Monthly Archives: September 2009

is ‘stuck in the office’ stuck in the office?

“You are out of tune with the times if you are in the office more than one-third of the time.” — Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos, 1987

When it comes to being in touch with workers and customers alike, the words of Peters, the management guru, ring true more than two decades later. But the world has changed too. With the rise of the Internet and, more recently, social media, we can have instant or quick feedback from co-workers, peers and clients at any time. The amount of work and connections achievable with an iPhone transcends anything imagined in the 1980s. So does his analysis still seem valid?

For years, I’ve viewed e-mail as one of the best things that ever happened to my line of work. But now I’ve learned that it’s almost always easier to reach students via Facebook than email. My intern and I communicate via Twitter, and through tweets I’ve virtually attended great conferences or shared information from my conferences. Via various social-media methods, I can take care of so much business without leaving my desk and the MacBook Pro that is my window on the world.

But can even real-time electronic communication replace face-to-face communication? I would argue it can’t. Whenever I walk through our Campus Center, I almost always seem to run into people and conduct business. Whether it’s someone pitching me a story, an idea to start a new project or a conversation that replaces an unreturned phone call or email, a few random encounters can achieve more than a raft of calls, e-mails or messages via social media.

So does stuck in the office still mean stuck in the office? What do you think?

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networking and student bloggers.

I’m happy to say that our student bloggers are off to a flying start this year. I can barely keep up with them! But also of note to those in higher education is how the contributors came together. The old-fashioned way. Networking.

bloggers

This year’s group includes:

Sherrifa Bailey, a senior public justice and psychology major, McNair Scholar and all-around uber-involved person
Christopher Cook, a sophomore English major, writer and devourer of pop culture
Steven DiMarzo, a junior human development major, director of student affairs for Student Association and admissions intern
Tiffany Duquette, a secondary education and French major studying in Paris, and member of the Laker women’s ice hockey team
Tess Kaczorowski, a senior theatre major and dramaturg for the student honors production Blood Relations
Leah Matthews, a senior elementary education major and co-captain of the women’s swimming and diving team
Katherine Raymond, a junior journalism major, environmental writer for The Oswegonian, secretary of Students for Global Change
Jose Terrero, a senior journalism and creative writing major, active fraternity member, writer, admissions tour guide
Meghan Upson, a junior business administration major active with alumni relations and the business dean’s council
Lizz Wetherby, a junior public relations major, Laker Leader orientation guide and my intern

Most of them I met at various times and identified as potential bloggers. I interviewed Sherrifa for a story and knew she’d be great. I know Tiffany from being a faculty mentor for the women’s ice hockey team. I saw Katherine give a presentation about her group’s activities and read her work in the campus paper. Worked with Meghan on a couple of projects related to her PR internships. Steven asked me about blogging after hearing me present at a student leadership conference. Lizz came to me as an intern because one of her best friends interned here after taking a class from me.

Others were recommended via canvassing my campus contacts. Tess came through a request to the box-office manager for someone who could address the performing arts. I contacted our swimming coach, a blogger himself, who recommended Leah. After a meeting of our social-media team, admissions recommended Jose (who I’d met before in his efforts to start an entertainment publication). As for Chris … he just wandered into our Web developer’s office as a freshman looking for a work-study job and we quickly learned he was a good writer.

So, for the most part, we obtained our bloggers through good old-fashioned networking … and, moreover, from having a genuine interest in getting to know our students. Like most colleges, we don’t pre-approve blog postings — just pre-approve the students who do them — so we need to know we can trust them with the Internet version of a live mic. Plus, recruiting good and interesting people more often than not leads to good and interesting blogs.

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unsound opinions: how not to write a news release, vol ii.

The separation of fact from opinion — the objective from the subjective — is a major mark separating good news release writers from ones who, well, need to work on it.

A news release should be written like a news story, plain and simple: based on facts as they present themselves. Granted, the rise of columnists and commentators mean that you see a lot more opinion in what people falsely label reporting, but for the sake of the news release — or hard news story — this rule has not changed.

Facts: The sun came up this morning. SUNY Oswego is an institution of higher learning. Tim Nekritz is a writer.

Opinions: The sun came up this morning with the most brilliant hues of blue and orange and magenta the world has ever seen. SUNY Oswego is the bestest college in the history of mankind. Tim Nekritz is a writer who inspires legions of people to create better communication experiences. (OK, that last one is reeeeeeally a stretch.)

It’s that simple really. If you have something subjective, that’s fine as long as it can be attributed to someone or something. You can include opinions as quotes within the story.

Wrong: Random University just welcomed one of its most awesome groups of freshmen ever.

Right: Random University just welcomed “one of the most talented” freshman classes ever, President Norma L. Person said.

Attribution comes with choosing a good source. (Cf. the idea of credibility in Made to Stick.) Overarching declarations from your college president will, naturally, come with some bias but also note a source with some experience and insight. For some subjective areas, however, quoting a student on how great your college is can lend more credibility than the same words from an administrator. Outside praise or validation from renowned sources — experts, media outlets or others without a direct stake in the enterprise — can be even better.

If for some reason you’d really rather dot news releases with opinions and fluffy words, my advice is: Consider becoming a pundit or a poet. Otherwise, knowing the difference between the subjective and objective can help make releases shine.

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he stated, she stated?: how not to write a news release, vol. i.

Even with the advent of social media, the news release is not — and should not — disappear from the landscape any time soon. PR practitioners and students alike will still need to know how to craft one properly, hence the occasional blog feature of How Not to Write a News Release.

When quoting sources, some writers apparently become frustrated with the number of verbs available. So they try others and wander into the world of awkward writing. Three particularly egregious examples:

“We’re very excited for the start of the fall semester,” President Person stated.

“We’re very excited for the start of the fall semester,” President Person commented.

“We’re very excited for the start of the fall semester,” President Person exclaimed.

Sad but true, I’ve seen these verbs (mis)used in news releases more often than I care to think. News releases may not be as conversational as regular writing for the Web, but still think of them in a conversational context. If your president stated something, not only does that sound stilted, but something about a prepared statement almost dares cynical readers to disbelieve. Not only does commented seem more reactive than proactive, but we generally think of public figures as commenting on unfavorable news (or giving a no comment). And as for exclaimed … well, would you use that word in a regular sentence? Ever? Really?

So what to use? Here are a few:

* said. Yes, it seems vanilla, especially if used over and over. But it’s also the most widely accepted and generically accurate. Everything that comes out of our mouth we say in some way or another.

* added. I consider this fair use if you’re continuing the same thought in one paragraph or a succeeding graf. President Person said that applicants’ mean SAT scores and high school grade-point averages continue to rise. “We’re seeing an increasingly talented pool of students looking at Random University, which helps us select the best and brightest,” she added.

* explained. I use this one particularly when discussing something complex or that may not be commonly known. “While we are a public university, only 38 percent of our budget comes from the state,” President Person explained.

* noted. OK, maybe there isn’t universal agreement on this one, but I think it still works sometimes in a conversational context. “He’s one of our most honored and hard-working professors,” Person noted.

When writing anything, remember that you’re avoiding phrases that will make the reader stumble, unnecessarily pause or become confused. Using outmoded or unintentionally loaded verbs can create obstacles. Using verbs common in conversation keeps them reading on.

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facebook and colleges: from outhouse to penthouse?

I was invited to talk last week to all of our admissions counselors about our college’s presence in social media. When I noted this on Twitter (I’m a dork), one of my followers asked if I would discuss searching and screening applying students via their Facebook profiles.

Obviously: Not. (Who has that kind of staffing, let alone mindset?) But it reminded me how the narrative, the relationship between colleges and Facebook has changed so quickly. When I first heard about The Facebook a few years ago, it was in the context of colleges wanting to block Facebook usage because of underage students disclosing their drinking habits, pics of groups conducting hazing, concerns about stalking, etc. Conclusion: Facebook bad!

But during a Web roundtable at a SUNYCUAD conference a couple years ago, I encountered a feeling that colleges wanted to find ways to work productively on/with Facebook. Of course my friend Rachel Reuben at New Paltz was already ahead of the curve, but the attitudes of many college communicators, myself included, started to evolve to Facebook as an opportunity — not a crisis.

The tipping point for colleges’ relationships with Facebook probably came with the introduction of Fans pages in November 2007 [date corrected, merci to Karine Joly], providing for official presences in the Web’s most active social-media community. We were among the institutions who explored Fans pages early and — lo and behold — not only did people come out of the woodwork to become fans of SUNY Oswego but they started asking questions, sharing memories and making connections. Now the question isn’t Should we be on Facebook? but What more can we do with Facebook?

Historians and sociologists could chronicle the length of time it takes for movements or ideas to go from outhouse to penthouse in terms of acceptability. In the world of Web 2.0, the cycle grows ever shorter. Student blogs, considered a novelty seemingly yesterday, are now reportedly used by more than half the colleges in the U.S. YouTube, once considered a place to be embarrassed, not promoted, has become a hot property with colleges everywhere creating their own channels.

At the end of my presentation to admissions counselors, I received a nice round of applause. During the break, some counselors also said thanks and even good job! All that seemed inconceivable a couple years ago, but it’s great how people see the advantages of social media as a legitimate channel of communication. Doesn’t it make you wonder what idea that today colleges find improbable will soon win widespread acceptance?

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ailing medium whines about thriving medium; status updates at 11.

It appears some corners of the print medium don’t want to go down to Web 2.0 without a fight. Or at least a few whines and complaints. Whenever I see what we once called newspapers running articles kvetching about social media — posted on social media, no less — my first thought is the alternative headline could be: Ailing medium takes swipe at thriving medium.

For example, see the Wall Street Journal opinion piece on How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships, employing the usual navel-gazing lunch-tweeting strawmen. Then the New York Times ran an unusually whiny op-ed — using anecdotes and nary a shred of concrete evidence — that Facebook was bound to become a ghost town. But wait! If you think this sounds familiar, it’s because Business Week predicted Facebook would become a ghost town back in April. In the four months since, Facebook likely picked up more new members than Business Week has readers.

Not all news outlets pouting more than Ally McBeal, however. Many have reporters who now happily blog (though back in the ’90s, many reporters were discouraged from blogging) and use Facebook and Twitter to post links to their blogs and/or stories that ran in the paper (if that’s the correct word). But often the adaptation was slow, the path meandering. One local paper started in the mid-’90s putting all content online for free, then having online content require paid subscription, then running just top news and sports stories (plus the ever-popular obituaries) for free, and now posts just the first two paragraphs for most articles, telling readers to buy the print version if they want to read the rest.

Around the turn of the millennium, I worked in daily journalism with responsibilities including online editor. During an editorial meeting, with a pivotal local election looming, I proposed we do live updates online on Election Night. Most people in the room found that insane. While most of the staff blew off the idea, I was fortunate to have two writers willing to call results in to build the story in real time (after the county’s results Web site crashed). This was complicated by all the people calling in wanting to know if we had results — I never knew if it was a reporter or reader, so I had to pick up everything (the days before everyone had cell phones). The publisher, to his tremendous credit, ended up handling phones so I could do some work, and we broke the mayoral and big-picture county legislature results online with a bit of analysis. Our Web traffic went through the roof. Now news orgs have teams designed to do such things; in those days it was a novelty.

Yet for years, the resistance of so many print outlets to use the Web to report live news — not wanting to potentially damage regular readership figures — persisted. The content was there, as was the delivery system, but the old-fashioned mindset was the outbound gatekeeper. The years organizations spent in denial and resistance to change could have been used to get in front of and adapt to current technology.

But the horse is out of the barn. For community papers, colleges and corner stores, currencies and communication experienced a sea change in the past decade. Now I find breaking news via Twitter or Facebook — albeit with links to those media organizations. The revolution wasn’t televised; it was Facebooked. Complaining about the messenger instead of dreaming of the possibilities just makes former print outlets look bitter, jealous and behind the times.

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the joy (?) of using ustream/watershed for live video.

With the increasing popularity of live video streams for colleges, corporations and citizens alike, more and more people will look to offerings like UStream and/or its partner Watershed to share events with the world (wide Web). Since we recently survived our first project using Watershed, I thought I’d share some observations, pros and cons.

The project was our President’s Breakfast, which featured special guest speaker Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University and author of Big Man on Campus. He’s an awesome speaker. But getting from concept to execution wasn’t always awe-inspiring … sometimes more like aww-@#$%-inspiring.

The technology behind the live stream.

The technology behind the live stream.

Setup: If you’re just broadcasting something simple and low-tech from your laptop, UStream is pretty good. When it’s a major production involving a camera, audio and embedding into your own branded page, more difficult. We went with Watershed, UStream’s option if you don’t want ads and prefer to embed in your own site.  I worked with some outstanding video and audio technicians on the front end, involving a lot of trial and error and non-cooperation from Watershed’s interface. We also have a superb Web specialist who designed the page, embedded the code and — when it looked like the laborious code-intensive chat-moderation feature exceeded our personnel available — added a Twitter feed through Tweetizen where people could participate via a #sunyoswego tag.

Support: With UStream/Watershed, this is almost non-existent. The FAQ page, which is almost impossible to find, isn’t terribly helpful. Their live-chat feature relies on volunteers from the community to answer user questions. Judging from the log, these volunteers appear about as often as elves riding unicorns.

Cost: UStream is free, but limited in what it can deliver. If you go with Watershed, you can incur a monthly fee if you plan to use it often, or a pay-as-you-go service ($1 per viewer hour) if you’re still uncertain. You can’t go from monthly to pay-as-you-go without an additional large expense. Since this was a fairly modest experiment, we opened up a pay-as-you-go account.

Execution: Thanks to Herculean efforts by Rick our Web guru, we created a templated oswego.edu page which pulled in the feed and with a window syndicating comments that had a #sunyoswego hashtag. Audience was nice though not overwhelming — 140 views and 76 unique visitors from 20 states — often around 20 to 25 at any given time. But we didn’t do extensive promotion, in part because of uncertainly about how it would work. A lot of hits were driven by posts on Twitter and Facebook just before or during the event. We even had a few hashtag questions, including one I shared during our audience Q-and-A period.

Output: To its credit, Watershed rocks in terms of what it lets you do with recorded content: You can copy and paste an embed code for the recording, download a Flash file or both. The embed is good to put on your own Web site, while Flash file gives portability for YouTube and the like.

Analytics: UStream/Watershed offers pretty decent, albeit flawed, analytics. For instance, all of our hits from Oswego, NY were instead listed as being from Oswego, Kansas. Which is to say, I’m not sure how much I can trust any of its geographic data.

Doing a big production via UStream/Watershed, for the first time at least, can be … well, a big production. We burned a lot of hours and brain cells making it work, which it finally did thanks to expertise, teamwork and people dropping other things to seal the deal. The stream itself went wonderfully, a good frame rate, not too jumpy, consistent, etc. Plus we had great feedback from the audience — including at least one prominent alum asking to get more involved — and ultimately user experience is an important consideration.

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