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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Make somebody happy

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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.

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Without content strategy, even a great CMS won’t help much

We’re in the process of redeveloping oswego.edu — which includes a switch to the Drupal content management framework and migration of 10,000 pages — but we’re also trying to redefine why our website exists: for our users and why they come to our site.

Rick Buck, our web technical lead, and I gave a Winter Breakout session that we thought would attract maybe a dozen or so people … only to learn it was moving to an auditorium with more than 60 people anticipated. Yowza! But this definitely means we have many stakeholders very interested in the process, and that’s a great thing.

While the new content management system is one attraction, our presentation also focused on what’s most important: content. As I like to say, “A content management system creates neither content, nor management, nor a system.” The other two involve a lot of work but without good content that helps the people who come to your site do what they need to do, you’re really limiting how many improvements you can make, no matter how great your CMS is.

To start the journey toward content strategy, we sent the editors of 140+ accounts a web content brief (below), a Google fill-in document that asks four important questions:

  1. Who is/are the audience of your pages?
  2. What are the most important tasks your site(s) visitors want to accomplish?
  3. What are the primary actions you want site visitors to take?
  4. What are your top priorities for your web presence this year?

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(Disclaimer: We borrowed ideas for the above from other colleges, because they are awesome.)

Since we sent the form on Monday, we’ve been quite impressed with submissions. Editors are putting a lot of thought toward audience, tasks and goals … some of the foundations for content strategy. We haven’t been in a position or had the staffing nor time to go with this approach previously, so I expect it to change a lot of the site’s content going forward. And that’s a lot of work, but worth it in the long run.

We’ve already started content audits on various accounts — identifying what’s there, if it’s working, if it’s relevant — that we can share with site editors and then collaborate to see how it all lines up with the web content brief. We’ve also introduced questions — the 5 Ws of reviewing web content I’ve posted previously — to ask while evaluating every page and/or deciding whether to create a new page.

We’re still very early in the journey toward sitewide content strategy and a more awesome oswego.edu. It includes a CMS, yes, but we hope that it’s ultimately defined by improved content. How will it go? Stay tuned.

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Year in music: Top 20 albums for 2014

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Male-female duos were all over my top 20, but who reigned supreme for music in 2014?

Every year, I’m part of a collaborative effort across higher ed to list the best music of that span. Every year, I struggle. For 2014, I kept shuffling most of the top 10 right down to the deadline … although my #1 was pretty much set the first time I heard.

And now, as the late great Casey Kasem once said, on with the countdown …

20. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager. The two things this album has going for it are Lewis’ voice and Ryan Adams producing. Overall the material is decidedly less interesting than her recordings with Rilo Kiley.

19. Bad Suns, Bad Suns. With a little more verve, variety and exploration, Bad Suns could have been this year’s Imagine Dragons or Bastille, but instead they’re a pretty decent act that produced a very catchy single in “Cardiac Arrest.”

18. Beck, Morning Phase. When you’re in the right mood, this is a great album. When you’re not in the right mood, it’s kind of a downer. Sorry, Beck fans.

17. Gemma Hayes, Bones and Longing. The Irish songstress creates albums that are very good in the moment yet largely forgettable once you’re done. Which is unfortunate, since she has a gorgeous voice.

16. Afghan Whigs, Do The Beast. File this under mildly disappointing. Greg Dulli and the boys can still put together some interesting songs but it’s nowhere near the power of their older material since it’s missing the angular guitar riffs of Rick McCollum that so perfectly complemented Dulli’s alternately lovable and loathsome characters.

15. Dex Romweber Duo, Images 13. The former frontman of pscyhosurfabilly duo Flat Duo Jets has successfully reinvented himself in a duo with his sister Sara on drums. It’s mostly rockabilly, blues and jazz with the occasional shreiks and howls and guitar flourishes that remind you of Dex’s mercurial talent.

14. David Gray, Mutineers. Gray’s music is like an old friend — comfortable and reliable. Bursts of impressive songwriting notwithstanding, many of his latest records are somewhat interchangeable yet always charming.

13. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker. Set-opener “Violent Shiver” starts with a rockabilly guitar riffs, trudges through swamp blues and a taste of grunge before even completing a verse. It’s that kind of unpredictability that makes this album remarkable and surprisingly fun.

12. U2, Songs of Innocence. Once you get past the army of hipsters whining that — gasp! — an album by a legacy band had defiled their iTunes playlist, you find a pretty decent album. Probably their best since 2001’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” it yields plenty of catchy moments yet the band didn’t stay embarrassingly away from what it does best.

11. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Talent has never been the question with Fleck, perhaps the greatest banjo virtuoso on the planet, but instead how accessible his material might be. But the sweet vocals and additional banjo work of Washburn — who also happens to be Fleck’s wife — makes this one of the most engaging effort in Fleck’s impressive canon.

10. Shovels & Rope, Swimmin’ Time. Married duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst continue to get better and better playing foreboding folk that casts a dark atmosphere dotted with glimmering and shimmering riffs and harmonies.

9. Bob Mould, Beauty & Ruin. Bob Mould can do no wrong. He just plain knows how to rock out or present a steady slow burn, lift you up or break your heart. Like his previous record, “Silver Age,” he does wax reflective on growing older but it’s Bob Freaking Mould so anybody can enjoy it.

8. Twin Forks, Twin Forks. Best known for his work with Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba ventured into folk and Americana with his new band. Call it what you will, but few vocalists have the effortless ability to craft vocal hooks Carrabba does — emo, folk or polka, it just plain works.

7. Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge, Avalon. A seemingly odd couple — “Critter” Eldridge better known for bluegrass and the Punch Brothers, Lage for modern jazz — blends sensationally through interpretations of the Great American Songbook and some improvised originals. Their collaboration, especially live, crackles with talent and chemistry.

6. Big Wreck, Ghosts, After the colossal disappointment of Big Wreck’s second album “The Pleasure and the Greed” in 2001, I’d never think a baker’s dozen years later to have a new record in my top ten. But “Ghosts,” like 2012’s “Albatross,” is a pleasant return to form. Once known as Canada’s answer to Soundgarden, Big Wreck’s comeback material easily eclipses any of Chris Cornell’s recent output.

5. Little Hurricane, Gold Fever. With a White Stripes formula — frontman Anthony Catalano and drummer Celeste Spina — playing a kind of retro rocking blues, they first made a splash with “Homewrecker” (notable largely in providing a soundtrack for Taco Bell ads). Their latest shows an even tauter, tighter take on love and loss and lust.

4. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Half the City. “Close your eyes and listen, and you might imagine someone who looks a bit like Otis Redding. Open them, and you’re likely to see someone who looks more like your neighborhood bank teller,” said Bob Boilen of NPR. Can’t say it any better, other than that the whole excellent band and the material make this an outstanding listen.

3. Rural Alberta Advantage, Mended with Gold. When RAA first showed up, they seemed a bit of a novelty — perhaps a cross between Neutral Milk Hotel and fellow Canadians The Tragically Hip. But “Mended with Gold” is such a solid, compelling disc that it’s time to re-evaluate their skills and staying power.

2. Blondfire, Young Heart. This is simply a relentlessly catchy record. The highest of five male-female duos in my top 20, siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll have shown flashes with their previous recordings, but “Young Heart” is really a stellar non-stop parade of hypnotic pop/rock gems.

1. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams. Adams’ prolific nature (including three full-length albums in 2005 alone) overshadowed the fact that as catchy and engaging as his material was, his songs always felt a bit more sloppy and incomplete than you’d hope. Then he slowed down, mellowed out (a little) and the results are stunning. “Ryan Adams,” his first disc in three years, features the kind of thorough songcraft and loving arrangement that shows just how much talent he has in full flower. In my opinion, nothing even came close to this for best album of 2014.

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