Tag Archives: community

social media is a complement, not a replacement.

While I enjoyed the whole experience of the first-ever Post-Secondary Canadian Web Conference, I’d say my favo[u]rite moment was completely unplanned and again showed the connective power of social media.

At #pseweb, like many web conferences, I find myself “meeting” lots of interesting folks via the Twitter streams — whether engaging in @ conversations or retweeting keen comments — but not always meeting them in person. So as the last sessions ticked away, I lamented on Twitter that I hadn’t yet met many of my new tweeps face to face. The solution came quickly, as several other folks called for a tweetup and arranged a time and place (2:45, outside lecture room 203) within minutes.

The impromptu tweetup between sessions found around 12 to 15 (should have counted) folks introducing themselves and chatting amicably. Some even admitted it seemed easier to communicate via Twitter than face-to-face, with an outside context driving the discussion, but everyone seemed quite pleased to meet those they had been tweeting with the previous couple of days.

And this is what those who quickly dismiss Twitter miss: The community it builds is the platform’s greatest feature. Twitter has become the hub of activity at most conferences, with folks starting discussions and posting helpful links even during sessions, but also a true connector on a personal level. Its inclusive nature is not limited to just those there physically, as the positive feedback of those unable to make #pseweb and enjoying our live-tweeting of sessions demonstrates. As for social media changing conferences, I only gave out one business card, yet gained 35 new Twitter connections and even several LinkedIn invites.

But, as the impromptu tweetup showed, social media is not a replacement for regular interaction — it is a complement, and often a catalyst. When incoming students interact in our Class of 2014 group, it isn’t for the sake of using Facebook; they mainly want to get to know future classmates. And meeting someone I’ve interacted with via Twitter is always a treat, confirming an earlier electronic connection. One should never view social media as a kingdom unto itself but instead a doorway that can lead anywhere.

8 Comments

Filed under Web

with activism, social media is not a waiting game.

Recently, New York State announced a mind-boggling move to close a number of state parks and historic sites, including Oswego’s Fort Ontario. Fort Ontario played a role in the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812; housed nearly 1,000 refugees, mostly Jewish, from World War II Europe (the only haven of its kind); and serves as a key community resource for folks of all ages and interests. That activists would want to use every tool available — including Facebook — to try to save the fort came as no surprise.

The first to jump was a high school student, who created a group that is a truly grassroots campaign. A local official contacted the person saying she also was working on something but was waiting for approval. The student accepted her request to become an administrator, and she later contacted everyone when she had the more official page set up. Where, to her credit, she did plug the other effort.

My reaction, however, was: Waiting for approval? To set up a Facebook page? I understand wanting to gather official partners and settle other organizational details, but with a cause where people are ready to act, [s]he who hesitates is lost. If there’s a hot topic and a ready audience, they aren’t going to wait for committee meetings, mission statements and the trappings of how we used to do business.

The results? As of early Tuesday, the student-created group is community-driven, with a wide variety of people constantly posting emotional comments, links and photos. Number of members? 4,314. The organization-created page is almost completely administrator-driven. Community comments and interaction are less frequent. Number of fans? 2,050. A journalist friend of mine astutely observed that, in the Web 2.0 world, an unofficial presence, for whatever reason, sometimes has the opportunity to become more trusted and engaging than an official effort.

It sets up a fascinating study in communication dynamics, but I also wonder if it will dilute efforts, no matter how friendly the two are. There’s a reason, after all, why you don’t see two chess clubs, two weekly student newspapers, two Jewish Student Associations on most campuses. While one would hope the efforts complement each other, in the go-go 21st century, busy people may prefer one place to visit, one entity through which to focus efforts.

Don’t get me wrong: If you’re a college, company or other permanent presence, you should indeed take the lead of online branding. You have every right to make sure you know what you’re doing before you go all-out on a social-media campaign. But if a cause comes up and you sit on the sidelines while someone else sounds the horn, you’ll see that social media is not a waiting game.

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

top 2009 lesson: twitter is other people.

I’ll consider 2009 the year of Twitter. Not everyone would understand. Blame it on the input box originally saying What are you doing? Or blame Oprah. Or Ashton. Whatever the reason, the biggest misconception is that Twitter is all about *me*.

In reality, Twitter is all about other people. It’s about what they’re doing, not what I’m doing.

The first time you really use Twitter is not when you tell people what you’re doing (or having for lunch) — it’s when you ask someone about something they’re doing (or, if you prefer, having for lunch). Twitter is not a megaphone; it’s a telephone, a party line with hundreds of people listening and talking. It’s where people can share advice or help solve problems. It’s people turning others onto new music, new developments and, yes, new places to eat.

This year, I learned about the true community-building power of Twitter. Let me count the ways … or five ways, at least.

1. #pancaketweetup. What started as #wittybanter between @lanejoplin and I evolved into a monthly activity where dozens of people share a virtual breakfast. Our #pancaketweetup Facebook group boasts 72 members from across the world, and it now seems like every Web communications conference (most recently Stamats SIMTech) sprouts a real-life #pancaketweetup.

2. #lanesintown. Lane took front in center in this Twitter-related adventure, coming to Ithaca in an episode related to @mhaithaca sending her a Jimmy John’s sub after a tweet about how she missed the distinctive sandwich. Did I mention this weekend included a real-life #pancaketweetup too?

3. The Higher Ed Music Critics Top 100 of the 2000s. Mastermind @andrewcareaga tapped a half-dozen music-minded tweeps (this one included) to count down the Top 100 albums of the decade. Andy and some other participants had previously introduced me to some of the albums I put on the list, most notably The Avett Brothers’ I And Love And You (my album of the year). Twitter probably drove my music purchases more than anything in 2009.

4. The Higher Ed Social Media Showdown. @sethodell brought together a baker’s dozen of Web collaborators (this one included) to help host an interactive trivia game that showed the power of YouTube annotations and quizzes to engage audiences. Downright clever, and educational … and another example of the Twitter community happily playing along.

5. Twitter and conferences. I wouldn’t have even known about the regional HighEdWeb conference in Cornell if not for Twitter, and likely wouldn’t have attended Stamats SIMTech if not for Twitter. I found most of my speakers for the annual SUNYCUAD Conference via Twitter. A Twitter connection with @karinejoly, and a @rachelreuben recommendation, led to presenting my first-ever Webinar. And while HEWeb09 may have included the Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009, it also saw attendees band together to raise funds via a Twitter call when a colleague had her laptop stolen, allowing her to buy a new one.

I could go on, well over 140 characters, on the many ways Twitter changed and shaped my life this year. But mostly it introduced me — virtually, and eventually in person — to some outstanding folks. It is those other people, who epitomize the essence of Twitter, that made 2009 so special.

6 Comments

Filed under Web

a new fan-driven musical economy?

In 2006, the Damnwells became an unfortunate music-industry cliche. Despite a knack for crafting smart and catchy songs, critical acclaim and a building fan base, they were cut adrift by Epic Records, which also shelved their sophomore album.

And while they would eventually get that disc, Air Stereo, released by Zoe Records, they found themselves at a real crossroads. Their solution? Turn to the Web, social media and innovative measures.

They made their third album, One Last Century, available free to all on the Internet in exchange for an email address. They used those email addresses, and social media, to let fans know they are assembling their fourth album in a novel way: Via donations and fan feedback.

Through a service called Pledge Music, the Damnwells look to raise $20,000.30 to record the new album. This weekend, they passed the 75 percent mark and continue to steam forward. Donors can start as low as $12 to just get a copy of the album, go higher for a variety of public broadcasting type premiums (for $25, I’m getting a signed CD and T-shirt) or even things like Skyping into a recording session ($55), introducing the band at a show ($125) or admission into a sound check ($150). The band will provide a public performance wherever you want them at the high end; for $5,000, someone in Tokyo, Turin or Tahiti can even have The Damnwells play in their house (it’s $1,500 in the U.S., $500 in NYC).

Just as valuable is that any supporter gets a password-driven code to download demos and outtakes (all of which are pretty good), read Alex Dezen’s blog about the record and gain other inside information. Fans can provide feedback on posted demos on the blog to play an even greater part in making the record. On top of all that, part of the funds raised will aid a number of worthy causes.

Or is this totally new? During the Renaissance, artists and musicians were funded by wealthy patrons who enjoyed their creations. But this more democratic system makes even modest donors part of the team. And taking the future of music out of the hands of a closed, shortsighted music industry and into a forward-thinking community of music lovers definitely represents an improvement.

6 Comments

Filed under words

fans pages: hands-off? hands-on?

A funny thing happened to the SUNY Oswego Fans page while I was out of town this weekend.

A few questions came in from students entering this fall, not unusual in itself. But all of those questions were answered by other fans — quickly and correctly.

I did answer the question I saw on Saturday morning, but I was pleasantly surprised when — after driving, attending a wedding, sleeping and driving some more — I arrived home Sunday afternoon to find all the new questions handled. A similar thing happened when I was on my first actual vacation in years earlier this summer and most page questions were answered by others.

When members of a community become involved in problem-solving, this is good on many levels. It shows they care enough about their community — virtual or physical — to take care of it. It means that conversations are more organic than if the institution (or other moderator) always jumps in. And it also means that genuine connections are forming between those who asked the questions and those who answered them. (Interesting that it was three people, not just one do-gooder, who responded to the questions. NOTE: It looks like one of the answers disappeared. Am I the only one noticing comments disappearing on Facebook lately?)

Thus I’m kind of torn. I prefer good customer service, which means checking the Fans page frequently to provide answers. An unanswered question, to me, looks as out of place as an undone zipper. Yet I know that if fans answer the questions instead of me, presuming those answers are accurate, it’s better for the sense of the community.

It’s a teaser. What do you think?

6 Comments

Filed under Web

thursday travelogue: rochester’s rising south wedge.

The reborn South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester, N.Y., shows that sometimes when you want to wake up a community, you just need a little coffee.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

And while the Boulder Coffee Co. didn’t single-handedly revitalize the neighborhood from its once-seedy reputation, it’s a cornerstone location from which regular live entertainment, a farmer’s market and festivals radiate. I visited in the middle of the Boulder Festival, featuring bands, an eclectic selection of vendors, flavorful food and drink, and a sample of the diverse neighborhood’s residents and customers. A caterer called Freshwise — with a slogan of If It Ain’t New York State, It Ain’t On My Plate — served great food that also reminds us to buy local. Young ladies with hula hoops, maturing urban hipsters with families and the occasional hairy gent who dances to everything gathered with a friendly vibe flowing.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

OK, I’ll admit a bias to hoping this particular neighborhood succeeds. A former intern of mine when I worked in the festival business and his wife, both Oswego grads, played a major role turning the neighborhood into the hip place it is today. They started with Boulder Coffee and now own some 30 buildings in the area, many of them reclamation projects. Throughout South Wedge — which has, one should note, its own Ning — you’ll find funky eateries and bars, bakeries, second-hand stores, salons, a seller of parts for historic homes, parks and a planning committee that advises local doings. All things urbanists would say makes for a great community, so many of which happened organically.

[Hula] Hooping it up.

(Hula) Hooping it up at the Boulder Festival.

But you look at vibrant revived communities and they often circle back to a few dreamers, often artistic types. SoHo started with artists squatting in abandoned buildings and evolved into a place whose cool attracted everyone. Atlanta’s Little Five Points, Fremont in Seattle, Buffalo’s Allentown district and countless other neighborhoods owe their pedigree to folks who wanted to do their own thing, create something different and cultivate a living style envied from miles away.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

When I look at cookie-cutter subdivisions that can’t draw tenants and compare them to vibrant neighborhoods who celebrate the spirit of individuality, it’s no surprise the latter attract more attention. And South Wedge is one such place, a surging hot spot that oozes urban cool.

2 Comments

Filed under writing

non-branding branding: starbucks in wolves’ clothing?

I read with great interest this Seattle Times article about Starbucks going hyperlocal by rebranding some of its shops without any Starbucks branding. The throwback 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea test store will offer nary a Starbucks logo and even serve wine and beer as some traditional neighborhood coffeehouses do.

It will launch as the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong, the Times’ Melissa Anderson writes, and if successful will replicate in other markets. Starbucks’ SVP of global design, Tim Pfeiffer, notes each store intends to have a community personality, to look and feel more like an organic part of a neighborhood than a chain store.

But while going neighborhood and hyperlocal are things I applaud, what does it say about Starbucks’ belief in its own branding that it rolls these out each under its own customized name almost as stealth shops? Are they admitting people equate the name Starbucks with chain stores that spread like kudzu and often choke out native coffeehouses? In Seattle and Vancouver, for example, Starbucks are so abundant that it’s clear they are looking for overall market share rather than same-store sales, the usual indicator of an individual establishment’s success.

Reaction among actual neighborhood coffeeshops ranged from bemusement to anger — the latter because Starbucks representatives would essentially squat in their stores and observe goings-on. Starbucks reps spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, ‘Observation,’ said Dan Ollis, who owns soon-to-be neighbor Victrola Coffee Roasters. So apparently the rebranding also involves culling the best ideas of the competition plus non-use of the Starbucks name with all the economy-of-scale advantages the company famously leverages?

Granted, existing businesses launch new units all the time, but usually because they see a niche or void in the market. I’m no fan of Wal-Mart, but when they rolled out Sam’s Clubs, it found a ready audience for shoppers’ clubs with bulk sales (and named it after founder Sam Walton). Sometimes it’s aspirational, like when FX Matt Brewery started its Saranac line of craft brews to appeal to those who wouldn’t deign swallow Utica Club. But Starbucks isn’t looking at serving a niche; it’s trying to overpower an existing one. It’s not trying to save the neighborhood coffeehouse as much as eliminate existing neighborhood coffeehouses.

If you work in higher education, imagine a scenario where Harvard sent representatives to observe your campus for a year, then built a college right next door and used its deep pockets and superior marketing budget to poach your best students. 15th Avenue and its brethren look like wolves in sheeps’ clothing meant to thin the herd, not add new customer experiences. The next time I’m in Seattle, I plan to make a beeline to Victrola Coffee Roasters to show my support. Assuming it survives that long.

5 Comments

Filed under writing