customer support, customer acquisition and building long-term relationships with those who are passionate about what we do. From advice and resources to user and merchant stories, new and trending products to promotional contests and giveaways — our social media never sleeps," he says.

Posting on social platforms on a daily basis — and monitoring comments, retweets, reshares, etc. — is one way to engage with the online community. That's not to say every small business needs to hire round-the-clock surveillance of its social accounts (for big brands or corporations, this is another story); but going completely MIA from 5 p.m. on Friday evening until 9 a.m. Monday morning may mean missing out on potential business, or fueling the flames of an upset customer by seemingly ignoring his complaints.

6. Sweepstakes and Giveaways

One of the easiest ways to attract a social following is to offer your customers incentives to "like," follow or connect with your business. Hosting a sweepstakes or contest can generate valuable buzz about your business, create brand affinity and entice potential customers — who might otherwise have never heard of your company — to check out your site.

"Everybody loves free stuff — that's been true since the dawn of time.

"Everybody loves free stuff — that's been true since the dawn of time. We've worked on enough of these [campaigns] to realize that the real strength in a sweeps is the scale of the audience you'll bring in. Sweepstakes and contests are a great way to generate leads and build your CRM database," says Logan.

He warns businesses, however, not to expect every participant to translate into a loyal, converting customer. "The dark side to this is that while you're attracting a wide audience, you risk sacrificing the quality of those leads, and may end up with a low-value customer who doesn't care about your brand in the long-term. Brands and agencies must accept the fact that not everyone who participates is going to be a brand loyalist, but know that you now have the ability to nurture them toward loyalty in the long run via content and worthwhile experiences."

Companies attempting to organize a contest for the first time should conduct research on successful examples and best practices before jumping in head-first.

Facebook recently loosened its guidelines for hosting contests on the site, which is great news for small businesses that previously couldn't afford the time or cost of a complicated sweepstakes hosted by a third-party application.

7. Agency vs. In-House

There are differing — and very strong — opinions about who should handle your brand's social media efforts.

On one hand, hiring in-house ensures that your brand messaging is on-point, and having a member of your own team managing a social presence ensures information is more likely to be accurate, timely and cohesive with your brand's unique voice. On the flip side, many small businesses simply don't have the time, resources or know-how to dedicate themselves to social, and handing the reigns over to professionals who are well-versed in online marketing strategy may prove effective (albeit somewhat nerve-wracking).

Logan suggests brands hire in-house only when willing to commit 100%. "Brands should keep social media in-house if they are willing to dedicate appropriate resources internally to creating content. This means having full-time staff (not interns) dedicated to drafting copy, designing content, analyzing content and optimizing that content. A brand can look into their internal infrastructure to see if they can repurpose any current employees (designers, copywriters, marketers, media planners, etc.) and dedicate them to your social team — but 

it's really important that social media isn't treated like a side job, or you'll get side-job results."

it's really important that social media isn't treated like a side job, or you'll get side-job results."

Logan goes on to add that hiring an agency may be an excellent investment for companies that are overwhelmed, out of ideas or already spread too thin. A big "however," though, is that the brand must be willing to place its trust in the agency, as well as maintain open lines of communication and approve content in a timely manner.

Domesek takes a middle-of-the-road stance. "Agencies can be great for larger, one-off opportunities for buzzworthy projects or launches; however, handling in-house allows you to control the brand," she says.

The answer to this heated debate, realistically, is the frustrating cliché of "it depends." Your company's budget, as well as its overall goals in regards to social, comes into play when deciding whether to trust your social efforts to an in-house team member or to outsource to the pros.b2ap3_thumbnail_social-media-flowers-640x320.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Social-640x360.jpg

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