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How losing a job 25 years ago made me a better person today

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I got laid off from my first professional job 25 years ago (give or take a few days). It seemed crushing back then, but ultimately it was a needed wake-up and “grow-up” experience.

The recent trend of posting #sevenfirstjobs (or #7firstjobs?) has been a great reminder of the number of grunt and entry-level jobs many of us worked before finding our paths. But it also reminded me of how what seemed like a dream job got away at the time.

In spring 1991, I was hired to be the office manager of the Sterling Renaissance Festival. The fest was not just a business or attraction, but where I grew up — I spent summers there since I was 9 years old because my mother was a craftsperson there. (Maybe one day she’ll let us build a website for her woodworking business, The Wooden Unicorn.) I did a little bit of everything there over my summers, from fetching thrown objects and knocked-down bowling pins at games to running the Ladder of Truth for four years (helped pay for college!).

So when the owners, who I’d known since I was but a wee nipperkin, interviewed me and offered the job, I was ecstatic. I could use my communication skills in a variety of promotional and administrative ways to help a business I grew up loving.

But it’s not always simple when you’re new out of college and at a place that was long your playground. I was immature, I didn’t have the best attitude and my work wasn’t as good as it should have been. My boss, one of the owners, expressed disapproval but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have and did not level up accordingly.

One morning toward the end of the season, my boss asked me to sit down for coffee and let me know I would not be renewed for the off-season and next season. At the time, I was rather heartbroken. I worked out the rest of the season and my last day was my birthday. (Happy? Not so much.)

It’s not you, it’s me

At first, I did what many an angry young man would and blamed them for what had to be a mistake. But as weeks of unemployment stretched into months, the truth set in: I should have done a better job. I should have had a better attitude. I should have taken it all more seriously.

Rest assured, that when another special-events job that I really wanted came along — publicity coordinator for Oswego’s Harborfest — I was ready. I went all-out in applying. I didn’t have a news release sample (since my background was more journalism that PR), so I took a risk: Instead of a cover letter, I wrote a news release (“Tim Nekritz applies for Harborfest job”) with the credentials I’d put in a cover letter. I figured it would either get me an interview or tossed aside as too weird.

I got an interview. It went pretty well.

They offered the job to somebody else. She quit after one day.

Then they offered the job to me. I said “yes!” (I had to stop myself from screaming “yes!”)

Work is serious, but fun

I read up on public relations as much as I could and learned a lot about PR on the job, as fortunately the organization had board members and volunteers who were willing mentors because they saw I (now) had a work ethic and a desire to learn. I did not want to let this job slip away, and promised myself I’d be more professional, responsible and responsive to criticism. The learning curve and workload were challenges, but I made it through the first season (as a part-timer) and they offered me a full-time job.

A key lesson is that work is, well, work and requires a serious attitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — it was a very fun job! — but that you have to produce, be part of a team and (if you’re lucky) do what you can to make the people around you better.

I learned and grew as much as I could and seven years later, now with expanded responsibilities as Harborfest’s public relations and marketing director, chose to return to my beloved field of journalism to become arts and entertainment editor of the Palladium-Times. I felt like a different person leaving the job than taking it, having matured and learned and realized every day was an opportunity to grow.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I mustered the maturity to get retained at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t have learned many of the things I have. Two roads diverged about 25 years ago, and what seemed awful at the time actually paved the way toward many awesome opportunities.

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Bangor Police Department: an arresting social media star

Among the most awesome things about social media are the unlikely superstars, such as the Bangor Police Department Facebook page. Not only has success failed to ruin the helpful, folksy content that brings smiles to multitudes, but the page shows us key insights into how to do the right things — in social media and in life.

Started by Sgt. Tom Cotton as merely a way to help keep the community informed and safe, the Bangor Police Department page has had a few posts that drew widespread attention, big media placements and a fanbase over 100,000 (or three times the city’s size) and growing.

The latest to go viral was friendly advice to Mid-Atlantic residents not used to the large snowstorm heading their way in late January. While many heartless Northeasterners chuckled at, smirked toward or derided the misfortune of the region, BPD extended heartwarming and humorous tips on how to whether the storms. Then they added:

Most of all, take care of each other. Be nice and invite neighbors to hole up at one location. Hide expensive things, but help them. (that’s the cop talking).

You will be fine. We drink lots of coffee and complain when we get hit like this storm. It works ok. It makes us grouchy but that’s why you come here in the summer. To hear stories from grumpy Mainers who sell lobster traps. Now, you will have some of your own to share with us when you get back.

Be safe and well and if you have any Cap’n Crunch left after the storm. It keeps very well. Bring it up this summer.

I found that rather beautiful, really: Advice, encouragement, a reminder we’re all humans who are all in this together. Cotton — who refers to himself as TC — quite simply nailed everything that makes an awesome post. Some would complain it’s too long, doesn’t feature eye-catching photos, isn’t posted at what social media gurus would say is the ideal time. None of these matter more than having a good story and a kind heart.

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Handy life advice, whether you live in Bangor or not.

In a world of self-puffing #humblebrags and narcissists who show false humility by pinning #blessed at the end of their boasts, BPD’s posts, even the ones acknowledging the size of their audiences, bear a beautiful bemused befuddlement at it all.

TC put it well in writing how awed and thankful they were at the huge reaction to their storm advice post:

With no knowledge of social media and apparently breaking most every rule, we have had a really good run on FB. I think it’s because people want to find out what police officers are actually thinking and doing rather than depending on everyone else to tell them. Maybe that is too simple an explanation but no one has ever confused me with with a genius. No reason to change hearts and minds now.

In addition to the above, a few key points related to social media come to mind.

Be yourself. Authenticity is the key to social media, and you can easily hear a friendly veteran officer offering advice or an interesting yarn in each post. TC pokes gentle fun at his fellow officers, makes corny jokes and celebrates the spirit of local kids. You expect that if you visited the station, you’d get the exact same tone and warmth.

Be awesome. Despite his humility, TC is a master storyteller relating everything from the human condition to the quirks of his town. He tells uplifting stories of simple but kind deeds like when Officer Dustin Dow asked an elderly woman they were checking on if there’s anything they could do, and she asked him to cook an egg. Which, of course, he did. And then there’s the even more unlikely celebrity, the wooden Duck of Justice.

Keep your audience in mind. BPD still posts safety tips, photos asking the public to help with an investigation, visits to local schools and other homespun advice, but it also celebrates everyday users far and near. After the winter storm/Cap’n Crunch advice, they posted fan-sent photos from readers as far away as Maryland and Virginia — all in the spirit of fun and community. (If Cap’n Crunch isn’t working on an endorsement deal yet, they should be.)

Don’t overdo it. TC doesn’t pour every off-topic idea or meme or thought onto Facebook; the updates come across just enough to always feel fresh and enjoyable. The department doesn’t try to replicate their experience on their Twitter account, and thank goodness it doesn’t autovomit every Facebook post onto Twitter.

Passion and purpose are key. When I hire interns, the things I look for more than anything are passion and a willingness to help others. TC’s passion comes coated in droll Maine wryness, but it’s clear he really cares about what he does and the people he and the man and women of the department serve.

TC finishes posts with some variation on “The men and women of the Bangor Police Department will be here.” It’s good to know that they are there for their community as well as on Facebook to make the world a brighter place.

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Free soundtrack music on YouTube? Who knew?

Did you know that you can add copyright-cleared music to any video you upload to YouTube? I didn’t, until this week.

Super-intern and video blogger Alyssa Levenberg was assembling a video slideshow of photos submitted by members of our Class of 2018 proudly declaring their college choices by wearing Oswego gear when we hit a sticky wicket. The song she originally wanted to use wouldn’t clear YouTube copyright control (redacted rant about how we already pay for music licensing), yet when I went to figure out what options existed, YouTube offered a solution via its audio library.

Audio library? Full of music you can add for free? Have I been under a rock?

Perhaps, since the feature has been around a couple years. But the process of adding music is pretty easy. From your account’s Video Manager page, click on the arrow next to the Edit prompt by the thumbnail:

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Click on Audio and your video will appear with a selection of top songs you can add. Or you can click the Top Tracks tab and get a variety of genres from ambient to alternative & punk, classical to country & folk, rock to reggae, among others.

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With the video playing, click on the tracks (which include lengths, which is helpful) and see how they work with your visuals. That song doesn’t work? Click and try another. You can also search a database of what YouTube lists as 150,000+ tracks. Honestly, I thought a lot of the songs were good and catchy and flexible enough to work with many videos. You can also use the Position Audio feature to drop it in or out when you want it.

If you do a search, which you can even do by genre, you can scroll down and see all the songs offered, or even sort by songs that could fit your video’s length.

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If I had one critique, it’s that the minimum audio level available (if you slide the bar that says Only Music all the way left it will give you a lower volume and change to Favor Original Audio) can still be a bit high if your video involves a person speaking and you want the words to be clear. Maybe YouTube will tweak this feature eventually, although if you mix the original audio higher maybe it could work better. You’ve probably never heard of most of the artists available, but good music is good music regardless of whether it’s a recognizable artist.

And honestly, for a free fix that provides compelling background music for videos, the added audio feature for YouTube basically hits the right notes.

 

 

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Is a web service (G+, Facebook, etc.) ‘dead’ or ‘alive’? A quick users’ guide.

Image courtesy of fanpop.com. Points if you get the reference.

Image courtesy of fanpop.com. Points if you get the reference.

Much typing and responding and counter-responding of late has gone into whether Google+ is dead or alive, as is also happening with Facebook and myriad other past, present and future web services and communities.

What’s the answer? It’s simple.

Merely ask: Is this useful to me?

If you answered YES, then congratulations, it’s alive! Don’t sweat over what the pundits — most of whom make contrary claims mainly to get recognized and boost traffic to their own sites — say. When it’s no longer of use to you and what goals you want to attain, then it’s dead.

If you answered NO, then it’s dead to you. Not dead to the world, but to you. No pundit is in a position to tell others that a web service that they find useful is “dead,” no matter how many blogs they write or followers they have. It’s like telling your neighbor “using the hammer is dead” when you need a screwdriver for a project. If your neighbor needs a hammer, then it’s useful to him or her, no matter what anybody else says.

Glad we were able to clear that up. Keep using what you’re using, as long as it’s useful to you.

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The king of social media content on campus? It’s not us.

Those of us who work in social media and web communication professionally like to think we know all the answers about creating content that works. And then somebody comes along and makes us look like pikers. Such was the case of Charles Trippy of We the Kings, who played at SUNY Oswego on Saturday night. In addition to playing a good set, all he did was create the most popular piece of content ever to come from our campus … by far.

Not only was it a great plug (even if it did contain the word “badass”) but it told an interesting story:

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As backstory, Charles’ father, better known as Chaz Trippy, played percussion in the Gregg Allman Band. So he posted: “This is the badass venue we are playing at (SUNY Oswego) my dad played here too in the ’80s!” It’s a big compliment to our Campus Center arena and a great historical note (the Gregg Allman Band did play at SUNY Oswego, albeit likely in the less impressive Laker Hall, in 1982).

If you’re squinting at the number of likes, do not adjust your set, it does indeed say more than 31,000 people liked it on Instagram (now nearly 32,000). If one of our posts gets 100+ likes, I consider that impressive. I don’t see us dethroning this feat worthy of a king.

The post also appeared on Twitter, where the figures also rang up high: 96 retweets and 504 favorites (updated: 98 and 523).

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We can learn lessons from this, of course. In terms of social media success, yes it helps that Trippy is a good-looking guy who plays in a popular band. But he wouldn’t have 404,316 Instagram followers and 464,000+ Twitter followers if he didn’t create interesting content. His use of media crosses over into YouTube with his popular Web series Internet Killed Television, which basically chronicles Trippy’s life on the road and at home, sometimes with appearances from his parents. And his Charles Trippy Family x Core channel, where the episodes air, has 1,469,912 followers.

Trippy did indeed document his time at SUNY Oswego with a video blog episode, featuring several students and calling the whole experience “pretty awesome.” He enjoyed playing on the same bill as two bands that inspired him growing up, Motion City Soundtrack and Say Anything. Calling the experience “a dream come true,” he offers advice: “Never let anyone ever tell you that your dreams are stupid.” As of Monday morning, or in about its first 24 hours, his video featuring our campus had some 264,000 plays … and climbing.

Plenty of bands are more famous and sell more records, but Charles is certainly a king of content. A lesson learned in retrospect is how anybody involved with the show, including us so-called professionals, could have better engaged him sooner on social media and tried to leverage his huge following to promote the concert. Advice going forward for people promoting shows at any campus, concert hall or cafe: See who’s coming to perform and try to connect with them in advance and in a meaningful way.

Sure, I don’t expect to create a piece of content with better reception that what Charles Trippy got, but he put a lot of Oswego love and interesting stories all over social media. I’ll take that royal treatment any time!

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Smartphones/Twitter in the classroom, an update

Before this semester, I blogged about changing the syllabus of our “Media Copywriting” course (BRC328) to not only discard the old “put your smartphones away in class” trope but to even encourage and embrace the use of technology — specifically Twitter — during class time.

I was pleasantly surprised with how many readers asked for updates, and I’d say: So far, so good. Perhaps better, especially when it has curried creativity.

First I used Twitter for instant feedback, asking the class to give their quick review as I showed things like the classic Charmin campaign referenced in the name of our textbook, Luke Sullivan’s “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads.” I always ask for feedback using the #brc328 class hashtag.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.22.05 PMSince advertising is about the instantaneous, in-the-moment reaction to content — humans generally think about ads in the moment, not in long-tail analytical ways, I found this very interesting. And found it funny how many times students words like “creepy,” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” to describe old Mr. Whipple spots.

But this week, we had in-class creativity exercises, with Twitter the expressive medium. I asked them to read a story — for example, on The Acting Company appearing on campus this week to stage “Hamlet” and the Tom Stoppard play it inspired, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Some of the responses were bardic nuggets in themselves:
Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.52.34 PMA Shakespeare reference is a plus. Or a good pop culture analogy …

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.52.54 PMBut this may be my favorite …

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It definitely encourages further use of Twitter during class. It succeeds in breaking up lecture time and finds new ways to include students in both the conversation and creative process. Stay tuned!

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Potential students have questions. Provide answers. Get creative.

A previous blog entry lamented the lame state of FAQ pages and other stale/outmoded non-helpful attempts to help future students. How do we get past that? We listen, we look for creative solutions and we work with our talented current students.

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Our most notable effort is the Alyssa Answers Your Questions Q&As with student video blogger Alyssa Levenberg, part of her popular Alyssa Explains It All video blog series. The past two years, she has asked accepted students in our closed Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 Facebook groups to post questions she can answer in video form. The curious students — many of whom are still deciding between Oswego and other schools — have provided plenty of questions and this year (for the second time), Alyssa had so much that she developed a Part One and Part Two to accommodate all the answers.

These are not from-the-guidebook answers and this kind of project could worry any administrators who covet complete control of all communication channels. And while Alyssa gets questions on subjects students wouldn’t ask administrators in the first place, she handles them positively and constructively. She is an ambassador for Oswego (she’s interning with me this year) but I don’t stage manage her work … because, frankly, her video blogs wouldn’t be as successful if she didn’t have this kind of creative freedom. I may come back and say, “hey, maybe you can elaborate on this point for another video,” and sometimes we talk out potential video ideas, but once we sign off on a concept, she runs with it.

And if you’re considering Oswego, of course you would take Alyssa more seriously as a source than some old dude like me. Current students, I like to say, are what prospective students want to be because they can’t wait to get into college and live that life.

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“What’s the best dorm to live in?” We heard this countless times, in various forms, in the Class of 2017 group but there is no one answer, because it depends on what you want and what you value. How to communicate this? Again, we decided to get creative and tap our talented students.

The resulting “Why live in ___________?” video series was a team effort. Alex, an awesome contact in Residence Life and Housing (whom we invited to be part of the 2017 group) saw the value and worked with colleagues to find students to “sell” why their hall was a great place to live. My graduate assistant videographer at the time, Kevin Graham, spent a lot of time on interviews and editing, and did a phenomenal job on the finished product.

While not everybody will sit through 13 videos, having the playlist on YouTube — and shared on social media and embedded on our site — means viewers can browse. Others may find individual videos via the power of YouTube (and its parent company, Google) for searches … it’s no coincidence we phrased the title as a question. But it works better than some administrator talking or impersonal virtual tour embedded in an app you have to download because it’s widely accessible and has current students pitching their homes.

We don’t use video for everything. Last year, when we would see multiple questions in our Facebook groups on a particular club or aspect of campus, our interns would blog on that subject and we’d post up the link. In short, we let our audience interest drive some of our creative process. If we value our potential students, we should keep them in mind as we create content. And if current students can serve as virtual ambassadors, entertainingly explaining what college is like, they can connect even better.

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