Tag Archives: collaboration

In social media, 1 big picnic in 1 park beats 100 scattered picnics

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When our new students are all on campus at the end of August, we throw them one big picnic under one big tent on the college quad. And it’s glorious (even if we’ve had a couple monsoons, students always had fun). Watching the #hewebmi conference tweet stream led me to this analogy: On social media, one big picnic in one park is better than 100 small ones in other parks.

Screen shot 2014-05-22 at 11.58.05 AMBlame Brian David Proffer of Marygrove College for triggering it with this tweet (RTed to my attention by the fabulous Alaina Weins of UM-Flint): “Points of wisdom: One site, one Facebook page, one Twitter feed, etc.” In short, make sure your community has one central place it can go to consume the best content your college has available.

But so many folks on so many campuses confuse and confound this notion. So many departments, offices and programs want their own Twitter feeds or Facebook pages with their own brand and logo and messages … and many efforts are abandoned after a few days or tweets that go nowhere because there’s nothing engaging happening and/or the student hired to run it graduates. And while some have valid reasons for that channel, many charge in with no content strategy — “let’s make a Facebook!” “let’s do a Twitter!” — or plan for providing and sustaining content, let alone how to respond to people who have questions. (Many accounts also feed updates into something that pushes them into Facebook and spits out cutoff sentences with Facebook links into Twitter, which essentially says they have no real interest in Twitter as anything but a place to blast messages … which isn’t the purpose of social media.)

To use a Memorial Day weekend (or, previously, Victoria Day in Canada) analogy: Wouldn’t you rather have all your friends get together at one picnic or barbecue, instead of having to drive all over the place to different gatherings? Of course. Similarly, your students probably want to have one main source of information they can trust and rely upon for constant updates — or, to continue the analogy, for the informative sustenance they need and want.

On college campuses, a staggering amount of time and effort is wasted by individual entities creating, promoting, haphazardly updating and often abandoning social media efforts. It’s like making a huge pot of macaroni salad for a picnic you want to control, even if it means nobody gets to eat it. But as a central social media communicator, I feel a need to do a better job of inviting and making everybody welcome at one big amazing picnic where everybody brings their own tasty dish to help nourish our campus community.

Screen shot 2014-05-22 at 12.12.53 PMBut how do we get there or, as my friend Deborah Edwards-Onoro sagely asks, “how to manage various stakeholders who want to ensure their voice is heard?” Not easy, but maybe it’s an opportunity for communication and collaboration.

Here’s my first take: I want to start building an outreach and process with our stakeholders. Basically along the lines of: “We want to share your awesome events and stories via social media. Here’s how you can submit them and here’s what we’re looking for.” As noted before, I love retweeting students who post great photos, student orgs who tweet details about upcoming events, anybody who has a link to a good story about one of our students/faculty or staff members/alumni. My guidepost is simple: Amplify the awesome that is part of our college family.

I’m not saying others shouldn’t have active accounts that serve their audiences, but that we should all work together to provide one conduit that improves everybody’s experience. After all, if @sunyoswego retweets a student club, we’re basically saying, “hey, here’s great content from this account you may consider following.” When various entities work together under one event hashtag (like our #ozwhiteout weekend) instead of everyone making their own hashtags, you see how efforts can dovetail to make a greater whole. In the college’s day-to-day picture, everybody’s content builds something bigger and more cohesive that paints the panorama of our institution beyond one snapshot or glimpse.

It sounds ambitious, and it is, but nothing good comes without effort. And if it sparks more conversations and collaborations and communications in the process, working together for a huge picnic in one park — or social media account — could feed and sustain well beyond one meal.

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Living in silos: Blindness, elephants and higher ed customer service.

Few poems or fables seem to describe higher ed dysfunction better than “Blind Men and the Elephant,” best known via John Godfrey Saxe’s 19th-century translation of a story from the Indian subcontinent about intolerance. Yet the tale in which six sightless men encounter different parts of the pachyderm and make assumptions about what it is (a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, a rope) also aptly describes one of the biggest elephants in the room hurting higher ed customer service.

Around the time Saxe was penning poems (and even stopping in Oswego long enough to marvel over the public library being built), educators like Edward Austin Sheldon were looking to fix education via radical methods that fused ideas based in science, experimentation and hands-on learning. In founding the Oswego Primary Teachers’ Training School in 1861 (the forerunner of SUNY Oswego), Sheldon saw transmitting the best techniques and content as the key to success — training teachers even as they took active roles leading classrooms of young students in the then-booming city of Oswego. The passing of knowledge was active on-the-job work that aimed for a seamless experience. Of course, he didn’t have big admissions, student affairs, alumni relations or other staffs … in part because the first training school class only had nine students, who took their pedagogy lessons in a cloakroom.

Jimmy Moreland teaching freshman English, 1949. Courtesy of SUNY Oswego's Penfield Library Special Collections

Jimmy Moreland teaching freshman English, 1949. Courtesy of SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library Special Collections

But the development of specialty roles and the profusion of offices didn’t occur until much later in the 20th century. I’ve mentioned before the remembrances of Oswego legend Jimmy Moreland, who passed away in 1950. Jimmy — and that’s what he asked students to call him even in the more formal time — was a man of many talents for the school:

He was a revered English professor, a chief recruiter, advisor for 300 to 400 freshmen, and even director of public relations. In his spare time, he advised the fledgling Hillel club and volunteered in the Oswego community. … Jimmy wore a lot of hats well, and he never looked at his watch and declared his day done, knowing any time he saw a student provided an opportunity to connect. He recruited students, advised them, taught them, excelling in all areas. There were no silos, cubicles or boundaries to what we would, and could, do to serve students.

Flash forward 60+ years, and I cringe at the runaround students receive today — passed from one office to another when no one has an answer or because another office needs to approve something that should be common sense. Of course, colleges and their populations are much bigger, regulations more complex, services required and requested more extensive, technology constantly evolving and structures so different than the 1950s or the 1860s.

But if different offices can’t find a way to work together to help students, we’re not doing our jobs. Period. An army of specialists who can do one or two tasks but cannot help a student with the big picture — of college, and of life — does students a disservice. Higher ed is not an assembly line; it should be more like a community barn-raising where everybody does whatever necessary for success. The Admissions Office isn’t the English department which isn’t Career Services … I get that. But when a student has to run several obstacle courses just to register, pay their bill and deal with the hurdles we throw up as organizations — and anyone can only help with one piece of the puzzle — then a bigger army really isn’t better.

Moreover, do employees think of themselves as supplying customer service or just another cog in the machine? This is a management issue and an attitude more than a staffing issue. If a freshman at your college has a bad experience, rest assured hundreds of other colleges would happily take her on as a customer. Portability is an increasingly popular feature of the college experience — especially with educational disruptions where students can learn anytime, anywhere from any institution — so for any college to think they are the entity in the control, as opposed to students controlling their own destinies in increasing ways, is an arrogant and archaic attitude.

Another problem is see is in the array of software “solutions” students have to conquer like levels on a video game. Colleges use an array of “solutions” to create separate communities or systems for potential students, freshmen, registration and academic progress, student organizations, internships, career plans, alumni activities and myriad other pieces. With the number of software programs they’re asked to learn, accounts they’re asked to create and communities they’re impelled to join, it’s like we make them change planes seven times to get from Syracuse to Schenectady. All these “solutions” tackle various specialties and tasks, some better than others, but it’s miles away from even approaching a seamless, customer-friendly system.

The answers don’t need to be rocket science: Cross-training more employees. Collaborating. Communicating. Solutions (true solutions, not software “solutions”) could offer many benefits. If offices get together to create that online community or install that software package that solves problems across many areas, functions and student tasks — instead of everybody running out to buy their own niche “solution” — not only will they save money and increase efficiency, but they can provide a better student experience.

But more than anything, it’s a mindset. An attitude. A willingness to work with others to truly put students first. Jimmy Moreland figured out how to do that more than 60 years ago without consultants, vendor pitches or sophisticated software. What I wrote after reading about his amazing life speaks toward how his positive, people-based attitude transcended the system we’ve set up in the decades since, yet could guide us in our future plans:

I can’t see Jimmy poring through the pages upon pages of policies, procedures and precedents we’ve foisted upon higher education governance. If he had a mission statement, it would likely simply read: Do the right thing. Maybe we’ve made this business a lot more difficult than it should be. You see how one man, one incredible man like Jimmy Moreland could follow his head and his heart and serve as educator, inspiration and friend to thousands of students, and you wonder.

You wonder indeed how we’ve made something simple as good customer service so complex. We can’t see the elephant in the room unless we think as a team.

Next time: Higher ed getting iTuned, and the role of customer service

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

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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.

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what a johnny cash cover band can teach us about project management.

[Daniel Laird photo]

Strange things happen sometimes. Like going to a conference in Austin and winding up in a Johnny Cash cover band, as took place at HighEdWeb11. But the experience also offered lessons on some factors in successful project management.

Behind the scenes, group members secured a surprise slot on the stage at the Highball club in Austin, rewrote songs by the Man in Black to reflect working on the web in higher ed and handled all kinds of logistics required to bring it all together. We only had one practice in advance, and that didn’t include all songs or all members. But it came together, somehow, because of four strong aspects to the project:

Social. Communication took place through a secret Facebook group. I was the last in, invited because Georgy Cohen knew they needed a bass player. Earlier, members had collaborated on reworking titles on Cash classics and sharing new lyrics they penned (one of my faves being from “Frames and Tables Blues,” formerly “Folsom Prison Blues”: “I bet there’s rich folks working in a fancy CMS/I bet they’re drinking coffee, not cleaning up this mess”). In hindsight, we probably could have used a Google hangout to practice a bit more in advance if we could have somehow coordinated schedules.

Passionate. It certainly reflected a labor of love for a group of devoted Cash fans with varying levels of musical talent. Granted, it’s much easier to bring passion to something this fun and crazy as opposed to, say, building a web portal. But if you can focus on the positive results that can come from any project, that can help you become excited about the outcome.

Democratic: Aaron Rester was the ring(of fire)leader, but ideas and suggestions came from many group members. We each brought our own skillset to the mix and the group collectively figured out how to pool our talents.

Flexible. When you only have one practice in a hotel room (apologies to any neighboring rooms), you figure you’ll have to adjust on the fly. And we did, such as when Larry Falck stepped up to take on vocal duties for “Get Tweetin” (“Get Rhythm”) which included his suggestion via Facebook to change keys and chord structures on the day of the show to accommodate his vocal range. Because the project was social, passionate and democratic, we could easily be flexible.

Between-song transitions could have been smoother, and I played the first verse of “Frames and Tables Blues” in the wrong key, but the surprise performance was exceedingly fun and very well received. We ripped through seven Cash covers and (for the absurdity of it) Rebecca Black’s “Friday” without major incident to a crowd that really seemed to enjoy it. We even had folks clamoring for an encore, which is tough since we didn’t know any other songs. If that was our biggest problem, I’d say it was a success … thanks to some sound principles of project management.

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1 page speaks volumes on how web has evolved.

Last week I finished working on a new landing page for our Admissions Video, and it made me realize how far we have come — which I mean globally as well as locally.

Here was the old site in our old design, hosted by vendor, created several years ago:

And here’s the new one, presented (via YouTube embed) on our site:

First and most obvious, the new one represents our cleaner, sparser redesign which makes content more user-friendly. Did you notice anything else? Like that visitors no longer have to download/use RealPlayer or QuickTime to view the video?

I really think this transition reflects larger web trends over the past few years.

  • Better sharability. YouTube was not the commonly trafficked site back then, and its cloud-based platform that can be easily embedded is (overused phrase ahead) a real game-changer. Paying for outside hosting of static web video is less necessary also because of …
  • Improved metrics availability. One of the reasons I’m told we went with this vendor was the ability to track number of visitors, plays, etc. Which we easily can now do on our own site via Google Analytics as well as YouTube’s own metrics. We could also set up funnel reports to see how many people go from this video to fulfill other tasks … which, since this video is currently a conversion tool, will be increasingly interesting come next admission cycle.
  • Increased in-house web knowledge. I had only minor involvement in (and less knowledge of) the web when Admissions set up the previous system. We had limited awareness of what other options may have existed and certainly did not have access to the awesome collective resource of Twitter #highered folks. I love that Admissions will come to us now for web solutions that we can provide at no or marginal cost with greater functionality. I think (or hope) colleagues at other colleges have similar experiences.

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coming together: colleges unite to fight facebook fraud — updated

Imagine you’re driving through unfamiliar territory and your car starts malfunctioning. You pull into a small-town garage and ask the mechanic to look at your vehicle. “I can’t do anything about your car, but I can get you in touch with other people who bought this car,” he says. As you stand there perplexed, he adds: “Hey, would you like to book a hotel room?”

“I’d like you to see what’s wrong with my car,” you respond, growing a bit irked.

“We’ll happily book your hotel room,” the mechanic replies. Then you realize there are no cars in the shop, no oil stains and the gent saying he’s a mechanic has a spotless uniform. Something is amiss.

Now imagine you’re a high-school senior looking into colleges. You see a “Class of 2015” group for a college you’re interested in. You join it, but instead of finding anyone who can really answer your question or receiving timely info, you see posts promoting a roommate-matching service. Something is amiss.

Welcome to shady Facebook marketing, a near-annual ritual facing incoming students. New York Times education blogger Jacques Steinberg offers an interesting look at the latest fraud — where a roommate-matching group called RoomSurf (nee URoomSurf) created more than 150 fake pages for colleges from coast to coast.

How did he learn about this? Because a group of higher-education web professionals found out about the shady-looking pages, compared notes and conducted some research. A lot of research. We found the same names coming up over and over creating groups posing as official college groups.

Why do we care about this? Simple. Because we want to make sure students and parents looking at colleges — any colleges, not necessarily our own — can get honest and helpful information during this important search. It has been remarkable to see the higher-education community — outsiders may see different colleges as competitors, but we are also colleagues and collaborators — come together and perform research well into the night to make sure students (even if they won’t be our students) don’t get duped.

Whatever the shakeout of this story — whether this attention will prevent shady Facebook marketing from becoming an annual rite — I’m thrilled to see so many colleagues at so many colleges really go to great lengths to make sure we put our students first. Because when you’re kicking the tires of your ride for the next four years, you really deserve some honest answers and connections.

UPDATE, 7:50 p.m.: What a crazy day it was, with additional developments.

– By afternoon, most Class of 2015 sites created by RoomSurf now bear disclaimers saying they are not officially associated with colleges and say they were created by the RoomSurf roommate matching system. See more in New York Times blogger Jacques Steinberg’s recent update.

– Late this afternoon, the State University of New York legal office served RoomSurf founder Justin Blackwell, aka Justin Gauthier, and the company a cease-and-desist order on behalf of the 10 SUNY institutions found to be impacted by the suspect Class of 2015 groups.

– By around 6 p.m., Blackwell’s profile had disappeared, at least from view, on Facebook and he is no longer listed as creator of said groups, multiple sources confirmed. Whether this was his own choice or has anything to do with the investigation Facebook mentioned in last night’s story remains a mystery at this time.

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21st century problem-solving: first to the crowd, then the cloud.

When I ran into an idea with no easy implementation solution on Wednesday, I went the way so much web problem-solving runs these days: first to the crowd, then to the cloud.

As part of many meetings toward redeveloping our website, I met with one of our more engaged and engaging music faculty and, after some brainstorming we thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to take recorded work of our faculty and students and embed an interactive playlist? We have plenty of original and accessible work in the rock, pop and jazz spectrum, and having a playlist of this material seemed a great way to promote the college to prospective students.

But how? A Google search on building playlists came to this Mashable article, but Mixtape.me, 8tracks and Grooveshark fell way short in one key way: Forget trying to upload original music onto them. If I wanted to build a playlist of Eminem or Snoop Dogg or Lady Gaga, I would have been fine, but those sites have no love for musicians who aren’t famous.

So next I went to the crowd and asked around on Twitter. Some earnest suggestions there, including iLike, which I learned has partnered with MySpace. And as you would expect when two social-media platforms with some of the worst usability merged, the directions and “help” led me in circles that made me abandon all hope.

Finally a Twitter conversation with a recently graduated musician bore fruit when she enlisted the aid a bandmate, another recent alum. He recommended SoundCloud. On the free cloud-based system, you can upload any music onto it and create embeddable playlists. The free version is limited to two hours of music, but I think that’s more than enough. So after a few minutes of fiddling, here was the result:

SUNY Oswego Music by sunyoswego

One drawback of the solution is that it’s Flash-based, which we’re trying to move away from on the new site. But it will do for now, as the crowd-sourced question also brought a suggestion of jPlayer which, since I’m not a coder and my developer is way busy with our overall web project, we can explore down the road.

But this is less about the solution, the destination, than the journey to reach it. Problem-solving in the 21st century is a lot more social, a lot more collaborative, than ever before. Which makes it, in a way, even more enjoyable.

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