Self-Marketing in a culture of buzzwords…

I am guilty of trying too hard not to specialize. Or to be boxed into one genre, one area or one particular set of ideas. I don’t like being defined and yet, it’s that definition that initially gets you to a place where you can do lots of other things.

So, rather than create esoteric pronouncements of what you want to do or what you’d like to do in a particular business, being very specific about how your experience translates into something more substantial is an asset.

I’ll cut right to the chase. The real problem with marketing yourself in a culture full of buzzwords is that I’m not full of shit. I mean, I can be I guess. And I know how to write really lofty things and make myself sound better than I am. But I prefer to be real with people and there really isn’t a reward for that in the midst of marketing.

So in some ways, it’s very much like what I learned to do as a young professional in the vein of interviewing for jobs. I had the hardest time at first, trying to convince myself to ‘sell’ myself. I’ve learned that skill over the past few years and no longer come close to having the problems I once did.

The issue here isn’t so much about a dearth of expertise, as much as it’s being able to identify coherently what one does and does well. That is a challenge beyond others. I think being in a place where you can connect with others in your field is a good start. But when your expertise is online strategy to companies based primarily in rural areas, that’s a bigger challenge.

I think I’ve come closer to figuring it out now. But given that my primary business comes from my interactions with real people in real time, versus by online sites, it’s a lot easier for me to focus my energy on the areas that I’m better at then wasting time convincing netgeeks of my superior abilities using netspeak.

Which makes me pretty happy.

Why I gave up golf (and why toccer is better…)

After a NY Times story citing that More Americans Are Giving Up Golf, is apparently a trend:

The disappearance of golfers over the past several years is part of a broader decline in outdoor activities — including tennis, swimming, hiking, biking and downhill skiing — according to a number of academic and recreation industry studies.

It’s not that hard to understand. Golf isn’t active enough and not only that, but it’s expensive. The sport has prided itself on its elite roots and by intentionally shielding itself from people without monied backgrounds.

To this day, the most fun I’ve ever had on the golf course is at the Par-3 course at the public course near my home. I got a membership to the semi-private course in my hometown for my birthday one year, but I wasn’t really committed enough to the game to get out there and play then. I’d be better at it now, but the game itself is too sedentary for my lifestyle.

Growing up playing tennis, I enjoy playing a sport and truly feeling like I did something out there. Golf doesn’t offer me that. I think if I had friends who played the game nearby or something along those lines, it might be better.

But the sport’s outreach needs to be double that of any other sport, because it’s not only too expensive to play for the average person, but it takes a very long time to gain the skills to be more than just a hack.

It’s no different than what’s happened to baseball in recent years, as the game moved away from the sandlot and increasingly to manicured fields and semi-professional travel teams. Kids being left out of these sports are no different than those being left out of sports like basketball for different reasons.

One of the things I wanted to be sure of when we created tennis polo was to be sure to make it a sport that kids anywhere could play. Racquets aren’t hard to find generally, tennis balls are just dog toys and that’s all you need to play really. Even still, soccer goals are easy to find too, as are fields. That’s it.

Doesn’t require any money or special equipment and you don’t even necessarily need a team to go out and work on individual skills. You and your racquet on the field can easily work on drills and skills aimed at making yourself better at the sport. Toccer is just a sport where you can consistently get better, there are no “Michael Jordans” of Toccer, so you can immediately work to reinvent the levels of where the sport goes.

Another reason why I think the sport had so much success early on. Because when kids get out there and play, no one has any preconceived notions about superiority.

Whether or not it’ll translate into lasting success is anyone’s guess. But it’s something that was prominent from the start related to how to make a sport grow or at least, providing a foundation for its growth.

Tying Up Loose Ends: On the way out

As I’ve alluded to, but haven’t discussed until now publicly I’m leaving my job and headed to a new one in a week or so.

I’m proud that we implemented the college’s first CMS ever and we’re on the cusp of another CMS project later this year just for admissions. Financial aid, admissions and scholarship applications are all online and as a result, it’s contributing to increased traffic to the web site. The news archive and additions of podcasts and video have also been great. It’s the best looking site in the state and once it gets to Phase 2 later this year, it’ll be even better. It went a lot faster than I expected it to honestly.

I will say that every institution is different, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity and the challenges that come with working at a two-year institution. There are a host of very specific issues that come from this environment that don’t necessarily have a lot of discussion. Most of these come from the inherent difficulties in working in understaffed environments where there are considerations coming from all sides, split positions where the roles aren’t clearly delineated and a lack of desire by those in power to alter those roles because it would require an entire reorganization of personnel resources.

This isn’t just a community college problem. Some colleges have gotten in front of this and others have failed miserably or ignore it completely. Just slapping a title on someone and expecting them to fulfill a role related to new media or technology isn’t enough. There need to be institutional resources devoted to reworking college marketing and recruiting areas to be integrated with new media. Some schools have counselors devoted to it and I’m sure they can speak to their roles and the importance/benefits of their existence, but I think in the not-too-near future, we’ll have entire New Media marketing offices at colleges at are somewhere at the intersection of admissions and pr/marketing.

I have no idea where that rant came from, but I feel like we’re just beginning to scratch the surface on the discussions of where these new technologies can help offices and people behind the scenes accomplish these goals more dynamically and effectively. I’m not moving to a place where this has been fleshed out much better, so that’s not an indictment on where I came from – at all – as much as it’s a discussion about what we need to be airing out and discussing as a web developer community. Technology is a great thing and while it can be fun and dandy to discuss all of the wonderous ways we can reach out to new people out there, none of it matters unless there are people on the ground floor trained to figure out what all of it means.

Trained is the operative world. So many people are just Level 1 web consumers. They use the web because they have to. They haven’t embraced web technology as a way to truly improve their lives and as a result, it makes them unable to understand what innovations and improvements exist.

On the flip side, there are people who have ‘taken it too far’ and want to be constantly integrated and connected in every way possible. I think that’s an institutional decision if you want admissions counselors twittering to students, IMing and talking to them constantly. I think that’s a pretty big waste of time, but I’m not entirely convinced of the benefits of myspace and facebook in demonstrable ways short of the collection of friends as trading cards.

The ascent of new media professionals in all areas – not just higher ed, but in business and medicine – will provide us with a much broader arena in which to discuss ways that all of these startups can create actual value, rather than just buzz in Silicon Valley and fairy tales of IPOs and billion-dollar valuations from their founders.

With that, I’ll be offline for a little bit. When I come back, I’m going to start to contribute more regularly with my observations/ideas/thoughts. Or at least, that’s the plan…

Front Page Strategy

One of the biggest debates that constantly happens is about the front page of the web site. So many people on campus have their own ideas about what ought to be there and what the function of that prime piece of real estate should look like. Luckily, it’s not a discussion that you need to fight too much once it’s been vetted by the higher-ups, there are still critical dialogues you can have about developing what I’ve tentatively called a “Front Page Strategy.”

Newspapers change their front page content everyday, but keep the front page of their newspapers pretty much the same. Sometimes for years or longer and when there is a redesign, it becomes a very big deal for everyone from the longtime subscriber to the Publisher.

New media is no different in this regard. But the difference with the web is the dynamism that the web offers you. Some folks will say that the web has “unlimited” space, but we all know that’s just not true. There are always limits; limits to storage capacity, width and heights of the design and other constraints that prevent you from having a “limitless” cacophony of information just strewn about the web.

And that’s a really good thing.

But let’s talk about Front Page Strategy for a minute.

 

The target of this discussion is really for any college that has a front page that’s massively cluttered. Especially smaller institutions that have no good reason for such things, because a lot of their programs and offerings are intertwined to the point where there isn’t a good reason – other than trying to make people feel important – to try to highlight everything all of the time.

I think the keys to Front Page Strategy are:

  1. Identify what the purpose of your front page is: If you have a web site mission or some other way of identifying what the purpose of your institution’s web site is, then it’ll be a lot easier to develop a front page strategy because you’ll have insight into deciding what information to highlight.                                                                              For instance, if your web site is primarily admissions-driven and you’re a small four year college, you’re going to far more concerned with ensuring that your web front page is geared towards the prospective student (and their parents) looking at the site to find out more information quickly and effectively.

On the other hand, if you’re an institution that serves largely non-traditional students, you’ll want to take that under consideration. Larger schools have a whole host of constituents they’re trying to reach and have a lot more to do with the same amount of space. 

2.   You can’t be everything to everybody: The goal is the front page should ultimately be to entice people to go further in the site. If your front page is too cluttered, tries to do too much or fails to reach its intended audiences, it’s going to fall flat every time. Links to critical things that people who are internal viewers versus those who are on the outside looking in are obviously going to be different and it can be difficult at times to balance out those considerations. That’s where 1) using statistics to see what areas are oft-visited and 2) finding some sort of balance is key.

Consultants will do whatever you ask them to usually, incorporating best practices and keeping what your team wants in mind..but you need to spend less time navigating tons of other sites to see “What they do” and spend more internally figuring out what is important to your own people.

3. Know your institution and share that: Too many sites take too long to articulate what their school is about. They use the front page for this thing, that thing or the other thing and it all becomes muddled. It’s important to give people a glimpse into your soul by viewing your front page. Every school has virtues and things it should extol and those should be the things your front page captures. You don’t always need tons of images, flash and wiz-bang to make this happen. After all, your goal isn’t to lie to people.

I realize that all of these issues are really intertwined with the site map and information architecture that the college decides on, but I’m making the assumption here that you’re not that far along with those things or that they’re just not prominent on your radar. Even if they are, I’m approaching the front page strategy as a marketing piece and from the perspective of a visitor to your site rather than from the eyes of a developer.

It essentially boils down to: 1) here’s what we do 2) here’s what we’re doing and as a result, 3) come here and do it too or 4) give us money and we’ll do even more. If you can accomplish that through your Front Page Strategy, it’ll extend well into other pages and should set your institutional web presence on a strong course as it moves forward.