Monthly Archives: October 2011

keep austin — or wherever you are — weird: 4 lessons from #heweb11

Many people may have heard the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” promoting the Texas city. Less known, but what we learned when in the city for HighEdWeb11, is its true meaning: The ubiquitous T-shirts read “Keep Austin Weird: Support Your Local Businesses.” The city (any city) would be much less interesting if its corner grocery stores were supplanted by SuperWalMarts, eclectic eateries usurped by Applebees and quirky cafes succumbed to Starbucks.

It’s a lesson we in higher ed need to heed. Not just because of anticipated increased competition from online schools, but because we’re sometimes our own worst enemies at what we do. Here are a few lessons, related to Austin and higher ed, from the many great sessions.

Be nice. Austin’s reputation as a friendly city proved well-earned. Bartenders, baristas and bellhops alike are incredibly nice, and complete strangers struck up conversations with us. Alana Riley’s project management presentation included plenty of good information, but I especially liked her discussion of being positive and nice. Psychology shows, she noted, we think better when we’re happy. “It doesn’t take much for someone to feel appreciated,” she said. “And it doesn’t take much for someone to feel unappreciated.” Have you made your co-workers, students, friends and/or loved ones feel appreciated lately? If not, why not?

Be yourself. Austin embraces its weirdness, its quirks, its offbeat charm. Karlyn Morrissette’s oddly titled “What Colleges Can Learn from the Insane Clown Posse” taught us, among other things, the controversial performers got where they are by knowing who they are and following through. Too many schools, Karlyn observed, try to be everything to everyone which makes them nothing special. (She also had a great line about colleges extolling their exclusivity: “Why do you brag about all the students you don’t educate? Brag about those you do educate.”)

Be interesting. Austin gave us a food truck festival, a Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) celebration, a nightly event where people watch bats swarm a bridge, live music everywhere and more. Colleges are inherently interesting places, so why do so many things (committees, university politics, acronym mania) paint such an uninteresting picture? We should focus on the engaging things going on around us and promote them any way we can. Georgy Cohen, whose “Carrying the Banner: Reinventing News on Your University Website” earned best presentation honors, discussed how evolving technology allows us to tell so many more interesting stories about intriguing people in new ways, and to share them widely.

Be about people. With apologies for tortured grammar, my point is that people matter most. The nice folks in Austin do customer service so well in large part because folks seem so interested in people and in helping them. Keynote speaker Chris Wilson reminded us that, despite the technology, what we do is really about finding ways to help people. Web 2.0 is not about technology, he said, it’s about caring for the people who use our site or comprise your community. Or, as Mike Petroff noted in a session on customer service via social media: “You have to out-care your competition.” What a great goal!

It was such awesome city that we were sad to leave Austin (or “Awestin,” if you prefer). Wouldn’t you want your campus to be one where people — from the future students bowled over by tours, visitors to special events and especially alumni — are sad when they have to leave it? That’s where the web and social media come in, providing a way those who love our campus never really leave, as they remain a part of community. We miss Austin already, but it gave us so many great lessons that will live on.

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3 (4?) Cs of social media lifecycle, and thinking 2 steps ahead.

In our few interactions, perhaps the most notable thing my father shared was a love for chess. Particularly the importance of thinking two steps ahead: when you move that pawn out to free your bishop so it can back up a move by your knight, for example. Similarly, with the traditional social media development cycle — the 3 Cs, if you will — there’s a real need to think two steps ahead.

The way most people handle establishing a social media lifecycle comes in 3 Cs:
Creation: Setting up the account
Connections: Collecting friends or followers
Content: Establishing things worth reading, looking at or watching — and just maybe a strategy

It’s how most people think of developing a social media presence for their organization, business or other brand. Facebook sets the tone when you try to establish a page:

Set up a profile picture, invite friends to become fans, then put info (among other content) on the page? Like so many users who say “let’s have a Facebook!” for their brand, and don’t think about a content strategy, this is doing things in the wrong order.

In social media, you have to think two steps ahead. You need to ask: What do we have/what do we do that people would care about? What would they want to hear about on a regular basis? Moreover, what would make users want to engage, and to share our posts?

I presented a Social Media for Staff workshop a few weeks ago, and some attendees pointed to pages for other entities at the college (not theirs) where all posts came from the page. Not a single comment. Not a single fan posting. Nearly nary a Like. Why? Because the content was all one-way pushing of information. Page administrators pulled out a bullhorn, blasting events and information that they found much more interesting than their fans. And the pages had hundreds of fans … but quantity means nothing without quality of engagement. Given the uninteresting nature of the content, some fans may mentally skip over those posts on their feeds, intentionally or not. I’ll admit, especially when busy, I skim past posts from those who are serially uninteresting.

How to solve this problem? Think two steps ahead. Don’t just say: We need a Facebook! Ask: What content would our target audience want? NOT: What content do we want to push to users? (Related: You do know who your target audience is, right?)

How do you get there? Before you set up that Facebook or Twitter presence, look at accounts that do engagement well — get a lot of comments, shares, retweets. Start real-life conversations with those you’d consider fans — see what topics or events (content) they value and would like to see shared and discussed via social media.

What kind of content engages? Facebook polls or general audience questions can work well if they hit on an interesting subject (especially one that cuts straight to your brand experience, such as graduation or moving on campus for colleges). Photos of people or interesting scenes. Images or short videos that elicit some kind of emotional response. News tidbits your target audience (NOTE: not necessarily your administrators) tends to discuss already.

In short, to quote Stephen R. Covey, begin with the end in mind. Thinking two steps ahead will start that new Facebook page or Twitter account off on the right foot … so you won’t have to either run to catch up or wonder why the sound of crickets pervades your space.

PS/EDIT: Mike Petroff from Emerson College had a great comment that there should be a 4th C: Conversation. Agree completely! This comes after you have a community with which to converse over your content.

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columbus day open house 2011, storified.

Hundreds of students and their families visited on Oct. 10 to learn more about SUNY Oswego as they consider college choices. Here’s a Storify on how our day progressed.

I cant wait till i go to @SUNY Oswego open house on Monday (Columbus Day)!!!!
yazelroque
October 6, 2011
We look forward to hosting you! : ) RT @yazelroque: I cant wait till i go to @SUNY Oswego open house on Monday (Columbus Day)!!!!
sunyoswego
October 7, 2011
SUNY Oswego for the dayy, work laterr! #text #collegevisit
kenzztripp
October 10, 2011
Welcome to everyone here for Open House today! We hope you enjoy your visit, and like what you see!
sunyoswego
October 10, 2011
so weird seeing people touring #sunyoswego for an open house, knowing I was in their shoes one year ago. #freaky
BillyReese
October 10, 2011
@sunyoswego the students will LOVE IT THERE!!!! I know I will!!!
ItsJuli_Rae
October 10, 2011
RT @sunyoswego: Lots of activity at the open house! Stop by to learn more about what SUNY Oswego has to offer http://t.co/ZLwyhjbK
GenerationSUNY
October 10, 2011
@sunyoswego I remember my Columbus Day tour in 1999. Enjoyed my years at Oswego!! Good luck to these students!
OhLookItsBob
October 10, 2011

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when oprah met twitter, 2.5 years later.

Almost 2.5 years, or 30 months ago, could have been a watershed moment in the history of modern communication. Or maybe not.

That’s when Oprah sent her much-talked-about first tweet on Twitter, complete with all-caps and curious use of “Twitters.” Many of her millions of viewers jumped on the new service, legacy Twitter users grumbled … and the world, somehow, kept turning.

The good news is that Oprah introduced many, many people to a communication platform that has many good uses. The bad news is that the initial foray showed them the wrong way to use it. All-caps faux pas aside, here are just some of the ways Oprah meeting Twitter on April 17, 2009, had inherent difficulties:

1. Twitter is not a megaphone, it’s a mass telephone. Oprah blasted out a well-intended message to everyone but wasn’t really listening back. The New York Times’ Nick Bilton tweeted that day that Oprah was getting more than 1,000 replies per minute. The problem: She didn’t respond. Which leads into …

2. When a new technology is used wrong, users miscast the blame. Imagine you’re a devoted Oprah follower. Here, at last, your hero is using what is touted as a democracizing communication channel where everyone talks to everyone. Except she won’t talk back to you. Since Oprah is your hero, you can’t blame her for this disconnect. Hence, Twitter must be flawed. And perhaps pointless.

3. Twitter backlash perfectly positioned. When all the media went, ahem, a-twitter over Twitter, people who rushed to the site may have found a fail whale from its rolling outages due to limited capacity. Or they found a simple interface that wasn’t exactly a shiny object. Their fave celebs didn’t return their @ messages. And overall, Twitter is a community that requires work cultivating connections and having conversations to appreciate the benefits. It’s not a quick fix. So people who didn’t get it and saw all the Twitter headlines hated the service all the more.

4. You have to find the signal among the noise. When people rushed onto Twitter and made a beeline for their fave celebrities, they discovered something: Celebs may not have much of value to say on Twitter. Many of my friends created accounts about this time. Many of them abandoned their accounts shortly thereafter. “Twitter is boring,” they complained. But my response, straight out of Twitter 101, is: If you follow boring people, Twitter is boring. If you follow interesting people, Twitter is interesting. Put another way: If you and I both go to a cocktail party, and I speak to the most boring people in the room, while you talk to the most interesting people, our perception of the party will be shaped by those reactions.

But Twitter, and the many dedicated Twitterati, shrugged off the surge and subsequent departure of fairweather members. Some friends who abandoned the service came back eventually and found value. Twitter’s overall membership boomed from an estimated 10 million at the time to near 200,000 accounts now. But it wasn’t necessarily Oprah.

Most people I know in the time since who have become active on Twitter did so because a friend recommended it, not because they read some glitzy article. And it’s a proven marketing truism that we’re much more likely to try and find satisfaction from things our friends recommend than that pushed upon us by the mass media. Whether this increase would have taken place organically, on a peer-to-peer basis, who knows … maybe Twitter was was always poised for logarithmic growth?

And away from the spotlight, 2.5 years or 30 months later, a funny thing happened. If you look at Oprah’s Twitter account, she’s doing a great job of engaging with followers. She’s using Twitter the right way. If she or her team had researched Twitter and done this from the start (and admittedly she was much busier while still doing the show daily), would that have changed folks’ perception of Twitter? Or were most of the people who rushed there bound to leave Twitter anyway? The world may never know. But it’s interesting to see that Oprah — just like Twitter itself — has continued to evolve.

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social media for a very special birthday.

[Charles Wainwright photo]

We celebrated a very special birthday last week to mark the Oct. 4 birthday of our institution’s founder, Edward Austin Sheldon, in the middle of our sesquicentennial celebration.

How does one celebrate such a momentous milestone? With a large group picture where hundreds of people detail the year of our founding, 1861. With free food. And cupcakes. And, of course, social media.

I posted several photos live via our official accounts through Instagram onto Twitter. We have many, many more followers on Twitter than Instagram at this point, but each photo filtered onto Twitter makes more of our connections aware of this service and our presence on it, as we picked up some new Instagram followers. Our posts drew a lot of retweets as well, which garnered an appreciable amount of new Twitter followers.

In addition, viewing our Twitpics gives a quick look at major components of the celebration …

You could say the reaction was pretty good on Facebook when we posted up the main 1861 photo. At least that seems a reasonable assumption with 121 Likes, 26 comments and 31 shares. That people started tagging themselves and their friends greatly extended the image’s shelf life. This is what I mean by quality content with high sharability.

I also borrowed our office’s small video camera and took snippets as the event came together. I then went into iMovie and spliced together a quick take video. [View video]

Last and not least, we had the opportunity to deliver some happiness to one of our students who missed out on getting a free T-shirt. This thread, which also is my first attempt to use Storify, shows how that took place.

Thanks for all the free food! @sunyoswego http://t.co/XLJJZ3MF
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Bon appetit!
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego any way to still get a t-shirt?! I didn’t get one 😦
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Uh oh. We saw some boxes headed in the direction of the alumni office, but don’t know if they had shirts in them. : /
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
This was actually an incorrect assumption on my part. I later learned Auxiliary Services, which runs our bookstores and other entities, had them. So I put a quick request into the person in charge of Auxiliary Services, who came through. (Thank you, Mike!)
@sunyoswego Mail me one!
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We’ll check and get back to you! : )
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We have something for you! What do you want us to do with it? http://t.co/k53HvL0X
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego name the place and time!
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
I sent him a DM of the time and place, lest others descend upon our office to claim the shirt. And, after the hectic day, failed to realize our @sunyoswego account wasn’t following him back yet, i.e. couldn’t receive his DM. D’oh! We worked it out.
@yuhhboiii This is waiting for you! http://t.co/Tn7tECji
sunyoswego
October 5, 2011
RT @sunyoswego: Here is how our giant 1861 photo came out. Thanks to all who made it happen! http://t.co/jQB6PUmj
yuhhboiii
October 5, 2011

Was it all a bit more work? Sure. But hey, you only get once chance to celebrate your founder’s birthday during your 150th anniversary … so we may as well find as many ways to tell the story as possible!

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rip steve jobs. i can’t imagine a world without you.

I was introduced to his inventions in eighth grade. Weedsport Central Schools installed a computer lab filled with Apple IIc and Apple IIe machines. I’d used computers before, but nothing like these. They just made sense. They worked. They inspired me.

So many things Steve Jobs and Apple made inspired, enlightened and expanded my knowledge and imagination. To learn tonight that he has passed away feels like a punch to the gut. There’s emptiness. There probably shouldn’t be. But to think how much his vision and genius impacted my life — the lives of so many — that it’s hard to categorize my feelings.

I’m typing this on a Macbook. There’s another Macbook next to me on the coffee table, as well as an iPad and my iPhone. My iPhone — I had a dream I lost it, truly a nightmare because I felt so helpless. I use it to check my various social media communities, do email, surf the web, listen to music, send texts, keep time, light my way as a flashlight. About 10 feet away is my iPod for jogging. I don’t use a stereo; my music collection spins on iTunes. In my waking hours, I’m almost always in the same room with some Apple invention, or more than one.

As a society, we lionize celebrities, rock stars and pro athletes. Their accomplishments are comparatively minimal. Tweets about Justin Bieber? Fleeting and faddish. Media orgs treating Madonna’s appearance in the Super Bowl™ halftime show as breaking news? Ludicrous. News outlets acting like something a Kardashian does means anything? Ridiculous. Steve Jobs’ contributions are wider, deeper and longer-lasting than just about anyone in this era.

I literally can’t imagine a world without everything he and his team has created. A world without him, in some way. But now I have to.

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