Friday Five: Best posts of 2013

calendar8It’s the final Friday of 2013, which means it’s time to do a backwards glance at the contents of this blog over the past 12 months. And time for a bit of introspection.

At a time when the experts are saying (again) that blogging is dead (again) — or at least dead for anyone except “40-somethings with kids” (I’m 50-something and have no kids) — I do have to stop and wonder whether there’s any value in a traditional blog like this versus, say, a tumblr. (Except, as I reported earlier this year, I haven’t exactly gotten the hang of the whole tumblr thing.) But then I look at the handful of fine higher ed-focused blogs that are out there, and the value they bring to their target audiences, I have to think that blogging still has a purpose.

And therefore, I plan to continue to publish this blog in 2014. And just as it was in 2013, the frequency of posts will likely be sporadic and sometimes off-topic, but I hope that some of you find some value in the topics I write about, just as you did this past year.

Here are the five (or so) blog posts that I thought brought some value, if not a little bit of insight, to the higher ed community in 2013:

  1. The elements of a great #highered Twitter account. First on the list is a two-part post, and its success belongs to all of you much more than it does to me. For this reason, the topic is probably the best example of how these old-fashioned blogs can still foster conversation among members of a community of practice, and tap into the hive mind to generate great ideas. The discussion began with a post last April in which I took Education Dive to task for their approach to ranking the top Twitter accounts in higher ed. (Education Dive relied on two criteria — number of followers and Klout score — plus an undefined “subjective appraisal” to determine the best of the best.) In that April post, I called on the higher ed community to share their thoughts on what makes a great Twitter account, and you responded in droves. I sifted through those comments to create the second part of this discussion in May: The elements of a great #highered Twitter account.
  2. ‘College (Un)bound’ and the frog in the kettleMy thoughts on Jeff Selingo’s 2013 book College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for StudentsOne of my highlights in 2013 was getting to meet Jeff Selingo at the CASE Annual Assembly last July in San Francisco.
  3. Content strategy is fine, but… A suggestion that, instead of focusing so heavily on content strategy, we take a look at the needs and wants of our customers and come up with an audience strategy.
  4. Media relations in a disintermediated world. As a former journalist turned PR/media relations practitioner turned brand manager, the role of media relations and the news media is a recurring topic for me. I wrote this back in October, and will also be presenting on this subject in June 2014 at a regional PRSA conference in Springfield, Mo.
  5. Boring old brand-building. A post that builds off of a quote from the greatest branding book ever written, Al and Laura Ries’s The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.

Thanks so much for reading in 2013, and for sharing your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere. I wish you all a successful 2014 in all measures.

Social Media Day: It’s official in Missouri #SMDay

socialmediaday.logo.bToday is Social Media Day all over the world. But here in Missouri, it’s officially Social Media Day. Our governor has proclaimed it so.

Missouri’s governor, Jeremiah (Jay) Nixon (@GovJayNixon), signed a proclamation declaring today Social Media Day across the Show-Me State. According to Mashable, Missouri is “one of the first states to issue such a proclamation.”

As it should be. Missouri is the home of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, a St. Louis native who also attended Missouri University of Science and Technology before striking out to create arguably the most influential social media platform ever. Nixon gives a nod to Dorsey’s influence in his official proclamation.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's proclamation declaring June 30 Social Media Day in Missouri.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s proclamation declaring June 30 Social Media Day in Missouri.

Thanks to the efforts of Gus Wagner (@RocketGroup), who made the request to the governor’s office that Social Media Day be officially recognized.

This is the fourth annual Social Media Day, an event cooked up by Mashable “as a way to recognize the digital revolution happening right before our eyes.” You can follow all the day’s social media happenings on Twitter via the #SMDay hashtag

On the other hand, numbers do matter

numbersReaders of my previous post (The elements of a great #highered Twitter account) could come away thinking I don’t care about numbers. That would be wrong. I do care about numbers.

Numbers matter in social media.

Dan Zarrella makes this clear in his popular Science of Social Media presentation. In the simplest of terms, if you want to get your message out to as many people as possible, then the bigger your potential audience, the greater the chance you’ll reach a bigger group of people. (This assumes your audience is paying attention to you, and that assumes they find your content worth paying attention to, sharing and acting upon. And that ties back to your credibility among the audience and their level of trust in you and your message.)

But that’s just potential reach, and as C.K. Syme points out in a recent post, reach is only a starting point. But it can be “the beginning of great things.”

“Raw numbers don’t give us a good mirror of effectiveness,” she writes, “but they are one of the indicators.” She suggests social media managers consider other measures, such as potential reach and share of conversation, and she points readers to some tools and resources that can help them do that.

Flickr photo by Mervyn Chua.

The elements of a great #highered Twitter account

successkidLast month, in response to Education Dive’s unsatisfactory ranking of the 10 best university Twitter accounts — and what they do right, I posed a question: What makes a great #highered Twitter account?

Your responses, both in your comments to that post and on Twitter, provided some great perspective on this topic. (Some of you even took up the question on your own blogs, providing more than 140 characters’ worth of insight.)

In my post, I said I would try to draw from your insights to outline an alternative to Education Dive’s method of measuring Twitter greatness for colleges and universities.

It is no easy task. In many ways, Twitter greatness is in the eye of the beholder and difficult to gauge. No wonder Education Dive stuck with two easy metrics — an account’s number of followers and Klout score — to develop their top 10 list. (True, the author of that post also claimed to conduct a “subjective appraisal,” but much of the evidence is based solely on numbers.) The number of followers and Klout score are certainly metrics to consider, but they inherently favor bigger schools over small ones. Perhaps a more nuanced approach to analyzing followers is in order.

But more about that later. For now, let’s look at a few of the themes that emerged from our online discussion on this topic.

Start with strategy

It should come as no surprise that someone with a title like “digital strategist” would suggest we start with strategy. That’s how Mike Petroff (@mikepetroff), the guy behind the @Harvard Twitter account, suggests any social media person in higher ed begin. And not all strategies are the same.

“It’s important to note that there can be differences in meaningful metrics for institutional accounts on Twitter,” Mike wrote in his comment to my post. “Some may focus on student engagement and customer service, while others may be driven by specific campaign efforts or general news awareness and amplification. These strategies are really an extension of the ‘voice’ of the Twitter account and how they focus their efforts.

“I respect both strategies, when executed well and attached to specific goals.”

The key here is to start with a strategy. Your institution’s social media strategy may not be the same as Harvard’s (which, by the way, topped Education Dive’s list). But if you don’t have a strategy, and don’t connect it with specific goals, then you have nothing to measure.

Taking a step back from Twitter, it’s also important to consider this platform in the broader perspective of social media strategy. Jeff Puklin (@JeffPuklin), who manages the @ConnCollege and @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account, shared this comment on the blog:

A great Twitter account in Higher ed should live in the center of a larger social media strategy [emphasis added]. Through the creation of our internally focused @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account – we engage our current students by facilitating conversations and promoting the vibrancy of our digital campus community. This allows us to provide admitted, prospective students and parents with an authentic user-generated view of campus life. The result: vibrancy and transparency.

Stepping back even further, that social media strategy should be connected to an institution’s communications and marketing strategy (or strategies), which in turn should be connected to the institution’s strategy. (A separate post about strategy some other time.)

Be human

Mike Petroff also mentions the “voice” of a Twitter account. The idea of voice — especially a human voice — seemed to be important to many of us.

Ma`ayan Plaut (@plautmaayan), the human behind @OberlinCollege, put it this way:

Ma`ayan was not alone in that sentiment:

I believe that a human voice is critical for success in Twitter. It may be easy to simply push out press releases or marketing-speak. That just gets information out there. Making it human is what matters and leads to meaningful interaction with your audiences.

Which leads us to…

Interact. Like a human.

“IMHO,” commented Jessica Krywosa (@jesskry) of @HamiltonCollege, “what makes a Twitter account great is that it is an active participant in the community. It RT’s, provides valued, timely information and it creates opportunities to bring people into a conversation. It creates targeted hash tags so that people can follow conversations. It cross promotes other accounts of value to its audience. It follows back relevant accounts/people. It has a personality (brand). Its not afraid to be cheeky/human/real.”

I could not agree more. Justin J. Ware of Bentz Whaley Flessner also concurs. As he said in his comment on my earlier post: “It doesn’t matter what industry, real interaction always makes for a better Twitter account.”

Measure what matters

I received a lot of ideas about measurement, and few of them had to do with raw numbers. A lot of us tend to agree with a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein (but probably more accurately attributed to William Bruce Cameron):

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

One possibly useful measurement of Twitter greatness could be engagement-to-follower ratio.

This is something Liz Gross (@lizgross144) was getting at in her comment about the value of retweets as a metric.

“Retweets, while some might consider it a vanity metric, might be useful here,” she wrote. “If someone find the information in the account so valuable that they want to pass it on to to other people, that might mean something.”

Determining this ratio can be tricky and time-consuming. But here’s one approach (as discussed in this blog post):

  1. Select a tweet (or series of tweets during a given period)
  2. Calculate the number of mentions and retweets of that tweet during a given period
  3. Divide by number of followers during that period
  4. Multiply by 100

I’ve never tried this before. I may give it a shot.

There’s another approach that could provide context to the “raw number of followers” issue. Chris Syme (@cksyme) talks about this in her comment on my original post.

I’d leave follower numbers completely off the table, but maybe look at the number as a percentage of the total number you could reach (alumni, students, staff, faculty, etc.) Reach is a shallow metric — has nothing to do with effectiveness — only shows how many people could have access to your information.

I like that apples-to-apples approach, even though it’s crude and, as Chris points out, has nothing to do with effectiveness. Let’s say one university has 50,000 Twitter followers, and let’s suppose it has 20,000 students and 480,000 living alumni, giving it a potential audience of 500,000. Using only students and living alumni as the universe to measure, we could conclude that this school has a 10 percent reach.

Now, let’s suppose another university has 5,000 followers on Twitter but enrollment of 2,000 and living alumni of 48,000. It too would have a 10 percent reach.

Don’t forget to listen

Listening is not the same as monitoring. But both are important.

I view monitoring as more of an intel-gathering function, to find out what people are saying about your organization in social media. It’s an important function of brand and reputation management.

But monitoring your brand in the social media sphere doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be great at Twitter. It could just mean you’re good at gathering intel, and maybe you should consider working for the CIA.

Listening means more than monitoring.

Sometimes it means knowing when to respond, and when to respond publicly versus privately.

“For our institutional feed, I place a lot of emphasis on listening and responding to individual tweets, and I don’t always respond publicly,” writes Davina Gould (@davinagould).

Listening is also an issue Ma’ayan Plaut wrestled with in her blog post on this topic. With refreshing honesty, she struggles to find the appropriate balance of listening to interacting:

I’m still in limbo about how Oberlin College on Twitter needs to act. I tried a few weeks of retweeting things from our community, then added in some personal conversation/outreach to people talking about Oberlin, but then there was a lot of institutional silence but a heck of a lot more listening. Sometimes I broadcast original stuff. Is that okay? Is that a cop-out? On the whole, I don’t know what makes people visit, follow, converse with, retweet, favorite, or any of the other actions one desires from a/our Twitter account, or what we could do to make them do (something?) more.

A continuous feedback loop

What I’ve presented in this lengthy post merely scratches the surface of the web of issues related to achieving Twitter greatness. In the end, though, I think it all begins and ends with strategy and goal-setting for your specific institution or organization. And part of that goal-setting should involve listening to your constituents and determining what they need or expect from you at any given time. As Ma’ayan said in her post: “If we’re operating in an always-changing space, the replicability and scalability of what we’re doing is more tied to what the humans out there want rather than what we want and what the tools seem to encourage. …”

So maybe this entire blog post should be flipped. Maybe we should start with listening, build our goals and strategy from there, while taking into consideration the business goals of our organizations (i.e., how social media fits into those goals, including overall marketing).

Or maybe it’s a continuous loop that begins and ends with listening, revising and reworking our processes and approaches in the fluidity of the social media space.

Whatever it is, I think what I’ve taken away from the past month of listening, discussing and thinking about this topic is that no third-party assessment of “what makes a great Twitter account” can necessarily fit all institutions. It’s up to us to make our Twitter accounts great in the context that meets the needs and helps fulfill the dreams of our human audiences.

I’m ready to make @MissouriSandT more awesome on Twitter. How about you and your account? Starting today, Star Wars Day, let’s join forces and achieve #highered Twitter greatness.

What makes a great #highered Twitter account?

Davide Savenije, assistant editor of the website  Education Dive, recently posted his picks for The 10 best university Twitter accounts — and what they do right. The list has generated a lot of chatter on Twitter, especially among the fans of those schools who made the list. But there hasn’t been much looking into the methodology behind that ranking.

Enter moi.

The Dive’s list consists of big schools, many from “big” confrerences (Big 10, Big East, SEC) that have big followings — 208,000 for No. 1 selection @Harvard and 110,000 for No. 2 @Stanford — and impressive Klout scores. That is, if you find Klout scores impressive.

But Savenije knows bigger isn’t always better. He points out that “followers alone do not equal social media success,” which is why he included Klout scores and something he calls “our subjective appraisal” of the accounts. But take a look at the list, and it’s the numbers and Klout scores that jump out at you. Which might lead a reader to be skeptical of this compilation. Especially when “our subjective appraisal” is so ill-defined. It isn’t even ill-defined. It isn’t defined at all.

Maybe the descriptions of each account will give us some insight. Let’s pick on No. 6, The Ohio State University (@OhioState). Savenije writes:

The Ohio State University’s Twitter account keeps students, faculty and alumni apprised of the school’s goings-on. From student tips, daily photos and event promotions to alumni stories, faculty research and sports team notifications,@OhioState serves followers with the information they need and want.

Really. The school’s twitter account keeps not only students informed, but also faculty and alumni? (But apparently not staff.) That’s what sets this account apart?

Is that all it takes to attain Twitter greatness in the higher ed realm? That and a minimum following of 16,000 plus a Klout score of 83 or better?

I don’t buy it. I doubt you do, either.

So let’s come up with some metrics that make sense for higher ed Twitter accounts.

Please tell me in the comments below (or on Twitter): What makes a great university Twitter account? Feel free to share examples of schools that you think are doing it right (regardless of size of audience or Klout score) and suggest some ways to measure success. Your thoughts just might make their way into a future blog post on this subject.

P.S. – I’m not taking anything away from the 10 schools on this list. They’re all great and have robust social media efforts. I’m just questioning the validity of the metrics. (Something I picked up from administrators dissing the U.S. News & World Report rankings.)

P.S. to Education Dive: In your blog post, is the “S” in “University of Oklahoma” supposed to be larger than the other letters in that name?

Friday Five: A social St. Pat’s

Missouri S&T's St. Pat's tradition began in 1908. Here, student George Menefee, the campus's first St. Pat, poses with members of his "court."
Missouri S&T’s St. Pat’s tradition began in 1908. Here, student George Menefee, the campus’s first St. Pat, poses with members of his “court.”

For most of you who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the subject of this post may seem premature. But at the university where I work, students have honored the alleged patron saint of engineers for 105 years now, and their celebration begins long before March 17.

The annual St. Pat’s Celebration at Missouri S&T begins in early March with students using hand-carved walking sticks to drive snakes from campus to prepare the way for St. Pat (it’s okay; the snakes aren’t real), and wraps up this weekend with a knighting ceremony, big parade and a lot of parties.

Historically, St. Pat’s is one of the biggest social events for our campus. (It’s even been named one of the top 15 best St. Pat’s parties in the nation by BroBible. Yes, BroBible is apparently a thing.)

So it makes perfect sense that we should embrace social media to help connect students, alumni and others to this campus tradition. That’s why the Internet invented social media, right?

So here are five ways we use social media to help make the annual St. Pat’s celebration a great time for everyone involved.

1. Blogging

bestever.mst.edu
bestever.mst.edu

Way back in 2008, when our campus celebrated the 100th anniversary of our St. Pat’s celebration, we launched the Best Ever Blog as an attempt to connect far-flung alumni with the big centennial to-do.

We launched it in January 2008 to help build momentum for the anniversary and to have a little bit of fun along the way. Irreverence is a big part of the annual celebration, so it’s important that we have a human voice when we talk about St. Pat’s. It all begins with the blog. Also, the “voice” must extend beyond words. St. Pat’s is a very visual time of year — and very, very green — so we try to incorporate as much photography and video into the blog as we could.

2. Flickr

From the start, we pulled a lot of the images for that blog from a collection of St. Pat’s photos housed on our campus Flickr account. We still use Flickr to collect and organize the great shots taken by our campus photographer, but for those in-the-moment shots of events as they happen we’ve equipped several staffers with access to …

3. Instagram

Instagram-screen

To coincide with St. Pat’s Week (which began this past Monday), we launched our official university Instagram account, and boy has it been fun. The visual nature of the week’s events makes it ideal for smartphone coverage. Four of us attend events and snap pics with our cameraphones, while our real photographer weeps into the viewfinder of his professional-grade digital camera. (I think it’s a Nikon. But I don’t know for sure. All I know is it isn’t an iPhone.)

4. Twitter

Even before we launched the Best Ever Blog back in 2008, we were on Twitter. During St. Pat’s Week, our Twitter account (@MissouriSandT) is packed with St. Pat’s-related tweets and references. This year, thanks to Instagram, we posted many more photos to Twitter than in the past, and that expanded activity and reach. The student organization that puts on the annual event (@StPatsBoard) is also active on Twitter. And our students and alumni talk up the event with a variety of hashtags, including #StPats, #StPats2013, #BestEver, #RollaStPats and #105BestEver.

5. Facebook

FB-StPats2013

Ah, yes. In terms of raw numbers, Facebook still rules. (But in terms of activity among our followers during St. Pat’s, Twitter wins.) During St. Pat’s, our Facebook site becomes more visual than during most other times of the year (as is the case with most of our social media). We change the cover photo to something frivilous. We get a lot of thumbs up and a few shares, even the occasional comment.

Bonus: Vine

This year, for the Wednesday arrival of St. Pat and his court to downtown Rolla, one of our staff members recorded the arrival and part of a walking stick presentation using the iPhone video app Vine. We tweeted the arrival Vine video and posted it on Facebook.

* * * * *

St. Pat’s is an unusual celebration that is distinctive to our campus. It’s also an annual event that gives us an opportunity to test and experiment with social media. this year, the experiment extended to Instagram, Vine and, although I didn’t talk about it here, even Pinterest. A year ago, Vine didn’t even exist, but we posted some videos on our YouTube channel. So next March, who knows what new social media toys or tools may be upon us? What will the 106th annual “Best Ever” have in store for social media?

Whatever it is, we’ll be sure to investigate some of them, and see whether they fit with the nature of our annual rite of (almost) spring.

Big brand social media blunders and lessons for #highered

shocked business woman“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is an adage that seems to hold true for big brands in social media these days. When big brands mishandle a situation in the social media sphere, the fallout can be significant for the companies.

But these failures hold valuable lessons for us in higher ed social media work. These situations, as they become magnified and amplified into full-blown crises by social media’s “Ever-Shifting Mob” (fellow higher ed blogger Dennis Miller‘s apt description), should serve as cautionary tales for all of us who deal with social media in the higher education.

Brandchannel recently dissected two recent big brand blunders:

  • The Applebee’s firestorm that occurred after the company fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt from a pastor who wrote on the bill, “”I give God 10% why do you get 18”; and
  • The out-of-control Twitter chatter that occurred in the UK when struggling music retailer HMV announced layoffs, which one of its social media managers live-tweeted.

(Hat tip to Kary Delaria, @KaryD, for sharing the Brandchannel post via Twitter.)

Social media and PR, integrated

Both situations contain important lessons about the importance of integrating social media and public relations functions during a crisis. But there are other issues at play here:

  • Respond quickly but thoughtfully. Speaking to Brandchannel, SHIFT Communications CEO Todd Defren advises to “respond immediately to show you’re listening, but that needn’t mean falling on the sword. Most reasonable folks just need to know you’re aware and pondering vs. reacting thoughtlessly. ‘We hear you and we’re thinking this through. We’ll get back to you’ is a placeholder for sanity.”
  • Manage your social media presence. A no-brainer, right? But the ultimate failure in both situations was a lack of organizational structure for handling a brewing social media crisis. “Crisis communications in social should be planning like a PR crisis: there should be both preparation and response,” Teresa Caro of Enguage told Brandchannel. “[B]rands must have an upfront plan that anticipates a reaction.”
  • Be transparent. It’s cliche, but true. “The essence of a strong relationship with customers is transparency,” said Frederick Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor. “In the case of a faux pas, do the right thing – acknowledge the issue and engage in sincere and honest dialog with the community.”

All great advice. But much of it boils down to 1.) integrating social and PR functions for any organization, 2.) planning and preparing for the inevitable social media dust-up, and 3.) management training and empowering the PR and social media team to respond in real time.

A year ago, I wrote about how the PR and social media functions in higher education should be integrated at all times — not just during a crisis situation. Maybe it’s time to revisit that topic for further discussion, and to see how far higher ed has come in a year.

P.S. – Another post worth reading on one of these crises is Dennis Miller’s A tip for Applebee’s. A higher ed PR veteran, Miller offers some good thoughts on how that corporation and its “sadly under-prepared management” might have handled the situation better.

Image courtesy of © Dead_morozzzka | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos