Monthly Archives: August 2009

beloit mindset list: a simple, sloppy view of history.

Every year it comes out and observers are all a-twitter (or this year a-Twitter) over the Beloit College Mindset List, which supposedly tells us old fogeys what this year’s incoming freshman, born in the early ’90s, have known and what they haven’t known. I watch really intelligent people cite it all the time, which is a shame since it’s so flawed.

It is a clever concept, one that goes down easily among readers not particularly interested in research and accuracy. But then, among student-affairs professionals and journalists who also buy the bogus Millennial stereotype lock, stock and barrel, the Beloit Mindset List is easy candy.

So how is it sloppy or even downright wrong? Here are just a few things I spotted on first glance:

41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
Rebuttal: Except for the two seasons he, you know, wasn’t coaching.

51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
Rebuttal: On what planet do classic rock stations play Britney Spears between the songs of Led Zepplin and Bob Seger?

52. They have never been Saved By The Bell.
Rebuttal: … except when it was running in syndication, which it always has since the original run. Oh, and then there’s Saved By The Bell: The New Class, which somehow ran from 1993 to 2000.

64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
Rebuttal: … except for the dozens of CDs released since the early ’90s I’ve purchased in cardboard packaging.

70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
Rebuttal: Dan Quayle was vice president when this year’s freshman were born. Nuff said.

Look, we don’t stand for shoddy research or half-baked answers within our academic halls. So why do we flock to — and venerate — such flawed pronouncements from our peers? If a student turned in such lazy work, what self-respecting professor would give it an A?

If you want to know your students’ mindset, here’s a novel idea: TALK TO THEM! I’ve found incoming freshmen ready, even eager, to discuss what they like and dislike, their concerns, their hopes and dreams. Real conversations will let you learn much more than the Beloit Mindset List’s simple, sloppy view of history ever would.


Filed under words

climbing mountains and social media.

One of the quickest ways to flummox an Adirondack mountaineer is to say you’ve come to the area unsure of what you want to climb. Similarly, if you tell people you’ve jumped into social media to promote your college, organization or business, they’ll scoff if you say you haven’t planned the whole thing out.

Both mountaineering and learning the ropes of social media require preparation, hard work and determination. As I hiked Indian Falls last week, I pondered some other parallels between exploring the mountains and social media.

Know your options. In the mountains, you’ll want to know what hikes are available, how challenging they are and how they match your ability. While you shouldn’t have to map out mission statements and full social-media plans before engaging in Web 2.0, you should know what tools to consider (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, blogs, etc.), what they will require of you and how much you can tackle. On either end of the metaphor, you want to avoid getting lost or taking on something that you can’t accomplish.

Say hello. An overwhelming majority of those you’ll meet on hikes will say hi or return your hello. You can engage in — or overhear — the most interesting discussions. The same with social media: One of the first things you should do is say hello to people and engage in conversations. Just the way folks you meet on a mountain can give you good advice, so can others working in social media become great sources of ideas, sounding boards and resources for any questions.

Pause once in a while. There’s a tendency while mountaineering to keep driving on non-stop. But I find it better to stop and catch your breath once in a while, enjoying the burst of energy upon continuing. Just like with social media: If all you’re doing is reacting and day-to-day maintenance, it’s hard to think about what you’re doing, what else you should do or even not do. You should take time to evaluate where you are on the trail, how achievable your goals are or rather you should seek another peak.

It's worth the climb.

It's worth the climb.

In either pursuit, remember it’s worth the effort. When you reach the top of the mountain, the payoff is the tremendous view and sense of achieving a goal. With social media, there’s no one summit that marks an end, but the continuing journey, the connections you make, the problems you solve are the real rewards.


Filed under Web

thinking of ballparks as brands.

Just as the campus should reflect what your college finds important, so are ballparks the places where baseball teams really live their brands. That this may or may not have much to do with what happens on the field tells us how baseball is more like a civic treasure than it is a game.

This summer, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit four different baseball parks: big-time majors to small-town majors, new and old, large and small. Like any good brand, ballparks (imho) can be boiled to a single noun or adjective … one that often also says a lot about the surrounding community. (DISCLAIMER: These opinions are mine alone. Your mileage may vary.)

CitiField: A visual extravaganza.

CitiField: A visual extravaganza.


In a word: Prestige.

CitiField opened this year with a lot of promise, as did its franchise. The Mets spend a lot of money every year on payroll and, in general, find ways to fall short. The ballpark itself, however, in no way falls short of its promise. It’s cool, it’s shiny, it’s a hot ticket. It’s the place to see and be seen. And yet, unlike its crosstown rival Yankee Stadium which was (rightfully) skewered for luxury prices, CitiField is fairly affordable yet affords you the prestige of saying that you enjoyed a game there. The huge video boards and ads rival the visual pollution of Times Square, but plenty of people love how big and loud New York is. And if some people are willing to pay $8 for the privilege of drinking Bud Light — when you can pay just as much for a vastly superior Hoeggarden — then CitiField is succeeding in making anything you do there feel like a luxury.

Safeco Field: Let the good times Ichi-roll!

Safeco Field: Let the good times Ichi-roll!


In a word: Fun.

Seattle is a great sports town without the luxury of a lot of good teams, and its Sonics hoops team was recently stolen by a bunch of businessmen from Oklahoma City. Perhaps because the Mariners and Seahawks were mediocre for so long, Emerald City franchises learned to sell much more than the game. According to folklore, after all, Seattle is where The Wave started. And so Safeco Field gives you majestic views of Puget Sound, more in-game contests than most major-league games, odd distractions like the scoreboard hydro races and affordable regional/cultural cuisine (Ichi-roll, anyone?). When I visited, a large group of Japanese fans wearing Ichiro jerseys appeared to be having the time of their lives. And that, more than anything (even winning!), is what you want for a night out at the ballpark.

Alliance Stadium: Good seats, sights still available.

Alliance Stadium: Good seats, sights still available.


In a word: Aspirational.

Just as the players on the Chiefs aspire to make the big leagues for parent club the Washington Nationals (or perhaps another, better team), so does Alliance Stadium seem to aspire to be something better. Caught between trying to serve up a major-league calibre experience and the corny promotions of minor-league ballparks, its brand is less certain than other parks. You score a box seat for $10 only to fork over $5.50 for a midrange beer. Most nights the crowd is small and even the exhortations of the scoreboards and announcers can’t lift it. As a bonus, the stadium sits near the mythical site of DestiNY USA, a much-promised mall/theme park/pipedream sold to transform the region if only its owner could get anyone else to pay for it. So the ballpark, the team, the city looks to break out of its own identity issues. Like many parts of Central New York itself, Alliance Stadium has potential with an eye cast towards opportunities for improvement.

Falcon Park: Little Leaguers on the field for the National Anthem? Sure.

Falcon Park: Little Leaguers on the field for the National Anthem? Sure.


In a word: Community.

Most Doubledays players don’t have much of a shot of making the majors. The cheesy between-inning fare includes arm-wrestling contests, racing a mascot, musical chairs. Little Leaguers take the field with the players for the National Anthem. Its most popular promotion is Dollar Beer and Hot Dog Night on Thursdays. That these are all embraced by the ballpark, the team and the community show everyone remembers baseball is more than just a game. I attended a Doubledays game a couple days after a Chiefs contest, and the latter had a larger, livelier, happier crowd. I sat with someone from Auburn and ended up getting upgraded to box seats right behind the home dugout. Most regular Doubledays fans know half the crowd in the ballpark. Folks ask each other how the kids are doing, how work was this week. Going to a Doubledays game is like attending a community picnic … one that happens to include a baseball game.

Intentionally or unintentionally, stadium experiences say a lot about both a team’s business ethos and the community it calls home. If you’re involved in any kind of brand marketing, what do your environment and customer experiences say about you?


Filed under writing

do teens know academic jargon?

OK, it is possible someone somewhere will come to your Web site looking for buzzwords that mainly make sense to a well-studied insider. Or maybe there’s a mysterious Prize Patrol that hands out grants to schools with the biggest helping of academic jargon and highest Gunning Fog Index.

But, if you work at a college, it’s much more likely that teens (and parents) will come looking at your Web content. They will seek more prosaic, if practical, answers to questions like: 1) How is your college right for me? 2) How will it get me a job (or, if you prefer, provide a better life) after I graduate? and 3) How much does it cost?

While much ink and bandwidth is burned in an overhyped pondering of whether teens don’t tweet, of greater interest should be ensuring our own Web pages meet the needs of potential students. This means speaking the language they use, not the cant of conferences and symposia. (And, for God’s sake, please don’t expect teens to know or care what symposia are.) Put your mission and vision statements on your office wall if you want to remind yourself of their importance; but don’t put them at the top of your page until we find someone who’s actually chosen a college or major because of a mission or vision statement.

Your college should not be, for the most part, crafting Web copy to be read by professors and academics. They are an important part of your campus community, and colleges everywhere are filled with brilliant, dedicated, caring faculty doing work beyond most of our abilities. It takes great talent to teach people about complex scientific principles, intricate historic events, foreign languages, sublime social-science sequences or how to reach at-risk children.

But colleges also should remember that they’ve hired writers, Web and otherwise, because they provide a certain skill set. Writers need to be trusted in their abilities to craft concise, clear, compelling copy that speaks to an important target audience. The importance of well-done Web content can not be discounted or overstated. Teens may or may not tweet, but they certainly do read college Web sites … and we need to ensure that what they find will keep them interested.


Filed under Web

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?


Filed under Web

when tweets give you lemons, make lemonade.

When I returned from a meeting that took up half my Thursday morning, I sensed a great disturbance in the force. People all over the ether were up in arms — distraught, despairing, despondent.

What happened? Some tragedy killing innocent people? A government ruling infringing upon our Constitutional rights? A natural disaster sending communities into ruination?

Not quite. Not hardly. All the overwrought hand-wringing stemmed from Twitter being down for a few hours. To add sturm to drang, apparently Facebook had issues too. People wondered what in the world they were expected to do without access to their favorite social media outlets.

What to do? Um, maybe … work? You know, that thing most of us are paid to do during working hours?

It’s odd how people now treat social media as some kind of inherent privilege like life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. How many words and hours were burned up by folks kvetching about their morning being ruined … all because they hadn’t been able to foist more Facebook quiz results or retweeted articles upon the rest of social-mediadom.

Here’s what people should have done because they were deprived of social media: Rejoiced over being freed from their addiction. Connected with people face to face, like the old days. And, oh yes, completed a little bit of work. Instead of kvetching over Twitter temporarily turning into a lemon, they should look at it as an opportunity as sweet as lemonade.


Filed under Web