Tag Archives: higher ed

Social scrapbook: Learning from a year of Friday #oswegrams

Sunrise over West Campus. This is how it began.

Sunrise over West Campus. This is how it began.

It started on a lark, a trick of the light, a serene sunrise scene. A year ago this month, driving in to start the day, I saw the rising sun illuminating the residence halls on what we call West Campus and instead of just drinking in the sight, I pulled out my iPhone. Seemed nice enough to post on the Facebook wall and the response was phenomenal. It became the most popular single piece of content that month and drew requests from far-flung alumni that we post more photos of fall foliage or campus scenes.

And thus the now-weekly Friday #oswegram social feature began.


Lake Ontario in November. Contrary to rumor, it doesn’t freeze up until later in winter and polar bears don’t take to the beach.

If you’re a fan of the SUNY Oswego Facebook page or follow our social media in general, you’ve seen our Friday #oswegrams. While I did not make them a photo album, if you skimmed them you would see the seasons change — scenic images, especially of the lake, are very popular — as well as snapshots of the campus cycle. Students moving in, preparing for Commencement and many mileposts along the way mark our Friday #oswegrams, which as a totality represent a kind of slideshow encapsulating bits and pieces of the Oswego experience.


It’s nice when a simple photo like this can cultivate fans congratulating their kids and build anticipation for Commencement.

But it’s not just about posting pretty pictures. Strategy does play a role. One of the biggest assets of campus — something many students say helps them choose Oswego — is its natural beauty and Lake Ontario. Humanity may have advanced in many ways, but the draw of a beautiful photo of leaves changing or a big blue lake remain coded in our DNA. The #oswegrams also let us highlight unique aspects and interesting activities of our campus, while promoting a connection with the Oswego family — past, present and future.

At the time our #oswegrams began, our Facebook page was becoming stagnant and needed a boost. We’d heard suggestions for more photos, but of what? The evolution of the Friday #oswegram has shown us what images and scenes resonate with our various social channels, whether from simple likes, friendly shares or comments about what they miss about campus.


Few mileposts generate more memories than content addressing moving onto campus.

I try to have an idea of what to shoot any given Friday, based on either particular events, the general time of season or what’s worked in the past. The original plan doesn’t always pan out or sometimes something even better comes along. With very few exceptions (usually logistics, such as my availability), I want to take them on Friday morning to make them immediate and fresh and relatable. I enjoy the opportunity to write small, poetic snippets — “The ivy adorning Hewitt Union provides a seasonal litmus test: Autumn has arrived,” for example.

The #oswegrams do best on our Facebook and Instagram accounts because those are most visually driven, but the best ones also generate activity on Twitter. Last week, I even tried Tumblr. We shall see.


The numbers don’t lie. Many months our #oswegrams are atop and/or all over my social media reports tracking our most popular content. Additionally, the current formula for what Facebook deigns show its users factors in whether they have liked specific types of content from particular providers. If we’re serving up #oswegrams they like from our Facebook page, that means our other content is more likely to show up in their streams as well. Say what you will about Facebook’s formula — and there’s much one could say — it rewards good content and raises a ready challenge to generate good content.

And even when someday Facebook no longer sits atop of the social media chain, the Friday #oswegram is not about feeding one particular channel. It’s about finding content that resonates with all of our audiences … wherever they may be in terms of channel or geography. With any luck, it even gives members of our larger family a reason to look forward to their Friday #oswegram from Oswego.

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.eduGuru Summit: Online conference for online communicators.

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 4.25.33 PMCommunicating in higher education, especially via web and social media, is a fast-evolving field, so it’s marvelous that so many options for professional development exist. Next week comes one such opportunity you can tackle without even leaving your office or home: the 2013 .eduGuru Summit on Wednesday and Thursday, March 27 and 28.

I’m thrilled to be part of a lineup that tackles timely topics in strategy (day one) and technology (day two). Full lineup as follows:

Wednesday, March 27, Strategy Track (eastern time zone, presuming my math skills still work):

  • 10 a.m.: “How to Create a Culture of Sharing,” Donna Talarico, Elizabethtown College
  • 11 a.m.: “Building a Successful Web Team,” Matt Herzberger, FIU
  • noon: “Establishing a Social Media Program,” Michael McCready, NorQuest College
  • 2 p.m.: “What Robocop Can Teach Us About Alumni Engagement,” Jeff Stephens, University of Florida
  • 3 p.m.: “How Student Blogs, Video and More Can Help You Meet Goals and Provide Solutions,” Tim Nekritz (me), SUNY Oswego
  • 4 p.m.: “I Don’t Have Your Ph.D.: Working with Faculty and the Web,” Amanda Costello, University of Minnesota

Thursday, March 28, Technical Track:

  • 1o a.m.: “SEO for the Modern College Newsroom,” Kyle James, nuCloud
  • 11 a.m.: “WordPress FUNctions,” Lacy Tite, Vanderbuilt University
  • noon: “WordPress Themes 101,” Curtis Grymala, University of Mary Washington
  • 2 p.m.: “Designing Responsively from Mobile to HD,” Philip Zastrow, University of Notre Dame
  • 3 p.m.: “Rebuilding a University Homepage to be ‘Responsive.’ Twice. In Less Than a Year,” Erik Runyon, University of Notre Dame
  • 4 p.m.: “Making Analytics Reporting Actionable,” Becky Vardaman

Honestly, I find every one of those tracks fascinating and several extremely useful. So consider registering for the .eduGuru online conference and joining us next week. It’s an outstanding lineup, and you don’t have to worry about canceled flights and lost luggage to attend.


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crowd-sourced event coverage, next level: engaging the crowd.

Getting students involved on our (or any) campus is mission-critical. Reasons include the personal — students’ sense of fulfillment, friendships and fun are important to their success — to the institutional, as conventional wisdom says involved students are more likely to stay in school and on track. So our Student Involvement Fair, the first week of classes, is kind of a big deal … and this year, for the first time, it made a big splash in social media thanks to more crowd-sourced event coverage.

When the fair unfolded on Wednesday, our campus-wide social media staff (all one of me) was stuck in the office dealing with news releases (a 20th century paradigm?), but students started carrying the banner for involvement. Representatives of various clubs and organizations tweeted invitations for any followers to come to the Student Involvement Fair, which we saw via our search columns for “sunyoswego” and “suny oswego” on Tweetdeck, so the @sunyoswego account amplified these invitations by retweeting. And then I realized just doing that was a missed opportunity.

So @sunyoswego not only posted a message for student organizations to tweet us pics of their setups, but we @ replied to all the organizations who had sent tweets asking students to come to the involvement fair. Responses from the @ had a 100 percent success rate — a perfect 10 out of 10, which isn’t huge but it’s 10 photos we didn’t have, and we collected a couple more.

In addition to RTing everything we received on Twitter, we posted the neat dozen photos as a Student Involvement Fair gallery on Facebook, which immediately drew a lot of attention, including 73 total likes, 14 comments and two shares with the first day. A picture of Alpha Phi Omega (above), our national service fraternity, even brought nice testimonials including “Yay!!! APO!!! One of the best decisions of my college years!” and “Great times with great friends. Met my best friends and my wonderful husband in APO. … Glad to see APO is still active.”

Our posting also drew at least one happy Twitter comment:

And, working in social media, we should all be very happy when we can build excitement and engagement. Or, rather, when our bright and involved students do it.

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launching a mobile site: content and users come first.

After much behind-the-scenes work, we finally just announced the launch of the SUNY Oswego mobile site. Our traffic via mobile device has climbed from 1.5 percent in October 2010 to 4 percent in October 2011, so clearly we’re seeing increased demand for something optimized for mobile.  Thanks in large part to tips from other colleges and conference presentations — and especially the skilled hands of our talented developer Rick Buck plus some trial and error — this lengthy and not-so-simple process taught us many lessons along the way.

It’s about content. I was pleased that presentations on mobile development at HighEdWeb11 emphasized thinking about content before the technology. Sessions like “On Your Mark, Get Set, Mobile!” from William & Mary and mStoner and the University of Central Florida’s “A Utility Belt Approach to Mobilizing Content” focused on existing content you can mobilize and optimize for your mobile platform. Knowing the content and building around it is made easier when you can employ a good framework and template like WVU’s Dave Olsen assembled through Mobile Web OSP. (Dave’s name always comes up when presenters mention mobile and higher ed, and we are among the many who owe him a debt of gratitude.)

It’s about users. We needed to think about how our users might interact with location-based content as well as the things they access the most on our website. As such, the mobile map was a given. The interactive directory that allows users to email or call a professor or staff member with a single click provides real convenience that takes use-care scenarios into consideration. News, an events calendar and emergency information provide timely and relevant information at (literally) the touch of a button.

Testing, testing. We did a soft rollout for New Student Orientation this summer, with an emphasis on the orientation schedule and locations. It went well and also taught us about user behavior at a (relatively) slow time before we did the main rollout. We’ve done spot testing from time to time, a practice we expect to continue.

Think mobile before apps. While all kinds of characters roam the fringes of academia trying to sell apps, anyone of any expertise emphasized how important it is to develop a mobile site first. The advantages are many — it works on all platforms and one need not negotiate with an Apple or Droid store, and wait for the process to play out for months so your users can access updates. This Cappex survey of parents of prospective students adds more support, as 79 percent of respondents preferred a mobile-friendly site to an app. While apps developers emphasize shiny objects and one-trick ponies, the mobile site is the big tent where you welcome all your users.

It’s a continuing process. We look at launching the mobile website as a beginning, not an ending. We’ve already made tweaks and upgrades in its first “official” week, and we have many other features in the pipeline. And of course we’ll keep an eye on analytics both for mobile and the regular sites to see what’s working/not working and what other features become relevant.


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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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keep austin — or wherever you are — weird: 4 lessons from #heweb11

Many people may have heard the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” promoting the Texas city. Less known, but what we learned when in the city for HighEdWeb11, is its true meaning: The ubiquitous T-shirts read “Keep Austin Weird: Support Your Local Businesses.” The city (any city) would be much less interesting if its corner grocery stores were supplanted by SuperWalMarts, eclectic eateries usurped by Applebees and quirky cafes succumbed to Starbucks.

It’s a lesson we in higher ed need to heed. Not just because of anticipated increased competition from online schools, but because we’re sometimes our own worst enemies at what we do. Here are a few lessons, related to Austin and higher ed, from the many great sessions.

Be nice. Austin’s reputation as a friendly city proved well-earned. Bartenders, baristas and bellhops alike are incredibly nice, and complete strangers struck up conversations with us. Alana Riley’s project management presentation included plenty of good information, but I especially liked her discussion of being positive and nice. Psychology shows, she noted, we think better when we’re happy. “It doesn’t take much for someone to feel appreciated,” she said. “And it doesn’t take much for someone to feel unappreciated.” Have you made your co-workers, students, friends and/or loved ones feel appreciated lately? If not, why not?

Be yourself. Austin embraces its weirdness, its quirks, its offbeat charm. Karlyn Morrissette’s oddly titled “What Colleges Can Learn from the Insane Clown Posse” taught us, among other things, the controversial performers got where they are by knowing who they are and following through. Too many schools, Karlyn observed, try to be everything to everyone which makes them nothing special. (She also had a great line about colleges extolling their exclusivity: “Why do you brag about all the students you don’t educate? Brag about those you do educate.”)

Be interesting. Austin gave us a food truck festival, a Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) celebration, a nightly event where people watch bats swarm a bridge, live music everywhere and more. Colleges are inherently interesting places, so why do so many things (committees, university politics, acronym mania) paint such an uninteresting picture? We should focus on the engaging things going on around us and promote them any way we can. Georgy Cohen, whose “Carrying the Banner: Reinventing News on Your University Website” earned best presentation honors, discussed how evolving technology allows us to tell so many more interesting stories about intriguing people in new ways, and to share them widely.

Be about people. With apologies for tortured grammar, my point is that people matter most. The nice folks in Austin do customer service so well in large part because folks seem so interested in people and in helping them. Keynote speaker Chris Wilson reminded us that, despite the technology, what we do is really about finding ways to help people. Web 2.0 is not about technology, he said, it’s about caring for the people who use our site or comprise your community. Or, as Mike Petroff noted in a session on customer service via social media: “You have to out-care your competition.” What a great goal!

It was such awesome city that we were sad to leave Austin (or “Awestin,” if you prefer). Wouldn’t you want your campus to be one where people — from the future students bowled over by tours, visitors to special events and especially alumni — are sad when they have to leave it? That’s where the web and social media come in, providing a way those who love our campus never really leave, as they remain a part of community. We miss Austin already, but it gave us so many great lessons that will live on.


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stop treating QR codes as shiny objects!

QR (quick response) codes, you may have heard, could have many beneficial uses by enabling smartphone users to scan them to unlock additional interactive web content. Sadly, too many people still seem to treat them as a shiny object — something to be used for the sake of appearing trendy, not for practical purposes. I point to this conversation from a colleague at another college (offered anonymity) as an example:

Department: “We’re going to post QR codes at the shuttles stops so that people can use them to access the shuttle schedule!”

Web person: “Couldn’t we also just post the shuttle schedules?”

Department: “Ummm ….”

Pop quiz: Which is more convenient for a user: A piece of paper they can read, or a symbol they may or may not know is a QR code, and that they can only read if they have a QR code reader and a smartphone? You could provide both, but at the very least provide the former … at least if you prize actually letting people find out about your shuttle schedule.

Sadly, that’s not the worst example I’ve heard involving QR codes. Someone at another college told of a proposed PDF with a QR code that, when you scan it made your mobile device try to download — wait for it — the exact same PDF.

No. No. No. No. No!

I can’t stress it enough: Goals first, then tools. Don’t treat QR codes as shiny objects. They are gateways to additional information, not replacements for necessary information! The first college that sends out acceptance letters to prospective students that forces them to scan a QR code to learn whether they are accepted or not should lose its accreditation on the spot!

When I interviewed him last fall, the always impressive Tim Jones of North Carolina State rightfully termed the potential use of QR codes as “enormous, and we’re working with several departments and organizations on campus to develop some interesting ways to use QR code check-ins.” Imagine, for example, accessing additional information on a play, actors or the director from a program, or gaining a building’s office directory, history and local social media posts via scanning a QR code.

A good example at our campus involves QR codes on event posters that bring up a page when users can purchase tickets online. At #hewebroc, we had QR codes that allowed attendees to go online and fill out evaluations (with a chance at winning a prize). At lunch this week with the organizer of our campuswide Quest academic symposium, which often includes fretting over last-minute changes after the printing of the program, I suggested a QR code connecting to a web page with late-breaking updates.

I’ve heard lots of creative and inventive ideas that can really benefit users. What they all had in common was they involved solving a problem or fulfilling an action, as opposed to a desire to use a QR code for the novelty of it.


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is higher ed still a mouse-in-the-maze model?

I remember my first college orientation, where a comedian compared the now-antiquated model of registration (where we went from table to table to get classes) to a bunch of mice in a maze. Except now the cheese was old and stinky and everyone just wanted to get out of the maze. Oddly, that comment, coupled with a recent observation by Michael Fienen, rang very true on higher ed’s continuing challenge to do a better job in serving students.

Fienen’s observation, on a particularly ornery day for the knowledgeable Pittsburg State web guy, wondered why the term “request more information” appears so often on web pages. Does this infer we’re hiding information from visitors and there’s some veil we have to let them behind? Not necessarily. Generally, “request more information” means “join our database” by requesting some kind of print material. From the inside, this all has to do with justification of return on investment (the dreaded ROI) for everything from personnel to software packages, the ability to establish benchmarks and determine the inquiry-admissions-yield funnel.

And if you read that last sentence without falling asleep, you may have wondered: What is the least bit customer-friendly about treating students as bits of data to justify our existence? If so, you’re 100 percent right.

One advantage of social media — that it’s a third space where students can learn more about, and build an affinity with, institutions — could make old-school bean-counters bristle. Thus all the sabre-rattling about Establishing ROI of Social Media to Justify Its Existence. “How many Facebook questions did you answer last month?” “How many people follow us on Twitter?” “Do we know how many viewers of our YouTube videos were prospective students?”

This all ignores one very simple, very human thing: Social media customer service helps students with questions, information-gathering and decision-making in a way they find convenient. But it doesn’t create numbers of inquiries to the Admissions Office via email. It doesn’t fall into the neat funnel that says this student asked for a viewbook, called the college, applied, attended an open house and enrolled. And from the moment they requested more information for the first time, how many different forms did they have to fill out, approvals were required and parts of the bureaucratic maze did they have to run through for the “privilege” of attending the school?

Quite simply: This week, we had an interaction via social media that may keep a serious, motivated student from withdrawing from school. Some folks’ first reaction may be to wonder where to chart that datapoint or how to include this in the ROI of our social media plan. My main thought is that we may have helped improve someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong: I know most people in higher education have the best intentions. But I worry that when we build a forest out of data, ROI and “best practices,” we forget how beautiful the trees are. And that, without each tree that really does require some kind of care, there is no forest.


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content + connectivity: analyzing the brand of @tsand.

For perhaps the first time in a college classroom, my #brc328 class Wednesday evening involved a lesson in branding using the most beloved higher-ed social media figure, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Todd Sanders, aka @tsand. If you work in social media or would like to, you simply must follow @tsand on Twitter. He’s entertaining, authentic, engaging and sneaky brilliant.

I asked my class to tweet (with #brc328 hashtag) what they thought was a good brand, and why, the results running the gamut from Apple to Bose to Converse to (interestingly) author James Patterson. Then I introduced them to the brand of @tsand, via his successful video submission to participate in the Mercedes-Benz Tweet Race to the Super Bowl™.

I looked at @tsand in the context of the definition of a brand which, according to Luke Sullivan’s book Hey Whipple! Squeeze This!, is “the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company.” As an innovative web communicator now involved in a high-profile social-media contest that could win his #MBTeamS a Mercedes-Benz and raise a lot of money for St. Jude’s Hospital, @tsand presents three traits I think successful brands share:

1. Established identity. Those who know @tsand would describe him with words like funny, creative, crazy, unpredictable and genius. His secret to success, as noted in the video, is to create great content that wins friends and influences people. That content, coupled with his larger-than-life personality, has established broad and supportive connections across the social-media community.

2. Positive association. In the video, he notes being followed back by selective accounts like the Today Show and Ellen DeGeneres, plus more than 100,000 hits to his Flickr account and 200,000 to his YouTube channel. He’s a nice guy to boot, never above responding to those who tweet him. But the biggest indication of his popularity? The loudest ovation at #heweb10 went to keynote speaker and Don’t Make Me Think author Steve Krug, but the second-loudest may have come when the absent @tsand made a surprise appearance in the video introducing Krug.

3. Ability to create action. Many of us aren’t big supporters of social-media contests, requested retweets or hashtag bombing. But we’re doing all that — apologies for all the #MBTeamS tweets that give he and co-driver @ijohnpederson “fuel” and points — for Todd, and for his ability to win this contest and support St. Jude’s. I can’t think of another person in the higher-ed Twitterverse who could rally so many people … and it’s all because of what I would term brand loyalty to @tsand.

Win or lose, the contest is proving quite the social-media promotional experience. And, unexpectedly, showing us how a person who creates great content and makes authentic connections can represent a powerful brand.


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