Tag Archives: conversations

you can’t outsource authenticity.

Recently I made a comment on Twitter about a talented singer-songwriter and, a few days later, received an @ reply from someone suggesting I get said artist’s latest single. Curious, I checked the account to see it bragging about its “digital marketing clients” including a pretty decent roster of performers.

Too bad the whole thing is all kinds of wrong.

A couple years ago, I mentioned singer/songwriter Pete Yorn in a tweet. You know who responded and started following me?

Pete Yorn.

Pete Freaking Yorn.

Pete The Freaking Man Himself Yorn.

Not someone repping “digital marketing clients.” The artist himself, who tweets as he tours the country, promotes himself well but also shows his human side. And while I had sort of drifted from watching his career, I’ve bought all three records he’s released since.

Why? Because, strange as it seems, I feel a connection with him. Not with the team that handles him as a “digital marketing client,” but Pete Freaking Yorn.

Because I don’t go to Twitter to get marketed to. I go there for conversations.

If you’re an artist — or a company or an organization — who is a “digital marketing client,” you’re missing the boat. Sure, you can have people help you learn about social media, assist with a drawing up a digital strategy, but only you can be you. Heck, I bought two albums from the band Vancougar after discovering their tweet about attending a roller derby bout. Authenticity is the currency of social media, and you can’t outsource authenticity.

Look, I’m nobody special, yet I’ve had all kinds of performers follow me (or follow me back) and engage me in conversation. That makes me want to stay connected. To their music. To their brand, to use the marketing term.

I think most agencies struggle in the world of social media because they can’t do authenticity as well as their clients. They can’t converse when they focus on pushing messages. They can find suckers to pay them to tweet … then they spew marketing taglines and no one responds.

Because we don’t talk to taglines.

We don’t talk to entities repping their “digital marketing clients.”

We talk to people. It’s personal. It’s conversational. It’s authentic.

It’s what every performer who wants a presence on social media should be doing … themselves! Personally. Conversationally. And authentically.

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“what do you do in social media?” “i have conversations.”

When people learn I’m involved in managing social media communication for our college, the first question they ask is, essentially, what I do. I’ve had a lot of answers over the years, often about tools and tactics, but I’ve decided nothing describes it better than this: “I have conversations.”

Conversations with whom? With prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, families, fans of our teams, community members, friends of the college … you name it. The with whom part is important because it’s so important to keep the audience in mind. As I’ve said before, social media is about meeting some kind of goal, but without an audience — a community — you can’t achieve anything.

Conversations about what? About what our college has to offer. About their questions and concerns about entering college. About the weather (literally). About sports. About their memories, their hopes, their dreams. Anything and everything. Isn’t that how good conversations work?

I also think that approaching social media from an “I have conversations” mindset helps one avoid some social media approaches I’ve seen that don’t work.

“We use it as a marketing tool!” When this is the goal, it’s so obvious. Every status message or tweet looks like a brief ad. The account will sound less than a human than a tagline generator. You’ll find press releases with little engagement. And why would anyone want to have a conversation, when it seems about as enjoyable as sitting next to an Amway salesman on a cross-country flight?

“We answer questions.” This is an admirable way of looking at it, but if you’re just answering questions you’re being reactive. You should be proactive and try to drive the dialogue. Asking questions, using Facebook polls and starting conversations make for a more robust, interactive community.

“Because we need to be in social media.” Again, goals first, then tools. Don’t view social media as a task or chore. Social media isn’t a problem to deal with, it’s a community to engage and to enjoy. Just this week I met with folks from an academic program who asked about doing a Facebook page. After a discussion, they realized they couldn’t commit to what that required and decided to focus their resources elsewhere. This, to me, is a better outcome than starting and abandoning a social media community. One of the saddest things I see is an abandoned Facebook page or group where people ask questions and there’s no one on the other end to continue the conversation.

We had a very positive conversation on our Official SUNY Oswego Facebook Page this week. I asked: “New students move on campus in just two days! Returning students and alumni: What one piece of advice would you give to those going away to college for the first time?” We’re over 40 responses and counting. Some of the best include: get to know your professors; remember you’re there to get an education, not just to party; get involved outside the classroom; avoid cutting classes; be yourself; bring a toolkit and sewing kit. Most are things we would recommend, but that they come from alumni and current students provide even more cred. Plus the connections made between alumni/current students with incoming students and with our college, providing a continuity of community … well, that’s amazing.

And it all comes from trying to have conversations.

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social media 101: 5 golden rules

In creating a Social Media 101 workshop for campus users as well as a new social media users’ guide, I recently crafted five golden rules to consider before beginning social media efforts on behalf of one’s institution or organization. They borrow from advice from many colleagues, but I figured posting them here just might benefit others.

1. Be present. Acquaint yourself with any social media outlets before trying to use them professionally. If you’re not familiar with Facebook, creating a group or fan page 15 minutes after you sign up could be an uphill climb. Learning as much as you can about a particular platform or community will increase your chances of success.

2. Be prepared. Have a plan for who will post and/or respond to social media, how often you may want to post content and what goals you want to accomplish (see below). You may want to prepare a content calendar based on major related activities and what your audiences should know … but be flexible to accommodate great news or suggestions whenever possible.

3. Be responsive. The biggest problems with social media efforts involve a lack of responsiveness and community abandonment. If someone asks a question via a Facebook page or Twitter account, they do not expect to wait days for a response. If you don’t know the answer to a posted question, don’t be afraid to say you’re looking into the response and get back to the person later. And don’t start a social media community unless you plan to make it sustainable.

4. Be friendly. Social media is conversational. Don’t talk down to your audience. Don’t bury readers in jargon. Don’t get angry and defensive. Do start conversations. Do what you can to help others. Do what you can to represent a friendly face for your area and the institution.

5. Put goals before tools. New sites, applications and communities emerge all the time, but before you commit to jumping in somewhere, ask three questions: 1) Does this help us meet a specific goal or goals? 2) What’s in it for us? 3) What’s in it for our users? If you can’t answer these questions, don’t forge ahead into an area of social media. While OSS (“Ooooh! Shiny Syndrome) can be hard to resist, success in social media involves focusing on communities and outlets where you can do a good job, both for the institution and for your users.

Any other tips anyone would suggest?

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don’t forget the value of face-to-face conversations.

Sometimes finding a solution is as simple as sitting at the right lunch table.

As we redevelop our website, we recognized a need from the top down for feedback and input from prospective and/or incoming students. But I wasn’t really sure how to do it. Until one day I decided to sit with the good folks who run our New Student Orientation program during lunch in our Campus Center.

They were discussing an informational scavenger hunt where incoming students had to perform a certain number of tasks while competing for prizes. And it dawned on me: Hey, maybe one of those tasks could have something to do with our new website! A couple conversations later, a task involving our web redevelopment was part of the scavenger hunt, and my summer of interacting with hundreds of incoming students began.

For the first two scavenger hunts, I asked students stopping at my station their opinion on three different design protypes for the new site. An overwhelming winner emerged, with 62 percent preferring an option with a narrow pictoral (often scenic) banner on top. Which happened, fortunately, to also garner positive feedback from faculty, staff and current students. But to be able to back that opinion up with results from surveying more than 200 incoming students provides great confirmation.

a simple card sort

The following orientation sessions involved a card sort. I asked each member of the teams of scavenging students to take a card with a topic on it and tell us which section of our website (About, Academics, Admissions, etc.) they would expect to find it. Some results held to form, while others were eye-opening … but having a couple dozen students choose each card during each hunt gave me a pretty good sample size. And the conversations made them aware that 1) we are redeveloping our website, and 2) we value their input.

Overall, the information, connections and visibility proved quite valuable … but it all comes back to that initial conversation. I think sometimes those of us working in social media get caught up in the value of conversations on Facebook or Twitter (and imaging ROI) that we forget about the importance of face-to-face conversations. Of getting out there and speaking to people from different backgrounds. Of the serendipity that can follow something as simple as just sitting at someone’s lunch table.

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learning about social media goes both ways.

Feels like I’ve been on a social media barnstorming tour of campus, leading four sessions in the past two weeks. There’s no one reason for this — I was asked to do two, while the other two were my initiative — but just as with social media itself, the conversations in this sessions always teach me something as well.

I’ve talked to freshmen about social media and learned their habits. I gave a session titled Everybody Has A Mic: The Brave New World of Web 2.0 to people in the room and scattered across the world on Second Life. I presented Social Media 101 to staff members. And I imparted thoughts on social media and marketing to an Advanced Public Relations class. My own presentations notwithstanding, and with my observations on freshmen listed in another entry, here’s some of what I’ve learned back:

1) Social Media 101, as an hour topic, is too big for a wide audience. While most came to learn practical applications of social media, one attendee didn’t seem know what Facebook or blogs were. So maybe something so catch-all is too ambitious and unfocused. But then I saw a college running a whole course on how to use Twitter, which is excessive too. At some point, we’ll find a happy medium for a range of audiences and applicable topics.

2) Students’ use of social media changes during their time on campus. While sample sizes so far are small, what I’ve found backs up what I’d heard anecdotally. For the upperclass Advanced PR class, 20 of 20 were on Facebook (no surprise), 18 of 20 checked daily, 8 of 20 had MySpace accounts and 3 of 20 used Twitter. Recall for freshmen, all 15 had Facebook accounts they checked daily, 10 were on MySpace (though barely used it), none on Twitter. This slim sampling reflects what I’ve heard about college students abandoning MySpace and picking up Twitter in modest amounts, but I aim to do more surveying.

3) I may have given up on Second Life too quickly. Maybe it took viewing several avatars hearing my presentation virtually, but I finally see that Second Life does have untapped collaborative and communication potential. Maybe I’m just flattered someone from NASA would show up in SL to hear what I have to say. Maybe I still think the economics of outfitting an avatar seem too much like Dungeons and Dragons. But clearly my dismissing Second Life out of hand without learning more is as ill-informed as those who’ve never been on Twitter scoffing it’s all about people tweeting what they had for lunch.

This all also reflects what I’ve long believed: presenting is a two-way street. Just like in social media, every interaction and every conversation is an opportunity for enlightenment.

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fans pages: hands-off? hands-on?

A funny thing happened to the SUNY Oswego Fans page while I was out of town this weekend.

A few questions came in from students entering this fall, not unusual in itself. But all of those questions were answered by other fans — quickly and correctly.

I did answer the question I saw on Saturday morning, but I was pleasantly surprised when — after driving, attending a wedding, sleeping and driving some more — I arrived home Sunday afternoon to find all the new questions handled. A similar thing happened when I was on my first actual vacation in years earlier this summer and most page questions were answered by others.

When members of a community become involved in problem-solving, this is good on many levels. It shows they care enough about their community — virtual or physical — to take care of it. It means that conversations are more organic than if the institution (or other moderator) always jumps in. And it also means that genuine connections are forming between those who asked the questions and those who answered them. (Interesting that it was three people, not just one do-gooder, who responded to the questions. NOTE: It looks like one of the answers disappeared. Am I the only one noticing comments disappearing on Facebook lately?)

Thus I’m kind of torn. I prefer good customer service, which means checking the Fans page frequently to provide answers. An unanswered question, to me, looks as out of place as an undone zipper. Yet I know that if fans answer the questions instead of me, presuming those answers are accurate, it’s better for the sense of the community.

It’s a teaser. What do you think?

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pondering the point (.0) of web writing.

I’m presenting yet another workshop on Writing for the Web next month, but starting to wonder if I’m using outdated information.

When I served as chief content editor for our campus-wide redesign in 2003-04, prevailing literature suggested using phrased hypertext linking in clear, concise sentences driving a listener to action. I think that’s all still important but, in a Web 2.0 world, it seems like the amount of content in actual sentence form on the ‘Net is shrinking.

Currently, our Web site incorporates three plans for linking within the body of any page:

A sample oswego.edu page.

Fig. 1: A sample oswego.edu page.

Left/red circle: Sibling or structural links = related within directory structure

Center/green circle: Contextual links = phrases sending reader to information that sparks their interest

Right/blue circle: Related links = other pages that may interest the reader

As a creator and reader, I mostly employ/look for contextual links, but then that’s the tendency of someone who’s wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. Some others prefer navigating by structural or related links. Yet others just go straight to the search box and type in their term. All are valid ways of finding information.

But when I look at something like Facebook, arguably the top social-media presence going, the main links are structural or related. And short. Its navigation is certainly intuitive — anyone knows what links that say view photos or send message or view friends mean — but it provides a challenge, if not a full-blown conundrum, for those trying to teach others to write Web copy.

I certainly don’t think colleges should ditch Web writing in complete and grammatically correct sentences. Our primary pages should contain what we would call marketing copy (much as those words make some academics bristle) to make the pitch … but are readers becoming more accustomed to just searching for links or Twitteristic 140-character communication?

But then I took a step back and remembered that Web 2.0 is about conversations. Those conversations tend to take place in sentences, not just through posting links or photos (though links and photos can start/continue conversations). And good Web copy, like good advertising copy, should be in a conversational tone. The rise of Web 2.0 doesn’t demolish Web 1.0 … in some ways, it actually helps us understand traditional Web sites better.

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