Tag Archives: Web

Crowdsourcing a historic day, and introducing content ownership strategy

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 2.13.53 PMLast Thursday was our college’s biggest day in social media, coming together with a combination of preparation, teamwork and an active/engaged extended SUNY Oswego family — and a new focus on content ownership strategy.

Going into it, I recalled a lesson from a college internship at Channel 5 in Syracuse: You can be in the field getting firsthand information or you can be back in the studio getting a bigger picture, but not both. In a way, that has changed in the age of social media, and blending it together represents content ownership strategy … but more on that later.

A man who had his professional TV start at that same Channel 5, Al Roker, returned to his alma mater on Thursday, Oct. 16, to kick off a huge day at SUNY Oswego. One of the hardest-working men in the business started his broadcast day at 5:30 a.m. with live hosting of “Wake Up With Al” from our Marano Campus Center, followed by live hits for the “Today” show. My first text came in at 5:22 a.m., a colleague with a social media question from a reporter: What hashtag he should he use in covering the event?

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 2.14.15 PMLong before that early hour, I had to make a choice: Should I go out in the field to join the throng of students and others watching Roker tape live segments, or do I set up a virtual “control room” to bring the bigger social picture into focus?

Fortunately, between having a colleague (Jeff Rea, doing a fine job sending iPhone photos) and a very motivated campus posting content, I could fire up Tweetdeck and provide live coverage and amplify the many voices excited about the momentous events — which also included an all-star media summit panel, 24-hour fundraiser and a public launch of our second comprehensive campaign.

Fortunately, I was able to commandeer a conference room to run social media for most of the "Today" show broadcast.

Fortunately, I was able to commandeer a conference room to run social media for most of the “Today” show broadcast.

I chose to pursue a content ownership strategy that represented an extended version of our amplification strategy, or sharing content of excited stakeholders — which can make very powerful crowd-based storytelling.

Amazingly, @alroker and @sunyoswego grabbed the #1 and #2 trends on Twitter for all of New York state on Thursday morning, and the overall 1605 mentions of @sunyoswego in a 24-hour period was higher than every whole previous month but one. We enjoyed a 12.5% engagement rate for tweets, pretty phenomenal giving the quantity of tweets, and in heavy figures for both, we saw 274 retweets and 302 favorites that day. I was especially pleased with so many retweets, denoting storytelling and content that connected well enough for our followers to want to share.

This is pretty sweet.

This is pretty sweet.

We used #ozmediasummit for not just the big panel discussion — which also included Charlie Rose, Ken Auletta (an Oswego alum), Connie Schultz and Dennis Thatcher — but for any event those and other luminaries, including another Oswego grad in ESPN SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy, attended. This was the first year we had everybody focused on one hashtag for this annual mega-event, and it showed: #ozmediasummit earned 1654 mentions in the same period, which (if memory serves) is around 1000 more than previous editions. A wonderful byproduct is that having everybody focused on one tag also maximizes the ability to engage in and archive the discussion.

On Facebook, our content obliterated a pair of high-water marks. That day, our content earned 826 shares — essentially people liked our photos or posts or links enough they wanted to take ownership so their friends could see this content. The content we posted on our page collectively earned 4896 likes, which is more likes than our content has attained for any previous whole month. The 131 comments on our posts were overwhelmingly positive and often reminisces from proud alumni.

Al Roker, king of selfies.

Al Roker, king of selfies.

Meriting special mention: our most popular piece of content of all time — Al Roker’s selfie with a crowd of Oswego students that he posted to Twitter but I repurposed for Facebook. As of Monday morning, it has 2497 likes (over 1000 more than our previous record) and an astounding 437 shares … and still climbing.

Over on Instagram, our content earned 1520 likes, also a resounding record, with 130 #ozmediasummit tag mentions compared to 45 last year. These both likely owe to greater user base, awareness and better marketing of the tag.

This success provides a lesson in our evolving thoughts on content ownership strategy. While content strategy — which includes focusing on who creates content for what audiences and why — is important, you can find even greater gold and greater good with content ownership strategy, which I define as focusing on the larger content ecosystem and how it can tell your story. Our college’s content team of professionals and interns is outstanding, but Thursday really drove home how many content creators exist among our students and alumni who can tell a powerful and empowering story when we share or retweet their posts under a broader content ownership strategy.

I’ll go into greater detail on content ownership strategy in a future post, but the advance tl;dr version is: Think about the stories you want to tell (based on strategy and goals), use monitoring tools and your cultivated network and think about how how your firsthand content (your field reporters) can fit together with your additional sources (what comes into your “newsroom”) to make a more comprehensive and awesome narrative.

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Quick take: On incremental web improvements

Depending on your position and past experiences, “redesign” is either one of the most exciting or feared (or both) words used for higher ed webtenders. But it’s also a lot less important than keeping your eyes open for opportunities for incremental web improvements.

A few weeks ago, we finally rolled out an incremental change (I considered an improvement) we’d been simmering behind the scenes — changing our web fonts and especially boosting the visibility of links. For comparison:

Before

Before

After

After

Two simple changes: Moving to a more web-friendly font that works better across platforms and bolding inline links to make them more obvious (previously they were just green and the contrast wasn’t what we wanted). As we explained in a message to web editors just before the switch:

You will notice over the coming days that a couple of small changes are taking place with the website. We believe these changes will improve the overall look, feel and usability of oswego.edu. The font is changing from Droid Sans to Whitney, a font specifically optimized for display on the web across many browsers. This also will give the site a more distinctive feel.

We also will make our inline links more recognizable to users by increasing their weight within our page’s main content area. This bolded look will cause links to stand out more from regular paragraph text. This addresses feedback and requests to make links within pages stand out more and is part of our continuous program to make the site more friendly for all of our users.

The increased clarity of links is, imho, the bigger item because it incorporated user feedback and contributed to the navigability — in addition to readability — of our site. But taken together, any and all seemingly small steps put websites on the road to big improvements.

No, we didn’t form a committee. We didn’t call in a long list of consultants. We didn’t hold a launch party, didn’t send a press release, didn’t spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back. We just tried some things, did some quick testing and made the improvement.

And if you’re into incremental web improvement, it’s just something you do and keep moving forward. Because there are always improvements to make. I only blog about it to encourage others to realize that there’s more to improving your sites than the enormous redesign project … every day brings an opportunity to have ideas, outline plans and make your site better.

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FAQs: the goose barnacles of higher education

In the Middle Ages, even so-called learned men believed in the bizarre duality of goose barnacles and barnacle geese. Noticing that floating barnacles bore great resemblance to local waterfowl, they put 2 and 2 together, and got 22: These animals they dubbed barnacle geese certainly must spring from the fruit they called goose barnacles when the time was right. The two things looked so similar that despite any real evidence (correlation is not causation), it seemed a stout conclusion.

While science has moved past this, I can’t help but notice that we create our share of goose barnacles in higher education: We see what we think perfectly reasonable from our perspective even when it doesn’t resonate with the real world. I’d put the curious creatures known as Frequently Asked Questions/FAQ pages near the top of the list.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Have you visited any college FAQ pages recently? On many, you’ll find a lot of questions, but not necessarily ones that students actually, you know, frequently ask. Not all are as outlandish as “What is the mission statement of the college?” (sorry I’m not making that up), but many FAQs are simply the result of administrators deciding what they want to communicate and working backwards by creating answers then writing questions people would never ask.

Some content experts would like to see FAQ pages eliminated from college websites entirely. They raise a good point: If your website is really good at providing answers within its pages, users will find the answers they need without an FAQ. This is a noble aspiration, but in reality users want quick answers, and many colleges (like ours) have to rely on content editors (more than 300 on our campus) to maintain department, program, office and section websites. In a perfect world, you can somehow find a way to clean up a 20,000+ page website, but in an imperfect world FAQs may remain at least a temporary evil until you can miraculously heal your college’s digital body.

If internal forces still necessitate FAQs, at least make sure they involve real frequently asked questions. Since our office maintains and monitors social media channels frequented by prospective and incoming students, we see questions they ask may bear no resemblance to FAQs maintained by offices and programs addressing future students. How to reconcile fiction and reality? Take notes and set up meetings. For example, I met with the Orientation office and showed what our students actually asked was completely different than the program’s posted FAQ. I worked with offices and staff to add questions that were asked and remove questions that they even admitted they hadn’t heard asked in years.

But we went a step further. If a question came up over and over that wasn’t adequately addressed on oswego.edu, we made sure that main or primary pages (not just FAQs) were updated to address these questions. No, this shouldn’t be rocket science, but it seemed like a revelation to some folks.

I can’t emphasize enough: Listen to your customers. Our Class of 2018 Facebook group bubbles with earnest questions, many of which we have answers to — including some that a few students, honestly, haven’t seemed to have looked for on our site (where the info is prominently featured). I’ve sometimes taken a deep breath and reminded myself saying “let me Google that for you” would be a bad idea, but at the same time our customers’ experiences (which may include not using our website much) are our reality.

How can we bridge this gap? Ah, that will be the topic of my next next blog installment, which involves lots of listening and tapping student creativity. Stay tuned.

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The trouble with personal branding.

In the film “Miracle,” the story of the underdog USA hockey team that struck gold at the 1980 Olympics, there’s a running theme where coach Herb Brooks asks his players their name, their hometown and who they play for. For the latter answer, they say “University of Minnesota,” “Boston University” and so on, to Brooks’ stoic consternation.

After a lackluster performance in an exhibition, Brooks has had enough and has the team skating suicides for hours, to the point where they’re exhausted and heaving. Finally, eventual captain Mike Eruzione yells out his name and where he’s from.

“Who do you play for?” Brooks asks.

“I play for the United States of America!” Eruzione replies.

Brooks has finally heard the answer he wants, and tells his players they can finally call it a night.

Now this scene comes to mind every time I hear a college (mis)use the term “personal branding.”

If you mean “personal branding” as making sure a Google search first finds the good things you’ve done, your LinkedIn profile and positive impressions — instead of just photos of you at a frat party — then I agree. If you mean “personal branding” in terms of finding things you enjoy and can do better than just about anybody, and trying to figure out how to do that for a living, then I applaud.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 9.14.25 AMIf you mean “personal branding” as the equivalent of “make sure everything you do puts your own marketability and brand first,” then you’re doing students a disservice. And in the process, you’re contributing to the customer service shortcomings facing the higher education industry.

The fact of the matter is unless you go straight from college graduate to running your own startup (a very tiny percentage), ultimately you’re servicing someone else’s brand. Whether you’re a pro basketball player, reporter or cashier, putting your own need for branding ahead of your team or employer is not a successful formula. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t infuse personality, but ultimately you’re a part of a bigger brand.

In a Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Your Brand is the Exhaust Fume of the Engine of Your Life,” Nilofer Merchant perfectly explains that “the brand follows your work,” not vice versa. Any brand is what you do, who you work with to make it happen and what you care about. Creating a “personal brand” is a byproduct — not a determinant — of doing things the right way.

The “personal branding” interpretation is especially a challenge at many institutions where every school, department and office wants to “express themselves” and in turn hire graphic design students they encourage to “express themselves.” They run off and design logos that don’t use the right colors or fonts … or even the name (or right name) of the institution. (And they often are quick to design logos and slow to design useful content.) The main identity of the college is lost in countless subbrands that distract and confuse, diluting and contradicting the idea of working across the institution to better serve students.

Often departments will contact us to say they’ve hired an art student to “redesign their page” (we have a CMS and an aim for a common look and experience across oswego.edu), and ask how they get started. Besides training, we tell them to start with content. An awkward silence tends to follow. Signing up an art student to “make a website pop” without a content strategy is like repainting a restaurant without giving any thought to what’s on the menu. I don’t go to a restaurant because of its design, I go because I want a good meal. (I also feel like the “any art student can build a professional website” is demeaning to the industry. I wouldn’t tell the art department to just hire an English major to teach their courses because he must be good with words. This isn’t a dig against art students but a statement: Web communication is about subject matter and knowing how to tell your story, not merely making pretty pictures.)

If you’re looking for the ultimate example of the personal brand damaging the institutional brand, look no further than Syracuse University’s Twitter account earlier this year. At the end of the final regular season home game, a mysterious tweet under the university account appeared to be coming up with one of the biggest sports scoops of the year:

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 8.15.21 AM

The link was to a blog by a local community college student full of speculation but empty of reliable sourcing. At that and just about every subsequent news conference, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim repeatedly and with increasing exasperation denied he planned to retire, and he hasn’t. Why would the SU account — an official and popular representation of the institution — start a rumor so wrong and detrimental? Is it possible that someone trying to make a name for themselves in the business saw this as a great chance to put over their personal brand? Even if it was at the expense of the university trusting them enough to gain this valuable experience?

When I hire student bloggers, vloggers and videographers, I encourage them to show personality and honesty, because our students are our top brand ambassadors. But they ultimately understand this opportunity is also about supporting and enhancing the college brand. I would hope all of our employees at every level are about helping our students more than their own “personal brand” or creating a “personal brand” for a department or office that runs counter to what we’re trying to accomplish across campus. Helping students should be a core part of any college’s brand in the first place.

So ultimately: Who do you play for?

Next time: Blind Men and the Elephant, or how silos destroy customer service

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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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nate silver and the rise of analytics: what it means to you.

As the election drew near, many political and stats junkies (like me) became fans of Nate Silver, aka @fivethirtyeight, the shrewd political number-cruncher and blogger for the New York Times. His way of aggregating the most reliable presidential polls into megapolls, and factoring in those polls’ historical accuracies, was considered by some to be as revolutionary as the introduction of “Moneyball” — or use of undervalued stats — on baseball.

Like anyone who develops a following, Silver soon drew his shares of detractors. Newsmen, pundits and politicians alike scoffed at his methodology, and Silver tended to respond quite intelligently with an unrivaled grasp of statistics. Even as the news networks hyped the election as anyone’s game last week, Silver said his estimations “represent powerful evidence against the idea that the race is a ‘tossup.’ A tossup race isn’t likely to produce 19 leads for one candidate and one for the other —  any more than a fair coin is likely to come up heads 19 times and tails just once in 20 tosses.” And, yes, unless Florida reverses course, he will have called 50 of 50 states correctly. That he even triggered the briefly popular Is Nate Silver A Witch? website tells something about his crossover success.

But let’s forget politics for a moment (please!); what’s impressive here is the rise of analytics writ large. Silver succeeded by keen understanding of statistics, willingness to discard dubious assumptions and eagerness to innovate. In higher education, we always talk about working smarter not harder and trying innovative things … then everyone rushes to “best practices” and well-plowed ground and research (like that on “Millennials”) based on questionable assumptions.

It all starts with data. Working with the web and social media avails us to a wealth of analytics and metrics via Google and other methods. But as Silver cautions, it’s about looking for the right data, not necessarily the most obvious or easiest. Avinash Kaushik, perhaps one of the top experts in web analytics, jokes that “hits” is short for “how idiots track success” … i.e. the number of visits to your website tells you only surface information. Instead, he says, look at things like bounce rates (how many people visit one page and immediately leave), average number of pages per visit and what paths and tasks users complete while on your site.

Google’s In-Page Analytics (seen above) is one of my favorite tools for seeing where visitors go after hitting a page. Those orange tags are click-through percentages, which you can roll over for numbers. I look at our home page using this tool very frequently to see what is and isn’t working, and regularly check other key pages. It’s interesting to see that sometimes switching out a picture or changing wording can have an impact on click rates. Among the most basic tips:

  • Pics of students work better than anything else. (Except maybe sunsets, but that’s a whole other story.)
  • Pics of logos and/or clip art are virtually useless. The only logo anyone ever clicks is the Oswego logo at the top left to get back to the home page.
  • Don’t overpromise or mislead with link names. I’ve seen pages where users think they are getting one thing because of a page name, only to realize the info they seek is not there. In cases like these, a user is more likely to leave our site entirely than go back. (We’ve seen this fixed by merely changing a link or page name.)
  • If your page has an embedded video but a very low average time on page, it’s pretty clear that video isn’t getting watched much. You can correlate with YouTube views — there’s a chance they’re watching it on YouTube — but you can often spot a dog quickly. This also ties into our data that shows videos about students and/or made by students tend to do much better than any other videos.

Another great Google Analytics feature is event tracking, which lets you see microtrends. With our new megadropdown headers and Popular Links, developer Rick Buck inserted a Google event tracking code to get a finer picture of who clicks where. The Academics part of the header rules, as it does in breakout tracking. This underscores our longtime push that good academic content and information architecture remain key to a college website’s success.

In addition to looking small, we look big. We recently completed our third month of compiling, filing and sharing a monthly web and social media analytics report, which has provided clues into what works and what doesn’t. We will learn even more as we add and hone various measurements and see trends in longer spans of data.

On a related note, you should also look long-term and not be so hasty that you change things too quickly. Silver’s data worked because he had large sample sizes. You need to track a page for at least a month (maybe more) to ensure you have a good enough sample size to judge user activity. A day or two is too small a sample size to glean a full picture.

Some colleges are showing a need and desire to invest in data. Ithaca College, for example, recently hired Colleen Clark as a full-time marketing analyst, and Colleen describes what that entails in this interview with Karine Joly of Higher Ed Experts. Not all colleges are in a position to hire full-time web analysts, but institutions should ensure that at least one (probably more) people in their organization have enough training, knowledge and — importantly — time to look at stats and trends.

Because as Nate Silver showed with this election, relying on conventional wisdom and erratic statistics get you results that are only as good as their flawed data. The more data you have, the better you understand it, the more effectively you implement what it shows, the higher the chances you can start achieving some real wins … whatever you do.

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goodbye, google places. hello google+ local. but does it matter?

In its never-ending quest to revise and renew to provide (apparently) desired services, Google has bid adieu to its Places feature and replaced it with Google+ Local. Given the large leverage any Google property has, it technically has potential. But it currently has stumbling blocks, with content being the main one.

Image

If you’re a G+ member (I won’t go for the easy joke), Local will appear as an option in your left-hand sidebar. That’s about the only easy thing I’ve found so far. Clicking it gives me the following screen dominated by an Outback Steakhouse. In Liverpool. More than a half-hour away. When I happen to live in a city with lots of eateries already that are dwarfed by this promoted location.

Of course, I can just scroll and look through a number of options such as Pizza Restaurants, Steak Restaurants, Bookstores, Motels, Pubs, etc. Most of the locations have either no or few reviews, which doesn’t particularly help with decision-making. I checked the Pubs option (near and dear to my heart) and discovered several of the listed establishments had closed. A local power plant was also listed as a pub, so I wondered about data hygiene … i.e. who vets or confirms listed information. And with any system, up-to-date accurate content is a huge consideration!

To make it even stranger, I can’t find any way to use Google+ Local on my iPhone … but I can download the old Google Places. For a geosocial platform, you’d sure expect this to be easier.

So other than being neither easy to use nor updated with accurate content, what exactly does Google+ Local have to offer that makes it a must-have platform?

Let me know if you figure that out, because I have no idea.

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