SUNYCUAD focuses on the power of play

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug.

The recent SUNYCUAD conference hit one out of the park with its theme on the importance of the power of play. Even though we work in higher education, we too often overlook the importance of curiosity, exploration and wonder in the creative process.

Bob Hambley, designer and partner in Hambly and Woolley, set the tone in the opening plenary by saying that we need to play and be curious to succeed in creative work. He cited the work of Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, who posited that curiosity leads to a circle of creativity: 

  • Curiosity leads to exploration
  • Which leads to discovery
  • Which leads to pleasure
  • Which leads to repetition
  • Which leads to mastery
  • Which leads to confidence
  • Which leads to more curiosity

The challenge, Hambley said, is that curiosity peaks in humans at about age 5. Is it a coincidence that this is when formal education also tends to begin? Along the way, curiosity is discouraged by disapproval, by fear, by a lack of time, and by craving of certainty. The process of what we call “growing up” tamps our creativity down.

But Hambley thinks we can reverse the process by activity letting our curiosity come out of play. He encourages us to work five things into our regular routine to keep our curiosity strong:

  1. Observe
  2. Inquire
  3. Challenge
  4. Explore
  5. Take risks

The risk-taking part is important. Higher ed focuses so much (too much) on best practices, sometimes to the exclusivity of innovation and new ideas. But we can never evolve without risk. If we fail or if we succeed, the most important thing is that either road leads to learning, Hambley said.

After watching Hambley’s inspiring talk, I emphasized taking risks more in my presentation with (excellent) Oswego student blogger and intern Lizzy Marks, 6 Suggestions for Successful Student Storytelling. To invite student storytelling into your narratives, you have to take risks and trust people. But somebody had to take a risk to create the colleges and universities that make up the SUNY system — and making the system was a big risk in itself. Compared to the risk people like Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon took in the 19th century, hiring a student blogger seems like a fairly small deal.

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the trip to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, where we explored exhibits on Sesame Street and other children’s programs, rekindled our younger years with classic arcade games and enjoyed the natural wonder of an amazing butterfly garden.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

What was your favorite toy?

A wonderful question that cropped up from time to time was “What was your favorite toy?” For me, it involved trips to the dentist: While becoming creative didn’t require pulling teeth, getting my favorite toys sometimes did.

We went to a dentist named Dr. Betts in Auburn. The most memorable part was that at the end, our reward was selecting a little rubber animal. Which seems small, perhaps, except that our collection of rubber animals turned into a big community. My brothers Joel and Colin assembled their little communities and the Little Animals, as we came to call them, all interacted with each other and had many adventures, from football games to missions of international espionage to battling Star Wars characters.

From the power of playing with the Little Animals, my brothers and I learned three important things that followed us into our creative endeavors:

1. Storytelling. Without leaving the house, those animals went on adventures far and wide, to Soviet Russia, to the moon, to distant planets. We learned to tell a story — generally flights of fancy, yes — but to create characters and motivations and cohesive narratives. I honestly look back with a sense of awe at how sophisticated we were as kids when it came to crafting the adventures of the Little Animals.

2. Collaboration. As noted, all three of us had our own sets of animals, but they all interacted with each other in larger narratives. They generally began with a concept from one of us, often taking from TV or a movie but sometimes just dreamed up, with the others adding to it to keep the action going. In retrospect, I am so grateful for such an awesome preparation for collaborative creative work.

3. Community. Every adventure depended on the Little Animals working together and bringing their own strengths to the table to solve whatever challenge they faced. I still remember my characters like Jerry Cat, Sammy Squirrel, Singo Seal, Danny Dolphin, among others, and how they were all pieces of our larger Little Animal community that showed that togetherness conquered all.

Wow. That’s so much more than I realized. We grow up — or so we think — but how we played as kids continue to influence us. We also need to make sure that childlike curiosity and our willingness to play stay with us too.

Leave a comment

Filed under words

#whyichoseoswego: a quick and lovely user-generated success story

If you have any contact whatsoever with a college admissions office, you know that May 1 is Kind of a Big Deal. It’s the deadline for students to make deposits, heralded as #CollegeSigningDay or #DecisionDay or other hashtags. But what, we pondered as The Day approached, could we do to stand out — to show students why Oswego can be an awesome choice without resorting to tired platitudes.

At our student social media team meeting four days before #CollegeDecisionSigningDay, I wondered out loud and the answer that tumbled out was a #whyichoseoswego tag. Ask current students, alumni, faculty, staff, anybody really to tweet what made them choose our college. (I weighed #whyichoseoz but wanted to get “oswego” in there to be extra-clear to anybody who saw it.) The interns didn’t think it was an awful idea, so I emailed our partners in admissions and they liked it.

> Strategy: Cultivate and share reasons students decided to attend Oswego via the #whyichoseoswego tag

> Execution: Request participation via Twitter (and Facebook to a lesser degree) and via micronetworks and share to encourage more participation

> Goal: Positively influence students who are still deciding that Oswego can be the right fit for them

So we started simply: I asked our interns to post at some point Monday afternoon and for the admissions interns/tour guides/etc. to do the same. Admissions intern Bridget Jackson took it one step further by contacting everybody in the organizations she’s in to pitch in. I figured, eh, we’ll get a few, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but with something this quick, who knows …

Result: Wow.

whyiscreen

Topsy found 518 tweets, and note that prominent alum/ESPN anchor Steve Levy is toward the top. We didn’t even solicit him; he just saw a post that resonated with him and shared. That’s not “going viral” but it is impressive given the bootstrap effort.

The @sunyoswego account retweeted many of them, although I chose to space them out 10 to 15 minutes to not overwhelm the tweet stream and after a firehose of awesome tweets on Monday afternoon it took me until nearly noon on Tuesday to catch up. I also put together a Storify with a large number of the posts:

whyistorify

The 700+ views are pretty impressive, and reflect the social media theory that people like to observe more than participate. I did a bit.ly on the link and found about 90 percent of the visits via social share came from Facebook, where posting it also brought a lot of great comments from alumni and parents of current students.

Note that this promotion lived almost entirely in social — Twitter mainly with one post on the college’s Facebook page plus sharing into our closed incoming student group — and via word of mouth starting with a very small group. This was no massive campaign, we didn’t do a major reach out to alumni ambassadors (next year, with more time, I would include that component) and it really sprung up as a quick, grassroots, bootstrap effort of organic support.

What about admissions results, you may ask? The director of admissions reported a large late surge of deposits and that our incoming enrollment is up around 100 freshman over last year. Admissions also reported a really “positive buzz” that, while not the only factor that may influence any individual student, cultivates an atmosphere that supports choosing Oswego. And admissions definitely thinks it’s worth collaborating on to make a bigger deal in the future.

Add in the show of pride and positive feelings from current students, alumni and even some faculty and staff members, and we definitely feel good about choosing to launch this modest campaign.

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

The state of geosocial media, 5 years later

In March 2010, I wrote a four-part blog series on geosocial media and its potential for the future. In addition to being fascinating to research, the series earned me invitations to speak at conferences and write articles in real publications. And while I saw great potential for what I called “geotagging” social at the time and the players in the field, the closing paragraph of the series may have been the most prescient:

Building bonds — with other users and with establishments favorite and unfamiliar — remains the big draw to geotagging, so we can’t underestimate its future. Since, as this series has shown, each comes with different drawbacks, neither Foursquare, Gowalla nor Yelp seem like that killer app that will become that next service with Facebook-style popularity. But the potential is there if some of these apps merge. Or if a developer can build a better mousetrap, the world may beat a bath to his or her door … since, with geotagging, we’ll know exactly where to find it.

The sad truth is that the past 5 years have seen most of the major players in the market change, get bought or fold. Consider:

  • In 2014, Foursquare mystifyingly launched a sibling app, Swarm, that relegated Foursquare itself to irrelevancy. I just looked and none of my friends recently checked in anywhere nearby. Zero. I occasionally see Swarm checkins pushed into my Twitter feed, but nowhere near what Foursquare was in its heyday. (UPDATE: Apparently Foursquare will partner with Twitter to provide the opportunity for check-in ability, which is the first promising thing in a while.)
  • Gowalla was consumed by Facebook in 2011 and disappeared into the void by the following year.
  • Whrrl, my personal favorite of the bunch, was bought in 2011 by Groupon, which essentially cannibalized its best features.
  • The promising social scavenger hunt app SCVNGR disappeared from app stores in 2012, having transformed into LevelUp … and you’d have to hunt to find any mention of them.
  • Out of the major players, only Yelp retains any semblance of itself. Its Monocle feature that adds a bit of augmented reality for what’s around you and its robust reviews keep it relevant.
yelpnew

Yelp’s innovative Monocle remains a constant. You can find eateries around you even while admiring toddler art.

 

Strangely where do I see more people check in than ever? Facebook. In terms of geosocial capability, Facebook doesn’t let you do much more than check in, but it’s still a relevant social platform that’s been too big for anybody to buy it out, so it kind of garners check-ins by default.

So what happened here? So many companies tried to build a better location-based mousetrap, and the world beat a path to their door oh so briefly … but then buyouts and changes of strategy sent people away from the promise of location-based media. Everybody instead rushed to the next big things, whether Instagram or Snapchat or Yik Yak or whatever the same technology press that called Foursquare “a game changer” decides to (probably misguidingly) hype next.

We can take away that because no one app was perfect or at least all-encompassing (the Facebook goal), most were more likely to become tools not of users but of the desires of larger companies. The way business works now is that if you can’t build that better mousetrap, you buy out the company that does and use it however you please.

We’ve also learned that all the hype in the world doesn’t buy a market category, let alone a company, a future. As much as we all like to think otherwise, what we see as social media communities many just see as tools. Something newer and shinier is always coming next. Maybe all of us (me included) need to realize that in the world of technology, change is the only constant.

1 Comment

Filed under Web

Celebrate your unsung heroes! They are campus treasures.

loisThey don’t appear in admissions materials. They aren’t generally the subject of news releases. They’re not mentioned at orientation. Yet they may be the people your students remember most and love the best.

Your unsung heroes are a huge part of your culture, even if you don’t see them in committee meetings and special luncheons. We recently learned, quite pleasantly really, that one of the biggest “stars” to our students and alumni is Lois Terminella, who has brightened the day — in ways large and small — for decades of students at Lakeside Dining Center.

My colleague Jeff Rea recently interviewed Lois for our Spotlight feature in our Campus Update newsletter. Posting to social media was a no-brainer, but we never imagined the explosion of love that followed … 81 comments, almost all of them adoring, with 674 likes and 168 shares.

Posting a link on Twitter yielded an immense (for us, anyway) 54 retweets and 56 favorites. Click the link in the second paragraph above and you’ll find more wonderful comments on the Campus Update story.

Lois, quite simply, is a gem and the love via social media shows how special she is to the SUNY Oswego family.

A gentleman by the name of Peter Fland added this lovely comment on Facebook about another unsung hero beloved by alumni:

Every generation has their Lois. At Waterbury and Scales in the early 60s Louise the cleaning lady was one of ours. Everyone loved her to the point that she was featured on our float in one of the parades. She did many things, but the funniest of all was when she would push into the bathrooms and say “Good Morning Darlins – Are ya decent” – after she was in. One day I was late for a presentation and struggling to iron a shirt. She pushed me away, told me to get my shower, and finished my shirt. I do not know how she knew I was pressed for time, but she did. 50 years later I remember her fondly. Three cheers and a toast to all the of these wonderful people. Congratulations to Lois and all like her. They will always have a piece of our hearts.

Lois and Louise are exceptional, to be sure, but every campus has its unsung heroes that may fly under the radar of many but present some of the fondest memories to your generations of students.

Find those unsung heroes. Celebrate them. Share their stories. You might be amazed by the impact they’ve had … and your students and alumni will have a chance to show their love to those who very much deserve it.

Leave a comment

Filed under words

Anatomy of a (very) successful student blog post

krissypostA funny thing happened recently when one of student blogs unexpectedly exploded and became our most popular ever … by a very large margin. When that happens, it’s worth taking stock of some reasons.

University in Australia vs. College in the States by Krissy O’Farrell, a student visiting from Down Under, was well-written and engaging, but many of our students craft well-written and engaging posts. But it became our first student blog entry to net more than 1,000 visits in a single day (1,009, to be exact) and brought record traffic to the blog overall.

Most visits (884) came from Facebook, where we posted it mid-morning on a Monday. The Facebook post had a fairly modest 117 likes and 15 shares — but also many more comments than usual, many from alumni, some from others who studied abroad. But looking at the other end was more impressive in that this post was shared to Facebook via WordPress 191 times.

(Aside: We don’t post every student blog entry on Facebook; it’s more a “best of” or “greatest hits” in that if a blog entry shows up on our Facebook page, audiences are guaranteed a good read. I know some colleges and organizations hook up feeds that vomit every news item, sports story and/or blog entry onto Facebook, but this serves nobody. It discounts the value of every post in the eyes of your reader … and to Facebook. Many posts with few clicks mean your page’s Facebook EdgeRank drops, meaning less people will see your individual posts. By autofeeding, you don’t benefit your content or your reader, you merely create a new corollary to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence. But I digress …)

Krissy’s posts have done well before. Her debut article, which we also put on Facebook, intriguingly titled From 104 degrees, to 3.2 degrees in a day (chronicling her journey from Australian summer to Oswego winter) did not receive that much traffic in one day but ultimately has been shared more via WordPress (217 times on Facebook). So we know her blogs catch attention.

But what about this specific blog entry may show us what can work more regularly? A few things I’ve noticed:

  • A strong headline. In a world of linkbait headlines that devalue this importance of this, a strong headline that gets your attention by letting you know what’s coming and making you interested really helps. Both the aforementioned headlines by Krissy get your attention and pique your interest for what’s to follow. Which in this case is …
  • An intriguing central question. How do universities in Australia compare with colleges in America? If that doesn’t interest you, well, you’re just not a curious person. It certainly made a lot of our Facebook fans want to click … and that so many shared it from the end of the article shows they read the whole thing and thought it worth sharing with others.
  • A unique point of view. The primary target market for our blogs are prospective students. To future freshmen, wherever they come from, college is a strange and fascinating new world. An exchange student from Australia is less different from them than one might expect, plus she brings an interesting angle to any current students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents reading the blog. Krissy was also our first blogger recruited from Tumblr; my associate Kelli Ariel saw her photos and posts there and thought Krissy would bring great storytelling and a compelling point of view to our student blogs. Needless to say, she was correct.
  • An inviting image. I’ll be honest: A good image for Facebook posts matters more than it probably should. An outstanding blog post with a middling image or no image won’t get read as much as if it had a good image. And an image of food? Win! As Susan Weinschenk noted in her excellent book Neuro Web Design, our old brain asks three very primitive questions when encountering images, even on the web: Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Can it kill me? It’s blunt, but it’s science … and explains why food imagery suffuses the web so effectively.
krissystats

Side note: Ignore the all-time stats here, because Jetpack is a recent installation that reset these stats.

I’m not saying to consider this a be-all end-all in terms of what works in student blogs. Many factors decide whether a blog or specific post gets readership or not. What I am saying is that there are some factors that may make some posts more likely to succeed. And when our students are telling great stories, they deserve many appreciative readers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

Leadership, shoveling snow and great communities

If somebody said that leaders getting out and shoveling snow was a hallmark of a great community, you’d say that’s crazy, right?

Think again.

A delightful story came through Twitter the other day about Michael Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, showing up to shovel a student’s driveway in response to a tweet. It’s not a new service EKU offers, just a good-natured good deed from Benson, who regularly interacts with students via Twitter and responds to challenges for things like ping-pong games and dodgeball. But this little act of kindness was so on target that it inspired others to take up shovels to help their neighbors and it rightfully earned plenty of media attention.

ekuAfter I shared it, friends at other colleges helped put it into the context of a larger narrative and trend. A friend at Cornell noted that Berea, Kentucky, is considered one of the 20 coolest towns in U.S. Then another colleague from Cornell, Mark Anbinder, recalled how Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick once went around the city with a shovel and some friends to help those who needed it. Ithaca also happens to be considered the Best College Town in America by Business Insider, among many other awards for being an awesome community that occupy a long list on VisitIthaca.com.

Coincidence? Maybe less than it seems.

The best communities and campuses are powered by a spirit where everybody is involved. When the person on top rolls up their sleeves — or tucks them into a coat to take up a shovel — how powerful a message is that? If the college president or the mayor take up shovels and take time to look out for the community, what possible reason could you have for not helping others when you have the opportunity?

I’m not saying your president or mayor needs to go out and shovel — it’s not a very enjoyable opportunity unless you it’s something you like doing — but the act is more metaphorical. It is not the specific actions but the attitudes that are significant.

I still remember so many years later when I was unemployed and unhappy and fresh out of college, visiting my alma mater of Brockport. A dean had a brief exchange with me that suddenly made me feel human again, lifted my spirits and bolstered my beyond-sagging confidence. It wasn’t anything in particular she did or said, nor anything she would ever remember, but just a brief moment where her message to me was simply: You matter.

meeting

We all matter. And just the reminder of this means a lot. Our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, of “Alyssa Explains It All” fame, has always wanted to meet our college president, Deborah F. Stanley. After a hockey game, seeing President Stanley there but not feeling like she could just walk up and say “hi,” Alyssa tweeted that she’d like to meet the president. A meeting was arranged, and President Stanley told Alyssa she was a fan of her videos and they talked and Alyssa came out more than impressed. “She really shows why @sunyoswego is awesome,” Alyssa tweeted after the meeting.

But you know what, let’s take this one step further. You always have the ability to make yours a better community. You always have the ability to show others that they matter. Say a kind word. Go do something good. Make somebody happy.

When it comes from the top, the message is strong. But it doesn’t mean that anybody, everybody can’t step up and become a leader of making their community, their world a better place.

1 Comment

Filed under words

Make somebody happy

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 10.25.00 AM

Colleges do a lot of activities in social media — generally driven by goals, if you’re doing it right — but sometimes the most rewarding thing we can do is make somebody happy. On what’s become Random of Act of Kindness Week, social media is a great place to show you care.

We had an opportunity last week through a request from the family of Judy Letvak, a longtime dedicated alumni volunteer who passed away in 2013. A member of our alumni board and often the first person to like one of our Facebook posts and offer encouragement, Judy made a large impact reflected in her memorial overlooking Lake Ontario. Judy’s niece Allison told us via Facebook post she’d love to see the spot in winter. “Judy Letvak’s memorial overlooks the lake in the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen,” Allison wrote. “It felt like magic up there and I could truly feel her spirit there and understand why her heart never left Oswego.”

How can you not answer that kind of request, even when the last several weeks have proven less than ideal for a trek to take a picture on a cold and breezy lakeshore? But a friend of the family and a former outstanding student of mine, Danny Distasio, reiterated the request via Facebook message at about the same time we had the sun break through for a while. The time was right.

The resulting picture won’t win any composition awards but, posted the next day as our Friday #oswegram, it resonated with those who loved Judy or the picture or the campus. As of Monday, 73 shares shows many people wanted to pass along this little tribute, which warms anybody’s heart. Perhaps the more important metric was a happy family, Allison saying: “Thank you to everyone who took the time to do this for me and my family! Hope to come up and visit Judy’s spot soon!”

(And if you’re hung up on ROI, there’s even something for you: The post generated at least one request for more information on how to get a memorial on-campus for a loved one.)

So you can be kind and create great content. Making somebody happy is always worth the effort.

1 Comment

Filed under Web