Monthly Archives: August 2011

“what do you do in social media?” “i have conversations.”

When people learn I’m involved in managing social media communication for our college, the first question they ask is, essentially, what I do. I’ve had a lot of answers over the years, often about tools and tactics, but I’ve decided nothing describes it better than this: “I have conversations.”

Conversations with whom? With prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, families, fans of our teams, community members, friends of the college … you name it. The with whom part is important because it’s so important to keep the audience in mind. As I’ve said before, social media is about meeting some kind of goal, but without an audience — a community — you can’t achieve anything.

Conversations about what? About what our college has to offer. About their questions and concerns about entering college. About the weather (literally). About sports. About their memories, their hopes, their dreams. Anything and everything. Isn’t that how good conversations work?

I also think that approaching social media from an “I have conversations” mindset helps one avoid some social media approaches I’ve seen that don’t work.

“We use it as a marketing tool!” When this is the goal, it’s so obvious. Every status message or tweet looks like a brief ad. The account will sound less than a human than a tagline generator. You’ll find press releases with little engagement. And why would anyone want to have a conversation, when it seems about as enjoyable as sitting next to an Amway salesman on a cross-country flight?

“We answer questions.” This is an admirable way of looking at it, but if you’re just answering questions you’re being reactive. You should be proactive and try to drive the dialogue. Asking questions, using Facebook polls and starting conversations make for a more robust, interactive community.

“Because we need to be in social media.” Again, goals first, then tools. Don’t view social media as a task or chore. Social media isn’t a problem to deal with, it’s a community to engage and to enjoy. Just this week I met with folks from an academic program who asked about doing a Facebook page. After a discussion, they realized they couldn’t commit to what that required and decided to focus their resources elsewhere. This, to me, is a better outcome than starting and abandoning a social media community. One of the saddest things I see is an abandoned Facebook page or group where people ask questions and there’s no one on the other end to continue the conversation.

We had a very positive conversation on our Official SUNY Oswego Facebook Page this week. I asked: “New students move on campus in just two days! Returning students and alumni: What one piece of advice would you give to those going away to college for the first time?” We’re over 40 responses and counting. Some of the best include: get to know your professors; remember you’re there to get an education, not just to party; get involved outside the classroom; avoid cutting classes; be yourself; bring a toolkit and sewing kit. Most are things we would recommend, but that they come from alumni and current students provide even more cred. Plus the connections made between alumni/current students with incoming students and with our college, providing a continuity of community … well, that’s amazing.

And it all comes from trying to have conversations.

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if you’ve got a great story, tell it.

When he was around your age, people would, by today’s standards, consider him a failure. He dropped out of college. His first business venture fell through. He was unemployed and had no idea what to do with his life. But when he changed his focus to caring for others, he found his true calling. … He not only founded a college, but he helped launch an educational revolution.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to tell more than 100 resident assistants a great story. It’s one we don’t tell nearly enough, about how Edward Austin Sheldon, the founder of what we today call SUNY Oswego, overcame early obstacles to create a college and the Oswego Method of teacher education, which subsequently impacted colleges across the state, around the budding United States and as far as Brazil, Japan and the Philippines. Traditional historiography requires our dead white male heroes to appear bound for greatness. Sheldon, if viewed at the age of many of our students, seemed anything but.

But his flaws and challenges make him not only more human, but much more accessible and a role model to those trying to find their own ways.

As a child, Sheldon hated school, but detesting the rote memorization method eventually influenced his educational philosophy. He begged his father to let him stay home on the farm. When finally inspired by an outstanding teacher at a new private school, Sheldon managed to make it into Hamilton College. Illness and an apparent panic attack during an oratory competition made him drop out of school. He met a man who was opening a nursery in Oswego. Borrowing money from his father, Sheldon entered the business venture and moved to the Port City only to learn the nursery was a sinking ship. He received property in exchange for his share, but otherwise found himself in a strange city with no job, no direction and no real prospects.

But then he turned his life to caring for others. And so began a remarkable transformation from lost young man to one of the world’s foremost educational minds. In a bustling port boomtown full of immigrants, he worried about the welfare of the youngest residents. A house-to-house survey discovered 1,500 children who couldn’t read or write. He worked to establish a ragged and orphan school, and one of the main donors made Sheldon being teacher (over his initial protests) a condition of her support. So began an unlikely educational journey that saw the farmboy, college dropout and former failure develop a fresh way of teaching — the Oswego Method using active object teaching (with objects, charts and maps engaging students) combined with in-school practice training — when he founded the Oswego Primary Teachers’ Training School, with nine pupils meeting in a cloakroom in 1861. From there, all he did was help revolutionize the way the world viewed education.

Now 150 years later, I’m doing everything I can to put that story back in play. We have so many first-generation students and young folks eager to make a difference, just like our founder. If any of them have any self-doubts during their college years, they have an outstanding role model on perseverance, adaptability and the benefits of caring for others. It’s a great story, but not our only one. If you have great stories wherever you work, you should find ways to tell them as often as possible.

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first fake facebook ‘class of’ groups. now fake freshmen?

Poor Aria Wu. She really, really wants to join the SUNY Oswego Class of 2015 page. And the Belmont University Class of 2015 community. Ditto Wisconsin-Green Bay. And LeMoyne College. And Southern Methodist University. And, if you administer a Class of 2015 community for your college … probably yours too.

But she’s not alone. In addition to the alleged Aria Wu, Jamie Carson, Anthony Chandler, Kira Chang, Kimmy Chu, Anne Dietrick, Ava Mayer, Ashley Sandoval, Ella Scott, Riya Smith, Marie Steele and Cynthia Yu have all tried to crash multiple parties for admitted students. The why is unclear. Are they after important details of real students? Are they sleeper cells getting ready to sell goods and services to new students? Are they preparing to promote Facebook groups selling goods and services? Or are they harmless pseudonyms for someone conducting research?

The honest truth is that I, and colleagues at other colleges, just don’t know. We do know they aren’t freshmen at our colleges. After the now-annual tradition of marketing groups setting up fake Class of 2015 (or 2014 or 2013) entities at hundreds of colleges, the first reaction is to assume this is another peer-to-peer marketing scam. In the meantime, various figures have been kicked out of or banned from communities where they are interlopers. Poor Aria Wu has been banned from our group seven times and yet keeps showing up. So maybe Facebook’s “Ban User” feature doesn’t work that well or this alleged Aria has found a loophole.

So I don’t know what to make of it all, but I’m sharing this so other colleges can look at the lists of students in their Class of 2015 Facebook communities and see if any of these names — fake though they may be — look familiar.

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how home renovations are like using social media.

Like most homeowners, I found myself deep (over my head?) in a renovation project during my week off. Seemed simple enough: Remove an old sliding patio door and install a new one. Not that simple, of course, but it nonetheless reminded me of good advice I’ve received about social media.

Tools support a goal. Because of a number of complications, I used just about every tool I own (and had to buy more). I didn’t just say: I want to use a hammer and a saw! Which is, alas, what too many people do when they say: I want to make a Facebook! or Let’s do a video! with no attention to why and how they want to use social media. For my project, I had a goal — replace my patio door — and the way it unfolded dictated what tools I’d need.

Learn to adapt. The condition of the (soon-to-be-removed) Florida room where I installed the door provided some obstacles (or even hazards). The previous owners appeared to have framed the door after putting it in, which made it impossible to fit without taking out the old framework. Much adaptation ensued, and sometimes I was on my third or fourth tool to take out an obstacle. This is true of social media too: You’re never sure what to expect. You can plan, but sometimes you have to roll with what happens and respond. Or you may find a social media avenue is not working as you want, thus you have to change. Or you have to go into your social media toolkit for another option.

We can’t do it alone. Did I mention that a sliding patio door is a large, cumbersome item? After a lengthy amount of trying to negotiate it by myself, I eventually realized I’d need someone to help situate it (thanks to Fred Vigeant for the extra hands). This happens in social media too. We can’t monitor our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts 24/7 without some help (often students). We need other people contributing engaging content. If you’re fortunate enough to have a great network (via Facebook, Twitter, G+ or other), you can learn from colleagues at any time, and tap them for advice.

It’s never over. If you own a home, you know that there’s always another project waiting as soon as you finish anything (I have several). And working with social media is a never-ending process — whether you’re answering questions, learning about new means of communication or trying to figure out how to do things better. But even though there always seems to be more work to do, don’t forget to step back and take some time to admire a job well done once in a while.

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