Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moving the blog

I am moving my business blog efforts to . Currently, I'm working on ways to help small organizations and business leverage social media. I'd love to see you over in the new wordpress neighborhood.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lessons for Life

A colleague sent me an insightful essay from the Wall Street Journal recently. The author, Alain de Botton, offers a cutting but valid critique of the modern university -- and, I'm afraid, some faith-based colleges, as well.

The modern university has achieved unparalleled expertise in imparting factual information about culture, but it remains wholly uninterested in training students to use culture as a repertoire of wisdom—that is, a kind of knowledge concerned with things that are not only true but also inwardly beneficial, providing comfort in the face of life's infinite challenges, from a tyrannical employer to a fatal diagnosis. Our universities have never offered what churches invariably focus on: guidance.

It is a basic tenet of contemporary scholarship that no academic should connect works of culture to individual sorrows. It remains shocking to ask what "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" might usefully teach us about love or to read the novels of Henry James as if they might contain instructive parables. When confronted by those who demand that a university education should be relevant and useful, that it should offer advice on how to choose a career or survive the end of a marriage, how to contain sexual impulses or cope with the news of a medical death sentence, the guardians of culture become disdainful. They prefer students who are mature, independent, temperamentally able to live with questions rather than answers, and ready to put aside their own needs for the sake of years of disinterested study.

Whatever the rhetoric of promotional prospectuses and graduation ceremonies, the modern university has precious little interest in teaching us any emotional or ethical life skills: how to love our neighbors, clear human confusion, diminish human misery and "leave the world better and happier than we found it." To judge by what they do rather than what they airily declaim, universities are in the business of turning out tightly focused professionals and a minority of culturally well-informed but ethically confused arts graduates, who have limited prospects for employment. We have charged our higher-education system with a dual and possibly contradictory mission: to teach us both how to make a living and how to live. But we have left the second of these aims recklessly vague and unattended.

Those of us who work in faith-based institutions of higher learning are called to a much higher purpose. Among all colleges and universities, our campuses should be the most adept at helping students glean life lessons from their coursework. But are we delivering what we promise?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Easy Way to Monitor Social Media

With a dizzying array of social media initiatives to monitor and maintain, what's an already swamped college PR practitioner to do? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, Vimeo, Flickr, PhotoBucket ... it seems difficult just to keep track of all the places your brand shows up, or maintain the multitude of "official" sites that have sprung up in these channels.

I've found an easy way to keep an eye on our campus' social media efforts, all from one computer screen. The trick is to install a secondary web browser and configure it to automatically open a set of your most important social media sites.

For me, the weapon of choice was Mozilla Firefox, but you could choose any secondary browser you like, for either Mac or PC. I installed Firefox and added a quick-launch button at the bottom of my screen.

Then, I set up Firefox to open a set of social media sites. (This configuration for Firefox is under Tools --> Options --> General --> Homepage.) Here's my current list of tabs:

Tab 1. HootSuite. This is a great web-based utility for managing multiple Twitter accounts and RSS feeds. At a glance, I can see what's been sent or received at our university's four official Twitter accounts, and my own personal account.

Tab 2. Facebook. Based on research into student usage, we've placed most of our social-media emphasis on creating a quality fan page for the University, plus some additional groups for various constituencies. A click on this tab shows me what's going on.

Tab 3. LinkedIn. A few years ago, one of our enterprising grads created an "Alumni and Friends" group on LinkedIn. Later, he graciously added me as a manager of the site. Clicking this tab earlier today showed me two more requests to join, awaiting approval. In seconds, that task was done.

Tab 4. This blog. It's a gentle reminder to post something, or to see what the co-authors are up to.

Now, any time I want to check what's happening with these social media sites, I just launch Firefox rather than my usual web browser. I can quickly scan these sites, without the clutter of my usual web browser. (Again, I use Firefox this way, but you could configure almost any tabbed browser to do this.)

My next steps are to add tabs for YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr. We have a university-sponsored presence on each of these services, but I think I'll configure those tabs to find anything that's been tagged with our name.

How would you use a system like this? Got an idea to share?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New research, updated stats

And you have to admit, YouTube is a cool way to promote a book.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

More evidence of Social Networking's impact

In doing a quick catch up on some reading today I came across two articles about Christian Higher Education, and they both have interesting implications both for private higher education and for the age of social networking (which may be in decline, but that will be another post).

Ongoing issues at Northwestern College in Minnesota made the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and yesterday’s Inside Higher Education carries a story of how an article critical of Wheaton College was killed by Books and Culture.

I have very little insight into the particulars at either school, but I have a few years in Christian higher education, and a few in communication, and I think there are lessons that communication and marketing people at faith based and strongly mission driven institutions should be reminded of in the wake of these very public controversies.

1. You can’t stiffle conversations. In the good old days firing a professor or the killing of a story might have stayed in a small community, but now that information is instaneously shared. Inside Higher Education got a pdf file of the actual cover that was approved and then killed and has seen the article. Killing the story didn’t stop it, it probably just gained it wider readership. In the case of Northwestern they have taken several steps to finalize the controversy and move on, but the debate rages of Facebook.

2. You have to engage people where they are. If the debate is on Facebook that is where the organization has to engage. You can’t ask for debate to be turned off or ignore it. Dell Computers is great example where instead of ignoring negative blog posts they actively engage and try to solve problems. The same model could be applied here.

3. Inconsistency is the controversy. People and in turn social networks thrive on controversy and nothing creates more controversy than when someone says one thing and does another. Social networks function as fact checkers, and even if there is debate about the facts if it looks like you did one thing but said another, this is going to spur internet frenzy. This is a particular challenge for strongly mission driven and religious institutions because it is not only the mission of the place but commitment to beliefs that may be unpopular that are on the line. Read the comments on the Star Tribune piece and if you are a Christian who wants to see others recognize Christ your heart will break.

In part two of this blog post I will look at some of the underlying issues, but these are ones that I think apply to the profession.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

College students use social media to rally relief for #Haiti

Across the country, college students are using social media to rally support for relief efforts in Haiti.

A January Term class on grassroots marketing at Huntington University (Ind.), for example, is using the Twitter hashtag #jterm to spread word about a fundraising opportunity benefiting two relief organizations. They've also set up a special Facebook page to support their selected causes.

The idea for using social media to support charitable organizations was built into the curriculum from the beginning of the course, but the devastating earthquake in Haiti galvanized action by the 25 students in instructor Andrew Hoffman's class.

Andrew Malloy, a freshman pursuing a degree in business management, posted this report to his blog:

This morning in our class we discussed the crisis in Haiti. Our conclusion was to all rally around Concern Worldwide and help raise money for them. Our goal is to raise $1,000 by Monday January 18th (5 days from now). This evening we have raised over $800. That is a testament to social media’s power. In one day, a group of people changed course on their project and then a body of people united to aid the cause. This has truly been a blessing and amazing experience!

Meanwhile, three HU graduates serving Mission of Hope: Haiti set up a new blog to support disaster relief. The blog features photos, first-hand accounts, and opportunities to give. The team's alma mater linked it to the university's fan page on Facebook. Word spread quickly through the virtual community, resulting in a regional fundraising event organized by a radio station and area churches.

These are but two examples of uncounted similar scenarios playing out on college campuses nationwide. Globally concerned students with well-honed social-media skills are a new target audience for charities and relief organizations seeking advocates and donors.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

What the heck does Google Wave do, and why do I want it so bad

Google wave is brilliant marketing, but what the hell does it do? A friend recently posted on Facebook that he had a Google Wave invite, and put out a call to see if anybody wanted one. I almost broke a finger typing in, "Heck yes." Alas, when I opened up it up on Friday I was like a kid on Christmas morning who opened the package and found out they had gotten a dictionary, in latin.

I simply can't figure out how to get started, and I can't figure out if I should be disappointed that I was tricked into wanting this thing and now it doesn?t do all of the wonderful things I thought it would or if I should spend the time figuring it out. I had images of managing my posts, my dormant blogs, and my digital persona all through Wave, but I don?t see how to do any of that. Beyond that, I'm reticent to send out the five invitations that I have, because I don?t want to admit I'm not sure what my friends should do with it.

A few simple lessons are probably worth it though. One, the marketing is brilliant. Creating scarcity and then having people salivating for the product is genius. The second lesson is that Google has such great brand feeling, I may just start a wave. My idea over the weekend was to start a wave about what the best uses for wave actually are. My only reticence in doing that is that I know it would benefit Google as much, or more than me - which again if I was Google - is brilliant.