Monthly Archives: February 2009

the secret (and not-so-secret) lives of bloggers.

As a follow-up to probing how ‘social’ social media should be, let’s talk about blogging. Or, in this context, the question of personal and/or professional blogs, and how (or if) they intersect.

The road to professional blogging was in large part paved by e-zines showing the power of the written word to inform and incidentally build online communities. The late, lamented Suck.com blazed a trail of cultural criticism with a kick that flowed so easily and looked so fun that everyone wanted to do it. Getting published (and skewered) in its letter section, The Fish, was the ultimate 1990s achievement in social media, before anyone ever paired those words. Sibling publication Feed (page not found) brought a democratic feature where those who posted comments had them displayed right next to the article, as if we were just as smart as the author!

Personal blogs often had a lonelier — literally — path to daylight. The perception that early bloggers were guys who couldn’t get dates and angsty teenage girls, while overstated, implied that people blogged for lack of another social outlet. I started blogging (before it was called blogging) because it seemed an interesting creative medium. The community angle — rings of friends and strangers alike coming to offer comments and support — appeared as an almost unintended consequence. Yet those connections were the fuel wherein blogging would really take off.

We can’t forget these roots as we ponder personal vs. professional blogging. I know many who blog for only personal reasons: to connect with others, to keep loved ones informed and to vent. I also know others who blog for professional reasons: to share their insights with others, solicit feedback from colleagues and promote their expertise.

But what about those of us who do both? I think it’s hard to be overly personal in a professional blog or overly professional in a personal blog. If you seek those two audiences, a one-size-fits-all blog where you talk about last night’s bad date one day and social-media strategy the next will likely regularly disinterest some readers. Yet our personal and professional lives will always be of interest to someone somewhere.

I’m not saying to leave the personal entirely out of professional blogs. Little details of our lives revealing our humanity make any blog better and allow readers to more easily connect; professional blogs with all the warmth of a cyborg professing to have all the answers grow as tiresome as a self-righteous sermon. Yet I also see real experts with spotless, spectacular professional blogs reveal their innermost fears, secrets and concerns in their Twitter streams. Which is, to me, just fine and makes them all the more identifiable and credible.

Showing different parts of our analog life reflects the beauty of a 360-degree view of social media: We can focus our messages in one sphere, yet round ourselves out as much as we want in different corners. I don’t promote my personal blog through this blog or through Facebook; not that it’s secretive (or all that interesting), it just gives me a feeling of distance and separation. This blog I promote everywhere because it concerns all those social media outlets. Your approach may differ, and your mileage may vary, but ultimately it is the author’s decision.

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convergence.

Sometimes it takes the strangest convegences to move you forward with technology. I bought an iPhone over the weekend, but may not have if not for a mysterious hardware failure, running over a garbage can and another college’s apparently inept sports information office.

No word on whether Junior the iTouch and Olive the iPod Mini are jealous of TheHip, the newest member of my Apple family.

No word on whether Junior the iTouch and Olive the iPod Mini are jealous of TheHip, the newest member of my Apple family.

Hardware failure: I flipped open my old cellphone on Friday and the display was dark with just a couple of pinpricks of light. This clearly was not good.

Garbage can: The women’s hockey coach and I split trash service, and the garbage guys throw the can into my driveway when done. On Wednesday, while dealing with a fresh snowfall, I thought I could cut an angle around the can. I couldn’t. It wedged under the vehicle, requiring some back and forth to get it out, and my car still smells of burning plastic.

Sports (lack of) information: The aforemetioned women’s hockey team, for which I’m a faculty mentor/big fan, would clinch a playoff spot on Friday night if Chatham lost at Neumann. In The Raven later that night, I borrowed the bro’s iPhone to keep checking collegehockeystats.net to see if the Lakers could seize the historic moment. Except that Neumann wasn’t getting the information online, so I waited and refreshed, over and over.

This, then, is an ex-garbage can.

This, then, is an ex-garbage can.

While waiting for the score (Chatham lost, Oswego made the playoffs), my brother gave an impressive sales pitch for the iPhone, since I needed a new phone anyway. Sure, the AT&T data package would be more expensive than the Sprint cell service, but the ability to access the Internet anywhere offers a huge upside. True, I own an iTouch, but that’s at the mercy of WiFi availability, and I don’t live in the most wireless-enabled area. The idea of converging so many useful functions into one device seemed quite compelling.

The garbage can comes into the equation because buying a replacement meant I had to drive to the Oswego Lowe’s (I’m still boycotting Wal-Mart) Saturday morning, and in the same plaza sits an AT&T store offering iPhones and related services. I was probably the guy’s easiest sale that day because I had done my homework … all I really needed to do was get in the door.

Paying the $299 for TheHip, as I call the new 16GB iPhone, wasn’t as much of a consideration as the data plan. The cheapest available is $69.99 per month, plus $5 for unlimited text … plus taxes and fees take it to the north side of $90/month. My initial rationalization is that I paid off my SUV early and don’t have that monthly payment, and could probably ditch the $19.99/month for my Dreamscape email/Web hosting … so many free options exist now.

address

While I like the apps (which I had with my iTouch), the coolest thing right now is the address book. I can put in friends’ cellphone numbers and email addresses and can choose to either make a call, text message or email all from one device. Consider me a sucker for convenience.

I have to say one moment Monday morning was cool too. Instead of putting a cellphone in one pocket and the iTouch in another, I just grabbed one device. Somehow things felt … simplified. Calming, even. However strange the path to the iPhone, that feeling of convergence seems priceless.

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how ‘social’ should social media be?

The question came across Twitter this weekend about social media identity, specifically mixing the personal with the professional. Should we keep them separate? How much should we put out there? Who should we let see it?

There are no manuals for such aspects of a 21st-century world, and the rules to a degree keep shifting. But it’s a sufficiently compelling topic that I at least wanted to start a discussion.

Fig. 1: The ever-popular Venn Diagram

Fig. 1: The ever-popular Venn Diagram

My thoughts are that, if you’re dedicated to social media, the personal and the professional necessarily overlap in some places — like a Venn diagram (above) — to show the real you. Your presence in blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 platforms is different aspects of who you are. Perhaps only as much you as you want to show, but my favorite social media people show real personality. Real dilemmas, real concerns, real victories (however small) = really interesting. I find fairly useless those who only retweet (RT) others’ posts or self-styled experts/gurus who mainly regurgitate links, articles and platitudes. If a person doesn’t have a life beyond scouring the Internet, imho, their advice doesn’t have any real-world value — just as I wouldn’t trust someone who only watches TV talk shows to give me relationship advice.

Facebook, being the most popular among people I know, remains a prickly pear for some. But you do know you can limit the content you show to the world and even your friends, right? This neat blog post from Jessica Krywosa tells you more. I recently had two people ask to have their photos removed from a Fans page. The main reason? Because they were, you know, on Facebook! That evil Facebook!

But the most thorny issue deals with friend requests. Even with limitations, your friends can still see a lot of your life, and that I’m Facebook friends with our college president means I will never feel safe using the status line Tim Nekritz shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. But I do get friend requests from students and, recently, even prospective students. What do you do when that happens?

Everyone would handle it differently. Since I champion social media, I would feel like a hypocrite to refuse an earnest requested friendship, so I friend students back. I even approved friend requests from two prospective students — who seem to be friending everyone at their future alma mater — after they saw me put a helpful post on a group forum. Again, if I value social media as a communication form with prospective students, how could I do otherwise?

I should note, however, that I don’t put out friend requests to current students first (with the exception of my intern, because I was asking her to help maintain a Fans page). The reason is that I’m still most comfortable if a student wants to start a social-media interaction with me, not vice versa.

I’ll leave it there for now, because I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

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social media changing newsgathering.

In the past week I noticed a few friends in journalism attempting a new type of newsgathering in the wake of the tragic plane crash near Buffalo. These unfailingly old-school journalists embraced new media, posting status messages on Facebook asking, very sensitively, if anyone knew people who may have connections with Continental Flight 3407 and who may be willing to tell their story.

I’ve spent many years on both sides of the journalism-media relations street. I’ve been an editor trying to find people connected to a tragedy, and I’ve done media relations as reporters sought people related to a sad story. The most memorable instance of the latter was on 9/11, as our campus was flooded with calls from reporters looking for someone, anyone with personal ties that could place greater context on that unthinkable event.

One of the worst journalism cliches is the sight or thought of a reporter sticking a microphone in the face of a grieving loved one to ask how they feel about a tragedy. Maybe this use of Facebook to find leads represents a kindler, gentler way to do business. My friends were working their connections but only looking for those ready and willing to speak. Those impacted by a bad situation are treated less like prey and more like partners.

It further shows how social media is changing the communication landscape. In Web 2.0, we are all a certain number of connections away from other people with whom we can establish various kinds of relationships. Moreover, it reinforces that social media continues to change the way we find, tell and share stories.

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two roads diverged in a yellow wood; i took the one more honest.

I had an opportunity to score my college some major publicity earlier this week. All I would have had to do was misrepresent our institution and betray all my moral bearings.

Came back from lunch on Monday to a voicemail from a reporter at TheStreet.com. The popular financial Web site does series on hidden gems in higher ed, and wanted to profile our liberal arts school, the reporter said. Called her back and thought it sounded great. Then she emailed questions and it seemed like a case of mistaken identity.

She wanted to profile an institution that was exclusively liberal arts. We have a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which is what I thought she meant, but it’s just one of four schools in our comprehensive college. Without getting too deep into what that all means, essentially continuing to tell her we were the small liberal arts school she thought she wanted would have been a lie. It seemed like these were my two choices:

1) Misrepresent the school and fudge numbers, with the possibility of compromising my (and our) credibility
2) Come clean that this was not the droid she was looking for

I called her back and in the ensuing conversation realized she indeed had the wrong SUNY school. Turns out she had mistaken Oswego for Geneseo, which is indeed the liberal arts-type college she was seeking. She thanked me for the honesty and said I was welcome to pitch her stories any time. Which may or may not mean anything, but it’s also worth noting if I presented our school as something it wasn’t, many of the other 63 schools in the SUNY system would not be very happy with us either. Each college has its own unique fingerprint, and recruiting students under a lie would be very misleading and unwelcome.

The field of public relations often gets a bad rap as the province of slick snake-oil salesmen. But I’d like to think that, faced with similar choices, most college PR pros would make a similar decision. I could have called the Geneseovians and let them know what happened, but I didn’t want to seek out gratitude for merely doing the right thing. Besides, if our men’s hockey team beats theirs on Saturday — an honest win, if you will — that would be plenty good enough.

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school’s [always] in.

The long-lasting popularity of ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock is both amazing and instructive. The brief lessons on math, grammar, social studies and more first aired in 1972 and can, at any moment, stick a song or subject in the minds of generations of learners. The series had a 1996 tribute album with alternative acts such as Pavement, The Lemonheads, Blind Melon, Buffalo Tom and Moby; Schoolhouse Rock Live! had a long and successful tour; and the Schoolhouse Rock: Election Collection came out in time for last year’s pivotal vote.

Yes, I’m a big fan. “Conjunction Junction” taught me about hooking up words and phrases and clauses. “I’m Just A Bill” provided a perfectly concise civics lesson on how bills become laws (while also being parodied on The Simpsons, the ultimate pop culture honor). And “Three Is A Magic Number” — showing how you could add the digits of any multiple of three to get a multiple of three — inspired a love of math that lasted until … my first calculus course. (If only there had been a Schoolhouse Rock calculus episode?)

In my business, there’s an odd notion that we can not educate and entertain at the same time. Schoolhouse Rock shows nothing could be further than the truth. The best teachers find ways to engage their students even as they impart knowledge. For some reason, the lessons I recall best came from professors who could make me laugh as well as learn (I’m not smart enough to know if there’s a connection between firing up the brain’s pleasure receptors and memory retention). If you don’t think a great professor can move listeners to tears (and laughter) while presenting a lesson, you’ve never seen Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (viewed more than 8.8 million times).

Same goes with us college communicators. Students expect to have fun when they come to campus, so why are most materials so mirthless? With pictures of soaring spires, ivy-covered buildings surrounded by fall foliage, classrooms of studious multicultural learners, we want to look like serious institutions, but can’t we loosen up? We may show pictures of students smiling or sharing a (mild) laugh, but why can’t we try to write copy and use photos/videos that actually make future students smile or laugh? I received more than 100 brochures while choosing a college, all looking and sounding alike, and am sure I would have remembered if even one school had showed a sense of humor.

I believe it can be done: That we can inject more levity, more life into our work, whatever it is. That in these times, we should strive to make others’ days lighter in what we do. If you don’t believe that there is value in entertainment, in making others smile and laugh — well, then you probably don’t believe that three is a magic number.

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who are the people in your twitterhood?

I always find interesting the way we make friends — in real life, as well as cyberspace. In either realm, I’ve noticed friends rarely fall into one encompassing group but instead spheres that only occasionally overlap.

I’ve noticed this on Twitter, where my Tweeps tend to fall into three different, almost entirely exclusive groups.

1) The Higher Ed Social Media Circle. Many are thanks to @rachelreuben, who metaphorically took my coat, handed me a drink and dragged me into the Twitter living room. Most work in higher education in various forms of Web 2.0; many are experts and bloggers and excellent resources. This is the busiest and largest group of Tweeps, where I interact with the likes of @andrewcareaga, @bradjward, @circa1978, @debrouillard, @donnajlehman, @fienen, @girlmeetsweb, @jesskry, @karinejoly, @KarlynM, @lyuda, @mherzber, @tsand and many more. I know Rachel and Donna and Lyudmilla from annual conferences, and briefly met Matt Herzberger (@mherzber) and Karine Joly at UWebD, but most I only know online. I’d like to meet more of these interesting folks, and have booked some of them to speak at this year’s SUNY CUAD conference.

2) The Xanga Group. These I know from my other blog, including @ailec, @bastetmax, @danrapp, @dianeharrington, @fern_forest, @itsjenjen, @laurakins, @Lenore_Happenstance, @mydogischelsea, @rowdeezy227, @sapphire769, @scifiknitter, @shahrazad1973, @tarkka and @thinlizzy. I’ve only met Laura (@mydogischelsea) and Naomi (@shahrazad1973) in real life, but from reading blogs and interacting, I really feel like I know many of them well. Weird, eh?

3) The Real-Life Peeps. People I made friends with from Central New York, many of whom I’ve known since before Twitter existed. Most I know through SUNY Oswego in some way, including @jlongley, @mjoyner, @phred6179, @river868, @sliebler and @tjsoundguy. This is the smallest and least active group of friends. Maybe Twitter just isn’t that big here yet?

(Granted, I also follow the likes of @BarackObama, @JohnCleese, @PeteYorn and @ZeFrank, but don’t interact with them enough to have a fourth celebrity circle. And if you read this and weren’t mentioned: Sorry, but I follow nearly 150 peeps.)

Intriguing that these groups have almost no overlapping relationships, with the exception of fellow Oswego employee @sliebler who follows many social media types. While things like Twitter can build communities where anybody can meet anyone, lots of people still stay within their own tribes. Some things never change.

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