Monthly Archives: May 2011

review: does icerocket blast away other social search engines?

Fig. 1: Twitter search.

Learning about new websites and services would rank among the best parts of attending gatherings like the Canadian Post-Secondary Education Web Conference (#pseweb). When JP Rains of Laurentian University mentioned real-time social-media monitoring site Icerocket.com in his presentation, I knew it was worth checking out. My two-word review: Whoa! Cool!

Fig. 2: Facebook search

I like Icerocket for its very fast search, usability and clean organization: The top bar provides options for Blogs, Web, Twitter, Facebook, News, Images and Big Buzz. All those options are self-explanatory, with the exception of Big Buzz — which compiles all of the above plus video on one page (you have to scroll, occasionally past banner ads, to figure this out). It’s strange that Video is not an option on the top bar at this point, but otherwise their sense of organization is logical and user-friendly.

As a bonus, Icerocket offers services including an RSS Builder, a Blog Tracker that invisibly can provide analytics on your blog(s), its own RocketMail service, a Blog Trends search and an IceSpy tracker that shows top searches by Icerocket users. They also welcome you to add your blog to their search results in a one-step process if it isn’t in already. That’s a lot of functionality all under one roof.

Fig. 3: Image search

It stacks up very favorably vs. services I’ve been using:

Icerocket vs. Addictomatic.com: Long-time favorite Addictomatic offers a nicer interface in terms of the layout aggregating various searches onto one page. But as a result, the search returns are shallower and send you to the native search page for each application, from which you have to use the back button. Addictomatic offers more surfaced search options, but some of those are for obscure services. The ability to quickly toggle to long, comprehensive lists of each search tool gives Icerocket a clear edge.

Icerocket vs. SocialMention.com: My main problem with SocialMention has always been its slow-as-molasses serving up of searches. Icerocket blasts SM out of the water by providing nearly instantaneous response. Icerocket’s search via media category is more logical and has a better signal-to-noise ratio than SM. This matchup is a no-contest.

Speed and ability to search within one site prove especially important if, say, half your audience calls your college “SUNY Oswego” and the other half uses “Oswego State.” Did I mention this is a free service? Like I said: Whoa! And: Cool!

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#pseweb11 review: the importance of being human.

It may sound strange, but my top takeaway from the 2011 Canadian Post-Secondary Web Conference, among all the talk of emerging technologies, involves the importance of being human.

This thread tied up neatly in the keynote by Scott Stratten, the engaging fellow behind @unmarketing, as he humorously yet passionately championed humanity, customer service and authenticity as a way we can better do our jobs in higher education. Tools are just channels, and social media does not automatically provide connections any more than a content management system magically generates content.

Scott doesn’t know the ROI of responding to a student who tweets their acceptance to your college, “and I don’t care,” he said. “Just do it!” As to how we let complicated policies and committees get in the way of good conversations, he recalled asking an educational leader (tongue in cheek, I assume): “What’s your social media policy about talking?” The response, an excellent one: “If someone asks me a question, I just answer.”

Both Scott and Penn State’s Robin Smail (@robin2go, in “You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal … Authentic Social Media) brought up the now famous example of the Red Cross social media worker who mistweeted on the company account about “getting slizzerd.” And how the Red Cross quickly said “oops,” reassured people they were sober and engendered a lot of goodwill. We are a forgiving society full of humans who make mistakes. In social media, we are greater when we act as humans and connect as humans. Social media channels are merely opportunities to connect … it is our content, our humanity, that determines if they are effective.

Many other presentations in a conference addressing technology focused on the human touch. In “Herding Cats: Web Governance in Higher Education,” Mark Greenfield (@markgr) of the University at Buffalo said the keys to creating a great institutional web presence do not involve web tools … they involve the education and empowerment of everyone working on the web and the buy-in of top leadership. With “King Content: A Social Media Audit,” JP Rains (@jplaurentian) of Laurentian University gave a great study of effective content among several institutions, which all came back to knowing your audience and interacting with them. Ryan McNutt (@ryanmcnutt) of Delhousie University, presenting “Fire and Ice, Status Updates and Tweets: Emergency Communications in the Social Media Age,” likewise looked at how relationships with your campus and community are vital bits of crisis communication plans.

PSEWEB also saw an upsurge in presentations related to the mobile web — increasingly important as our users go increasingly mobile — and how to produce great video on a low or no budget. My presentation on geosocial media (viewable online) may still represent a novel subject, but the audience was wonderful. The conference once again had great variety in the presentations and the institutions represented, and I learned such a marvelous melange of lessons and met such a magnificent mix of people.

Moreover, if you follow the #pseweb hashtag, you’ll see this conference creates a community that interacts throughout the year. Much praise to the tireless Melissa Cheater (@mmbc) and everyone who came together for a first-rate post-secondary education gathering!

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going social with commencement: hits and misses.

With our 150th spring Commencement events taking place, looking to make it special and use the connective power of social media, we added a few new wrinkles. Some worked, some didn’t. As always, I like to chronicle such efforts in case they are useful to others.

Facebook event page. We established a Facebook event for Commencement, for which I invited people I knew and then we promoted it via our official channels. Posting plugs on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the viral nature of users interacting with the event showing up in their friends’ streams, we picked up 267 RSVPs. Not a huge number, but it existed outside official communication — and it was extremely gratifying in seeing how parents and others turned it into a place to congratulate graduates, as the snapshot below shows.

Interactive webcast. We plugged a Facebook comment box into our live stream and, as the iPhone screen captures at right show, relatives and friends who couldn’t attend had great comments and interacted with each other from time to time during the two ceremonies. Since I was working the ceremony, and our webcast system doesn’t work for a mobile device, I couldn’t do a screen capture of them interplaying, but it points to a need for us to work with the broadcasting arm to make live web video more mobile-friendly. Google Analytics logged a decent 1,222 views for the webcast page, compared to 3,042 visits to our main Commencement page (which also had a link to the feed). Interns monitored the thread and could ban users who did not adhere to our very simple guidelines (No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity.) listed right on the page. No one got out of line and most were effusive in congratulating graduates. I thought of incorporating Facebook and Twitter feeds on the same page, but wiser minds convinced me all the plug-ins could slow down the process … and the video part feeding well was the most important thing. We did include a plug for the official hashtag on the page.

#ozgrad hashtag on Twitter. This took a while to take off, but especially during the morning Commencement we saw nice activity. The morning ceremony included our communication graduates, who are more Twitter active (including the ones who go through my class that requires getting a Twitter account). Interesting to see that some of the first people to pick it up were former students of mine who follow me and the @sunyoswego account, so they most likely picked up the tag from observation. We also did pre-event promotion of the tag, which likely helped. During the event — during which I also supervise the ushers and have media-relations responsibilities, I tried to live-tweet via @sunyoswego when I could. The behind-the-scenes shots — such as of the WTOP control room for the broadcast (above, which had many retweets) and our organist playing beforehand — seemed popular.

Countdown to Commencement. Borrowing from another colleges, we thought another way of building excitement would be asking graduating students to document via tweeting photo or video what they were doing in the days up until graduation. Good idea? Perhaps? Willing participants? Not exactly. Granted, some of this may have been from not having a lot of promotion other than what we could put on our social media channels. But participating was pretty much limited to my graduating interns tells me this format may not be viable for us. I rounded out our proposed slideshow with photos from our photographer or that I took for much of the Flickr gallery. Colleges with dedicated social media staffs and more general resources probably could do this better. Still, it was good to have a Countdown to Commencement page where I could aggregate social media details and multimedia efforts. And publicizing it did result in a spike in Twitter followers.

The lessons learned underscore good basic social media philosophies: be present, use your channels and cross-promote when you can. Know where your audiences are and, as the Countdown to Commencement fizzle showed, accept the occasional failure and learn from it. We don’t control many of the “official” Commencement messages that go out to students and parents, or that appear in the printed program, but our office does official top-level websites and social media … where the participating audience members already are. We’ll take our lessons and move forward. And know that maybe, just maybe, we helped some people enjoy this special day just a little bit more.

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joining blog high ed: new connections. new content.

Tommy Johnson: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.

For a long time, I used those lines from O Brother, Where Art Thou? in relation to my relationship (or lack thereof) with the larger higher education blogging networks. Truth is, no one asked. But that changed this week when Matt Herzberger and Brad Ward asked some folks in the field, including me, to infuse new voices into their collective, Blog High Ed.

It’s a flattering situation, and I’m honored, humbled and happy. But it also brings the added benefit of forcing me to raise my game. Here are some topics to expect in the coming weeks:

* Our efforts at a social Commencement. We don’t have a lot of resources — a few students and yours truly — but we’re trying to step up in terms of connecting this very exciting day.

* The second Canadian Post-Secondary Education web conference, aka #pseweb, taking place next week in Toronto.

* Where’s the love for transfers? One man’s crusade to improve social media resources for perhaps the most overlooked and underaddressed higher education population.

Finding myself affiliated with some really great bloggers, I can only hope I do my part. It’s a great bargain to find company at the #highered crossroads, and I don’t even have to sell my soul.

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#hewebroc: a sort of homecoming.

So, this is happening:

… and if you work in anything involving higher education and the web, you should mark your calendar for June 27 for the HighEdWeb Rochester regional, aka #hewebroc. A bunch of great speakers, engaging companions and fresh ideas … all for just $30! Or, if you answer our Call for Proposals and become one of those speakers, we will waive your registration fee.

I’ve attended two previous regionals, at Cornell and Vassar, and those events were very informative, well-organized and excellent networking opportunities. Even though this has come together fairly quickly, I’d paraphrase Margaret Mead’s adage and say that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens (webizens?) can change the world … or at least how we use the world wide web. And that it takes place in Rochester, the birthplace of what is now the huge and influential HighEdWeb annual conference, is an especially nice touch.

The Call for Proposals opens Monday, so give that some thought. And block June 27 for a low-cost (hard to beat $30!) informative conference full of awesome #highered web folks. Hope to see you then!

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