On meeting some friends for the first time

The end of September marked my seven-year anniversary on Twitter. Perhaps not coincidentally, the anniversary occurred on the first day of the 2014 Aggregate Conference, which I was fortunate enough to attend at the invitation of a long-time social networking pal, Ron Bronson, who curated this wonderful little conference.

Ron and I go way back, in Internet years.

Not long after I started this blog in 2005, our digital paths crossed somewhere and we started sharing ideas online about higher ed, digital culture, books and our mutual love of music. (The higher ed blogging community was pretty small back then.) We shared ideas via comments on each other’s blogs. I’d read something on Ron’s blog that would spark my interest, and occasionally I would riff on his idea, if not outright pilfer it.

Eventually more of the discussion moved to Twitter and Facebook.  A few years ago, I had an idea to pull together a group of fellow music lovers from the higher ed sphere (there are many of us out there) to create a collaborative group for online music discussion. Ron was one of the first I contacted, even though we don’t always agree on what constitutes good music. But that’s part of the fun of it. I get to learn about new music from Ron, and maybe he even learns something from me in return.

Through the years and the digital ether, Ron and I became friends. But I’d never met Ron, person-to-person, until the Aggregate Conference last Sunday. I met a lot of other longtime social media friends that night and throughout the conference, too.

I’ve written before in this space about how Twitter is my go-to learning network. The people and organizations that I follow are founts of knowledge. We have some great discussions on that network and exchange ideas about all sorts of topics. I think Twitter has made me smarter, thanks to the people I’ve learned from there.

It’s also expanded my network of friends, many of whom I’ve never met in the flesh. That was the case with Ron and several others at the conference — too many to list here.

But there are still many more friends I haven’t yet met in the flesh whom I’ve gotten to know through Twitter. It’s a very cool thing. It’s also kind of weird. But sometimes, cool and weird work out.

Friday Five: #highered takeaways from the New York Times innovation team

Nytimes_hqSince the advent of the online era, The New York Times has been a leader in digital journalism and multimedia storytelling.

Yet, as the recently leaked report from the Times’ newsroom innovation team points out, the organization is struggling — just like the rest of us — to find the ideal approach for reaching new audiences and developing the products and delivery methods that best meet the needs of these new audiences.

On Thursday, the Nieman Journalism Lab posted an in-depth look at the innovation team’s soul-searching report. As I read through the Nieman post last night, then skimmed the actual report this morning, I was struck by some of the similarities between The New York Times‘ struggles and those we face in the higher ed content creation and marketing business. Our challenges may not scale to the Times‘ level, but neither do our resources for creating content. But the Times’ struggles are our struggles. We could find some valuable insights from the newsroom innovation team report that apply to our web, PR, branding or marketing offices.

1. Reconsider the home page

The number of visitors to the New York Times home page has been shrinking. Fewer readers go there to start their journey into the Timescontent. More readers are finding their way to the content they’re interested in from other sources.

Isn’t that also the case with much of our content? Earlier this week, I was looking at Google analytics data regarding one particular news release that was posted on our university’s news site but also linked prominently from our home page. We posted that news release on our Facebook page on Tuesday. The analytics showed that, for that particular day, 89 percent of the 6,000-plus visits to that bit of content came by way of that Facebook post. The other 11 percent of visitors found it through various other sources, including the home page.

The home page problem is probably a thousand times more problematic for a college or university, because it’s supposedly the most visible bit of digital turf in a .edu’s online presence. But what does the data show? How are people finding our content? (Not only news content or storytelling content, but information for prospective students, donors, research partners and myriad other audiences?) Is the home page really the online “front door” of the university when social media has provided so many other pathways.

Maybe it’s time we rethink the purpose of the home page.

2. Experiment more

Nieman picked up on the point that someone not affiliated with the Times created a flipboard magazine of the Times’ best obits from 2013 “on a whim.” that product “became the best-read collection ever on Flipboard. Why wasn’t the Times doing stuff like that on its own platforms, the report wondered.”

The Times‘ rigid approach to reporting and adherence to style and standards sometimes gets in the way of experimenting with new forms of digital storytelling. (Even though the Times remains a paragon of digital storytelling, in my opinion.) “We must push back against our perfectionist impulses,” the innovation team report says. “Though our journalism always needs to be polished, our other efforts can have some rough edges as we look for new ways to reach our readers.”

How about us, higher ed? Are we willing to experiment with new forms of sharing and packaging our content for the audiences we’re trying to reach? Many of us are using tools like Storify to weave together a new approach. But we could be experimenting more.

3. Repackage and reuse

People in the news business can become so obsessed with the “new” that they forget some of their best stories from the past can be repackaged and reused. The idea of the “evergreen” story (one that is not time-sensitive and can run anytime) is nothing new to journalism. But once something runs once, we (those in the news business and those of us in higher ed content marketing) tend to relegate it to the archives.

How open are we in higher ed to reusing and repackaging our previously published content?

4. Tagging our content

“The Times is woefully behind in its tagging and structured data practices,” Nieman reports. It took them seven years after 9/11 to start tagging those stories appropriately. “We never made a tag for Benghazi,” said one team member, “and I wish we had because the story just won’t die.” The report mentions the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal as two news organizations that do tagging well.

How well are we in higher ed tagging our content? The better we tag, the easier we make it for people to find what they’re looking for, and the better those stories fare in online searches.

5. Archive marketing 

We talk a lot about content marketing. What about marketing our archives of content?

The Times has 14.7 million articles in its archives dating back to 1851. Yet the Times left it to Gawker to dig up a 161-year old article relevant to the release of 12 Years A Slave. The Times needs to do a better job of resurfacing its archived content when relevant.

In higher ed, we may not benefit from such a trove of content. But we should think about our archived news releases, magazine articles, yearbook content and other available archived materials that could be relevant today. At Missouri S&T, our assistant director of communications, Mindy Limback, is great at sifting through the archives to find this kind of relevant commencement content.

* * *

None of us is The New York Times. But as I said at the outset, we can learn from the best. Perhaps it’s time for our own “content marketing innovation team” approach in higher ed.

Time to ditch ‘web 2.0’?

web 2-point-0 will saveWhen I first launched this blog some seven-plus years ago, one of the taxonomy categories I created was called web 2.0.

In those days, the phrase had currency. It referred to the fandangled new (at the time) way of using the web — a move from static billboards to more dynamic approaches of communicating online. It referred to the web as participation platform. It had to do with blogging, sharing and social media.

But web 2.0’s time has passed. Nowadays, saying something is “web 2.0” is as archaic as calling a YouTube video a “moving picture” or referring to automobiles “horseless carriages.” As TechCrunch pointed out in a December 2012 piece, “Nobody says ‘Web 2.0’ anymore.”

And yet the “web 2.0” category on my blog remains. For months now, I’ve thought about killing it off. (I never have used the term precisely, anyway.) But I haven’t done it yet. Because, as that TechCrunch article also points out, the phrase used to mean something.

I do plan to stop tagging posts with that phrase. (This will be the last one. Unless for some reason I need to resurrect the tag for a future post.)

But for now, “web 2.0” will remain as a category on this blog, if only for archival purposes and in recognition of all the phrase once stood for.

Image via bensheldon on Flickr.

Facebook’s Graph Search: Good news for #highered pages?

FB signFacebook’s announcement on Tuesday of a new feature that lets users search for information that has been shared with them could be good news for college and university Facebook pages.

At the least, the new function should give us a reason to keep our Facebook sites updated with fresh content.

Called Graph Search, the new search feature was introduced Tuesday in limited preview, or beta. Facebook’s announcement of the tool notes: “If you have a Page on Facebook, Graph Search can make it easier for people to discover and learn more about your business.” PR Daily’s coverage of the news suggests that the more brands update their Facebook pages, the more likely their content will appear in a person’s Graph Search results.

“It appears Facebook is making a push to further encourage brands to invest in cultivating relationships with their fans online; the more popular the page, the more often it will show up in search,” writes PR Daily’s Michael Sebastian.

Perhaps most important — for all of us, not just brands — is that with this development, “Facebook finally has a search technology that works,” writes Adrian Covert in CNNMoney’s coverage of the announcement.

I haven’t had a chance to investigate Graph Search yet, but it sounds like it could help brands extend their reach within the Facebook universe. That is, if brands use the tool in the right way. Keeping content fresh and relevant on Facebook will be important. Those brands that ignore their Facebook content could find themselves ignored by users who Graph Search for information on their friends.

Clearing the Twitter favorites cache

My Twitter favorites file runneth over with all sorts of great content, so it’s time for a data dump. Here are some of my favorite recently favorited posts from my Twitter stream:

That’s enough for now. Happy browsing, and happy Monday. Let’s make it a great week.