Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 3 rules for web content

OK, FDR probably never met the Internet, but he would give three rules for public speaking that also apply to creating web content: “Be brief. Be sincere. Be seated.” (Note: This has also been ascribed to Winston Churchill, but the same rules apply.)

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Be brief. Be succinct. Omit needless words. Say what you need to say (in a conversational manner) and keep moving. Users scan the web more than they read anyway because they’re pressed for time. If you need to send readers elsewhere for more information, give them a phrased link. (Don’t say “CLICK HERE!!!!” Ever.)

Be sincere. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Use a friendly, encouraging tone. Be honest. Don’t exaggerate, overpromise or mislead. (“Several Oswego physics students earned internships at NASA, some with job offers.” = good. “Getting a physics degree will get you a job at NASA!” = not.)

Be seated. Even for people who’ve created hundreds of webpages, it isn’t always easy to know when you’ve finished a page. But you don’t want to get caught in the 90/10 trap where you spend 90 percent of your time trying to figure out the last 10 percent of your task. Don’t let indecision lead you to just adding more images, more links, more needless words just because you feel you need to do more. It’s often a good idea to set a webpage aside and come back to it later to see if it needs anything.

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Confab Higher Ed and the rise of student storytelling

2014-11-14 13.22.02 The recent Confab Higher Ed, the largest gathering on web content strategy in North America, provided an abundance of awesome people and information, but perhaps most notable is how it placed an unprecedented spotlight on the use of student storytelling in social media.

In addition to our SUNY Oswego session co-presented with our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, “Student Stories and Content Strategy: ‘Alyssa Explains It All’ to Prospective Students,” Meg Bernier of St. Lawrence University discussed “User-Generated Content: Empowering Students to Tell Stories” on the excellent student-run @herewegosaints Instagram account and Oberlin College’s Ma’ayan Plaut and Ben Jones showcasedstudent storytelling in “A Tale of Two Projects: Relationship-Building Through Legacy Content.”

It’s a long way from around a decade ago when I first started researching student blogging because of the success my social media mentor Rachel Reuben was having with it at New Paltz. The idea met with plenty of skepticism, doubt and even discouragement. Asking other colleges who had student bloggers led to one of my enduring principles of empowerment: We don’t approve blog posts, we approve bloggers.

It took years, but when we cleared the last technical hurdle when our then-new web developer Richard Buck set us up on WordPress, we finally debuted the blogs — to amazing traffic and feedback — in fall 2008. I was proud of all the initial bloggers, with the journal of Erin Scala, a legally blind student with a keen sense of humor, downright inspirational. Not everything went perfectly, but it represented a work in progress that surmounted the skepticism and drew many positive reviews from our most important audience — incoming students. Screen shot 2014-11-14 at 8.39.23 AM Students kept the project moving forward but we hit a new level after an unassuming tweet from Twitter user @lysslyss15 to the @sunyoswego account in fall 2012, saying she made videos and asking if we needed help. Alyssa didn’t even really expect us to respond, but when I looked up her videos, I immediately realized she had the “it” factor that would resonate with students. We met and our discussion turned into “Alyssa Explains It All,” a series of talking-to-the-camera video blogs offering advice to incoming or new students.

The inaugural installment on time management debuted in September 2012, and Alyssa later became an intern and full-scale ambassador whose responsibilities included making videos answering questions received from incoming students via social media.

In the years since, this project has been mentioned regularly at national and international conferences, but this was the first time Alyssa presented at a conference of this magnitude. Alyssa was a rockstar at Confab Higher Ed, her videos very well received and people stopping her to ask questions throughout the conference. You can watch the video of our presentation or see the slides below.

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Meg’s great presentation on the student-run Instagram account at St. Lawrence also included a very nice detail: Her initial proposal to do it was rejected. She kept believing, went back and analyzed what students were already posting and presented it again to finally earn approval. The result has been not only fabulous content but an inspiration to other colleges taking the lead, including the #lakertakeover we do from time to time on the @sunyoswego Instagram account.
Ben and Ma’ayan have built the Oberlin Stories Project — a sort of student blogging on steroids resulting in hundreds of student voices sharing their tales of why they love Oberlin — as well as ongoing regular student blogs. My favorite is a podcast series by student musicians Hannah and Davis that turns the spotlight on other talented conservatory students. That’s how you empower current students to show your music program can hit the right notes for prospective students.
Beyond those presentations, we drew inspiration from Boston University’s Dean Kenn Elmore who presented the amazing keynote “New Major: American Cool.” Many of us web folks consider ourselves nerds, but Kenn showed that by taking risks with a sense of dignity, patience, intelligence and a sense of control, cool things can happen. Empowering student stories involves yielding some of that sense of control to allow them to shine — and Confab Higher Ed celebrated the awesome results.
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I don’t have enough words to say how amazing all the presentations were at Confab Higher Ed, but I thank everybody who made it possible and participated. And here’s hoping that by showcasing the rise of student storytelling, colleges and universities everywhere will allow student voices to show how cool pursuing an education can be.

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Customer service: even technology can’t replace a good attitude

ariushat

This is currently my favorite hat, and not just because Arius looks adorable in it. This hat is a reminder that you don’t need oodles of technology and listening strategies to provide good customer service — sometimes all you need is the right attitude.

With Arius’ birthday coming up and also needing to update his wardrobe, I made a recent Saturday trip to the Great Northern Mall (and its outbuildings) and engaged in consumer activity. When I got home and unpacked the bags, I noticed that one item I bought at the Children’s Place was not in its bag. I wasn’t sure if I’d dropped the hat or lost it in the shuffle and while it wasn’t all that expensive (because they have great bargains), I was a little bummed.

But.

Then I checked the answering machine to my landline (which gets little action beyond robocalls) to find a message there from the Children’s Place. I’m a member of their rewards club, so an associate called that number apologizing profusely that the hat somehow didn’t make it into the bag.

While I wasn’t sure what could be done — Great Northern is out of town and not something I visit every day — I called back, and the associate offered to mail it. She apologized that it may not be there immediately because that Monday was a postal holiday (Columbus Day) but I responded that as long as it made it to Oswego before it was too cold (insert expected weather joke), I’d be happy. Lo and behold, the package was waiting on the porch when Arius and I got back from daycare on Tuesday.

I’ve worked retail and I know it’s not always a barrel of fun, especially as the holidays approach. With any transaction and follow-up, there are any number of break points where somebody has reasons not to provide added service, let alone go the extra mile. Yet consider this associate:
1) Realized the packing error
2) Looked up my phone number
3) Found time to call
4) Cheerfully took my return call
5) Suggested mailing it (taking on additional duties and expense)
6) Mailed it right away

If you don’t think that kind of customer service is extraordinary, then you probably haven’t been shopping lately. I commend the Children’s Place for empowering this kind of service and for following all the way through. The store now ranks even higher on my future shopping list.

Now we’re just hoping Arius won’t actually need the winter hat for a while, but if he does, seeing him in it will remind me that simple, good old-fashioned customer service is alive and well.

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Crowdsourcing a historic day, and introducing content ownership strategy

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 2.13.53 PMLast Thursday was our college’s biggest day in social media, coming together with a combination of preparation, teamwork and an active/engaged extended SUNY Oswego family — and a new focus on content ownership strategy.

Going into it, I recalled a lesson from a college internship at Channel 5 in Syracuse: You can be in the field getting firsthand information or you can be back in the studio getting a bigger picture, but not both. In a way, that has changed in the age of social media, and blending it together represents content ownership strategy … but more on that later.

A man who had his professional TV start at that same Channel 5, Al Roker, returned to his alma mater on Thursday, Oct. 16, to kick off a huge day at SUNY Oswego. One of the hardest-working men in the business started his broadcast day at 5:30 a.m. with live hosting of “Wake Up With Al” from our Marano Campus Center, followed by live hits for the “Today” show. My first text came in at 5:22 a.m., a colleague with a social media question from a reporter: What hashtag he should he use in covering the event?

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 2.14.15 PMLong before that early hour, I had to make a choice: Should I go out in the field to join the throng of students and others watching Roker tape live segments, or do I set up a virtual “control room” to bring the bigger social picture into focus?

Fortunately, between having a colleague (Jeff Rea, doing a fine job sending iPhone photos) and a very motivated campus posting content, I could fire up Tweetdeck and provide live coverage and amplify the many voices excited about the momentous events — which also included an all-star media summit panel, 24-hour fundraiser and a public launch of our second comprehensive campaign.

Fortunately, I was able to commandeer a conference room to run social media for most of the "Today" show broadcast.

Fortunately, I was able to commandeer a conference room to run social media for most of the “Today” show broadcast.

I chose to pursue a content ownership strategy that represented an extended version of our amplification strategy, or sharing content of excited stakeholders — which can make very powerful crowd-based storytelling.

Amazingly, @alroker and @sunyoswego grabbed the #1 and #2 trends on Twitter for all of New York state on Thursday morning, and the overall 1605 mentions of @sunyoswego in a 24-hour period was higher than every whole previous month but one. We enjoyed a 12.5% engagement rate for tweets, pretty phenomenal giving the quantity of tweets, and in heavy figures for both, we saw 274 retweets and 302 favorites that day. I was especially pleased with so many retweets, denoting storytelling and content that connected well enough for our followers to want to share.

This is pretty sweet.

This is pretty sweet.

We used #ozmediasummit for not just the big panel discussion — which also included Charlie Rose, Ken Auletta (an Oswego alum), Connie Schultz and Dennis Thatcher — but for any event those and other luminaries, including another Oswego grad in ESPN SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy, attended. This was the first year we had everybody focused on one hashtag for this annual mega-event, and it showed: #ozmediasummit earned 1654 mentions in the same period, which (if memory serves) is around 1000 more than previous editions. A wonderful byproduct is that having everybody focused on one tag also maximizes the ability to engage in and archive the discussion.

On Facebook, our content obliterated a pair of high-water marks. That day, our content earned 826 shares — essentially people liked our photos or posts or links enough they wanted to take ownership so their friends could see this content. The content we posted on our page collectively earned 4896 likes, which is more likes than our content has attained for any previous whole month. The 131 comments on our posts were overwhelmingly positive and often reminisces from proud alumni.

Al Roker, king of selfies.

Al Roker, king of selfies.

Meriting special mention: our most popular piece of content of all time — Al Roker’s selfie with a crowd of Oswego students that he posted to Twitter but I repurposed for Facebook. As of Monday morning, it has 2497 likes (over 1000 more than our previous record) and an astounding 437 shares … and still climbing.

Over on Instagram, our content earned 1520 likes, also a resounding record, with 130 #ozmediasummit tag mentions compared to 45 last year. These both likely owe to greater user base, awareness and better marketing of the tag.

This success provides a lesson in our evolving thoughts on content ownership strategy. While content strategy — which includes focusing on who creates content for what audiences and why — is important, you can find even greater gold and greater good with content ownership strategy, which I define as focusing on the larger content ecosystem and how it can tell your story. Our college’s content team of professionals and interns is outstanding, but Thursday really drove home how many content creators exist among our students and alumni who can tell a powerful and empowering story when we share or retweet their posts under a broader content ownership strategy.

I’ll go into greater detail on content ownership strategy in a future post, but the advance tl;dr version is: Think about the stories you want to tell (based on strategy and goals), use monitoring tools and your cultivated network and think about how how your firsthand content (your field reporters) can fit together with your additional sources (what comes into your “newsroom”) to make a more comprehensive and awesome narrative.

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Giving in to health: In support of taking sick days

sickdayI took a sick day for the first time in a while last week, and although being sick is never fun, it was one of the better decisions I’ve made made lately.

Many people refuse to take sick days, even when they’re entitled to them — and I’m usually one of them. But it’s foolish to go to work sick, underperform and just trudge home even sicker. But why do we do this to ourselves?

We hate to admit weakness. Our popular culture, especially sports, build up an image of strength in working through pain or illness. Michael Jordan’s legend includes gutting through the flu to score 38 points and lead his Bulls to a 1997 comeback playoff win. Or a limping Kirk Gibson coming off the bench to hit a winning homer for the L.A. Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. We are shown moments of ailing athletes and other coming through and our pride takes over. But perhaps one of our greatest weaknesses is not admitting to weakness.

The pursuit of productivity. I’ll admit membership in the cult of productivity, a need to keep things moving, meet goals, always feel like I’m accomplishing something. But you can’t be very productive when you’re sick, no matter how you try to block it out, so sometimes taking a break to recover and recharge is what produces real productivity.

We like to feel irreplaceable. Chances are we’re good at something we do and feel we can do it better than anybody else. We fall into the delusion that things can’t get done without us, which is simply poor management on our parts. We should all have other people who can do tasks when we’re not around. Because, let’s face it, history shows all human beings get replaced eventually.

And so we soldier on, through coughing and running noses and headaches and fevers and chills, not only exposing those around us to our germs but preventing us from getting better. But we need to swallow our pride, and our medicine and vitamins and tea and chicken soup and whatever, and take that sick day.

Here’s why:

Our bodies need it. The idea of getting better by working through, by showing our “strength,” is simply bunk. There’s a reason doctors have prescribed bed rest and fluids for the most basic maladies for millennia. If you keep trying to work through sickness, you prolong your illness, wear yourself down even more and even make yourself prone to additional ailments.

Our minds need it. When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, your decision-making suffers. One of most valuable skills in the workplace is the ability to make good decisions — it suffuses everything we do — and trying to power through sickness detracts from this vital tool.

Our organizations need it. When you come to work sick and refuse to give up control of anything, the unwritten message is that you don’t trust your coworkers. True leaders instead take time to help others learn, groom them for increased responsibility and then give them opportunities to shine. If these opportunities come because you’re home in bed, then they are blessings in disguise.

>> I’m usually that stubborn guy who tries to muddle through the aches and pains, the sneezing, wheezing and coughing, but after trying to stave off something for days, last Wednesday after teaching evening class I came home and collapsed into bed. I realized the best solution was to give in and take care of my health. Taking Thursday off to recover and recharge made me ready to go and productive again on Friday. And since I’m incapable of being idle, I did spend part of my day off doing chores I normally have to shoehorn into whatever free out-of-work hours I can, which eventually relaxed me even more.

Admittedly, taking sick days off can be complicated by staffing, deadlines, projects and other life priorities. I know that for self-employed people a day without work is a day without income — but if you press pause so you can recover and return to do your best work, then you can look at it as an investment.

Every musical composition contains beats and rests. You can’t compose a symphony on all beats and no rests — the rests emphasize the beats — and you can’t live a fruitful life that way either. So when you’re tempted to work through a sick day even when you’re drained, think about taking a rest instead. The beat will go on.

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Social scrapbook: Learning from a year of Friday #oswegrams

Sunrise over West Campus. This is how it began.

Sunrise over West Campus. This is how it began.

It started on a lark, a trick of the light, a serene sunrise scene. A year ago this month, driving in to start the day, I saw the rising sun illuminating the residence halls on what we call West Campus and instead of just drinking in the sight, I pulled out my iPhone. Seemed nice enough to post on the Facebook wall and the response was phenomenal. It became the most popular single piece of content that month and drew requests from far-flung alumni that we post more photos of fall foliage or campus scenes.

And thus the now-weekly Friday #oswegram social feature began.

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Lake Ontario in November. Contrary to rumor, it doesn’t freeze up until later in winter and polar bears don’t take to the beach.

If you’re a fan of the SUNY Oswego Facebook page or follow our social media in general, you’ve seen our Friday #oswegrams. While I did not make them a photo album, if you skimmed them you would see the seasons change — scenic images, especially of the lake, are very popular — as well as snapshots of the campus cycle. Students moving in, preparing for Commencement and many mileposts along the way mark our Friday #oswegrams, which as a totality represent a kind of slideshow encapsulating bits and pieces of the Oswego experience.

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It’s nice when a simple photo like this can cultivate fans congratulating their kids and build anticipation for Commencement.

But it’s not just about posting pretty pictures. Strategy does play a role. One of the biggest assets of campus — something many students say helps them choose Oswego — is its natural beauty and Lake Ontario. Humanity may have advanced in many ways, but the draw of a beautiful photo of leaves changing or a big blue lake remain coded in our DNA. The #oswegrams also let us highlight unique aspects and interesting activities of our campus, while promoting a connection with the Oswego family — past, present and future.

At the time our #oswegrams began, our Facebook page was becoming stagnant and needed a boost. We’d heard suggestions for more photos, but of what? The evolution of the Friday #oswegram has shown us what images and scenes resonate with our various social channels, whether from simple likes, friendly shares or comments about what they miss about campus.

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Few mileposts generate more memories than content addressing moving onto campus.

I try to have an idea of what to shoot any given Friday, based on either particular events, the general time of season or what’s worked in the past. The original plan doesn’t always pan out or sometimes something even better comes along. With very few exceptions (usually logistics, such as my availability), I want to take them on Friday morning to make them immediate and fresh and relatable. I enjoy the opportunity to write small, poetic snippets — “The ivy adorning Hewitt Union provides a seasonal litmus test: Autumn has arrived,” for example.

The #oswegrams do best on our Facebook and Instagram accounts because those are most visually driven, but the best ones also generate activity on Twitter. Last week, I even tried Tumblr. We shall see.

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The numbers don’t lie. Many months our #oswegrams are atop and/or all over my social media reports tracking our most popular content. Additionally, the current formula for what Facebook deigns show its users factors in whether they have liked specific types of content from particular providers. If we’re serving up #oswegrams they like from our Facebook page, that means our other content is more likely to show up in their streams as well. Say what you will about Facebook’s formula — and there’s much one could say — it rewards good content and raises a ready challenge to generate good content.

And even when someday Facebook no longer sits atop of the social media chain, the Friday #oswegram is not about feeding one particular channel. It’s about finding content that resonates with all of our audiences … wherever they may be in terms of channel or geography. With any luck, it even gives members of our larger family a reason to look forward to their Friday #oswegram from Oswego.

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The trouble with the CMS paradigm. Or considering constant and casual editors.

stairsgraphicFor anybody dealing with a large amount of distributed web content, the content management system (or CMS) falls somewhere between a blessing and curse, between a true solution and a necessary evil. But a couple things last week made me wonder if it’s being approached all wrong.

First, my excellent co-worker Joe Fitzsimmons sent me a great article by Paul Boag titled (aptly) Everybody Hates their Content Management System. A few quotes stood out, articulating things I’ve long pondered yet not seriously considered:

For a start most content management systems are not fit for that purpose. That is because content management system vendors overestimate the skills of the average user. The majority of content management systems are not easy to use. They contain far more functionality and complexity than the average user needs.

Furthermore, with this distributed model, most CMS users only update the website occasionally. This means they are not becoming familiar with how these systems work and forget any training they have received.

The second paragraph correlated with the second thing that stood out to me last week. Our longtime web coordinator and head CMS support whiz, Pat MacNeill, recently took a well-earned retirement and our bright new webcomm associate hadn’t yet started. So I was fielding a lot of questions from people who hadn’t touched the CMS in months who needed help. They are all bright, engaging people for whom remembering how to navigate the vagaries of a CMS isn’t quite their specialty.

After troubleshooting several requests, none of which involved terribly complicated things, I suddenly had an epiphany: I’m spending 15 to 30 minutes explaining to them how to solve a problem that I might have solved in 15 to 30 seconds. I’m a big fan of efficiency in repetitive tasks, so this struck me as a grand waste of time for several people.

Boag’s article articulates this well. You have casual users who don’t often use (or even want to use) a CMS having to make an annual contact to our office for a refresher. Knowledge comes through repetition, but if tasks are hardly ever repeated, they can’t be learned easily. Throw in the bugs, glitches and complications of any CMS, and your user-support time piles up.

One of the biggest problems with CMSs are that implementers tend to train on the system, but not on the most important part — which is creating quality content. Without people understanding content, a CMS is no solution; a set of stairs only takes you to the next floor if you make the effort to climb. Without human effort and investment, a content management system will not give you content, management, nor a system.

But does it have to be this way? When you have scant central resources, as we do, is spending so much effort reminding or retraining editors on how to do something like insert an email link really a good use of time? A CMS editor is not a one-size-fits-all description. After having some kind of role in web management for around a decade, I’d have to say the majority of such editors fall into one of two categories:

Constant editors: Many higher ed web pages require frequent updates. There’s no getting around it. And we have an appreciable amount of what I’d call constant editors, updating pages at least once a week, especially during busy periods. Constant editors make regular use of the CMS and gain a considerable amount of skill and experience, so we only hear from them if they are bouncing ideas off us or attempting something ambitious. They are the stars of the distributed editor model because they bring subject matter and technical knowledge together to provide exemplary web experiences.

Casual editors: A college’s casual editors may touch the CMS as little as once a year to make updates to staff or events or other annual rituals. Or maybe every six months or so, or about how often many people have a dental exam — and they might find using a CMS about as enjoyable as visiting the dentist. Maybe they’re a swamped department secretary who has to go in and add new faculty and remove the departed. In higher ed, the jobs of department secretaries are among the most busy, demanding and valuable on campus; using a CMS is one of nearly 100 tasks on their plate. They simply don’t have time for trial and error for what should be simple.

All this comes into focus, and I believe it lays out the problem — that it’s flawed to consider a universal CMS “solution” that encompasses the dichotomy of experiences spanning from constant to casual editors. But what about the solution?

I have some thoughts on that … stay tuned!

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