Monthly Archives: May 2013

SUNYCUAD ’13: More than a fairytale of New York


“I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true.”
— “A Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl

Next week’s SUNYCUAD conference — June 5 to 7 at the Hilton Long Island Huntington — features a dream lineup of headliners as well as leaders, visionaries and practitioners in various fields of higher education. Dreamers and doers, if you will.

While we don’t have The Pogues, we may have gone one better with headliner David Pogue, tech columnist for the New York Times, Nova ScienceNow host and CBS Sunday Morning contributor. He’s pretty good on a piano too. I’ve heard rave reviews about his live presentations, and with nearly 1.48 million Twitter followers, he’s clearly a well-regarded authority on technology as relates to everyday life.

Our headliners have amazing depth and breadth, also including SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Columbia University Chief Digital Officer/CNetNews contributor Sree Sreenivasan and design firm Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. Any of the above would headline our conference any year, but this fab four, a veritable Mount Rushmore of brilliance, really supercharged the 2013 lineup.

But our breakout sessions are marvelous and will pose many hard choices for those in such fields as alumni relations, communication, development, publications, public relations, social media, web and everything in between. I’ll even have the honor of presenting with two of our talented students, Heather Casey and Alyssa Levenberg, on what they’ve done for us in video and blogging. Oh, and there’s even a clambake at the Crescent Beach Club on the north shore of Long Island.

If you can’t make it, we hope to have helpful bits posted up on the #sunycuad Twitter hashtag, and Lisa Kalner Williams of Sierra Tierra Marketing (@sierratierra) has assembled a list of Twitter feeds from conference speakers.

So much awesome in one place seems like a fairytale, but in truth it’s a fair sampling of what the minds of New York (and beyond) have to offer. We’ve dreamed big for this year’s conference, and we think the result will prove a truly great and fruitful time for all.


Filed under writing

#hewebmi top takeaway: technology is nice, but collaboration is key.


HighEdWeb Michigan (#hewebmi) staged an outstanding conference earlier this week, and the theme I took away from it more than other involved the importance of collaboration.

Perhaps that sounds a strange takeaway from a conference about web communication in higher ed, but then I’ve always viewed the web as a huge gathering of people moreso than a mosaic of technology. Perhaps Ron Bronson of Eastern Wyoming College put it best in “Unboxing Yourself: Reaching Out for Professional Growth,” when he encouraged everyone at the conference to share what they know with others. At its most basic level, isn’t higher education about sharing knowledge, about collaborating? Whether it’s teachers sharing what they know with students, students sharing helpful information with each other, or teachers sharing what they find works well with other teachers, collaboration’s roots run deep in the history of American education … the trend of establishing specialized departments and info-hoarding silos is much more recent.

A wonderful keynote speech by Kristina Halvorson (co-author of the much-cited Content Strategy for the Web)  set the tone, emphasized many times, that working together on anything from creating great websites to telling compelling stories to attracting marvelous students (which, come to think of it, are all related) is the true key to success in this business. Christopher Ankney of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business discussed how to build engaged (and engaging) communities; Shawn Sieg and Matt Snyder, from U of M’s human resources department, probed using social media to motivate internal audiences; Aaron Rester from the University of Chicago Law School pondered the dream web org chart; while Nick DeNardis of Wayne State, Kyle James of NuCloud and I explored how colleges and vendors can work better together.

Other fine sessions looked at tools and tactics — such as Wooster College’s Alex Winkfield on how to launch a video operation on campus and #pancaketweetup co-creator Lane Joplin on social media analytics — but even these pointed out how no one can do their job alone. Bronson also noted a need for clarity in our jobs and how we see ourselves, with two of my favorite quotes from the conference: “There’s no space in the calendar for doubting yourself” and “You don’t have to be the best ________ in the world. Just be the best YOU.” Fantastic advice.

Coming back from the conference, I already have two collaborative blog projects in mind, plans to finally launch our use of Vine in a way that connects our huge Oswego family to campus plus designs on creating a group that will champion better web content across our ecosystem. I’m also more determined than ever to get folks across campus to work together on not just their piece of the puzzle but the bigger lifecycle picture — the journey from prospective students to alumni — and how to make that more seamless.

“Don’t think about how you’re communicating as channels,” Halvorson said in the opening keynote, but instead as “touchpoints across a lifecycle.” Let’s all collaborate on making the lives of today’s prospective and current students, today’s and tomorrow’s alumni and everyone working on campus as successful as possible. Let’s tear down the silos and make this a huge barn-raising instead … where we work together to build something awesome.


Filed under Web

Awesome Mitten: How 1 website gives Michigan a high 5

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 9.22.39 AM

If you’re even looking for a great example of how a website can celebrate and promote an entire region or state, you can point to So with HighEdWeb Michigan (#hewebmi) coming up in a few short weeks, I wanted to delve into the site more and ask a few questions of Alex Beaton, who founded and leads the Awesome Mitten team.

1.) How did this site come about?
Alex Beaton

Alex Beaton

The Awesome Mitten was born when I moved back to Michigan after spending my first year post-college in Nashville. One of the reasons I moved back is that I felt so much was happening here. I saw the economy tank when I graduated, and while the unemployment rate wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I had hoped, people were doing things. The first month I was back, I attended TedxDetroit. I left the event feeling so inspired by these people who weren’t just sharing ideas, they were sharing actions. I went home that night, and bought the domain name with little or no idea what I was going to do with it. I set up social accounts immediately, and for the next few months I went through several different iterations of what The Awesome Mitten would be. Eventually, by a suggestion of someone I connected with on Twitter, it was decided that the first campaign would be called 365 Days of Awesome. We would feature one cool person, place, band, business, etc. in Michigan, every day for an entire year. The campaign launched on June 6, 2011 and things took off from there!

2) Where do the content/content ideas come from? 
Our content comes from a team of volunteer feature and contributing writers from around the state that are insanely enthusiastic about the state of Michigan! (We refer to them as “Team Awesome.”) I can’t even begin to express how amazing they are, and how The Awesome Mitten would cease to exist without them. We accept one-time submissions from contributing writers, or monthly columns. What does it take to be a part of Team Awesome? Send a pitch to our amazing Managing Content Editor, Erin Bernhard (, with a few writing samples, and we’ll talk! Content ideas come from everywhere — writers pitch us with their ideas, and businesses and organizations are constantly letting us know what they are doing that is “awesome”! We welcome ideas through a variety of media (social media, email, etc), and encourage readers to let us know what is happening in their neck of the woods. (PS: We’re desperately seeking writers and ideas from the Flint, Midland and Bay City areas — our content from that area of the state is pretty meager.)
3) Many of us working in web and social media are trying to promote something, often on a more micro level. How does the Awesome Mitten team do such a great job of celebrating a whole state?
Thanks for thinking we do a great job! It definitely has its challenges. Like I said, we’re aware of some of the glaring holes in our coverage, and we’re doing our best to fill them. I think coming at it from such a broad angle as the entire state of Michigan has a lot of advantages, because we’re never lacking for content: There is always something going on somewhere. After two years, we’ve developed great contacts with people who keep us regularly updated on the happenings of their town or organization. We also go through phases; for example, in the summertime, we have double the content from Traverse City that we do during the winter months. Even though TC is a destination year-round, people REALLY want to read about it in the summer. Grand Rapids is another area where we have a lot of content from, and that is because that is where our largest readership is based. Now were they readers first, so we developed our content to GR — or did we have a lot of GR content, therefore attracting more West Michigan readers? I’m not sure. 
We really took a lot of flack in the beginning for not covering the UP (Upper Peninsula) very well, but quickly remedied that with a partnership with Things to Do in the UP. Jesse Land, founder of that site, reached out to me pretty early on, looking for ways for us to work together, and we’ve been promoting and supporting each other ever since. I think that is a crucial part of how The Awesome Mitten has reached where it is today: We want to work with other sites promoting Michigan, and other such sites supported us from day one. Occasionally, we run across people that are very competitive, and don’t want to work together, and while I can respect that, I don’t understand it. Our site is about promoting the great things that are happening in the state of Michigan, and the awesome things that Michiganders are doing; I want to share my experiences thus far, what worked and what didn’t. I want others to succeed, because by doing that, you’re helping make our state a little more awesome! But, I’m rambling. Bottom line: we are able to cover the whole state by partnering with awesome people and organizations!
4) Do you have any really awesome examples of successes or feedback with the site?
I think our greatest success, the one thing that really put us on the map, was “Mitten Gate.” Back in December 2011, Travel Wisconsin unveiled a logo that depicted their state as a mitten. *GASP* How dare they!? Naturally, when I happened upon this, I tweeted about it, and hilarity ensued. The Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive contacted me later that evening asking for quotes. The next day, (Dec. 7), the Associated Press picked it up, and I took the day off from my day job. The Awesome Mitten appeared in 400 online publications: everything from the Huffington Post, Gawker, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune even did an editorial on it. I was interviewed by several radio stations, including WGN Talk Radio out of Chicago. My little website went from 700 pageviews a day to 40,000 a day for a week straight. Pure Michigan jumped into the game, teaming up with Travel Wisconsin to determine what was “The Real Mitten State”. A website for voting was launched and a “mitten drive” began in both states to collect cold-weather clothing. It was insane. Almost a year later, on Aug. 29, 2012 (my birthday!), MLive ran another article detailing the debacle and how it won Pure Michigan a US Associate Travel Mercury Award. It was also estimated that the controversy earned $17 million in free media coverage. 
This past January, we ran a fun campaign to celebrate Michigan’s 176th Birthday. We kicked things off with a Bake Off where we encourage local bakeries to create a Michigan-themed dessert. We then asked our readers to vote on their favorite, and awarded the winning bakery a cash prize. We wrapped things up with “tweetups” that took place in seven cities around the state of Michigan: Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Metro Detroit, Traverse City, Marquette and Ann Arbor. We encouraged people to tweet their birthday wishes all day long using the hashtag #176YearsofAwesome. Overall, the campaign was picked up by several media outlets, and grew our social fan base by almost 20 percent. The campaign also won the public relations firm we worked with, Grand PR (a student-run organization from Grand Valley State University), a PRoof Award from the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America.
The Awesome Mitten is constantly evolving. Right now, we’re working on two programs to better engage our readers. One will focus on finding great resources, or experts, in different communities around the state, and the other will focus on bringing Michiganders who live out of state together. We’re not afraid to try something and fail (we’ve done that) — we want to do whatever is necessary to be a valuable resource for those looking for awesome things to do in the state of Michigan, and we want to do that in a fun, relateable way.


Filed under Web