Monthly Archives: October 2009

what 15 freshmen taught me about social media.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit the GST 120: Leadership in Action class, which consists of 15 of our more engaged freshman. It seemed a decent place to learn more about the social media and Web habits of our students. It’s a small sample size, but the students were bright, articulate and painfully honest … and the findings interesting. (View original Google document.)

What do they use and how often?
– All 15 use Facebook. They all check it daily. (Some would check it hourly if they could.)
– 10 use MySpace, but not much. One checks daily; most hardly ever visit any more.
– None are on Twitter. In retrospect, I should have asked why.

How do they form community on Facebook?
– 11 joined the Class of 2013 Facebook group (created by an incoming student)
– 7 joined our Official SUNY Oswego Fans page (others said they would join had they known it existed)
– They joined other campus-related Facebook groups because they were members of real-life groups (Scuba Club, field hockey team, WTOP, Oswegonian, club rugby, floor of Johnson Hall, Del Sarte dance)

I asked them if they thought joining a group was different than becoming a Fan of a page, and they admitted they didn’t even know the difference. Since we set up a Class of 2014 group, I asked if they would feel different joining a group started by an institution vs. one started by a student. The enlightening response: We don’t even look for that or care. We just want to meet other students. Some even said they would prefer the groups be created by the college because they would trust the information more.

As for our college Web site, 12 said they found it the best place for information. Others didn’t express a preference. None thought of social media as the destination for information because they see it more as a place to connect. For our Web site, their main concerns involved usability: forms that didn’t work, non-functional links, difficulty finding specialized information. A few admitted they used they mainly used the search box to navigate, although this isn’t totally atypical of the Web in general (that’s how I navigate Amazon, for example).

In terms of what we can do better, they mentioned it would be great if we had an AIM name or more available chat. One student mentioned a competing college had an AIM presence but disliked that they used it to contact him instead of vice versa. This is a cohort that likes to use communication on demand but isn’t necessarily keen on unwanted contact from institutions. This is the 21st century equivalent of don’t call us, we’ll call you. Other than that, they seemed to find our social media presence appropriate.

I want to jump back to the group/page, institution/student finding. We, as Web communicators, debate all kinds of things we find more important than our users. These students don’t care if it’s a 2014 group or 2014 page. They don’t really care if it’s launched by an institution or a student. They just want to connect. We see and think about tools. They just see an action, an outcome they want.

It’s also worth noting (as Karlyn Morissette points out in this fine blog entry) that students think of social media as social first and foremost. If they find information they can use on Facebook, that’s a bonus. But when they want information, they’ll go to your Web site. A reminder that while we can be distracted by all the shiny objects that are social media platforms, investing in your institutional Web site — and making sure it’s easy to use and functioning — remains as important as ever.

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truth in satire: how to make an unusable web site.

Over the centuries, writers have demonstrated you can tell more truth with satire than non-fiction. So when I recently had an opportunity to do a fake presentation for FakeHEWeb09, a satirical non-event for those unable to attend this year’s real HEWeb09, I picked the topic of Web Site Unusability. And in the process, came up with an all-too-real formula of how NOT to make a user-friendly Web site.

I scrawled the presentation in about 5 minutes and gave it via Twitter. The key points included:

Intro:
* Welcome to the session on Web Site Unusability! Click here to continue!
* Web sites are all about you! Users are overrated.

* Who should your Web site please? Look in the mirror. That guy! (Or girl!)

Multimedia inconsiderations:
* Always use an animated musical splash page people have to sit through. Preferably on an old version of Flash.

* A splash page says: “Wanna attend our college? Then you’ll have to sit through crappy gif animation and music composed on a Casio keyboard!”
* Seek a CMS that’s as hard to update as possible so your minions won’t use it. Don’t they have better things to do?
* Put all important information in pdfs. Again, make people *really want* your information!

* In addition to pdfs, inaccessible/slow-loading videos are a great way to share critical information.

Putting users last:
* Use your organizational chart as your guide for Web architecture. Who cares if it makes no sense to rest of the world?
* When writing for the Web, use as much dense academic jargon and obscure acronyms as possible.
* If prospects easily find what they want in 2 clicks, you’ve failed. You want more hits. Go work in sales.
* Make sure no two department pages look alike in colors, structure, organization, navigation, anything.
* Actually, why bother even putting the name of your college on your pages? You know where you work! Good enough!

Anyone who’s worked in Web content for any length of time realizes how absurd such recommendations are. And yet … how often do you see real estate spent welcoming people to a page, readers told to click here as if they’re a trained dog, splash pages and pdfs and videos making information as hard to get as possible, Web pages organized by unknowable institutional divisions, copy no one outside of academia would understand and a glaring lack of consistency. Many of these bugaboos are all too familiar.

Making the fake session all the more interactive, the audience added their own pet peeves about user-unfriendly Web design and not one but TWO people linked to this cringeworthy Appalachian State promo video. It almost makes me wonder if there’s a very real hour-long presentation one could give on this subject.

So what would be your tips for making a Web site hard to use?

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return of the fake facebook class groups: are you ready?

They’re back! As of this writing, we’re not sure who’s behind them but fake Facebook Class of 2014 groups featuring fake students who have nothing to do with your institution are popping up at a college near you. And, for that matter, a college near me.

If you recall back to December, Brad J. Ward, now of BlueFuego, discovered and blogged about an alarming pattern where the same people kept showing up over and over as administrators of Class of 2013 groups at various colleges. A small dorky band of Web types — including this author — dug in and found 250+ fake class groups created by the same band of individuals. We feared the worst — identity theft, data harvesting — but eventually discovered that College Prowler, publishers of an alternative guide, were behind it. While less harmful than expected, that I researched colleges in New York and found the vast majority of Class of 2013 groups were College Prowler fakes was startling … and eye-opening.

Now, after sleuthing by New Paltz’s ever-alert Rachel Reuben, she and Brad are warning people once again about fake Class of 2014 groups. Many of the members are the same and contain the same boilerplate:

“This is THE best place for all the incoming freshmen/transfers of the Class of 2014. Just for those heading to ______ in 2010, this will be the group where we can talk about what’s going on and around campus.”

Proof? Check out this bogus Oswego Class of 2014 Facebook group:

Not SUNY Oswego's page

And this one for the University at Buffalo (with bonus fight song):

Not University at Buffalo

And this one for Covenant College:

Not Covenant College

Sense a pattern? Just from what Rachel and I found, similar groups propagated at Swarthmore College, Widener University School of Law, University of the Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Ohio University, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, St. Andrew’s University, Muhlenberg College, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury College, Towson University and Marymount Manhattan College.

But one lesson I learned from last year was to create an Official SUNY Oswego Class of 2014 Group. Just today, as luck would have it, we started promoting the real group on our Facebook Fans page in concert with our first major admissions open house. If we use our current online resources and the communication avenues of the institution, we can make it clear this is a real community related to SUNY Oswego.

I won’t lie. I was a skeptic. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to add an official 2014 group to the fold … until I realized someone else is always out there looking for your valuable name. Yes, valuable! Your college (or company or not-for-profit) spends so much time and resources to get a good name, so do you really want someone else stealing it for nefarious (TBD) purposes? My full intention is to turn the official 2014 group over to some capable students I know so it is student-run, by real students from Oswego.

What about you? If you’re at another college, have you checked to see if someone else is using your name? And if so, are you prepared to ensure you have official spaces to build real communities with your future students?

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wanted: a few great speakers.

Do you have something you would love to share with hundreds of higher education professionals? Would you like to attend an exciting conference with a range of interesting college types and other top presenters? Haven’t you always wanted to see Buffalo in June? (Really, it’s an underrated city.)

We’re looking for a few great speakers for the 2010 SUNYCUAD Conference, June 9 to 11 in Buffalo. Those who attended last year’s conference or just viewed the Twitter streams and takeaways know that this event — attended by professionals from 64 State University of New York campuses and SUNY system administration — continues to build a high level of speakers. We’re a friendly, down-to-earth bunch of public-college workers in such areas as alumni relations, communication, development, marketing and Web. And did you know that Buffalo was the birthplace of the chicken wing?

Our conference theme is integration — of strategies, of resources, of technologies, and we have subthemes on branding, social networking/digital strategies and ROI/seeking success amid budget stress. Can you speak on those topics, and help us hard-working, well-intended, conscientious workers better serve our students and other stakeholders? Can you appreciate a city with lots of surprising cultural activities (and bars open to 4 a.m.)?

If you answer our call for proposals and you’re selected, we’ll provide free conference registration for what’s always an interesting event, cover your travel expenses and pick up one night’s accommodations. And while President William McKinley was assassinated visiting the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo, most people who visit the city find it charming.

So … are you interested in speaking at SUNYCUAD 2010, of using your knowledge and insight and skills to help us make a difference? In meeting hundreds of very nice people? In seeing the splendor that is Buffalo in June? Then visit our Call for Proposals page, download a form and return it to us by Nov. 6. Or drop me a line if you have questions. We’d love to hear from you … and hear what you have to say!

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doodling through meetings.

Recently when I tried to bring together 10 busy people for a meeting of our new cross-campus social-media team, one member suggested scheduling the meeting through Doodle. Had never heard of it, but after checking it out I figured, hey … why not use a social-media platform to schedule a meeting for a social-media team?

Doodle, it turns out, is a nice user-friendly service. You need to secure an account, but registration takes less than a minute. When trying to schedule a meeting, you can send out several different time slots (the more specific — i.e. one-hour segments instead of three-hour blocks — the better, I learned), and the recipients check which times will work for them and/or leave other comments. Here’s a look at the scheduling in progress:

doodle

Pleasing aesthetics and high marks for usability! So I’m giving Doodle a preliminary thumbs-up. Whether it makes for a good meeting, well, I’ll find out later, but anything that makes getting a bunch of busy people together easier is itself a benefit. Because, as I noted earlier this week, face-to-face interactions are still important.

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