Monthly Archives: January 2010

pull vs. push: new media, new rules.

I had to leave a Facebook group I’d rather stay part of last week. Unfortunately, they did not understand that social media is a pull, not push, medium.

Every day I’d log into Facebook, seems I’d find a message or two in my inbox from them. They were sending me news releases. OK, not even — they were copying and pasting links to news releases into the inboxes of every group member. I’ve talked before about overcommunication via social media streams, but pushing overcommunication directly upon an affinity group is even worse. And I prefer my inbox for personal messages, thank you.

Social media works best on demand. If you’re trying to communicate, you do want to have an audience, know how to communicate and (one place the group failed) provide a message of value. The key is trying to pull them into an action: enticing them to read, to learn more, to engage … you’re not force-feeding them information.

Your readers are engaged in pull as well — pulling in only the messages they want from the sources they want. It’s like instead of picking up the paper and finding the opinion section and reading their favorite columnist, they merely pull in the latest column (blog) from that favored writer and don’t deal with the rest of the old routine.

Admittedly, communicating via social media has its advantages over traditional PR. Normally, we’d send news releases to editors who may discard them, may cut them down to briefs, may incorporate them into a story or may (shockingly) run almost as is. Then we rely on the audience to pick up the newspaper that day, happen to go to that page, and find it interesting enough to read beyond the headline (which we don’t necessarily control) and lead (ditto).

Facebook is a great example where, if you’re communicating for your college, non-profit or organization, you’re already finding your affinity group or customers. Or they’re finding you. They’ve self-selected, made a conscious decision to be your friend, join your group, become a fan. They’re receptive to messages if they provide some kind of value. They may accept a pushed message from you once in a while, but they’ve spent their whole life dealing with pushy salespeople in real life or on TV. If you repeatedly push messages upon them via social media, then you’re no better than any car salesman shouting at them from a TV.

It’s a new world, and new rules for communication. Actually, it’s more complicated than that: In Web 2.0, every user sets his or her rules. We need to pay attention and do our best to figure out what they are. And know that as they change, so should we.

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thursday travelogue: tantalizing toronto.

When visiting Toronto the hardest thing to do (other than find parking) seems to be getting the bill at the end of any escapade. It’s as if the city’s denizens don’t want you to leave.

We recently visited to catch Canadian rocker Matthew Good performing in Massey Hall, and found we could quickly fill any down time with any number of fascinating options.

Pantages Hotel: This urban chic hotel is not cheap, but in off-peak periods not particularly expensive either. Location is outstanding — across from Massey Hall, about a block from the Eaton Centre — and the service top-notch. When we visited, the elegant martini lounge had a piano-drum duo, with the pianist displaying a diverse, dazzling, almost dizzying repertoire.

Massey Hall: I can see why Matthew Good recorded a live album there. Not a bad seat in the house, and amazing acoustics. Good performed a great show here, as did opener Mother Mother, who are well worth checking out. The lineup shows Massey Hall is not just a place to catch live entertainment, but a venue musicians want to play.

The Irish Embassy: This charming pub and grill is easily in my 5 favorite bars anywhere. The food is excellent, selection of beverages pleasing and staff almost always outstanding. One server faltered toward the end of our third (yes, third) visit of the weekend, but overall good times ruled. Also interesting that on Friday we found ourselves a table away from a friendly couple also going to the Matthew Good concert.

Eggspectations: True, it’s a chain, but the Eaton Centre location is a top-shelf breakfast joint. Outstanding food (quality and quantity), attentive service and reasonable prices.

Fran’s Restaurant: We visited the site on Victoria Street, a seeming extension of the Pantages Hotel, where the eatery serves up first-class diner food. If you want to fill up for a busy day, I highly recommend the Fran’s Big Breakfast. (Now if only someone could improve its Flash-driven Web site.)

Eaton Centre: I’m not a fan of malls, but found the Eaton Centre reasonably tolerable even the weekend before Christmas. Maybe it’s because Canadians are more polite? An amazing array of shops and restaurants, although the Richtree Market was far too busy on Saturday for us to wait in the long line for dinner.

Toronto ranks among the most exciting, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in North America, and always worth a visit. Just don’t expect the locals to want you to leave too soon.

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what’s the frequency, kenneth?: (over)use of social communication.

Let’s say you have two co-workers with similar responsibilities. Or two children of similar ages. C1 contacts you all the time. A few times an hour, 20 to 30 times per workday. C2 contacts you about once a day … usually related to the most important thing on their plate.

It’s a Friday afternoon and your office rings with two calls simultaneously: C1 and C2. Which one do you pick up?

If you say C2, then you realize the relationship between frequency of message and perceived importance. If you say C1, I really can’t help you.

It’s a simple concept, right? Then why do communication professionals looking to market a brand — a college, a program, a product — think we really want to receive dozens of tweets, Facebook page messages, e-mails, phone calls, faxes or telegrams from them on any given day? (Please note I’m not talking about personal Twitter or Facebook accounts or the like, because how you use your personal communication is your prerogative.)

The audio field uses a term called signal-to-noise ratio. It pertains to, in a specific device (or recording), the relationship of the signal — what you want the listener to hear — to the background noise, the hiss, the rattle and hum (updated example: the sound of a laptop playing a CD or DVD to the audio itself). If you’re in charge of communicating for your brand, you want a high signal-to-noise ratio, or for your audience to know whatever you’re transmitting is important.

As an editor for a daily paper, I knew the contact who sent one or two relevant news releases per week likely provided more news value than the organization that sent 15 to 20 releases per week of little importance. If you’re running your organization’s Twitter stream or Facebook fan page, the same rules apply. If your college or brand posts proprietary content 20 to 30 times per day — not counting replies, which are important —  you’ll soon become noise, or communication clutter. I’m less likely to notice your scientist winning an award, your student accomplishing something great, your $2 million donation because I’ve learned to scan past your avatar … if I’m still connected to you at all. If your brand only talks to me once or twice a day, your signal-to-noise ratio says that when you speak, you’re more likely saying something important.

What do you think? Whether you’re running or reading a college or brand’s Twitter stream or Facebook page, how much is too much?

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one fan page to rule them all?

I see and field a lot of questions about Facebook fan pages on Twitter and in real life. One of the most common is whether colleges should focus on an extra-special overall fans page or seek a more decentralized approach for specialized audiences.

Our philosophy remains to prioritize a primary Facebook fan page serving all audiences. Sure, plenty of pages with smaller memberships have arose (some by us, most by others) serving specific audiences, academic programs and student organizations, but having this kind of interaction underscores the value of having a central page:

This just happened this week, as a brief post of mine about the upcoming application deadline led to positive comments from three parents of students, one proud alum and one incoming student. Say what you will about parental involvement, but I consider pleased parents who say good things to all their friends with children considering colleges among our most valuable ambassadors. In this post, each mother had her high opinion of our school reinforced by two other parents, an alum and a future student.

That interaction would not have taken place if we just ran separate fan pages dedicated to admissions, alumni and parents. I love the alchemy that arises when potential students, current students, faculty/staff, parents and alumni have one community where they can chat. I’ve seen current students and alumni give great advice to incoming students. I’ve seen current students and alumni swap stories about what makes Oswego so special to them. If you think of your institution as a brand belonging to many generations and stakeholders, the primary fan page is the main marketplace of memories, shared knowledge and institutional pride. Having so many different groups involved just confirms this continuum.

Other solutions let any page play multiple roles. By using the FBML app, you can create new tabs on your page that appeal to specific audiences or functions, such as admissions. I begrudgingly admit that Plattsburgh, our athletic archrival, and its Web wiz Devin Mason do a great job with audience-specific navigation tabs on their page. And with our college, related and approved fan pages also appear in the sidebar Favorite Pages tab.

You can still break down separate specific efforts under the big umbrella. We created an Official Class of 2014 group, with most membership built so far through references from our official page. I intend to turn the 2014 group increasingly over to students, first interns and potentially incoming students who show interest, aptitude and dependability. The more collaborative it becomes, the better for its members and the overall institution. But we can say that about any Web 2.0 community. Ultimately the rubber meets the road for all travelers, and so many interesting paths intersect, on our official and central fan page.

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just because it’s there, should you use it?

The emergence of new forms of communication reminds me of the spread of desktop publishing in the 1990s. Back then, anyone who had a layout program suddenly thought they were a designer; today, does a YouTube channel make everybody a programming mogul? As always, whether technology means anyone and everyone should use these tools is a different question.

Without going into too much detail (because it involved people I like), a college entity sent a newsletter last week that linked to an outside YouTube video. That well-intended video’s linked related content (albeit not really related) could be seen as offensive, or that’s the way an alum found it when he sent an email to our college president, among others. One of our team members quickly took care of the issue (on a Saturday morning), but the usual questions over use of social media arose.

One of the simplest ways to prevent this is knowing YouTube and its embed settings that keep videos from showing related (or what YouTube thinks of as related) content … or posting it within an edu partner account. It’s not a very obvious setting, but it’s the kind of detail you need to attend. Such an incident, of course, leads into policy discussions about who should or shouldn’t post and disseminate official content on behalf of an institution, and what “official” means — a potentially serpentine process.

But more broadly and basically, the more important lesson ties to a key plank of communicating via social media: Get to know the medium, its capabilities and its community as well as you can. Sure, we all know the guy who hops straight on The Twitters, tweets about a new weight-loss pill, follows 4,000 people via keyword search and auto DMs any chump lazy enough to follow them is, clearly, doing it wrong. But plenty of hard-working, well-meaning individuals encounter mines while jumping into terra incognita.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter and explored them for months before launching anything in these media representing the college. And just as you’ll find people using media poorly, you can find those using media really well who can serve as examples, perhaps even role models. And since these people use social media, they are easy to reach and — in my experience — very helpful with any questions. We all learn about so much of this stuff as we go along.

Another worthy consideration is: Just because it’s there, should you use it? In just a couple years, I’ve had to learn about communicating via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, UStream, Watershed and other options I’ve already forgotten. And there’s always a new platform or community emerging that warrants consideration. But that doesn’t mean we should use all of these outlets for everything. You should get to know — emphasis on the word know — these media and then employ those that work well for what you’re trying to do and the audience you’re trying to reach. Missteps, in the realm of social media, are magnified in reach and immediacy … so it’s always important to learn how to watch your steps.

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the 5 Ws of reviewing web content.

Usability isn’t the most sexy subject. When pondering Web sites, people often get hung up on the look, bells and whistles, other shiny objects. But creating a good-looking Web site that doesn’t work for your users is like buying a beautiful sports car that doesn’t run.

On the Web, content itself is king. With that in mind, and working with our users, I’ve developed the following 5 Ws of content usability while reviewing existing pages:

Who? If you have contacts on your pages, are they accurate and updated? I found that an email address on one of our primary pages did not work because the department discontinued it without telling anyone. This also applies to the important consideration: Who is your audience? Are you writing for that audience, or for yourself?

What? Or Wha? Or Huh? As in: Does this make sense? Just because a page sort of made sense when you wrote it (especially in a hurry) doesn’t mean it will when viewed from a distance. Or perhaps what you wrote last year no longer applies. Which leads into …

When? Pet peeve: Web sites that talk about fall 2009 events in the future tense. This is sloppy, and makes you look lazy. Or clueless. If you’re doing something event-based as a major part of your site, note on whatever calendar you use (iCal, Google, Franklin Planner, crayon) to update that information after the specific event or semester.

Where? Where do your links go? Are those pages still valid? Or, even worse, are any links broken? How long does it take to check a link? A few seconds. How long will a user be ticked off if they click a broken link? Much much longer. And in terms of navigation, are you taking your audience where they want or need to go?

Why? At the risk of sounding philosophical, what’s the reason for this page’s existence? Is it for something that is no longer applicable? Does it duplicate another page? Does it merit its own page, or can it be succinctly spelled out on a higher-level page? Since we’re looking at migrating pages to a new content management system, this part is the equivalent of throwing away unused or unnecessary items in your attic before loading the moving van.

Admittedly, we’re all busy, so checking back on pages isn’t always the highest priority. But think of the cost of frustrating, outdated or hard-to-navigate pages — the prospective students, customers or potential clients who give up because you don’t have your act together — and you’ll find reviewing your pages and using the 5 Ws of Web content usability well worth it.

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