Being remarkable by being unremarkable.

Author standing in front of a LeRoy Island sign

Maybe the only person that day to take a selfie on LeRoy Island.

Upstate New York is full of wonder. I’ve lived within an hour (or much less) of Lake Ontario for 40+ years but hadn’t heard of LeRoy Island until Friday night. And when I visited it, I realized why.
I planned a random Saturday roadtrip to clear my head out a bit, which I do from time to time, starting with fixed points of Waterloo Prime Outlets (to clear out my wallet) and Sterling Cidery. But what to do in between? Captain Jack’s on Sodus Bay? Nice, but nothing new. Chimney Bluffs? Been a while, maybe. Then I saw it floating on the map on the east side of Sodus Bay: LeRoy Island.
A map of Sodus Bay, with an arrow pointing to LeRoy Island

Thar she blows.

Go ahead: Google “LeRoy Island.” I’ll wait.

You back? Kind of a mystery, yes? Some Facebook checkins but no official presence. Some real estate listings. Not much else. My interest was piqued.
So after supporting the Seneca County economy at the outlet malls, I headed north on 414 but instead of turning right on 104, I went straight on something sometimes called Lake Bluff Road. Orchards and vineyards and farms lined the road. Off on the left toward Sodus Bay, I started to see the nouveau riche fabricated monstrosities, million-dollar plots individually or in cul de sacs boasting the coveted lake view. Those disappeared and the countryside returned. Following winding roads and instinct, at last I reached it: LeRoy Island.
What’s remarkable about LeRoy Island is that it is generally unremarkable. You drive across a bridge lined with fishermen, past a gritty marina that says parking for customers only (read: not a tourist trap) and onto the island’s main road, where water remains in view on both sides of you. Marina aside, it’s all residential. And quaint. The main road ends in a loop, and you can explore the one-lane camp roads (I met no traffic) and see the whole island quickly. The camps and houses are nice but not showy; not a McMansion in the bunch, and the cars are not luxury vehicles and sports cars or enormous Land Rovers but the kinds of vehicles driven by everyday folks.
A little free library, where people will finish a book and leave it for a neighbor to enjoy

When you finish a good book, you share it with your neighbors.

It feels like a throwback but in the best way — to a time when the middle class could afford waterfront property, where people liked and respected and said hello to their neighbors (there’s even a little free library where residents put their books when they’re done with them so others can peruse them), where folks talk across campfires and wooden fences and fishing lines. I saw nobody with their nose in a smartphone (as opposed to the outlet mall, where you couldn’t go 10 feet without seeing somebody absorbed by technology).

The people of LeRoy Island know they have a bit of paradise but don’t have to brag about it or showcase it in selfies, because it’s so much more rewarding to just soak in what’s around you and appreciate your blessings.
In the attention-craving world of 2018, LeRoy Island is in no hurry to be found. And in that dedication to being unremarkable, it is a remarkable find.
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Strategy, not stunts: The way forward in social media management

Pictures of fishing bait and lures

Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

Lost in the recent news about changes to the Facebook news feed to favor people over brand pages (among other things), which continues to generate both panic and purposeful planning, was an announcement that anybody who cares about the social media ecosphere could support.

Facebook’s decision to devalue “engagement bait” is great news for all of us. Chances are, your feeds have had the weeds that include phrases like “tag a friend,” “share for a chance to win,” “life if you …” and other lazy substitutions for developing actually engaging content.

According to Nathan Mendenhall of Social Media Today, discouraged behaviors include:

  • Tag Baiting – Asking people to tag their friends.
  • Comment Baiting – Asking people to comment with specific answers (words, numbers, phrases, or emojis).
  • Vote Baiting – Asking people to vote using reactions, comments, sharing, or other means of representing a vote.
  • React Baiting – Asking people to react to the post (includes like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry).
  • Share Baiting –  Asking people to share the post with their friends.

All of those represent desperate calls for attention more than anything contributing to social media community. They generate only noise.

Asking people to share a Facebook post should be part of something urgent. Looking for help to solve a crime? Absolutely. Trying to find a lost person (or dog or cat)? Totally. Trying to win a $10 gift certificate because sharing enters you into a contest? Get off my feed, already.

Mendenhall’s piece has also mentions video, a popular format on Facebook. The downside if its effectiveness is so much video that is trash … including video that is actually a static graphic or some kind of inspirational or funny quote that tries to game the system.

But Facebook is placing greater emphasis on video that matters. “Don’t make video for the hell of it,” Mendenhall notes. “If you want to get value out of your investment in social video, especially on Facebook, make content that people will want to watch and will come back to view more than once, or focus on episodic content to boost repeat viewership of your subsequent posts.”

Again, think of video as not just a thing to do, but as a medium that can tell a story in a compelling way. That’s how we should always think of our content.

Whatever the Facebook changes bring our way — and I’m sure I’ll be among those not pleased with all of them — one takeaway is to concentrate on quality content and on content strategy, which is what we should be doing the whole time. Taking away people who use stunts and shouting for attention is one positive development.

We can make a better Facebook — and social media experience — by concentrating on stories that matter and on delivering value to our audience. It’s a shame that a bunch of news feed changes have to remind us.

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Being useful is more important than chasing vanity metrics

I recently had a call from a vendor who brusquely said she thought our Facebook posts could do better and that their tool could help (a dubious argument). That week happened to be, in retrospect, one of our lowest for engagement rates, in part because Facebook was seemingly squeezing everybody’s reach at the time and because I was trying new content features, but it also brought to focus something I’ve been thinking for a while:

We spend a lot of time looking at social media the wrong way.

Graph that shows a rising and falling Facebook reachSocial media isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a popularity contest. If you’re only concerned with vanity metrics (likes, reach, etc.), you’re not really concerned with your audience.

Don’t get me wrong: I like seeing one of our posts getting hundreds of likes and shares and a big reach, but there’s something I like way better:

Seeing that one of our posts has helped somebody or had a positive effect. Maybe it makes an alum smile and remember their days. Maybe a parent comments on how thrilled they are their child goes here. Maybe it convinces somebody to come to an event or donate or maybe even choose to enroll at our college.

And in at least one case, a very helpful post made people mad and convinced them not to come, but ultimately was the right thing, engagement rates be damned.

Without getting too specific, we have a popular annual student-organized event that I happily promote when I heard about it because it’s one of the most cherished offerings to the community. But then, on the afternoon before the event (!), they emailed they didn’t have their resources aligned and would have to cancel it.

I knew what I had to do wouldn’t make us popular or that beloved in the short term, but it was the right thing: I had to post ASAP that this event was canceled.

People were mad. They chewed us out. They were rightfully upset that an event their children looked forward to wasn’t going to happen and they’d have to find some alternative. I checked around and found a couple of similar events they might enjoy.

The post did get shared quite a bit to make sure families didn’t show up to a canceled thing, which would have led to temper tantrums and the like, and the comments with which it was shared were not kind. Understood. I did a follow-up post the next morning, realizing it could bring more anger, although by then people saw it as more helpful.

If somebody only cared about sentiment tracking, would they have posted it?

If somebody didn’t think it would get a bunch of likes, would they have posted it?

I’d like to think the answer to these questions is “yes” for most people in the field, but if all you chase are likes and positive sentiment, you’ll miss the bigger purpose of social media, and that is being of value to your community.

If somebody doesn’t want to post something helpful or of interest to a key (albeit niche) audience because it might not get good engagement rates and could potentially lower EdgeRank, then they are managing numbers, not a true community.

Because posting something that genuinely helps one person, or moves one person to action that will have positive results, is more valuable than 100 likes any day.

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New position and role: making stories happen

Charles Kuralt on his typewriter

Back around elementary school, as I watched Charles Kuralt wrap up one of his magnificent “On the Road” segments, I decided that I wanted to tell stories for a living. And I now have a new role, new title and new responsibilities at work that makes this more of a reality.

I’m taking on a new title as director of news and media services, although if such a thing was possible, I’d like to think of it as the director of storytelling. I now head a four-person professional team that includes writer Jeff Rea, videographer Jim Kearns and photographer Jim Russell, plus a squad of great student storytellers as always, with our main goal of telling the stories of SUNY Oswego, and why the college is a special community.

Maybe that comes in the form of a news story (once known as a press release), maybe it’s a video (although topping the Oz Chicken Patty’s virality will be a challenge), a photo that transmits a thousand words, a narrative Facebook post, a tweet, a ‘gram, a Snap or a blog post. It’s rather exciting to think of stories taking so many potential forms, and working with a talented team that can help bring these tales of awesome people doing amazing things to life.

The main challenge will be trying to figure out how to make our resources meet the possibilities, as every member of the Oswego family is a hero with an interesting story (or two or nine) that we could tell, but whether it’s a Campus Update Spotlight, a video about student research or a Friday #oswegram, our job is to work together to bring this content to the world.

And while it’s not traveling around America in an RV telling the extraordinary tales of ordinary people, it’s still pretty cool.

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‘Heaven is a better place today’: RIP Gordon Downie

Gordon Downie performs live

“Heaven is a better place today
But the world is just not the same.”
— “Heaven is a Better Place Today,” The Tragically Hip

There may have never been, and may never be, a better frontman in a rock band than Gordon Downie. That’s a high mark, to be sure, but if you’ve ever seen The Tragically Hip live, you know that he belongs among the greats for his vocals, his sense of flair and drama, his showmanship and connection with the fans.

That’s why I was so saddened to learn that he has succumbed to the brain cancer that robbed us of one of the great songwriters and minds in rock and roll.

The first time I saw The Hip live, he wound up on the floor shouting “let me out!” during “Locked in the Trunk of a Car.” I can’t explain it other than to say it was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen live.

When I saw the band live at Highland Park in Rochester, a rainstorm moved in and scattered most fans, but Gord wanted to keep playing despite the not-so-safe conditions because he had that kind of connection with the audience. The band came back and played to a much smaller crowd after the rain passed and the stage cleaned up, but he put forth the effort as if he was playing to a packed stadium.

I mapped a visit to the Pacific Northwest around the time the band played in Vancouver and my friend Laura somehow scored us second-row seats. I’d seen The Hip a few times in the States but to see Gord up close in his home and native land, where he was revered and among the most beloved statesman, was to see a performer in all his glory.

Throughout the years, he had so many small and entertaining running bits, almost blending pantomime with performing. He would do crazy antics with a handkerchief, scuffle with a microphone stand and generally make the smallest things entertaining.

But even as he improvised bits, he also improvised songs on the stage that later became tracks on records. His extemporaneous brilliance was awe-inspiring.

And when the band made its last tour last year, despite the circumstances of his illness, it was a kind of victory tour: Venues sold out, fans packed every stadium, ovations were loud and moving, and Gord and the boys kept their emotions in check (mostly) to return the love letter to the fans. I cried then.

I’m fighting back tears now. I knew this day would come and I thought I could write something profound. But my heart hurts for his family, his friends, his fans. This man meant so much to me, so much to those who loved him — and maybe more to his native Canada then any entertainer.

You were ahead by a century, Gordie. Your music will continue to be a treasure. We’re all richer for hearing you.

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A successful conference that discussed failure.

Keynote presenter Felicia Day with the incomparable HighEdWeb President Colleen Brennan-Barry.

Keynote presenter Felicia Day with the incomparable HighEdWeb President Colleen Brennan-Barry.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Intended or not, that was a major message coming through for HighEdWeb 2017 (#heweb17) that rocked and inspired hundreds of attendees in Hartford. The conference itself was a tremendous success — and one that, perhaps paradoxically — addressed the idea of failure, and why it’s part of the process, more than any other gathering I can recall.

A moving and magnificent keynote by actor, author and content creator Felicia Day especially drove the point home. Day — who pioneered successful crowdfunding for entertainment and has brought the enjoyment of a fun nerdy character to everything from her project “The Guild” to “Supernatural” to “Dr. Horrible’s Singalong” to the “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” reboot — was honest in how many times she took the wrong path on the way to an amazing career.

“Mistakes are rewarding,” she said at one point. “They are the best thing you can do.” She added that people are more successful when they risk failure instead of moving cautiously toward what they consider guaranteed success.

Day added we should treat ourselves as our own research projects — the key is to discover ourselves, as “the greatest tragedy is to not be who you are.” She has coped with anxiety and a desire to be perfect, and learned along the way there should be no shame to reach out for help, whether via a support group or counseling or anything that can bolster our mental health.

She said her own daughter serves as a kind of inspiration: We all have some joy in our lives we wouldn’t have if not for mistakes. Lose the regret, Day advised, and instead of dwelling in negativity, live a good and kind life that shows that being different, even being nerdy, is cool.

I had the honor of asking a question in the resulting audience Q&A, which essentially said that, yes, this really inspired us, but how can we bring the similar attitude — mistakes are OK and fuel success — back to the sometimes risk-averse atmosphere of higher education? While acknowledging that Hollywood was very risk-averse, which is why she independently funded so many wonderful projects, Day noted the idea of doing pilots the way the TV industry does is a great solution. Doing a pilot project, no matter how small, that shows something can be done is a useful first step to larger projects that can help our students, our colleges and our world.

One thing is certain: Bringing the honest, intelligent and engaging Felicia Day as a keynote speaker was by no means a mistake.

Theme warning

Presentation slide: Get permission to fail

Unfortunately, I don’t even realize which presentation featured the slide Amy Wolf shared about getting permission to fail, but it perfectly encompasses something that came up a few times.

In her session that won the Best of Conference award, “The Art and Science of Collaboration,” Day Kibilds of Western University discussed using lessons learned and avoiding past mistakes can develop collaboration and drive winning projects. All with a “Game of Thrones” theme, I should add. In short, she encouraged us that if think about worst-case scenarios (like zombie White Walkers overrunning the Seven Kingdoms) to motivate stakeholders to work together, if we have the right players to have honest and healthy discussions, and if we acknowledge institutional mistakes and/or inconveniences, projects can be turned around if treated as an opportunity for learning.

Unknowingly, I joined the trend as I presented “7 Habit[at]s of Social Media Storytelling.” (Thank you to Donna Talarico for the marvelous recap!) And I’m not just saying out of realization as I developed the presentation I had taken the wrong approach — don’t base it on channels but on content and process instead — and had to practically rewrite the whole thing, nor because I goofed in thinking I could get it completed in just 45 minutes (sorry).

Nope. I’m happy that the presentation included a slide that read:

You will fail sometimes, but that’s OK.

The only people who never fail are people who never try.

And this #heweb17 wonderfully encouraged us to try, fail and try again. It’s really the only road to success.

 

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Ad concept: Experience the world, but not through a lens.

Tree with sunlight coming through

Just had an idea for an ad. Could be for something like Jeep, a destination like the Adirondacks, maybe outdoor apparel.

It starts with a family packing the car (a Jeep?) for a wilderness vacation. The dad says, “Let’s do a pre-vacation selfie!” The mom and two kids turn around, click and they’re off.

At every stop, the dad wants to do the same thing. The mom and the kids are less and less interested in the selfie and more interested in seeing what’s around them in every scene.

Finally, the dad goes to take a selfie and sees nobody is into it. He turns around and he sees that his kids are standing with their arms out as a baby deer creeps tentatively toward them. The mom is looking on lovingly, appreciating how much her kids love nature.

The dad smiles, puts his phone in the pocket, and walks over to put his arm around his life.

I don’t have a tagline yet, but it would be something along the line of experiencing the world around you instead of through a lens.

I’d actually be less interested in selling a product as I would a valuable life lesson.

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