Monthly Archives: November 2013

Stop “e-blasting.” Start communicating.

Of all the tired and tiresome phrases showing how we misunderstand, disunderstand or disregard our audience, the phrase “e-blast” probably tops (bottoms?) the list. I’ll hear people say “we’re going to send an e-mail blast” or “let’s do an e-blast” and I wonder … that doesn’t sound very respectful or considerate of our audience, does it?

If we Google the definition, it basically describes an act of violence:

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Do we want to create “a destructive wave” toward our audiences? Are we admitting that what we send is just “a strong gust of air”? (Maybe this is more applicable than some realize.) Or we trying to “blow up or break apart” valued customers? Are our e-blasts indeed “a loud continuous … noise” that leaves our audience “expressing annoyance”?

You’re not blasting your audiences — you’re communicating with them. At least if you really care about your audience. And you should. Every day we are bombarded with messages, often via emails, and it may be clear when we feel like we’re being “blasted” and when somebody is actually trying to communicate with us. In addition, so much professional communication isn’t one-way any more — you want to create a connection, a dialogue, a beneficial relationship. You shouldn’t want to blast everyone unfortunate enough to be on your email list. We’re all busy enough without having to deal with misdirected emails — I get everything from people selling fundraising tips to lab animals (!) — and you should respect that time is a very precious resource.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 12.07.02 PMSo all credit to people like my friend Leah Landry at WRVO who stand up to say “no” to this phrase. We all should.

“Why is this important?” you may ask. The phrase “e-blast” or “e-mail blast” is symptomatic of a mindset that communication tools are weapons more than they are interactive channels. We’ve all seen the Facebook pages that are just compendia of brutal copy-and-paste listings, the Twitter accounts that just tweet but never reply or retweet or otherwise engage.

I don’t think of social media as a megaphone, but as a potluck party. Yes, a party … where we all gather, bring what we have to the table, share and learn and nourish ourselves. And along the way, we all help each other, everybody gets fed and life is a little better. There’s no place for blasting … only for conversation, sharing and enlightenment. Isn’t that how we should live in the first place?

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pulling a plug: today’s new/shiny can be tomorrow’s dead/dull

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On Friday, I did something for the first time as a social media manager: I pulled the plug on a once-thriving platform for us.

Once a hot platform that brought many prospective-student questions, Formspring/Spring.Me has been functionally dead (to us, anyway) for months. We created a SUNY Oswego account after Mallory Wood (now with mStoner) mentioned on a Higher Ed Live episode how many Formspring questions accounts at St. Michael’s College received. When we waded in, the current was strong — 10 to 20 questions a week, almost all from prospective students, demonstrated we could provide a valid service as well as see what questions we perhaps weren’t answering very clearly or prominently on our website.

But back in February came the announcement the site could no longer afford to stay open and would shut down operations at the end of March. But while the bustling thoroughfare turned into a tumbleweed-strewn ghost town, it didn’t entirely go away. SUNY Oswego’s account still received a few scattered user questions but — worse — received emails from somebody/something at the company with vapid Questions of the Day such as whether we were going to see the latest Brad Pitt movie. (Lame sauce.) The site may boast nearly 26 million users, but that’s just a reminder that sheer numbers don’t mean everything in social media relevance.

Useful though it was, Formspring’s usability had shortcomings.

  • We saw the same questions over and over and over, and while we have a backstage wiki that allows us to copy/paste/modify responses, it still becomes tiresome for the manager to answer the same question about application deadlines (which are pretty clear on our site) multiple times a day. Formspring’s interface made the site more about asking questions more than making answers easy to find.
  • The site didn’t seem to cultivate user inclination for detail in questions. We’d receive one-word queries like “deadline.” Really, that’s all it would say. Which deadline? We have so many for different things. Many questions were just one-worders such as “scholarships,” “jobs” or “cost” that showed a very shallow level of user interaction … even though, as a customer-service-focused organization, we felt inclined to not be lazy in replies.
  • The mostly anonymous format meant that you could get off-base and inappropriate questions. This didn’t impact us much but I know others who grew weary of the site for such reason.
  • What should have been a simple and quick-loading interface was anything but. Instead there was a long delay, and then the cursor bumped me into its Question of the Day … not the actual question we wanted to answer. Protip: Emphasize the customers’ experience first, not your vanity feature.

As I went through the (thankfully) brief process of disabling our college’s moribund account, I didn’t really feel much remorse as if leaving a community that ever meant much to me. More than anything, it reminds us that one day’s new and shiny can easily become the next day’s dead and dull. So we should be wary when new communities or platforms suddenly become “hot” in the fanboy tech press, and consider the sustainability of any efforts. And we should know that there comes a time, when a community is no longer useful, to move on.

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