Tag Archives: interaction

management by wandering around, revisited.

“You are out of tune with the times if you are in the office more than one-third of the time.” — Tom Peters, “Thriving on Chaos”

One could wonder if Peters’ 1987 quote no longer applies now that we can connect with the world via email, social media and countless new channels without leaving our offices. I would argue his point is more valid than ever.

I’m bad at this. I spend way too much time in front of my computer in my office. There was a running gag where our web/new media coordinator, who reports to me, and I would say “good morning” to each other face-to-face for the first time in the afternoon. But this is marginal management on my part, so I’ve made a point to try to check in with her early in the day, every day.

Moreover, working on a college campus, it’s really hard to get a picture for what’s happening from the island of our offices. Getting out and around helps immensely.

Peters had a term for this: Management by wandering around. It’s not complicated. Just by walking around your area, talking to your employees, co-workers, bosses and the like (in our case, students!), you not only maintain a good line of communication but can improve how everyone does their job.

I notice this most when I get out of my building and go through places like our Campus Center. In buildings teeming with offices, casual spaces and interesting people, I often find myself in conversations that solve some kind of problem for one or both of us, move a project along or spark a whole new collaboration. Sitting down to lunch or talking over a cup of coffee provides a much richer, deeper and more fruitful conversation than text messages or email, Facebook or Twitter ever could.

This is not to discount online communication. I’ve worked on good projects and formed great friendships with people before meeting them in person. But meeting them face to face — interacting in three dimensions in real time — makes the relationship so much richer. The same goes for your bosses or employees, your colleagues and your students. Social media can facilitate connections and communication, but it can never replace in-person interaction.

So … if you’re reading this in your office, I offer this simple challenge: Get out from behind that desk and wander around to talk face-to-face with at least three people you don’t normally speak with over the course of today. It could prove much more fruitful than you imagined!

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neuro web design (review): a book that clicks.

Finally followed up on a long-ago recommendation (thanks, Karlyn) to read Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? by Susan M. Weinschenk. After reading it, the suggestions seem self-evident. But sometimes we can’t see what’s in front of our faces … which is a bit of her point.

The book is heavy on psychology and how our brain works, in large part about our unconscious minds. But don’t get the feeling that this is a dense academic tome: It’s a quick read of 132 pages that translates psychological experiments into everyday relevance. A major point: Despite everything we think and study and plan, our unconscious mind drives a lot of what we do online.

Among the observations this book makes crystal clear:

The importance of storytelling. The best communication, in any medium, tells a story. Not only should we make the case via success stories, we want to create pictures in users’ minds where they can see their own story (or future story) as part of the narrative. Are we just talking about what our theatre department is or are we telling stories about the opportunities available to theatre majors? To read about students who get to direct a mainstage production, write and stage original one-act plays or what alumni are doing is compelling stuff! And if we invite users to tell us their stories, that brings us to …

The power of online engagement. There is, psychologically, a huge gulf between making your first Amazon purchase and writing your first Amazon review. The former makes you a customer; the latter makes you a member of the community. Friending someone on Facebook is one level, but commenting on each others’ photos or status updates is a deeper level of connection. This is why the idea of creating microtransactions — meaningful ways to interact online, such as “Tell us your Oswego story” — is so intriguing to me in our web redevelopment.

It’s all about the user. We don’t like to think of ourselves as self-centered, but user-centered design necessarily realizes that self-interest drives our web visitors’ actions. Thinking about what users most want to do and what they don’t want to do should drive how we build web pages and content — moreso than what we (as content providers and designers) see from the inside. “What’s in it for me?” is, whether they want to admit or not, the thought on users’ minds when they visit your site. This is why thinking of user experience is paramount and “org-chart navigation” — how we see ourselves — just obfuscates the process.

There’s more to the book. Much more. And I highly recommend it. The only thing I would may liked more of would have been additional concrete examples of psychological concepts translated into web design. But then by not giving examples, maybe she lets our mind search for examples … or create them ourselves? The brain is a powerful machine, and Neuro Web Design not only explains it, but puts it to work.

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will facebook ring the death knell for yearbooks?

Our director of alumni communications and I just discussed the demise of our college yearbook. Student interest in developing the annual had waned, and when college staff tried to lead the effort, they didn’t find a lot of buyers. For us old-school writer/editor types, who view this as a historical record, this seems mystifying.

But then I realized, students already have their own yearbooks. Except the new yearbooks are dynamic (not static bound volumes), media-rich, fully interactive and they don’t cost students a penny. They’re called Facebook.

I graduated from a small high school, where our class of 86 students was unusually large. We scrawled (mostly) nice things about each other on yearbook pages and I packed the book away for only occasional reference. But what if I were already Facebook friends with all 85 classmates? Instead of having to refer to one photo of a club or athletic team, we could look back at photo galleries, events, groups or maybe even fan pages. At any time, we could interact on each others’ walls to say I miss you! or, more likely, Remember that crazy time in Mr. Tall’s class when [information redacted]?

As a one-stop snapshot, in a traditional paradigm, that yearbook seems hard to replace. But are today’s students interested in that lonely bound volume when an interactive and ever-evolving document, where new chapters are always added, is available? And especially with the crush of school budgets making it harder to produce yearbooks, are they bound to go the way of swallowing goldfish, sitting on flagpoles or pinning your best gal?

In short, will (or has) Facebook replace(d) the yearbook? And if so, are any other scholastic staples next? Feel free to scrawl your thoughts on this page! Hope we can be (Facebook) friends forever! – Tim

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twitter as a teaching tool? tis true.

For my Media Copywriting class this semester, I added Twitter use to the syllabus. I didn’t add it for the sake of saying I was using Twitter to teach — after all, I preach goals first, tools second. My particular goal involved trying to boost and broaden class discussion.

A perennial challenge is that, while my students are bright and articulate, they often prove reluctant to participate in, or initiate, class discussion. I decided to start them 140 characters at a time. Their homework, on most class days, includes an assignment to answer via Twitter with a class-relevant hashtag. These work best when cultivating more thinking than a simple quantitative response. Top tweet topics so far include:

Name a Super Bowl™ ad you thought was effective and why. As I’ve said before, having the Super Bowl™ during a class that involves advertising is a boon. Using students’ Twitter responses, I could call on them directly, show the ad they mention and ask for their analysis. When I tried this without Twitter, even as an official assignment, drawing participation was more difficult.

What do you think your brand’s biggest weakness is? Students tend to select the brands they’ll work with their semester (Nike, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, Wegmans, Fender, etc.) based on strengths or qualities they like. But knowing a brand’s weakness, or perceived weakness, can inform the creative process as well, and provides a nice entree to critical thinking. It also ties into a research assignment I give them that involves a SWOT analysis, finding target demographics/psychographics and critiquing their brands’ current campaign.

Tweet about the first thing you encountered on Thursday that annoyed you. They looked at me funny when I assigned it, but nonetheless talked about roommates, landlords, sinus headaches, slow drivers and other professors. I was providing practice in InDesign, so my in-class assignment was: Do an ad for a product (real or imagined) that would solve your problem (which also illustrates the suffering point concept). The students came up with all kinds of products including landlord repellent, traffic-beating hovercraft and The Shrink Ray, which neutralizes annoying psychiatrists. The amount of ingenuity many put into it was impressive, and the opportunity to blend creativity with problem-solving quite valuable.

As with the creative process itself, the quality of answers are only as good as the questions asked, so my challenge is to keep coming up with good questions. And I’ve noticed the class doesn’t interact with each other (although they do with me) on Twitter — though those accustomed to interacting via Facebook probably do so that way, and I’m not going to require them to cross-converse via Twitter unless I have good reason. But their rate of completing Twitter assignments exceeds 95 percent. And, strange but true, Twitter assignment completion actually runs higher than class attendance.

So Twitter — or any social media platform — can work in the classroom, as long as you tie it to goals you want to reach and are willing to put the time into it to make it relevant.

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with activism, social media is not a waiting game.

Recently, New York State announced a mind-boggling move to close a number of state parks and historic sites, including Oswego’s Fort Ontario. Fort Ontario played a role in the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812; housed nearly 1,000 refugees, mostly Jewish, from World War II Europe (the only haven of its kind); and serves as a key community resource for folks of all ages and interests. That activists would want to use every tool available — including Facebook — to try to save the fort came as no surprise.

The first to jump was a high school student, who created a group that is a truly grassroots campaign. A local official contacted the person saying she also was working on something but was waiting for approval. The student accepted her request to become an administrator, and she later contacted everyone when she had the more official page set up. Where, to her credit, she did plug the other effort.

My reaction, however, was: Waiting for approval? To set up a Facebook page? I understand wanting to gather official partners and settle other organizational details, but with a cause where people are ready to act, [s]he who hesitates is lost. If there’s a hot topic and a ready audience, they aren’t going to wait for committee meetings, mission statements and the trappings of how we used to do business.

The results? As of early Tuesday, the student-created group is community-driven, with a wide variety of people constantly posting emotional comments, links and photos. Number of members? 4,314. The organization-created page is almost completely administrator-driven. Community comments and interaction are less frequent. Number of fans? 2,050. A journalist friend of mine astutely observed that, in the Web 2.0 world, an unofficial presence, for whatever reason, sometimes has the opportunity to become more trusted and engaging than an official effort.

It sets up a fascinating study in communication dynamics, but I also wonder if it will dilute efforts, no matter how friendly the two are. There’s a reason, after all, why you don’t see two chess clubs, two weekly student newspapers, two Jewish Student Associations on most campuses. While one would hope the efforts complement each other, in the go-go 21st century, busy people may prefer one place to visit, one entity through which to focus efforts.

Don’t get me wrong: If you’re a college, company or other permanent presence, you should indeed take the lead of online branding. You have every right to make sure you know what you’re doing before you go all-out on a social-media campaign. But if a cause comes up and you sit on the sidelines while someone else sounds the horn, you’ll see that social media is not a waiting game.

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Fans pages become more conversational.

While I’m still not totally thrilled with the layout of the new Facebook Fans pages, I can’t deny the new setup does promote conversations. This comes mainly because Fans pages’ responses to questions show up in the news feeds of fans the way friends see status reports. Thus fans see their pages talking (in a way) and are more likely to ask questions or join conversations.

While the upshot is that those of us managing Fans pages now have more lively brands, increased conversations also mean more vigilance and time spent on responses. Much more time. Plus because it’s like a status message, if you’re speaking for a page you have a character limit less than when your response was like posting on a wall. Somewhere in there, Facebook wisely increased the limit to 420 characters, which helps form coherent responses. I take customer service seriously and, given the high visibility of responses attributed to SUNY Oswego from the Fans page, it’s vital answers are helpful and thorough.

Fig. 1: A lively discussion.

Fig. 1: A lively discussion.

On the up side, responses from the Fans page now appearing in the feed of any fans also can spark marvelous organic conversations, like the one above. It began with one future student asking about living in Hart Hall, our international residence hall that also has a community service component. A large number of former Hart residents chimed in on how much they enjoyed it. One person did note that the extra requirement of community service wasn’t for everyone, but others responded it felt more like a reward than a chore. And, best of all, the Fans page administrator could stand back and watch the real experts give their thoughts.

So score one for Facebook here. If the goal in giving Fans page responses similar feed treatment to status updates was to create more conversation, then it certainly succeeded.

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