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!