Monthly Archives: April 2010

will facebook ring the death knell for yearbooks?

Our director of alumni communications and I just discussed the demise of our college yearbook. Student interest in developing the annual had waned, and when college staff tried to lead the effort, they didn’t find a lot of buyers. For us old-school writer/editor types, who view this as a historical record, this seems mystifying.

But then I realized, students already have their own yearbooks. Except the new yearbooks are dynamic (not static bound volumes), media-rich, fully interactive and they don’t cost students a penny. They’re called Facebook.

I graduated from a small high school, where our class of 86 students was unusually large. We scrawled (mostly) nice things about each other on yearbook pages and I packed the book away for only occasional reference. But what if I were already Facebook friends with all 85 classmates? Instead of having to refer to one photo of a club or athletic team, we could look back at photo galleries, events, groups or maybe even fan pages. At any time, we could interact on each others’ walls to say I miss you! or, more likely, Remember that crazy time in Mr. Tall’s class when [information redacted]?

As a one-stop snapshot, in a traditional paradigm, that yearbook seems hard to replace. But are today’s students interested in that lonely bound volume when an interactive and ever-evolving document, where new chapters are always added, is available? And especially with the crush of school budgets making it harder to produce yearbooks, are they bound to go the way of swallowing goldfish, sitting on flagpoles or pinning your best gal?

In short, will (or has) Facebook replace(d) the yearbook? And if so, are any other scholastic staples next? Feel free to scrawl your thoughts on this page! Hope we can be (Facebook) friends forever! – Tim

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death by powerpoint or death to powerpoint?

When I talk to my class about TV ads, I say you should never show what you’re saying and never say what you’re showing; you have separate audio and video tracks that should complement, not echo, each other. That same advice should apply to one of the banes of our modern existence.

PowerPoint.

On Wednesday, I caught some presentations by students at Quest, our annual day celebrating scholarly and creative activities. These are very bright students; I’d need a serious brain upgrade to understand much of what they discuss. Some day, some will present to very large and prestigious audiences. And yet. I’d walk into some sessions to see talks consisting of showing sentences or paragraphs on PowerPoint slides, and presenters reading those slides. Over and over. #facepalm

I don’t blame the students. These are probably the types of presentations they’re used to seeing. I doubt they receive instruction on how to make a successful presentation. And many professional talks are no better.

While I do not come to praise PowerPoint, I do not come to bury it either. If you use the program, or Keynote or Prezi or other platform, you can still make an effective presentation. But you should use it to emphasize and complement your points, not as your script. What to include? Some suggestions:

Key points. If you treat every point as a key point, then nothing is a key point. You should emphasize what you especially want your audience to remember. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario #1: I invite you to a large cocktail party. I somehow introduce you to 100 people. How many of those folks’ names are you going to remember? And how many details will you remember about each person?

Scenario #2: I invite you to a more intimate cocktail party. I introduce you to 10 people. You’ll probably remember just as many — perhaps more — names because you have less to process. And you’ll certainly remember more details about each person you met.

Think of that in the context of the information you throw at the audience. The more you boil down the key points, the better their chance at remembering.

Visuals that underscore your points. If you want to underline key points by showing graphs, photos of your fieldwork in Africa or websites with cool features, please do! A picture is not only worth 1,000 words, but your audience will welcome it more than begging them to read a paragraph you’re saying anyway. We are visual creatures, so the right image better helps us associate what you communicate

How marketers view the universeHow your customers view the universeRelated visuals that make your points memorable. I’m a big fan of the non-sequitor visual, an offbeat image that provides humor or hyperbole to promote relevance of a key point. The more zany, the more memorable.

Finally, remember that just like with the Web, presentations come with one consideration first and foremost: your audience. Don’t ever give a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through.

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a musician who puts social media to good use.

Canadian singer/songwriter Matthew Good is probably one of the more progressive practitioners of social media in his field. So it was really cool this weekend to meet him in person and ask him questions … because of a contest he ran via social media.

Good recently created M+, a sort of uberfan community where, for a $25 annual subscription, one receives access to bonus content — demos, videos, events, etc. It’s not dissimilar to how The Damnwells are using pledges from fans to finance their new record, which I blogged about a while ago. A few days before his show in Rochester, he posted the following:

Fig. 1: A Special Opportunity for M+ Members!

The reaction was swift and enthusiastic, some fans offering to drive several hours for the opportunity. As luck (and perhaps persistence) would have it, my brother and I both made the cut for the 10 fans for the soundcheck and Q&A. He played a couple of tracks (“Great Whales of the Sea” and “It’s Been Awhile Since I Was Your Man,” which they had not played in, er, a while and repeated the ending a few times), talked a bit and then threw the floor open to questions.

I asked a rambling question about his use of social media (it sounded much better in my head!) and his use of it to get straight to the fans. He responded that while he finds it a handy promotional avenue, it would be a mistake for up-and-coming acts to hitch their fortunes to social media in a vacuum. Good said touring, physically connecting with fans from town to town (which he’s done for 20 years), was key. Bands who bank on mainly spreading the word via social media without touring would just get lost in the “white noise,” he said. In short, it’s about selling the steak, not the sizzle. For Good’s full answer, see this video. (Also see more photos.)

While Good refers to his activities as promotional, it’s worth noting he doesn’t use it completely one-way. He is fairly responsive on his blog — which he updates feverishly — sometimes replying to comments and overall keeping the discussion lively (and occasionally intense). On Twitter, Good tweets regulary, but doesn’t reply often (his most regular @ replies include Pete Yorn, who ranks among the top musicians in overall social-media use). His Facebook page is more a place for fans to interact, as Matt closed down his personal account a couple years ago because he could not keep up with the raft of friend requests and comments from fans.

From left, Colin, our new friend Travis from Canton and Matthew Good's guitarist Stu Cameron talking after the soundcheck.

From left, Colin, our new friend Travis from Canton and Matthew Good's guitarist Stu Cameron talking after the soundcheck.

So while he’s too busy to take full advantage of two-way communication opportunities, he certainly has more of a plan and earnestness than the Oprahs and Ashtons who jump on Twitter for trendiness or ego fulfillment. Matt’s tweets generally point readers toward his blog or feature observations about the town he’s visiting (or the occasional odd story such as the guy in NYC who somehow thought he was Brandon Flowers of The Killers). Instead of chasing a social media outlet because it’s trendy, Good has sound reasons for what he uses. Or to use a popular mantra: Goals first, then tools.

The experiment in Rochester is, I hope, the start of a new way of giving his fans a window into his life in a face-to-face way. The important lesson is that social media, to him, is not an end in itself but a means to build and better engage audiences. And for a guy who plays and tours hard, the live interaction, even if just a half-hour, between the mercurial artist and his band with the fans likely does all parties some good.

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new title, new focus, new directions.

As noted in various social media outlets, I’ve been promoted to director of Web communication for the college. The shiny new title continues much of the work I do but also features an acknowledgment of the key role of the Web in communicating and a new institutional focus on using the Web to better engage.

These things never happen overnight. I started working professionally on these Internets in 1996, when I did content and planning as my employer of the time went online. (What? You don’t believe I was 11 years old?) I taught myself basic HTML, set up a (not too attractive) personal site, read a lot, surfed a ton. I started blogging before it was called blogging. I served as online editor for a daily newspaper. Then I got swept up in Web 2.0, and the years since involved plenty of research, trying (and occasionally failing) new ideas and interacting.

That last part is important. I’ve seen what interaction can do, and thus its power in planning Web operations. Setting up and shepherding our fan page or Official Class of 2014 group are like seminars in communication studies — how people transmit and receive information, conversation/reaction patterns, formation of digital relationships. I’ve learned so much from friends on Twitter, Facebook and conferences that informs what I do. This is an amazing medium with so much potential.

My biggest project is redeveloping our Web site. I’m calling it Refreshing Oswego (title is a work in progress too), and it’s about making our presence more user-centered and engaging. The project includes a six-person team — our reconfigured three-person Web communication office working with three key Campus Technology Services staffers on migrating to a new content management system. The players bring a variety of skills in the necessary but not-too-glamorous process of building everything that powers our Web site. But I now have to start tackling on the design aspect — the look of this car whose engine, drive train and chassis we’re building. Our CMS is skinnable, so while the design process relates to functionality, it proceeds on a parallel line.

The promotion included my first presentation to our President’s Council, as I discussed the refresh project. They were more supportive and receptive than I ever imagined, and showed interest in visiting eduStyle.net and .eduGuru after I name-checked the sites. At the end of the presentation, our president said: “Sounds like a lot of fun.” I agree!

So I hope you’ll tolerate any future posts on the progress of the project. Perhaps we’ll figure out some things of value to others. And maybe even have a little fun along the way.

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