Monthly Archives: February 2011

whrrl: geosocial graduations, building societies and more.

If not for the piece I wrote on geosocial media for the January issue of CASE Currents, I may not have checked out Whrrl. It’s not as well-known as the likes of Facebook and Foursquare but, in some ways, it holds as much promise as any location-based platform.

Whrrl allows you to do all the things we’ve come to expect of geosocial apps, such as check in, receive mysterious points and leave metadata (in this case, a Note). You can add photos as well, although this feature is not as novel as it was when I wrote the initial geosocial blog series. It also has perhaps the cleanest, most intuitive interface of any location-based service.

But one feature I love is the Society function that allows you to find, connect and interact with those whose checkins show similar interests … i.e. coffeeshops, live music, etc. within a geospatial construct. Unlike most geosocial apps, Whrrl’s Society feature actively promotes the possibility of expanding one’s network.

I also like the Ideas tab, a memo-like function that allows you to record thoughts on things you’d like to do in these spaces (“try the Al Roker sub,” “check out the organic vegetable section,” “look into renting kayaks”). This links users more tightly with spaces and real-life activities. (There’s also the Fun Fact, which I haven’t figured out yet.)

But one of the coolest things (as mentioned in the January CASE magazine article) is how St. Edward’s University in Texas used Whrrl to create, as the college’s director of communication, Mischelle Diaz termed it, the first “socially-connected graduation ceremony” last year. For its 125th anniversary, St. Edward’s partnered with Whrrl to create an additional level of connectivity and excitement to the event.

“With Whrrl, we were able to capture real-time texts and photo submissions from graduates and other audience members,” Diaz said. “This allowed graduates and their families to see photos and texts from everyone at the event, not just the photos they were able to take themselves.”

They faced the challenge of Whrrl’s low user base — its main current drawback for any user — by using various campus communication and social-media channels, pitches to student and regional media as well as a pre-graduation Happy Hour signup event. They focused less on the technology (shiny object) and more on, as Diaz called it, “a significant life experience” and “recording a moment of history for the university.” Putting people and goals in front of technology! How excellent.

“Given this was our first attempt at using social media at such a large event, live, in such a visible way, we were very pleased,” Diaz said. “We took our cues about the success of the project from the audience reactions during the live slide show. There was lots of laughter and enthusiasm. After the event we did more Facebook posts with links to the Whrrl slide show, which is still accessible.”

If, as SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick said on last weekend’s HigherEdLive, the future of geosocial is not merely checking in, but in connecting and creating memorable experiences, then the underdog Whrrl may yet become more of a destination for users.


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photos for class access. keep moving. nothing to see.

Just had to put some photos somewhere for a class project. Move along. Nothing to see here. Necessary disclaimer: All images are property of Oz Roller Girls. Use only with stated permission.

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review: diy u … viewing the end of college as we know it?

When a faculty reading circle announced the selection and discussion of Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, I was more than a bit intrigued. I’d read great things about the book and here was an excuse to check it out … as well as see what colleagues think.

Reaction? Wow. So much food for thought! I didn’t totally agree with everything within the pages, but a few major themes and threads emerged that I’ve pondered quite a bit. They include:

The separation of content from delivery in education. Just as iTunes decoupled individual songs from the traditional album distribution model and Hulu divorces shows from networks and the usual delivery method, the Internet has placed countless opportunities for learning at our fingertips either free or at marginal cost. These range from the sophisticated (MIT’s free broadcasting of classes online) to the homegrown (semi-instructional YouTube videos), but all represent a challenge to the traditional authoritarian delivery system. The regular college experience remains popular, but is knowledge now more of a buyers’ than sellers’ market?

The opportunities of technology. Instead of seeing technology is a threat to education, should we look at it as a tremendous opportunity? Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized my ability to create/maintain friendships and share/gain information, YouTube and Skype have redefined video communication and cloud computing kicked collaboration wide open. As educators, we shouldn’t fear the power of these tools; we should figure out how they can help us deliver an enhanced academic experience.

Is the traditional college experience for everyone? At the risk of sounding cliche, I value my college years as much (or more?) for what I learned outside the classroom. It was a key developmental milestone for me — from shy country boy to socialized (read: slightly less shy) scholar with the confidence to find my own path. Anyone who wants that experience should have a chance, but does everyone want (or need) four years of college? What about shorter specialized programs that fill vital needs? And as someone pointed out in our discussion, our non-traditional students don’t gain the residential college experience, yet they still thrive from pursuing their educations.

The trouble with rankings. How many people complain about the US News rankings, yet put out a news release on their listing? The book raises serious points to ponder. Like how raising tuition (i.e. higher expenditures per student) helps a college’s rating. Or that chasing a certain academic profile could mean shutting out promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds who need education most. We all believe in acaedmic quality, but how do we weigh pursuing high rankings and fruitful access at the same time? (And Malcolm Gladwell checked in this week with his problems with US News ratings.)

The faculty discussion was fascinating as well. Some blasted some of its more controversial suggestions and offerings. Others very much agreed with the challenges and opportunities Kamenetz laid out. I just appreciated the conversation taking place at all, which in itself demonstrates that DIY U is a remarkable read.

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do you keep a social media inventory?

In preparation for this semester’s first meeting of our student social media team, I decided to compile a social media inventory for all the platforms where our office keeps an active presence — which I posted online as a Google document.

My first two thoughts were: 1) Wow! Even I was surprised at how many channels we had; and 2) Why didn’t I do this earlier?

If you haven’t compiled a social media inventory this yet, the process yielded good reasons why you should:

1. Creating your own social media map. You can see where you are and who’s there. The inventory can note what audiences (prospectives, current students, alumni, etc.) use the channels, what kinds of content we share (video, news links, blog posts, etc.) and any related goals. We can realize what channels are best available for what audiences and what kinds of messages.

2. Facilitating assignments for your social media team. It helps my four-student social media team — three generalists and one web video producer — know what channels need monitoring and can provide opportunities for content they generate. It also can serve as an assignment sheet to break down who focuses on what channels and works on specific projects. And as a Google documents with links, it provides a one-stop shop of where we are.

3. Helping others in your organization understand social media options. If I was mildly amazed at the number of social-media channels we have, imagine the reaction of those who don’t pay that close attention. This document helps underscore the important work of our social media team and, in better budget times, could support any requests for more resources.

Making it a Google document means it is, like the social web itself, dynamic. For instance, I just plugged in a new Transferring to SUNY Oswego Facebook page, which recognized a gap in coverage, since about 1/3 of our incoming students are transfers and have specific questions and needs (it’s a cooperative effort with Transfer Services). Note these are just the resources available to our small team, and does not currently include social media presences elsewhere in the college, including the alumni office’s well-trafficked outlets.

If I haven’t mentioned the backstage answers wiki before, it’s proven exceedingly helpful. We set it up as a place to put all the questions we receive via social media, as a behind-the-scenes reference for our social media team as the same questions come up. New questions, and the answers, are added to the wiki, which is organized by topic for easy browsing.

So if you don’t have a social media inventory yet, consider putting one together. Given the time and brainpower you likely put into your social media efforts, having some go-to information seems a worthy investment.


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super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

One great thing about teaching an advertising/media copywriting class is every spring brings the gift of discussing Super Bowl™ ads with a sought-after demographic focus group … the 23 students in #brc328. Before class, I asked them all to tweet what they thought were effective ads, and why, then we watched and talked about many commercials.

Five trends/topics worth noting:

1. NFL = Nostalgia For Life? Advertisers frequently want to use nostalgia to reach a specific demographic, but the NFL managed to score a bullseye on a whole host of generations. The students recognized how the ad included everything from current shows like The Office and Modern Family to ’90s favorites like Seinfeld and Friends to “oldies” like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the NFL has the unique advantage of television contracts with all the major players and thus can more easily negotiate the rights to use the shows, which would otherwise represent the biggest challenge.

2. Bridgestone: Difference Between Concept and Execution. Two popular spots with the students for Bridgestone, “Carma” (with the beaver) and “Reply All,” were both very entertaining. But they noticed a difference. With “Reply All,” viewers more paid attention to the frenetic actor destroying various electronic devices and barely noticed the product. But they preferred “Carma” — which gets my vote for best ad this year because it tied directly to the product, in terms of handling and braking ability (and, as one student pointed out, “six months later” showed it lasts). Playing off a timeless Aesop’s fable, employing a cute beaver with human tendencies and providing a feel-good ending, it’s hard to envision creating a better ad.

3. VW Uses The Force. The class favorite, overall, involved the kid in the Darth Vader mask trying to use the Force repeatedly with the payoff of the VW starting remotely. While students didn’t see that as any great product benefit — they’ve grown up in the era of the remote car-starter — the simple storytelling, cute concept and timeless tie-in with Star Wars all clicked. Nota bene: The Star Wars appeal spans generations.

4. Doritos: Finger-Lickin’ Good? While they found it funny and memorable, students had mixed feelings on the ad where the office worker licks the Doritos-crumbed finger of a co-worker. Some thought it successfully communcated the idea that Doritos are irresistibly good. Others found the idea of someone sucking someone else’s finger appropriately creepy. Or both.

5. Chrysler + Detroit + Eminem = Discussion. Much like the Twitterverse, the class split on the Chrysler “Detroit” ad featuring Eminem. They generally thought it had beautiful production values. Consensus found it showcased the Motor City fabulously — I like its underdog tone and one student said it resembled an engaging tourism spot. While many folks of, ahem, a certain age lamented in the blogosphere Em “selling out,” many students already consider him yesterday’s news (one even used the term “old”). As for the connection to the product, one student said “Lose Yourself” made him think of 8 Mile, which brought to mind trailer parks … a world away from a luxury car. For what it’s worth, on production and general branding merit for its three products, I really liked it.

I’m always impressed with students’ variety of opinions, which are well-articulated, thoughtful and multi-layered. What was unanimous? All thought the Groupon/Tibet ad was a really bad idea, but you don’t need to take an advertising course to recognize poor taste when you see it.


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content + connectivity: analyzing the brand of @tsand.

For perhaps the first time in a college classroom, my #brc328 class Wednesday evening involved a lesson in branding using the most beloved higher-ed social media figure, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Todd Sanders, aka @tsand. If you work in social media or would like to, you simply must follow @tsand on Twitter. He’s entertaining, authentic, engaging and sneaky brilliant.

I asked my class to tweet (with #brc328 hashtag) what they thought was a good brand, and why, the results running the gamut from Apple to Bose to Converse to (interestingly) author James Patterson. Then I introduced them to the brand of @tsand, via his successful video submission to participate in the Mercedes-Benz Tweet Race to the Super Bowl™.

I looked at @tsand in the context of the definition of a brand which, according to Luke Sullivan’s book Hey Whipple! Squeeze This!, is “the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company.” As an innovative web communicator now involved in a high-profile social-media contest that could win his #MBTeamS a Mercedes-Benz and raise a lot of money for St. Jude’s Hospital, @tsand presents three traits I think successful brands share:

1. Established identity. Those who know @tsand would describe him with words like funny, creative, crazy, unpredictable and genius. His secret to success, as noted in the video, is to create great content that wins friends and influences people. That content, coupled with his larger-than-life personality, has established broad and supportive connections across the social-media community.

2. Positive association. In the video, he notes being followed back by selective accounts like the Today Show and Ellen DeGeneres, plus more than 100,000 hits to his Flickr account and 200,000 to his YouTube channel. He’s a nice guy to boot, never above responding to those who tweet him. But the biggest indication of his popularity? The loudest ovation at #heweb10 went to keynote speaker and Don’t Make Me Think author Steve Krug, but the second-loudest may have come when the absent @tsand made a surprise appearance in the video introducing Krug.

3. Ability to create action. Many of us aren’t big supporters of social-media contests, requested retweets or hashtag bombing. But we’re doing all that — apologies for all the #MBTeamS tweets that give he and co-driver @ijohnpederson “fuel” and points — for Todd, and for his ability to win this contest and support St. Jude’s. I can’t think of another person in the higher-ed Twitterverse who could rally so many people … and it’s all because of what I would term brand loyalty to @tsand.

Win or lose, the contest is proving quite the social-media promotional experience. And, unexpectedly, showing us how a person who creates great content and makes authentic connections can represent a powerful brand.


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