Monthly Archives: May 2010

canada’s 1st highered web conference a success: a foreigner’s perspective.

I’m a big fan of surprise successes. And conferences. And Canada. So I was thrilled that all these meshed when I had the opportunity to speak at the first-ever Canadian Post-Secondary Web Conference at Brock University last week.

Steered by the terrific and tireless Melissa Cheater of the Richard Ivey School of Business, #pseweb started as a modest attempt at a #heweb regional, expecting perhaps a few dozen people. It grew into a very well-received conference with some 150 attendees from British Columbia to the coast of Nova Scotia and many points in between. They received some 40 program proposals and I’m pleased my presentation, Students: Your Secret Weapons for Social Media Success, survived the attendee-voted cuts.

I’m happy the conference focused on institutional websites as well as social media. In the end, social media should drive to your website and, as I found from interviewing incoming students, they consider our properties the best place for information. Thus emphasis on how to improve our own sites proved very helpful. Since we’re in the middle of a redesign — presenter Stuart Foss of eduStyle would say we all are in some way — that three sessions addressed this topic proved most welcome.

Doing my first international conference presentation, I culled additional intriguing observations about our marvelous neighbors to the north:

1. Emphasis on privacy issues. I generally see one or two audience questions about privacy, tops, at a whole U.S. conference, while most individual sessions at #pseweb had queries about privacy and the web. Landmark court cases in Canada famously emphasize privacy over right to publish, as the concern seems to transcend even the current Facebook-related issues. The conference even featured a (great) session by JP Rains of Laurentian University on Risk Management for Facebook that put many social media concerns into context.

2. The difference between colleges and universities. The USian lexicon uses the terms synonymously (if not 100% correctly). Perceptions of prestige notwithstanding, the bachelor’s and master’s degrees SUNY Oswego confers are every bit as accredited and credible as those of Harvard, Yale or any other university. But in Canada, universities generally refer to a higher eschelon of education where one can receive degrees, while colleges tend confer diplomas and certificates (there are exceptions, but how long do you want this blog to be?). So it helps to know, when talking to Canadians, that my institution would be considered a university, even if that’s not what we call it.

3. Canadians are awesome! OK, this wasn’t news to me. As expected, I met so many wonderful attendees with a marvelous span of talents, personalities and insights from across the Home and Native Land. But most telling was how a Brock student named Mackenzie (iirc) saw me peering cluelessly at a map as I navigated the occasionally confusing (aren’t they all?) campus and volunteered assistance. Beyond just telling me how to find my destination, she walked me through a few buildings to the residential quad. She wasn’t a tour guide or any such official thing, but is clearly a great ambassador.

I’ll have to save my favorite moment of the conference, which demonstrated the connective power of social media, for another post. But on every level, #pseweb proved a great experience!

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5 (+1) keys to social media platform adoption.

I clearly spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about social media platforms and explaining them to others. Part of this involves pondering why some catch on easily and others don’t — a combination of factors defying a simple recipe. Yet I’d propose at least five key factors driving user adoption of any social media platform: usefulness, usability, user interactivity, sharability and sustainability.

Usefulness: Is it clear what you can do with it? You don’t need much of an elevator speech to explain why folks use Facebook. Not everyone gets the appeal of Twitter, even in more than 140 characters; you have to learn by doing. Proponents would compare LinkedIn to a powerful, interactive rolodex. On YouTube, you share and watch video. Geosocial services like Foursquare and Yelp that offer reviews and tips make plenty of sense for those visiting another city, whereas Gowalla makes more sense if you just want to know what’s around. Innovative tools like Yelp’s monocle — a visual augmented reality layer that shows metatags of what’s around it — could serve as true differentiation as the market shakes out.

Usability: How easily can you take a desired action? Honestly, this is a huge key to why Facebook is so large a juggernaut it’s worrisome and MySpace a punchline. I could never find anything easily on MySpace, and other user pages were run-screaming-from-the-room horrible. Facebook offers a clean and consistent look with commands brilliant in their simplicity — “Add As Friend,” “View Photos of ____,” “Comment.” Twitter offers great ease of use (unless there’s a fail whale sighting). The often-poor user interface, clunky navigation and various glitches among the geosocial services (as described elsewhere) may hold them back at this point. Communities like YouTube and LinkedIn could use some navigational streamlining but are overall fairly facile.

User Interactivity: How easily can you interact with other users? No problem on Facebook — you can comment on photos, comment on status updates, comment on comments, etc. With Twitter, it’s as easy as replying with an @ or DMing for more privacy. Comments and replies are easy on YouTube. In terms of LinkedIn, since I use other connective media more, I have yet to find any reasons to interact with anyone (YMMV). With geosocial services, interaction is often more passive at this point, users more likely to read tips and reviews in Foursquare and Yelp. Although I guess ousting someone else as a Foursquare mayor represents an unusual wrinkle on interactivity.

Sharability: How easily can you share information within the community or export into other communities? Facebook and Twitter are on a different plane here, as not only is it easy to share or retweet within them, but the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp rely on appearing in Facebook or  Twitter feeds for their introduction, visibility and viability. Indeed, the main backlash on Foursquare is the annoying flood of checkins, badges and mayorships into other users’ Facebook and Twitter streams. I’m not sure how to share anything from LinkenIn, nor can I think of any reasons I’d want to. YouTube exports anywhere and everywhere.

Sustainability: Why would you want to stay engaged with it? Again, with Facebook, ongoing interaction is self-evident. With Twitter, this creates a quick divide and pundits note how many people abandon it. But this isn’t entirely bad: Those who want to use Twitter as a megaphone will not find it sustainable (fortunately), while those who understand it as a party-line telephone will keep using it. A challenge I’ve had with LinkedIn is that I find content from my contacts on other platforms already. Foursquare’s sustainability gains a boost from its mayor function, as people check into places to try to gain mayorship of that establishment. And with 24 hours of new video uploaded per minute on YouTube, there’s always something new.

Across all these runs an additional factor toward any platform’s tipping point: critical mass. A key reason people adopt Foursquare over Gowalla or Yelp is the simple fact they see more of their friends on Foursquare (and sharing this via Twitter and Facebook). After all, a key draw of social media is the ability to interact with others, so knowing friends are already there will increase adoption of any given community.

What do you think? Did I miss any key factors?

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reason #342 i love working on a college campus.

As soon as I saw the call on my cellphone was from our college’s chief of staff, I figured an otherwise quiet Friday before Commencement would soon change. When she started the conversation with “We have a problem …,” that confirmed it. But it’s what she said next that surprised me.

“Would you be interested in interviewing Naomi Wolf on WRVO?” Seriously? The best-selling author and activist coming to speak at Oswego’s Commencement? On our popular and award-winning public radio station? Um, seriously?

Apparently a scheduling wrinkle meant no reporters were available for the in-studio interview with Wolf late on a Friday, so the call to the bullpen went to a recovering journalist. So I’d have to drop a few things to do some in-depth research on Wolf so I didn’t sound like a moron. But seriously … how could I possibly say no?

Despite my rustiness on a mic and occasionally rambling questions, the interview came out pretty well. Listen for yourself! Wolf is an engaging and eloquent guest, which made my job easy. A couple times she said “that’s a very good question,” although she’s enough of a pro she may well use that to make the interviewer feel good while composing her thoughts. Still, I hoped my questions about what made her write The Beauty Myth, what changes the landmark work may have brought, her transition to writing about civil liberties and freedom, and what advice she had for graduates contributed to the conversation.

But moreover, it reminded me of the unpredictability — sometimes wonderful — of working at a college. I’ve talked to a lot of graduating students in the past week who discussed how much they’ll miss it. As one said, this is her last chance to live among people all her own age and in similar stages of life. Every day is a new adventure for them … and for us!

Where else can you find yourselves making new friends, learning new things every day? That applies to students and, to a certain degree, any of us working on campuses. My favorite metaphor for a college is a giant laboratory where all of us are discovering and trying new things. Not every day involves unexpectedly interviewing a brilliant bestselling author, but the promise of some serendipitous development always exists in a place of learning.

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#hewebvc: a conference about doing awesome stuff.

To briefly summarize a main thread of last week’s HighEdWeb Regional Conference at Vassar College (known to us Tweetheads as #hewebvc), it promoted doing awesome stuff. Appropriately enough, it was — presentation for presentation — the best conference I’ve ever attended.

Keynote speaker Kevin Prentiss of Red Rover set the tone with his definition of engagement: Do awesome stuff + get it online + share it with people. Or, if a really cool tree falls in a forest, hope to get it on video and shared via YouTube. Kevin also talked his ongoing project to create “a new student union” via online directories where students share photos, interests, tags and links. Think Facebook, but more localized and less evil. The conference really started me thinking about doing more with content aggregators.

Mallory Wood at St. Michael’s College talked about the awesome stuff her college does with YouTube. No media is richer than video, and with the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube, Mallory finds an outstanding and eager audience of prospective students engaging her videos. She discussed and showed clips from both their in-house DIY videos and the winner of a student video contest.

Briee Della Rocca of Bard College at Simon’s Rock championed strategic objectives above chasing the latest shiny apps. Briee spoke from an alumni relations perspective, but her advice on using social media channels for what they do best and how to increase interaction were on the money for everyone. And her digital magazine finding clever ways to create engagement will definitely do awesome stuff.

Rick Allen of Babson talked about the importance of content strategy in Web communication. View yourself, Rick advised, as a publisher of deliverable (and awesome!) content moreso than a marketer. It’s challenging because content is massive, political and time-consuming, but it’s worth it. FAQs too often exist as a last-ditch cover for poor content strategy and development. Coordinate institutional messages!

Oh, I presented at the end of day one about having students play key roles in your social media efforts including blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. In sum, students are our most authentic, most dynamic, most powerful resources … and they should receive the tools and support to do awesome things. (Here’s an entry with links to some of the things I mentioned.)

Day two began with the inimitable Robin Smail of Penn State discussing authenticity in social media. You best reach authenticity by learning not to control everything, listening in social media instead of using it as a bullhorn and getting everyone involved. Doing awesome — and authentic — stuff works best when everyone feels comfortable and part of a team.

How do we know if people are finding — and, more importantly, engaging with — our awesome stuff? That’s where a presentation by Jessica Krywosa of Suffolk University came in handy. Jess noted raw numbers (i.e. hits) don’t mean a thing without context of what is happening offline. The best question to ask in analytics is not “how many people visited?” but “how many people took a desired action?”

Jake Daniel of Ithaca College discussed institutions finding their brand identity (voice) in social media. Those running awesome Facebook or Twitter accounts should talk like a person (not a machine), provide a friendly institutional voice and find clever ways to simply communicate complex ideas. He posited friendcasting — one-on-one conversation — is much more valuable than broadcasting in social media.

JD Ross chronicled awesome stuff happening with Hamilton College’s Class of 2014 Facebook group. Since students are there to interact with peers, administrators should facilitate, not manage, conversations. Hamilton promotes it frequently during student contacts in the admissions cycle. JD discussed sustainable options, such as turning groups over to students or making available after graduation as alumni groups.

I found every speaker relevant, engaging and informative. I enjoyed seeing — and drawing ideas and inspiration from — all the awesome stuff happening in higher education. I think we all benefit from our field gaining and sustaining a “wow” factor. Thanks for everyone who coordinated, presented and attended!

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links for #hewebvc presentation.

So I’m doing this presentation titled “Students: Your Social Media Secret Weapon” at the HigherEdWeb Regional Conference (#hewebvc, for the hashtag-inclined). And I kinda promised I’d put related links somewhere.

Here they are:

Class of 2014 Lightning Fast Laker Contest

Oswego’s Awesome Hockey Fans

Admitted Student Day Video Essay

Clubs and Organizations Flickr Slideshow

SUNY Oswego Blogs

What 15 Freshmen Taught Me About Social Media

Um, OK. Wasn’t that exciting?

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