Monthly Archives: March 2011

how roller derby helped me fall back in love with PR.

In some form or another, I’ve worked in public relations most of my adult life. While I love my ever-evolving day job, there’s a chance some things can feel a bit stale after a while. But I have to admit that doing publicity for Oz Roller Girls has reminded me what I enjoy about public relations.

My day job is for a college that’s also the largest employer in the county, so what we do is news whether we want it to be or not. And sometimes decisions involve what not to write about under the If We Cover That Bake Sale, We Have To Cover All Bake Sales theory.

But with the Oz Roller Girls, it’s like a budding relationship where everything is fresh and new. We’re starting, essentially, from square one, so seeing Oz news releases and photos in the media is exciting again, and watching folks on the team post Facebook links to our coverage gives a sense of accomplishment, of being part of a group that deeply appreciates it.

Since we recently launched the @OzRollerGirls Twitter account, I find myself going back to basics. My regular Twitter account having 1,300+ followers and the college account having 900+ followers has spoiled me. With the derby account, I have to remember how to build an audience again through interesting content and engagement.

It’s also refreshing to write about a new subject and be able to start a campaign from scratch. If I have an idea for a good story, I can just dive into it. The Media Committee also has awesome volunteers ready to help at any time. The whole team is so cooperative and supportive when I need something from them, and the enthusiasm for the sport is contagious and fulfilling.

The Oz Roller Girls are still an underdog in the media game. We’re a novelty act to some, hard to categorize to others, unproven to others still. But as we build toward our home debut on April 23, you can feel a kind of momentum from dozens of skaters and volunteers all believing in something and working together. When they see publicity come through, it’s just further encouragement. And being a part of all that, of seeing everything come together and enjoying every little success, makes me fall in love with public relations all over again.

Postscript: My advice: If you ever feel a little stagnated, finding a volunteer outlet can prove refreshing. You don’t have to get as far in as I have, but just meeting new people and gaining new perspective can really be a boost.

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history, visualized: creating an interactive timeline via dipity.

With SUNY Oswego celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, we wanted to do some really neat stuff on the web. We started kicking around some kind of history timeline for the college and Rick, our resident web development genius, came across the simple yet powerful Dipity web application. The resulting interactive SUNY Oswego timeline has earned rave reviews.

With Dipity, you create a timeline, upload photos, caption them … and it’s just about that simple! Inserting the date automatically positions each entry. We’re running the basic version, which means the version on the Dipity site has ads … but we’ve also embedded it on our own site (sans ads). That said, we may yet ponder a paid version for multiple licenses … having easy-to-create timelines could be an excellent teaching aid for the academic area.

Those viewing your timeline can drag it back and forth to see different eras, click a photo to see more, adjust a bar to see longer or shorter timespans or tap little + signs at the bottom to see more photos in condensed time periods. Users can also view it in a flipbook mode. I find it user-friendly on both the back and front ends.

Developing our timeline was time-consuming only because of quantity and the desire to have something up quickly; I spent the better part of two days downloading hundreds of photos from Penfield Library’s Special Collections online archive, editing the photos, uploading to Dipity and creating captions. The Dipity part of the equation was probably the easiest part. In creating the timeline, you have thumb-up/thumb-down toggles that weight photos higher … meaning they are more likely to appear at the top.

Not many drawbacks I’ve found yet. Occasionally when I’d try to upload photos, I’d get a spinning icon that showed no progress, but I simply closed out of the interface box and tried again. Also, you’ll definitely want to crop and optimize the photos for the web first. We tried a beta version with larger photos and it was exceedingly slow. Now, with a couple hundred web-sized photos in our timeline, it moves pretty briskly. And alas, you can’t use an approximate time — like c. 1960s — because the site needs an exact year. Not ideal historiography, but you can explain in the caption.

All in all, a great and easy little program. Gathering content for it will take longer, but given the positive reaction we’ve had, I would highly recommend giving Dipity a try.

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our new economy: social, integrated, authentic.

An example of how the new social economy works:

Given my new interest in roller derby, and learning more about it, I keep a #rollerderby tag feed in Tweetdeck, which I check for interesting advice and folks to follow. Saw a tweet there by @vancougarband, an intriguing sounding outfit hailing from one of my favorite cities.

Followed their link on Twitter to the Vancougar MySpace page. Liked their catchy retro-rock/pop girl-band sound. Went to Amazon. Downloaded their MP3 album “Canadian Tuxedo.”

And realized how many things they did right along the way to make the sale.

1) Good use of Twitter. If you think making money via Twitter is about spamming people by keyword or shouting about what you’re selling, you’re 100% wrong. Vancougar’s tweet was authentic: They mentioned supporting a friend of theirs who is a rollergirl and included the #rollerderby hashtag. So immediately they and I share an interest. And their name was catchy, so I wanted to learn more.

2) Having quality content readily available. OK, I make fun of MySpace, but that I could go there and listen to their music streaming goes so against the old record industry tactic of creating scarcity by limiting demand. Vancougar freely offered quality content — i.e. their songs were catchy. And they could next funnel me to where to buy online.

3) Tying it all together. I could go from discovering the band’s existence to buying the album in five clicks (Twitter page > MySpace Main Page > Music > Albums > Buy Album). FIVE CLICKS! That’s fairly astonishing, and with a better MySpace layout it could have been four clicks. But the lesson here is that everything along the way was integrated, interconnected, relevant, accessible and user-friendly.

… and they even found time to thank their newest fan! The new social economy is a wonderful community!

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social media’s never-ending quality vs. quantity discussion.

If your college had a million students, but most of them didn’t go to class, would you consider that a success? No? Then why do people chase mythical figures in social media (“I want a million fans!”) for numbers’ sake, and not care about engagement?

The quality vs. quantity discussion on social media seems a never-ending debate. I come down firmly in the quality camp, frequently saying things like 100 engaged fans are much better than 10,000 fans who do nothing. And I believe it’s true. While it’s nice the SUNY Oswego Foursqure account has 3,277 followers, many list Indonesia as their address and probably won’t check into Penfield Library any time soon.

Back in the 1990s, collecting massive e-mail lists was a popular craze. Folks would brag about the size or their e-mail lists, but ask how many folks they e-mailed actually gave money or volunteered, and they would bluff some answer about the prospects of potential audience, etc. and change the subject. And how many of those people had a negative view of an organization or institution that plucked their name off an email list and spammed them unbidden?

Facebook and Twitter allow for very public, instantaneous engagement, which represents much of their appeal. Yet you’ll see folks do everything but beg to rack up large memberships, and we all catch ads or spam on ways to get more fans or followers. We should ask such entities: What does having all those followers really get you if they never engage? Do they have any true brand loyalty, any interaction, any connection other than being a fan or follower?

Granted, fan engagement can take all forms — including complaints, arguments, off-topic posts — but if they are genuine folks who stay connected and feel some kind of loyalty toward your institution (even after they complain about classes not being canceled), then that’s tangible.

When we posted on Facebook about our men’s basketball team, which set a record for consecutive losses in the ’70s/’80s, going to the NCAA tournament, reactions included many Likes, encouragement from current students and alumni from losing years expressing amazement and support. Those are parts of a greater narrative, a simple thread that tells us volumes about our community. Yes, numbers of Likes, numbers of comments, those figures count. If we had 10 times the number of fans and _none_ of them Liked or commented, that would say something much less flattering on the viability and vitality of our community — both physical and virtual.

Or have you ever seen a prospective student post on a page or group weighing attending your college vs. another one, and have a bunch of (unprompted) students and alumni tell them reasons why they should choose your institution? That is the greatest feeling and measure for any community manager — confirmation it’s not the overall size, but the spirit that counts.

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how twitter helped revitalize a conference lineup.

About three years ago, almost no one outside New York state had heard of the annual SUNYCUAD Conference. Last month, some of the top experts in their fields were celebrating, via social media, being accepted to speak at SUNYCUAD.

So what happened? In large part, Twitter. Not entirely, but the microblogging community really created much more buzz — and, moreover, real-life connections — than before.

The first SUNYCUAD conference I attended years ago featured many vendors speaking. “If you buy our service, this is what you can do,” spilled from a few sessions, and others just didn’t give much in the way of takeaways . Even though I love the organization — for development and communication professionals throughout the State University of New York system — and the event itself, the conference was watered down with too many tracks and not enough fresh speakers or ideas.

When I first joined the programming arm of this group, we already had good speakers, sure, but too many of them, and often the usual suspects over and over. So we compressed the tracks, favoring quality of speakers over quantity. But then a funny thing happened in 2009. We started live-tweeting some of our awesome speakers, and people all over North America said via Twitter: “I have no idea what SUNYCUAD is, but it sounds great!”

Last year we added a panel of top experts we termed our faculty-in-residence, starting with a panel presentation to set the conference tone. I’m proud to say that this year’s conference faculty will include Mark Greenfield, a headline-level speaker around the world and member of the SUNY family, whom I would not know well (nor have asked to speak) if not for Twitter.

With our call for presenters, and perhaps the most successful method of distribution was via Twitter … either the @SUNYCUAD account or various retweeters. Among those who applied and we selected as speakers, many were folks I wouldn’t have known without Twitter, many wouldn’t know SUNYCUAD existed if not for Twitter and some wouldn’t have applied if not for the Twitter announcement of the call for speakers.

So whenever people pooh-pooh the prospect of Twitter building brand or business, I can point to a pretty cool conference in Saratoga Springs this June as proof it works. If you can’t make it, expect to see some pretty cool live tweets!

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1 page speaks volumes on how web has evolved.

Last week I finished working on a new landing page for our Admissions Video, and it made me realize how far we have come — which I mean globally as well as locally.

Here was the old site in our old design, hosted by vendor, created several years ago:

And here’s the new one, presented (via YouTube embed) on our site:

First and most obvious, the new one represents our cleaner, sparser redesign which makes content more user-friendly. Did you notice anything else? Like that visitors no longer have to download/use RealPlayer or QuickTime to view the video?

I really think this transition reflects larger web trends over the past few years.

  • Better sharability. YouTube was not the commonly trafficked site back then, and its cloud-based platform that can be easily embedded is (overused phrase ahead) a real game-changer. Paying for outside hosting of static web video is less necessary also because of …
  • Improved metrics availability. One of the reasons I’m told we went with this vendor was the ability to track number of visitors, plays, etc. Which we easily can now do on our own site via Google Analytics as well as YouTube’s own metrics. We could also set up funnel reports to see how many people go from this video to fulfill other tasks … which, since this video is currently a conversion tool, will be increasingly interesting come next admission cycle.
  • Increased in-house web knowledge. I had only minor involvement in (and less knowledge of) the web when Admissions set up the previous system. We had limited awareness of what other options may have existed and certainly did not have access to the awesome collective resource of Twitter #highered folks. I love that Admissions will come to us now for web solutions that we can provide at no or marginal cost with greater functionality. I think (or hope) colleagues at other colleges have similar experiences.

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