The Week in Links

It's been a while since I've done a weekly links round-up. Sorry about that! I've been slacking up a storm lately. As always, many thanks to all the fabulously fabulous people who stopped by the blog this past week!

• As someone who was also an English major and former copyeditor (no one took a red pen to an encyclopedia about tulips like I did - oh yes, I edited gardening books!), I absolutely loved this article by Hilary Frazier about the art of self-editing on the Web + Higher Ed Medium (which, of course, is fabulous and which you should subscribe to immediately).

• In case you missed this week's #casesmc Twitter chat on time management while managing social media, here's the Storify recap. True story: I happened to log onto my personal Twitter account - which, shame on me, I do maybe once a day - at the exact moment it began, so I was able to take part. Serendipity!

• The always-great Robert Bochnak has yet another great post on his blog Social Media Matters about the power and importance of being observant. Getting out of the office is one of the most important things I do as a social media manager, not only because of the high likelihood of capturing moments in real-time that you would never otherwise be able to catch, but also because you learn so much about the pulse of the campus by simply chatting with people and seeing what is going on. It's a crucial part of the job, and Robert does a great job of articulating some of the reasons why.

• My most popular post of the week: Haverford College's super awesome map, which is great for social media and as a print piece - double awesome!

• Neat post on Future Index of "7 Wonders of the Higher Ed Digital World" - a collection of great examples of HE websites. Definitely worth some perusing.

• Insightful and paradigm-challenging piece by Augie Ray on Experience: The Blog that asks if everything we know about social media marketing is wrong. There is a lot of telling data in there, much of which is enough to splash some cold water on the face of anyone working in the social space. If you've got a boss who wonders why you spend time on "silly"/"fun"/"cool" things on social media instead of just promoting and branding, send them this article.

OK, that's it for this week.... see you folks next week! Before I sign off, though, Stephin Merritt Month continues with another fine track from the Magnetic Fields. How can one guy write so many brilliant songs? We'll never know.

Best Social Media Idea of the Month: Study Abroad Storify

I'm here to crown my favorite social media idea of the month for March, but first order of business is apologizing for being such a ghost lately. Tweets unreplied to, emails unanswered, sporadic posting... I've just been a bit in over my head lately, and it will likely remain so until May 9, that blessed day. I'll try my best to power through April, but it may be more of the same for a while. Apologies to all!

OK, with that out of the way, it's time to give props to some great #hesm ideas that I featured on this blog last month. It was a tough choice, but my favorite of the month goes to MIT for their really neat Study Abroad Storify. (Check out my original article here.)

Honorable mention goes to Florida's admissions awesomeness (and really, this would normally be the winner because of how comprehensive and amazing it is), Union College's #NottShots, Furman College's Furman Moments video, and Green Mountain College's Faculty Selfies.

While this is a great idea on its own merit - collecting awesome user-generated content from students studying abroad through a unique hashtag is a perfect social media use for higher ed - I'm picking it for this month because of how MIT can use both the content and the Storify to further promote its study abroad programs to current and prospective students.

As someone who spent a year studying abroad in college, I think I can definitively say that nothing quite captures (or sells!) the experience the same way that photos can. Reflections, blog posts, and written descriptions are important, sure, but seeing photos of students out there in the world is where the magic happens.

And with the social media explosion over the past few years - especially quick photo-sharing sites like Instagram - students are now generating more photos than ever before. While it used to be difficult to track down photos from students studying abroad (believe me - it sounds easy, but it's NOT), it now can happen immediately with the use of a hashtag to collect and curate.

More and more, user-generated content from students is going to be what sells our schools to prospective students. Glossy brochures featuring pretty girls sitting under trees will never go away, but having places where we showcase the college experience in a more unpolished, "real" way are becoming every more important. And this example from MIT is a perfect example of that... just looking through that makes me want to drop everything, slap on a backpack, and go "chomad" it across Europe. (That is an inside joke term that only the guys who studied abroad with me in Salzburg will understand - shout out to any of those 10 other dudes who might happen to read this blog.)

 

Music at Midweek: Magnetic Fields

It's April now, which means Portland Month is over and Stephin Merritt Month is officially underway. I've probably listened to songs written by Stephin Merritt more than songs written by any other person in the history of the world, and I don't think I will ever, ever grow tired of his brilliant tunesmithing. He is a living, breathing genius, and I love him ever so much. Here's a song from his most well-known band, the Magnetic Fields, to start us off:

Great Social Media Idea: Awkward Hugging

Tonight I'm gonna have myself a real good time! No defying the laws of gravity on the docket, alas, but instead I've been conscripted to help direct a lip-dub video our student-athletes are organizing. I haven't been involved in the planning at all and I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen other than we'll start filming around 10PM. It's going to be magical. As Bart Scott would say, CAN'T WAIT!

So, though I don't have much time to write a bloggity blog tonight, I figured I would dip into my suggestions box (this will be a recurrent theme this week - just you wait!) and showcase a fun parody video from St. John's University that - I must admit - totally cracked me up with its wonderful akwardness.

A parody of the "First Kiss" video that made the rounds a few weeks ago (and which itself turned out to be clever marketing for a fashion line), this video features various students awkwardly sharing a first hug with the St. John's mascot. From the submission email:

We finally embraced parodies at St. John's University. After seeing countless videos being remade by other universities, such as the "Call Me Maybe" or "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say)", we decided to launch the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6fxQVUojHM. The beauty of this video is that we used the concept but personalized the message with very own mascot, Johnny Thunderbird. Hope you enjoy the clip!

It's silly and it's definitely not very polished (shaky cam, sort of haphazard backdrop), but that just adds to the charm.

I just spent a week blathering on about the importance of being cool, but I probably could spend another week in the importance of not taking oneself too seriously. It's absolutely OK to show a sense of humor, and it's very endearing sometimes to do something totally goofy like this.

And as is true for any parody video, fast action is required to keep it fresh and topical... St. John's posted this just a few days after the original video went viral. If they would have released it a few months after, it would have had a much different effect and felt stale and trite. Timing is crucial in parody videos like this, and St. John's nailed it.

Props, Johnnies!

The Rule of Cool (Part 4)

This is it, I promise. I've rambled long enough.

In case you missed them, here are parts one, two, and three.

* * *

Keeping Your Cool

With all my blathering away about coolness, I have yet to define it. Mainly, because it's impossible to define and is by its very nature unique to individuals. But of course this hasn't prevented people from trying. Here are a few attempts:

Cool is what’s on BuzzFeed or Reddit in the morning, but it’s not cool by end of the day. The more ephemeral, the cooler; Snapchat is cooler than Instagram, which is cooler than Twitter, which is cooler than Facebook, which is cooler than the Web, which is infinitely cooler than print. (Source: Carl Wilson, Slate, 2013.)

So... cool is transitory and evanescent.

There is no single concept of cool. One of the essential characteristics of cool is its mutability—what is considered cool changes over time and varies among cultures and generations. (Source: Pountain and Robins, Cool Rules, 2000.)

So... cool can be multiple things simultaneously and it depends on context.

"If status is about standing, cool is about standing free." – Grant McCracken

"Cool is a knowledge, a way of life." – Lewis MacAdams

"Cool is an age-specific phenomenon, defined as the central behavioural trait of teenagerhood." – Marcel Dansei

"Coolness is the proper way you represent yourself to a human being." – Robert Farris Thompson

In the novel Spook Country by William Gibson one character equates cool with a sense of exclusivity: "Secrets," said the Bigend beside her, "are the very root of cool."

In the novel Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett the Monks of Cool are mentioned. In their passing-out test a novice must select the coolest garment from a room full of clothes. The correct answer is "Hey, whatever I select", suggesting that cool is primarily an attitude of self-assurance. (Source: Wikipedia.)

So... cool is pretty much whatever the heck you want it to be.

For me, cool is about trusting your gut. It takes a certain amount of confidence to be able to look at things and make snap judgments on whether you think they are cool or not, and I've found that the best way to give myself that confidence is to consume A LOT of content. Just like you have to read, read, and keep reading to be a good writer, you have to keep looking at photos, art projects, videos, advertisements, etc. to begin to discern both your personal tastes and the tastes of the internet as a whole.

Some of the websites I check out regularly are PetaPixel (for photo and video inspiration), Wooster Collective (for street art, posters, etc.), This is Colossal (for general awesomeness, mainly art stuff), Untapped Cities (for cool stuff from around the world), Fun of Art (for more art stuff), and Brain Pickings (for general cool stuff and inspiration). Of course, it's also important to follow peers on social media - I follow hundreds of colleges on social media - as well as brands, ad agencies, creative houses, and other companies that produce great content.

It's also helpful to stay up-to-date on the latest thought leadership and trends of the digital sphere, which websites like Digiday and UnMarketing are great for. I also have a large bookmark list of blogs and websites that I check in on regularly... I would absolutely encourage you to spend some time on Google or (I say shamefully) checking out my weekly links roundups for some recommendations of sites to check out. I can't stress enough the value of keeping up on the trends, because this will help you connect the cool examples from artists, photographers, and videographers to marketing concepts that can assist with your overall branding and successful social media strategy.

You're never going to bat a thousand when it comes to being cool, and the nature of the beast that is social media managing precludes that from even being possible. For every instillation art project you pull off or crowd-sourced photo collection you create, there are plenty of events you need to promote and press releases you have to share and all that uncool jazz.

But I can promise you that if you are mindful of the value of posting cool content, if you spend the time to expose yourself to some of the most creative and original and jawdropping stuff that people are doing with photo and video and art and digital media and you start incorporating some of that into the content you create, you'll begin to see dividends. People will talk about it, online and off. Students will think it's awesome that their school did something like that. The school paper might notice and write an article about it. Alumni will happily share it with their friends, with a twinkle of pride in their alma mater in their eye. Prospective students will see it and tell themselves that this is the type of school they want to go to. 

Cool is the currency of the internet. Start trading in it!

* * *

And thus concludes my ramblings about coolness. The end.

The Rule of Cool (Part 3)

The manifesto continues. I've definitely started to ramble a bit aimlessly. The final part will be posted tomorrow, mercifully.

In case you missed them, here are parts one and two.

* * *

Too Cool for School?

Students attend a particular college versus another for a variety of big, important reasons: geographical proximity, price, academic reputation, family allegiance, peers, etc. I will never, ever place social media among these goliaths.

But I won’t undersell its role either. Today, in 2014, there might be no more direct way for an institution to connect with prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni (yes, even those old folks too) than through social media.

The problem? Everyone else knows it too. Competition for attention is fierce in the social media space, and attention spans these days ain’t what they used to be. To get noticed, you’ve got to stand out. (I’m just going to go ahead and assume that people reading this are smart enough to know the difference between standing out in a good way and standing out in a bad way.)

With that in mind, our goal should always – always! – be to create content that makes people say, “It’s so cool that a school did this!” Our goal is to make people care about what we post, to talk about it with their friends, to share it online, to spend time with it... not just chuckle and scroll past.

We want to make prospective students intrigued, current students reassured in their college decision, and alumni proud of their alma mater. Being cool creates cache, it builds up good will, and it makes people anticipate the next thing you post. Being safe and bland makes you a big bowl of vanilla pudding.

You know this to be intuitively true – some brands are interminably boring on social media, droning away about their own brand while occasionally trying (and failing) to generate some engagement with tired old gimmicks like open-ended questions, fill in the blanks, and pointless calls to action. But other brands, brands that really get it, regularly post things that make you gape and say, “Wow.” Which one do you think gets more people paying attention to it? It’s an easy answer.

Ultimately, the concept of embracing cool is one of the most potent things we can tap into as higher ed marketers. If we can be powered by the third rail that is hip, we can do tremendous things: mold views about our school among prospective students, current students, and alumni; foster feelings of pride and nostalgia about our school; and establish interest from people who have no direct association with our school.

Consider the digital denizens of 2014. Surrounded by marketing at all times, they crave things that feel authentic and exciting and real. Even if, ultimately, it’s marketing in sheep’s clothing.

So why not give it to them? Why not spend time creating thoughtful content that’s for them, not for our bosses? Why not take the time to do things like this and this and this and this and this and this? All of these examples successfully achieve that elusive hipness because they are genuine and unexpected and different and make you feel something.

You know how the coolest people you know are the ones that don’t even try to be cool? The same is true in social media. If you just keep your eye on the prize of producing content that people actually want to spend some time with, you’re inevitably going to hit on things – be they art projects, organic user-generated content, genuinely funny video, etc. – that are cool. Because cool isn’t generated… it just is.

Music at Midweek: Pink Martini

Hooray!!! It's Music at Midweek time! Portland Month continues, this time with a choice cut from a beloved Portland band that has never really hit it too big outside of Portland in America, but is popular internationally with their blending of styles and languages. Do yourself a favor and look them up... you can't help but smile (and maybe even dance a bit) when listening to this band.

The Rule of Cool (Part 2)

In case you missed it yesterday, check out the Rule of Cool Part 1 - the opening salvo of my manifesto about how "coolness" is key part of social media success, especially in higher ed.

I'm still in the conceptual phase right now - I'll get into more concrete examples later this week. Hope you enjoy!

* * *

Creativity Conquers All?

Content marketing and real-time marketing, the buzziest buzzwords words in social, are a reaction to the postmodern millennial marketing dilemma. (i.e. "Nothing is original, and everyone's seen everything that's been done before.")

Volkswagen making a video about a stairwell that has been converted to a piano? Denny’s tweeting about the Super Bowl, using an “ironic” Full House reference? What a fascinating modern age we live in.

These strategies have the goal to 1) Make something interesting that provides real value so it won’t feel like marketing, or 2) Shut up about your brand and “join the conversation” about whatever is trending at the moment, generally using humor while – just kidding from earlier – connecting it back to your brand.

In theory, this makes sense. You can force people to pay attention by providing them with really great content that they want to spend time on and engage with. Things that make them laugh, things that teach them something, things that make them feel inspired… anything of that ilk.

Similarly, if you know a critical mass of people are interested in a particular topic (big sporting event, breaking news topic, etc.) you can make people notice your brand by engaging in the social conversation that is happening in real time.

But does it work?

That’s like asking if meat loaf works. In the hands of my mom, yes. In the hands of Doris the lunch lady? Not so much.

So what’s the secret ingredient to successful content/real-time marketing meat loaf?

Creativity helps, but it’s not enough. As explained in Part 1: Nothing is original.

Ultimately, coolness is the straw that stirs the drink.

 

The Glorious Chaos of Hip

I’m currently reading Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool, which examines how advertisers presaged and, in many ways, shaped the counter-culture that sprung out of the 1960s. (i.e., Mad Men stuff). In it, he describes how brands played off of the “establishment” and aligned themselves with youth.

But not youth as in age; rather, youth as a construct. That is, the concept of youth as a composite of values and ideals: different, modern, innovative, independent. You don’t have to actually be young to identify as young.

None of this is very earthshattering. We all know that youth sells and that no one wants to be seen as the stuffy, boring person. Apple’s famous Mac vs. PC ad campaign is a perfect, and blatant, modern example of this.

What began in the 1960s remains just as true today. People want to identify with things that feel “different” – cool and against the mainstream and providing an outlet for shaping a “unique self” within the crushing homogenizing forces of mass culture and media.

But the big problem with tapping into hip is that it is exquisitely difficult to pull off. We all know the sad, desperate failures that hamfisted attempts at hip are. Hip is fleeting, organic, and chaotic. It can rarely be bottled, let alone manufactured.

So how do we know when we are onto something that is truly hip? In the famous words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you’ll know it when you see it.

* * *

Part 3 coming tomorrow! 

The Rule of Cool (Part 1)

Yesterday, I wrote about how I've been experiencing a bit of burn out on this blog. I've been thinking a lot about it, and I've decided that I'm going to change up the format for a little bit.

I'm going to take a brief hiatus from featuring great examples from the #hesm world and am instead going to write a series of posts about an over-arching philosophy I have come to develop when it comes to social media success.

I hope you don't mind, but it's going to be good for my mental health! Here goes nothing.

 

The Rule of Cool

For nearly a year now, I’ve been highlighting examples from higher education social media pages that I think are particularly effective.

When sifting through hundreds (thousands?) of posts from colleges and picking which ones I want to highlight, I gravitate towards things that are goofy, funny, creative, surprising, inspiring, challenging, authentic, and organic. But my number one criterion is that ephemeral je nais se quoi - cool.

Remember OK Soda? Judging by its dearth of sales, probably not.

But if we can all agree to look past the fact that OK Soda was a complete flop, it offers an important lesson for us working in higher ed: Sometimes, it’s better to be cool than to be good.

To wit: OK Soda was intentionally marketed at the difficult Generation X and Generation Y markets, and attempted to cash in on the group's existing disillusionment and disaffection with standard advertising campaigns; the concept was that the youth market was already aware that they were being manipulated by mass-media marketing… advertisers were very frank about the fact that they were marketing the drink entirely on the "feeling" rather than the taste. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Why the history lesson? Because our special little snowflake millennials are basically mutant versions of Gen X’ers – replete with the irony and self-obsession but minus the flannel and Doc Martens.

How do we market to a generation that that has not only been marketed to from the cradle, but voluntarily spends a significant amount of time (online, on social media) being constantly marketed to – not only by brands, but by their peers.

Everything around them is advertising, and they are – to borrow my least favorite Twitter bio words – ninjas, gurus, rockstars, and jedis at tuning it out.

Hearkening back to my English major roots (What, you thought I knew something about marketing? Nope!), all this perpetual advertising has led to the classic dilemma that led to postmodernism: Nothing is original.

And so the challenge for social media managers - What do you do when everything’s been done before?

* * *

Part 2, coming tomorrow! Or maybe even later today.

The Week in Links

OK... my lackluster blogging of late needs to come to an end. I suppose I could make up some excuse about being super busy at work, which I guess is true enough, but really I've just been battling with a moderate case of burn out. Case in point: here is this week's links roundup, on a Monday instead of a Friday. You get what you pay for here at Social Media for Colleges!

• First off, I'm extremely jealous of all those lucky enough to attend the CASE Social Media Conference last week. I was *this* close to pulling it off, but couldn't quite make it happen. One day, I'll be there. Until then, I live vicariously through the #casesmc hashtag. Lots of great little tidbits from the conference on there.

• As someone who has fought the good fight on this topic and lost, I really enjoyed this post by Matt Hames on LinkedIn about why having one Facebook page for higher education is the smart way to go.

• Tony Dobies of West Virginia University has a great article on the Web + Higher Ed Medium blog exploring Instagram and what content works best on it for a university page. I love his honesty and willingness to experiment. This is a must-read for anyone who runs a college Instagram page.

• Of course, as a counter point to the previous article, Erin Martin of Oregon State University (Go Beavs!) has a wonderful and thoughtful article on Meet Content about the unique challenges facing academic departments and how she crafts a content strategy that meets her departments needs and goals. Very good food for thought for those of us who work in the centralized marketing corner of a university.

• Aaron Jaco of Drake University has a really helpful piece on the CASE blog about how to hit it big on Buzzfeed and other huge content generators. He makes a really good point about Reddit. I don't spend a lot of time there, but two UP-related videos I've posted on there have become pretty good viral hits, including one that popped up on blogs and news sites around the world. Reddit is a powerful, powerful place if you've got the right type of content.

OK... that's all for now. I swear I'll try to shake off the burn out and get back into the swing of things this week.

Before I sign off, I leave you with the latest music selection for Portland Month: the brilliant, tragic, haunting Elliott Smith.