Tag Archives: #highered

SUNYCUAD focuses on the power of play

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug.

The recent SUNYCUAD conference hit one out of the park with its theme on the importance of the power of play. Even though we work in higher education, we too often overlook the importance of curiosity, exploration and wonder in the creative process.

Bob Hambley, designer and partner in Hambly and Woolley, set the tone in the opening plenary by saying that we need to play and be curious to succeed in creative work. He cited the work of Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, who posited that curiosity leads to a circle of creativity: 

  • Curiosity leads to exploration
  • Which leads to discovery
  • Which leads to pleasure
  • Which leads to repetition
  • Which leads to mastery
  • Which leads to confidence
  • Which leads to more curiosity

The challenge, Hambley said, is that curiosity peaks in humans at about age 5. Is it a coincidence that this is when formal education also tends to begin? Along the way, curiosity is discouraged by disapproval, by fear, by a lack of time, and by craving of certainty. The process of what we call “growing up” tamps our creativity down.

But Hambley thinks we can reverse the process by activity letting our curiosity come out of play. He encourages us to work five things into our regular routine to keep our curiosity strong:

  1. Observe
  2. Inquire
  3. Challenge
  4. Explore
  5. Take risks

The risk-taking part is important. Higher ed focuses so much (too much) on best practices, sometimes to the exclusivity of innovation and new ideas. But we can never evolve without risk. If we fail or if we succeed, the most important thing is that either road leads to learning, Hambley said.

After watching Hambley’s inspiring talk, I emphasized taking risks more in my presentation with (excellent) Oswego student blogger and intern Lizzy Marks, 6 Suggestions for Successful Student Storytelling. To invite student storytelling into your narratives, you have to take risks and trust people. But somebody had to take a risk to create the colleges and universities that make up the SUNY system — and making the system was a big risk in itself. Compared to the risk people like Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon took in the 19th century, hiring a student blogger seems like a fairly small deal.

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the trip to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, where we explored exhibits on Sesame Street and other children’s programs, rekindled our younger years with classic arcade games and enjoyed the natural wonder of an amazing butterfly garden.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

What was your favorite toy?

A wonderful question that cropped up from time to time was “What was your favorite toy?” For me, it involved trips to the dentist: While becoming creative didn’t require pulling teeth, getting my favorite toys sometimes did.

We went to a dentist named Dr. Betts in Auburn. The most memorable part was that at the end, our reward was selecting a little rubber animal. Which seems small, perhaps, except that our collection of rubber animals turned into a big community. My brothers Joel and Colin assembled their little communities and the Little Animals, as we came to call them, all interacted with each other and had many adventures, from football games to missions of international espionage to battling Star Wars characters.

From the power of playing with the Little Animals, my brothers and I learned three important things that followed us into our creative endeavors:

1. Storytelling. Without leaving the house, those animals went on adventures far and wide, to Soviet Russia, to the moon, to distant planets. We learned to tell a story — generally flights of fancy, yes — but to create characters and motivations and cohesive narratives. I honestly look back with a sense of awe at how sophisticated we were as kids when it came to crafting the adventures of the Little Animals.

2. Collaboration. As noted, all three of us had our own sets of animals, but they all interacted with each other in larger narratives. They generally began with a concept from one of us, often taking from TV or a movie but sometimes just dreamed up, with the others adding to it to keep the action going. In retrospect, I am so grateful for such an awesome preparation for collaborative creative work.

3. Community. Every adventure depended on the Little Animals working together and bringing their own strengths to the table to solve whatever challenge they faced. I still remember my characters like Jerry Cat, Sammy Squirrel, Singo Seal, Danny Dolphin, among others, and how they were all pieces of our larger Little Animal community that showed that togetherness conquered all.

Wow. That’s so much more than I realized. We grow up — or so we think — but how we played as kids continue to influence us. We also need to make sure that childlike curiosity and our willingness to play stay with us too.

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#whyichoseoswego: a quick and lovely user-generated success story

If you have any contact whatsoever with a college admissions office, you know that May 1 is Kind of a Big Deal. It’s the deadline for students to make deposits, heralded as #CollegeSigningDay or #DecisionDay or other hashtags. But what, we pondered as The Day approached, could we do to stand out — to show students why Oswego can be an awesome choice without resorting to tired platitudes.

At our student social media team meeting four days before #CollegeDecisionSigningDay, I wondered out loud and the answer that tumbled out was a #whyichoseoswego tag. Ask current students, alumni, faculty, staff, anybody really to tweet what made them choose our college. (I weighed #whyichoseoz but wanted to get “oswego” in there to be extra-clear to anybody who saw it.) The interns didn’t think it was an awful idea, so I emailed our partners in admissions and they liked it.

> Strategy: Cultivate and share reasons students decided to attend Oswego via the #whyichoseoswego tag

> Execution: Request participation via Twitter (and Facebook to a lesser degree) and via micronetworks and share to encourage more participation

> Goal: Positively influence students who are still deciding that Oswego can be the right fit for them

So we started simply: I asked our interns to post at some point Monday afternoon and for the admissions interns/tour guides/etc. to do the same. Admissions intern Bridget Jackson took it one step further by contacting everybody in the organizations she’s in to pitch in. I figured, eh, we’ll get a few, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but with something this quick, who knows …

Result: Wow.

whyiscreen

Topsy found 518 tweets, and note that prominent alum/ESPN anchor Steve Levy is toward the top. We didn’t even solicit him; he just saw a post that resonated with him and shared. That’s not “going viral” but it is impressive given the bootstrap effort.

The @sunyoswego account retweeted many of them, although I chose to space them out 10 to 15 minutes to not overwhelm the tweet stream and after a firehose of awesome tweets on Monday afternoon it took me until nearly noon on Tuesday to catch up. I also put together a Storify with a large number of the posts:

whyistorify

The 700+ views are pretty impressive, and reflect the social media theory that people like to observe more than participate. I did a bit.ly on the link and found about 90 percent of the visits via social share came from Facebook, where posting it also brought a lot of great comments from alumni and parents of current students.

Note that this promotion lived almost entirely in social — Twitter mainly with one post on the college’s Facebook page plus sharing into our closed incoming student group — and via word of mouth starting with a very small group. This was no massive campaign, we didn’t do a major reach out to alumni ambassadors (next year, with more time, I would include that component) and it really sprung up as a quick, grassroots, bootstrap effort of organic support.

What about admissions results, you may ask? The director of admissions reported a large late surge of deposits and that our incoming enrollment is up around 100 freshman over last year. Admissions also reported a really “positive buzz” that, while not the only factor that may influence any individual student, cultivates an atmosphere that supports choosing Oswego. And admissions definitely thinks it’s worth collaborating on to make a bigger deal in the future.

Add in the show of pride and positive feelings from current students, alumni and even some faculty and staff members, and we definitely feel good about choosing to launch this modest campaign.

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Why are colleges still writing press releases?

Everybody knows (well, I hope they do) that the dissemination of information and the news media themselves have changed immensely in the past few years. Today, colleges can reach large audiences for their stories, photos and videos via social media, while most of what were known as “print media” outlets have slashed editorial staff, cut back on publication dates and (in some places) evolve toward digital-first publication.

Against that backdrop, many colleges are still writing traditional press releases and not changing their view of how to generate and disseminate stories. But should they?

Two great sessions at the recent SUNYCUAD conference — Greg Kie’s “Why Are We Still Writing Press Releases?” and a panel presentation on “What’s Next for Local and Regional Media” hosted by Alexandra Jacobs Wilke — gave a fabulous and fascinating overview of this topic.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.37.49 AM

The game has changed

The panel presentation, moderated by former higher education journalist Wilke now with SUNY Potsdam, featured Tim Farkas of Northern New York Newspapers; Ron Lombard of Time Warner Cable News; and Ellen Rocco, station manager for North Country Public Radio.

Their message was clear: They’re just not interested in getting buried in press releases. In fact, the more releases you sent, especially if they had little news value, the less likely some news orgs would even look at them in the busy, competitive news marketplace. Quality trumps quantity.

What do they want? News. Good stories. Things that will interest their audiences. But we (as communicators) need to facilitate this, not complicate it. We need to be more selective in what we send them, and focus on conveying relevant, interesting stories.

Lombard explained that news junkies still very much exist, but how and where they consume the news has changed. Farkas noted that the Watertown Daily Times has become digital-first and dedicates resources to getting its stories out to audiences via social media (do colleges follow their lead?). My favorite line from Rocco, whose operation has evolved from radio to media because young people don’t even have radios any more, was that “you don’t have to justify investing in new media” if your goals include younger audiences, because that’s where they are.

Instead of piles of press releases, they said, should focus on relationships and strategy: What do particular news outlets want? What don’t they want? If we have an outstanding feature story, they advised, consider personally reaching out and pitching it instead of burying it in an avalanche of releases.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.35.05 AM

Think news, not press

Kie’s thought-provoking session drew on the SUNY Canton communicator and former journalist’s experiences as well as interviews with others. Ramming out releases loaded with marketing-speak and embellishment to meet marketing goals — but not news value — means more work for those editors, already drowning in releases, who may just let your releases sink into oblivion.

We should essentially, Kie says, write NEWS releases not PRESS releases, because the press is not our audience — readers are. We should be more selective in what we send and to whom we send it. We should avoid “cutesy leads,” Paul Riede of the Syracuse Media Group told Kie, and instead provide concise information and let media outlets decide what to do with it.

The edicts of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” are still relevant: “Omit needless words” and “Eschew obfuscation.” Be concise and clear. Or to borrow a beautiful phrase I heard recently: Nobody cares how a clock works. They just care what time it is.

But Kie sees use for relevant news releases which, when they run in online publications that take our submissions, surface on Google News and may lead to more discovery. He cited “Why Bullies Thrive at Work,” penned by Kevin Manne at the University at Buffalo, that started as a news release on faculty research and found its way into Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, the “Today” show and BBC Radio, among other places. Admittedly that story was very topical since bullying was much in the news at the time, but it also represented an actual news story told with clarity and relevance that found a large and willing audience.

Kie mentioned the leaked findings of the New York Times’ innovation report, and its implications that newsrooms need to consider websites and social media channels part of distribution. Your news stories on your .edu site (ours is considered a Google News source) and shared on Facebook and Twitter can reach web-savvy and socially active audiences as readily as they can appear in what we once called newspapers.

In the end, you want win-win situations. “When you can write the type of press release that is aligned with the news media’s own goals and needs,” Colin Matthews, CEO of readMedia, told Kie, “they’ll not only print the release but thank you for it.” Worth noting that readMedia, which started as a conduit for sending student hometown news releases (probably news with the highest publication rate of all), has set the pace by evolving into a company that provides hometowners that also get distributed via social media through the students themselves (who can also build online profiles) via their Merit tool — which dovetails with evolving definitions of media and information flow.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.40.22 AM

Less noise, more strategy

If you’re in an office that spends more staff time cultivating, writing, editing and distributing news releases for no other reason than because “that’s what we’ve always done,” it’s time to re-evaluate things. If you put out a high volume of press releases without any discretion, all you’re doing is creating more work … and more noise. When you need to do less — especially because it’s crowding out opportunities to do work that will get a higher payoff with your audiences than that news release on page 22 of a local shopper that almost nobody will read — you could consider asking some questions to steer your writing priorities:

1. Does this support our strategic communication goals?
2. Does this serve a substantial audience?

All communication should have goals. When your time and resources are limited, you shouldn’t create a news release, a webpage or a social media account “just because” — these should all involve strategy.

Strategic communication goals can be viewed broadly or narrowly. For us, promoting academic reputation — which I loosely define as “showing why attending or working at Oswego can be awesome” — is key, so promoting student or faculty research is part of that, made easier when you can show relevance that the average person can understand. If we’re opening a new building or adding a new major, however, the bottom line is not the building or program itself (and definitely, imho, not a process story) but how it will benefit our students (provide better labs and opportunities, meet a professional need or niche).

The problem we all face is tradition, the many press releases that we’ve always sent just because somebody asked us to … that many media outlets don’t even want, let alone want to run.

Digital (r)evolution

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 10.34.50 PMAs Herbert Spenser and Charles Darwin posited back in the 19th century, those who will survive and thrive are those who best adapt. Just a few days ago, Amazon bowed to the changing marketplace by placing its Digital Music section (formerly CDs and MP3s) front and center and moving its CDs down the menu into a CDs and Vinyl submenu in Movies, Music and Games. Couple that with the aforementioned New York Times innovation report and you’d have to be either obstinate or incredibly nostalgic/romantic to not realize the future (or perhaps even the present) lives in the digital realm.

If media outlets are going digital-first, shouldn’t we? Are we creating online newsrooms that showcase our best or are we sending (often-unwanted) e-blasts to editors? Or are we somewhere in between?

But let me clarify: Telling great stories on our websites and getting positive media attention are not mutually exclusive. Stories of interest to our key audiences are, by definition, news. Every media outlet wants news, wants to share stories that move their readers. The more we clutter the streams with off-point releases, the less they will even try to see the diamonds when they emerge.

We also need to realize that news releases are just one possible method of storytelling. Our student-created and student-centered videos such as Head2Toe Health: Kevin Graham, Grad Student/Pro Wrestler (approaching 2,000 views) and Monotype Printing at SUNY Oswego (above 1,300 views and counting) reach bigger (and wider) audiences than if we had merely blasted them out as news releases — in large part because the video medium tells the stories better. Similarly, standalone posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can concisely and elegantly communicate better, quicker and more effectively — directly to key stakeholders — than pouring hours into a press release with little readership or relevance.

There’s no perfect answer to the question of why colleges still send news releases, or if they should, but it’s something we all ought to revisit and revise if possible. Our news should be, well, news and we should create stories welcomed by editors and readers alike, anywhere they want to find it.

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

120824_picnic_0021

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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#1 sunycuad takeaway: we may be excalibur, but king arthur is the story.

Slide from Georgy Cohen’s “Storytelling as a Framework for Higher Ed Web Marketing” presentation.

Last week’s SUNYCUAD conference featured so many great presentations, people and lessons, but my favorite came from Georgy Cohen‘s “Storytelling as a Framework for Higher Ed Web Marketing” session. Our institutions, Georgy said, are Excalibur — the sword in the stone that helps Arthur become king and a legendary ruler of Camelot. But the story is not about Excalibur, it’s about King Arthur: In other words, it’s about the successes of our students, our faculty and other members of the campus community.

And yet, how often do you see institutions get caught up in tooting their own horn, thumping their own chest and touting their own processes instead of focusing on who really matters? Too often. In most of our narratives, students are (or should be) the heroes, and the key chestnut of most good stories we should write is how the students succeed from their college experience.

As an example, if your college offers a new major, don’t focus on the process of creating the major, the committees involved and administrivia. Do focus on what it can/will do for students — the job opportunities available with this new degree, how the major will help the students grow as people, the niche this program occupies. Are there students ready to declare the major you can interview? (This is often a challenge, but worth asking.) Focus on any true newsworthy angle and the benefits … this is what most readers will find interesting.

Another key part of Georgy’s presentation that supports this is the idea that the most memorable stories involve ordinary people doing extraordinary things. If you work on a college campus, just walk out of your office and you’ll meet people like that every day. That’s one of the reasons I feel so blessed to work in higher education. Everyone from the brilliant student coming up with innovative ideas to the working mother who has overcome so much to earn that degree represents people in our midst who inspire anyone with open eyes, open minds and open hearts. So why not open our storybooks and celebrate their accomplishments?

Their successes tell the story of our institutions’ success. We may provide the tools, but they are the architects, the artists, the builders, the businesspeople, the scientists, the teachers, the entrepreneurs. They are the stories, and there are so many to be told.

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higher ed, vendors find common ground; webcast at 11.

Fox News and MSNBC would have been disappointed, but four professionals actually discussed the often-dicey relationship between higher education and outside vendors on Higher Ed Live with nary an insult, shouting match nor discouraging word. Despite a lack of sensationalism, the result provided a lot of substance, room for understanding and even common ground on what makes for a good college-vendor partnership.

It all begin with my blog post expressing frustration over apps vendors “fishing with shiny objects,” or rooting around trying to find buyers for products that have more cool factor than actual benefit to our institution or our students. That brought an interesting rebuttal comment from Brent Grinna of EverTrue, a company that builds apps to meet an institution’s missions and goals. Brent eloquently noted that the bad past relationships of colleges and vendors made it hard for startups to get traction in such a competitive environment. Then old friend Kyle Judah of RecoVend, a startup whose goal is to help colleges find worthy vendor partners, provided additional perspective on how problems lie on both sides of the vendor-college relationship. The whole debate was so juicy I pitched it to Seth Odell, who happily invited us all to probe the issue on his Higher Ed Live online talk show.

If you saw it live or watch the replay, you’ll see how much common ground reasoned people can find when engaged in productive dialogue. I’m glad Brent contributed his viewpoint because it’s helpful and humbling to hear another side of the story and remind us never to oversimplify anything. We noted that vendors who excel and constantly help us try to better serve our campus and our students are really more like partners, and credited the likes of readMedia and Kevin Prentiss of Red Rover.

And it is, of course, wrong to cost all blame on outside forces. I keep a copy of John G. Saxe’s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant and realize how many entities within colleges don’t see the whole picture. Encased in silos with limited vision, they feel the tusk and sense a spear, feel the leg and imagine a tree, feel the ear and envision a fan. And miss the elephant in the room, which is that only by working together can colleges best serve their students.

And if you can’t work together, there’s most definitely not any app to solve it.

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social media for a very special birthday.

[Charles Wainwright photo]

We celebrated a very special birthday last week to mark the Oct. 4 birthday of our institution’s founder, Edward Austin Sheldon, in the middle of our sesquicentennial celebration.

How does one celebrate such a momentous milestone? With a large group picture where hundreds of people detail the year of our founding, 1861. With free food. And cupcakes. And, of course, social media.

I posted several photos live via our official accounts through Instagram onto Twitter. We have many, many more followers on Twitter than Instagram at this point, but each photo filtered onto Twitter makes more of our connections aware of this service and our presence on it, as we picked up some new Instagram followers. Our posts drew a lot of retweets as well, which garnered an appreciable amount of new Twitter followers.

In addition, viewing our Twitpics gives a quick look at major components of the celebration …

You could say the reaction was pretty good on Facebook when we posted up the main 1861 photo. At least that seems a reasonable assumption with 121 Likes, 26 comments and 31 shares. That people started tagging themselves and their friends greatly extended the image’s shelf life. This is what I mean by quality content with high sharability.

I also borrowed our office’s small video camera and took snippets as the event came together. I then went into iMovie and spliced together a quick take video. [View video]

Last and not least, we had the opportunity to deliver some happiness to one of our students who missed out on getting a free T-shirt. This thread, which also is my first attempt to use Storify, shows how that took place.

Thanks for all the free food! @sunyoswego http://t.co/XLJJZ3MF
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Bon appetit!
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego any way to still get a t-shirt?! I didn’t get one 😦
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Uh oh. We saw some boxes headed in the direction of the alumni office, but don’t know if they had shirts in them. : /
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
This was actually an incorrect assumption on my part. I later learned Auxiliary Services, which runs our bookstores and other entities, had them. So I put a quick request into the person in charge of Auxiliary Services, who came through. (Thank you, Mike!)
@sunyoswego Mail me one!
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We’ll check and get back to you! : )
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We have something for you! What do you want us to do with it? http://t.co/k53HvL0X
sunyoswego
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego name the place and time!
yuhhboiii
October 4, 2011
I sent him a DM of the time and place, lest others descend upon our office to claim the shirt. And, after the hectic day, failed to realize our @sunyoswego account wasn’t following him back yet, i.e. couldn’t receive his DM. D’oh! We worked it out.
@yuhhboiii This is waiting for you! http://t.co/Tn7tECji
sunyoswego
October 5, 2011
RT @sunyoswego: Here is how our giant 1861 photo came out. Thanks to all who made it happen! http://t.co/jQB6PUmj
yuhhboiii
October 5, 2011

Was it all a bit more work? Sure. But hey, you only get once chance to celebrate your founder’s birthday during your 150th anniversary … so we may as well find as many ways to tell the story as possible!

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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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#pseweb11 review: the importance of being human.

It may sound strange, but my top takeaway from the 2011 Canadian Post-Secondary Web Conference, among all the talk of emerging technologies, involves the importance of being human.

This thread tied up neatly in the keynote by Scott Stratten, the engaging fellow behind @unmarketing, as he humorously yet passionately championed humanity, customer service and authenticity as a way we can better do our jobs in higher education. Tools are just channels, and social media does not automatically provide connections any more than a content management system magically generates content.

Scott doesn’t know the ROI of responding to a student who tweets their acceptance to your college, “and I don’t care,” he said. “Just do it!” As to how we let complicated policies and committees get in the way of good conversations, he recalled asking an educational leader (tongue in cheek, I assume): “What’s your social media policy about talking?” The response, an excellent one: “If someone asks me a question, I just answer.”

Both Scott and Penn State’s Robin Smail (@robin2go, in “You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal … Authentic Social Media) brought up the now famous example of the Red Cross social media worker who mistweeted on the company account about “getting slizzerd.” And how the Red Cross quickly said “oops,” reassured people they were sober and engendered a lot of goodwill. We are a forgiving society full of humans who make mistakes. In social media, we are greater when we act as humans and connect as humans. Social media channels are merely opportunities to connect … it is our content, our humanity, that determines if they are effective.

Many other presentations in a conference addressing technology focused on the human touch. In “Herding Cats: Web Governance in Higher Education,” Mark Greenfield (@markgr) of the University at Buffalo said the keys to creating a great institutional web presence do not involve web tools … they involve the education and empowerment of everyone working on the web and the buy-in of top leadership. With “King Content: A Social Media Audit,” JP Rains (@jplaurentian) of Laurentian University gave a great study of effective content among several institutions, which all came back to knowing your audience and interacting with them. Ryan McNutt (@ryanmcnutt) of Delhousie University, presenting “Fire and Ice, Status Updates and Tweets: Emergency Communications in the Social Media Age,” likewise looked at how relationships with your campus and community are vital bits of crisis communication plans.

PSEWEB also saw an upsurge in presentations related to the mobile web — increasingly important as our users go increasingly mobile — and how to produce great video on a low or no budget. My presentation on geosocial media (viewable online) may still represent a novel subject, but the audience was wonderful. The conference once again had great variety in the presentations and the institutions represented, and I learned such a marvelous melange of lessons and met such a magnificent mix of people.

Moreover, if you follow the #pseweb hashtag, you’ll see this conference creates a community that interacts throughout the year. Much praise to the tireless Melissa Cheater (@mmbc) and everyone who came together for a first-rate post-secondary education gathering!

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joining blog high ed: new connections. new content.

Tommy Johnson: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.

For a long time, I used those lines from O Brother, Where Art Thou? in relation to my relationship (or lack thereof) with the larger higher education blogging networks. Truth is, no one asked. But that changed this week when Matt Herzberger and Brad Ward asked some folks in the field, including me, to infuse new voices into their collective, Blog High Ed.

It’s a flattering situation, and I’m honored, humbled and happy. But it also brings the added benefit of forcing me to raise my game. Here are some topics to expect in the coming weeks:

* Our efforts at a social Commencement. We don’t have a lot of resources — a few students and yours truly — but we’re trying to step up in terms of connecting this very exciting day.

* The second Canadian Post-Secondary Education web conference, aka #pseweb, taking place next week in Toronto.

* Where’s the love for transfers? One man’s crusade to improve social media resources for perhaps the most overlooked and underaddressed higher education population.

Finding myself affiliated with some really great bloggers, I can only hope I do my part. It’s a great bargain to find company at the #highered crossroads, and I don’t even have to sell my soul.

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