The ghost of Facebook past: Social media doesn’t make us more connected

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends — who aren’t web people — who use Facebook and mentioned that thing which many early adopters lament. When folks from the past, try to add you as a friend on a site like Facebook.

What to do really depends on what your intentions are on Facebook or some other social network.

Some people feel like you ought to add anyone who wants to be your friend, because they see these sites as simply tools to leverage relationships for their own personal gain. Others will say, that you simply build connections and it can benefit you indirectly.

For my part, I feel that each site is different. LinkedIn is different than Facebook is different than Myspace (blech) and so forth. If you understand why you’re there, then you can use discretion to make the best decisions about “who to keep” and “who to decline.”

The value judgments are blurry, I suppose. You let one person in and then you want to avoid offending someone connected to them by declining their request. The most difficult thing is online communities. You get to know people well and then come the Facebook invites, as you inevitable have one or two people added who might be less conservative about who they add.

My policy has generally been if I’ve had some sort of relationship with you in real life, but there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve gone and purged people over time, but I have to admit that lately that my Facebook fatigue has been on high alert.

Being inundated with updates about the lives of people that 90% really aren’t that important to your everyday life is kind of strange. I mean, in most cases, you realize flat out that they don’t 1) care about what you’re doing or 2) you don’t care about they’re doing or 3) you haven’t talked to them in years and yet, you’d never consider ‘unfriending them’ is quite the conundrum of online friendom. (say that three times fast.)

There are a bevy of tools at your disposal these days to minimize information from folks who break up with their significant others each week and to increase it from the folks who are more important to you. But that takes work, patience and frankly, enough gumption to want to waste time organizing your Facebook contacts as it mattered. I think it matters for security and privacy, but beyond that? It’s not worth the effort invested.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m care about people. So even people that I have a passing connection can be interesting to me. It’s nice to know “what people are up to” and I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing very particular groups of people (e.g. folks I went to K-12 school with, specific folks from college, old student workers…one of the bazillion kids I worked with during my camp summers, et. al.) doing well and living the good life and I’ve seen evidence of that sentiment returned to many of those same people.

But the trading card friends phenomenon has always left me a bit perplexed. I have a lot of friends because of all of the traveling I’ve done and disparate social situations over the past decade and more, that lend themselves to have lots of groups of people I know who aren’t connected to each other. Yet, sometime you stare at the list of people and think, “Gee, what’s the point of all of this? Nobody really cares.”

Many folks out there — no doubt lots of them who don’t bathe in social media for their job — find these tools extremely useful for keeping tabs on the myriad people throughout their lives and connecting with long lost pals of a bygone time in their lives. (and to show off baby pictures galore…)

It also explains the growing number of folks over 30 who are using Facebook as a networking tool.

Bottom line: The illusion that this generation — millennials and the fringes of Generation X — are more connected than their landline tethered, email dependent parents and grandparents seems a bit naive. I realize the Twitterati among my readers might disagree. But the connections these days are largely superficial. The tools make it easy to keep in touch and lend themselves to superfluous interactions that in most cases are better off left on the cutting room floor.

It’s okay to let it go. It’s just the internet and they probably won’t notice anyway.

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Saying what you mean…

When you get the opportunity to capture an audience, do you make the most of your opportunity?

Do you say what you mean or do you lose people’s attention instantly because your message gets convoluted?

Sometimes, you only get once chance to say what you really mean. It doesn’t matter if you’re having an off day, if the timing isn’t right or whether you feel like or not.

The first time, in this instance, might be your only time.

What will you do with it? Will you rise to the occasion?

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email

Blackbird browser and its discontents

There is a pretty big hullabaloo over at TechCrunch about the Blackbird web browser. It’s made by a company calling themselves 40A.

According to its makers, the Blackbird browser is:

Blackbird was developed on the simple proposition that we, as the African American community, can make the Internet experience better for ourselves and, in doing so, make it better for everyone. Primarily we believe that the Blackbird application can make it easier to find African American related content on the Internet and to interact with other members of the African American community online by sharing stories, news, comments and videos via Blackbird.

I downloaded the browser and surfed with it for about 30 minutes before deleting it. It looks like a cluttered Firefox install with a bad theme attached to it. The UI wasn’t intuitive and it’s not a particularly useful product, but I suspect they’ll grow it because there will be folks who know nothing about the audience this company is targeting and will believe what they’re told about the so-called needs of black web surfers.

I can’t imagine it being useful for an entry-level user, either. I won’t bother with a full blown review, because that’s been done already.

The whining at TechCrunch via the comments are kinda silly. You have a bunch of folks ranting and raving over the merit of this project’s existence, rather than debating it on its flimsy technical merits. The point isn’t whether there ought to be a browser that purports to reach black Americans, it’s whether said browser is 1) any good and 2) actually manages to be what it says it wants to be.

The PR they’ve received, mixed or not, has probably helped them more than anything else they’ve done to date. The techies who are arguing about it, simply aren’t the demographic the Blackbird founders are seeking out anyway. They want non-technical folks who listen to a particular segment of radio and might be inclined to visit certain sites they’re peddling.

It’s nothing to get too worked up about, because it’s not good or bad enough to really matter.

Facebookgate, much?

I read this story last night and appreciated the ferocity with which Brad Ward and the rest of the community at large attacked it. And clearly it got the attention of the company that was the culprit.

Anyone can create a Facebook group and make it appear to be something it’s not.

Brad J. Ward reminded admissions officials about that simple fact on Thursday after examining hundreds of “Class of 2013” groups that have popped up on the popular social-networking site. Typically, students who plan to enroll at a particular college create such groups to start communicating with their future classmates. Some colleges establish the groups or encourage admitted students to do so.

But Mr. Ward, coordinator for electronic communication in Butler University’s admissions office, found that dozens of the 2013 Facebook groups had been created — or were being maintained — by the same handful of people. Who were they?

On his blog, SquaredPeg.com, Mr. Ward wrote early this morning that, with the help of other admissions officials, he had traced several of the names to College Prowler, a Pittsburgh company that publishes student-written guidebooks about colleges and universities.

From The Chronicle of Higher Ed

But is this really a scandal?

Let’s be realistic, folks. People are being scammed on Facebook by the minute and the ones being duped aren’t high school kids who could care less about your facebook groups anyway. I mean, they’ll join them, but I doubt it’s the difference maker in their decision to choose a school.

The higher ed arms race is about buildings, financial aid and scholarship bucks and other shiny things. It’s all about “what can you do for me to give me the best deal for my precious little genius.”

The bigger issue here is the fact that this company was expropriating the brand of colleges and universities to make money. That’s slimy, but surely they were just “doing it for the kids.” The real story here is that colleges need to be more proactive about not just understanding social media, but actually using it.

It’s not enough to have a Facebook page and expect it to be enough. Neither is just having a presence on social networking sites by trolling for prospective students using time tested tools like instant messaging. You need to know what you’re looking for and why.

Protecting your brand in an open environment just isn’t worth the effort or time it’s going to take to try to “stamp out” the impostors. Rather than using social networks as the panacea to your recruiting woes, finding ways to integrate it into proactive things you’re doing to keep kids engaged in what your institution has to offer.

While I can understand the fear of what might happen if someone were to induce prospective students to give up their information, it’s not Facebook’s job to police these sorts of groups, anymore than it’s their job to ensure that everyone who puts up a photo of a celebrity or who creates a fan group claiming to be the “official fan group of Twilight” or something else would need to be policed. Not to mention all of the disgruntled student groups out there, that are public and open to anyone and could be started internally by students. What if a company just paid students on your campus to create a group that looks more official to circumvent these sorts of issues?

Facebook is outside of the academic ecosystem and since its inception has had to co-exist with higher education. That was easy when it was only open to college and high school students. But now that it’s a closed network that’s open to the public, you’re just going to have these sorts of issues.

Institutions can respond by taking steps such as listing a link to their official Facebook groups on their sites. They can ensure that prospective students are being informed of what sort of social networking presence they’re maintaining and let them know that “anything else purporting to be from our school, isn’t.”

I’d go on a rant here about kids these days are pretty savvy and could figure it out, but I’ll say that’s probably only half true. That said, the onus is on the colleges and universities — not the networks themselves. Outing companies that improperly misrepresent themselves and flout trademark and copyright in the process, is an effective tactic and should deter many of them.

But for the more brazen, the only answer is for institutions — especially those who have been wary or hesitant to dip more than a toe into the social media pool — to simply roll up their sleeves and begin to come up with ways they can use them to extend their brand.

After all, this story does prove one thing. If you don’t do it, someone else is likely to do it for you.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email

FoxyTunes + TwittyTunes plugins for Firefox

If you hadn’t noticed yet, I listen to a lot of music.

I wanted a fairly clean way to Twitter tracks I was listening to, without having to stop what I was doing to shift to Twitter to post what song I was listening to, especially if I’m in the midst of a bunch of things.

FoxyTunes is a Firefox plugin that allows you to control a bevy of music players right from your browser. Couple that with TwittyTunes, a plugin that you can use to with FoxyTunes to Twitter whatever track you’re playing at that time and you have an integrated music posting solution. Especially if you have your Facebook status pulling from Twitter.

FoxyTunes will even allow you to post what you’re listening to, when you’re posting on an online forum. It’s a really handy tool that includes finding lyrics and other such things, if that appeals to you.

Just another good way to maximize your usage and to share good tunes along the way.

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How Twitter puts the “social” in media

I was hesitant to join the Twitter revolution. In part because there must be something embedded within my personality that came from growing up listening to a record player that thinks it’s just plain silly. I started with a private one, in part because, I wasn’t sure how I would use it. I decided to change it yesterday and made it public again and I synced my Twitter with my Facebook status, as a way to leverage the usefulness of both.

For a while, I mocked the whole thing pretty bad. I mean, we’re derided enough as it is in our field, as time wasters. I don’t make it through a presentation without someone asking me, “How do these people get anything done?”

Now I’ve been schooled by the more savvy social media cognoscenti and I can see why it’d be useful, even if the way some people use it doesn’t resonate with me. I’ve taken to it as a place to dispose of random thoughts, but more importantly, as a venue to connect to people I’ve met in the social media space. I find it more personal — strangely — than Facebook in that way.

Whereas walled garden social networks are pretty useless for really doing much more than snooping on people you don’t know well, Twitter is a really good way to communicate, learn and interact with people whom you meet online. So it can deepen connections in a way that no other network can do.

Even if you’re just a consumer of information from someone you follow, it can be an excellent way to delve into the universe in a proactive way. For folks who simply don’t have time to blog or can’t think of very long posts, Twittering can be a way to grease the ideas skids and to start formulating ideas in a proactive way.

I’m still not completely sold on the medium and I am just as quick to deride it as others who simply don’t use it — after all — I can see very clearly the inanity of it all. But if you’re going to be involved in the social media space anyway, you might as well continue to find ways to maximize your participation.

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Viral marketing: Here’s your sign

Kid @ Rockies game

It’s really as simple as this.

I had the TV on mute just now, watching Monday Night Football and I saw some kid and his dad with a sign. Their sign was quite large, had a lot of words on it and was not easy to read. In any case, by the time they figured out they were on camera, they weren’t hold it up and the scrambled to get it up but by then, the cameraman had moved on.

I saw this and immediately thought of viral marketing. We’re talking something where you 1) don’t pay much for it and 2) you’re looking for an added value beyond that of what you’ve invested. That’s what separates social media, blogging and all of this so-called Web 2.0 stuff from traditional media. We don’t spend millions to get folks to read our blogs and while cred can be earned and lost due to a perceived or actual lost in trust by an audience, the fact is, we have to grow our own here and we usually do it on a shoestring.

When someone “makes it big” after blogging, they’re simply leveraging something they did as a hobby or as a side project and turn it into something huge. People who make a living doing this stuff are really astounding. Heck, I shake my head a few times a year when I consider what is it that I do everyday. It’d be one thing if I were just a web designer or something. But we’ve reached a point where many of us are able to specialize in the minutia of the web for legitimate, bricks and mortar institutions.

It’s an astounding thing to consider that 90% of us would not have been able to inhabit the roles we do as recent as a decade ago, because the jobs simply did not exist. With a role like that comes an extraordinary opportunity to evangelize a whole new way of THINKING about the way we do business.

That’s what I do every day. I talk to people about things that are going to frustrate them and leave them wondering why they need to change what they’ve done what they do all of the time. I mean, after all, that’s familiar to them and it’s what works. What we’re able to do when we’re successful, is to excite them about the possibilities and make them seem REAL. Not everyone has a huge marketing budget to sink into all sorts of awesome whiz bang projects and not all of us have the access to teams of developers and other rock stars just waiting to do our bidding.

We often have to wear the hats of developers, designers and marketers. You need to have the savvy to talk to audiences of all stripes and take a decidedly entrepreneurial view of all of this, while recognizing the constraints — especially in higher education — that prevent rapid change from happening, without letting that kill off your momentum or leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Remember the guy Rollen Stewart? You probably wouldn’t know him by name, but if you’re a sports fan, you recall he’s the guy who wore a rainbow Afro wig and had a sign that said John 3:16 on it. That’s it, nothing else. Now, whatever your religious persuasion, the point of this is…this was viral marketing in the 70s and no one thought a thing of it. He took a medium — television — and reached audiences in ways that were probably more effective than if a church had bought airtime during those same games he went to and held up his sign.

But what eventually happened to him? Well, he’s in jail for kidnapping. But the real story is, before all of that, TV cameras became wise to his antics and avoided showing him on camera. Per Wiki:

His first major appearance was at the 1977 NBA Finals; by the time of the 1979 MLB All-Star Game, broadcasters actively tried to avoid showing him. He “appeared behind NFL goal posts, near Olympic medal stands, and even at the Augusta National Golf Club” strategically positioned for key shots of plays or athletes.

Rollen taught you viral marketing and he taught you how to be a spammer, at the same time. He managed to keep his ruse up for two years at various major sporting events before they finally caught on? I realize it was the 70s and all, but talk about capturing an audience and finding a way to effectively pitch a message.

Now your message isn’t as well known as the Bible. I mean, even Seth Godin himself couldn’t put a book quote on a sign and expect that scores of people would know or care what he was talking about. The real question here is: What will your sign say, when you get your shot on the screen? Will it be part of a bigger message? Will you reach your intended audience?

It’s not enough to put a domain on a placard and expect that to be enough. And sometimes, your viral marketing campaigns can go really, really wrong.

In the end, it’s up to you to understand who you’re trying to reach and make sure you get to them, to determine whether your viral marketing campaign will be a successful one.

Redesign: How soon do you turn over the keys?

One of the things we grappled with during my first web redesign several ago was figuring out how soon to turn over control of managing their own pages to the various constituents on campus. For some folks, this isn’t a consideration. Either the site approval authority mirrors that of the institutional checks and balances or there is some other method in place. But what about those times when you have to do it from scratch?

That’s when, friends, it can be an adventure.

First off, let’s consider how you even get to this point. In the past reference and at present, the situation is dictated by the college or university switching from a static HTML site done in Dreamweaver to a dynamic site managed via a content management system (CMS). The old way, usually meant (for me, anyway) that people would send their changes down to the PR office and I would make them or discuss them with them, if there were issues. But with a CMS? It’s all up to them.

Depending on your CMS, this can be an easy problem to fix or a potential disaster. The first time I dealt with it, it ended up figuring itself out. Our site launch deadline ended up being a little earlier than I anticipated and so, we ended up having to scramble to figure out how to address the issues with the new site. What I did there, was bring people in slowly. People who need changes to existing content and I would literally meet with them, show them how to make their modifications and go from there. It ended up being the easier way to do it, because I found that group trainings weren’t as efficient as I’d have liked. Each individual person not only came to the table with their own technology abilities or limitations, but each person’s use of the CMS would be different, depending on what area of the site they were using and where.

So while I did conduct group training, I would use those trainings as gateways to learning how to use the CMS period and would implore people to setup subsequent training with me to learn how to configure their specific area’s pages.

My present situation is a bit different, as there is already a defined process in place. The real question is, whether or not we’re going to let the web mirror our own institutional quirks or not. It’ll be a lot easier for me, than it was in the role I cited earlier, because the individual areas are already responsible for providing content and this isn’t an exercise in trying to “sell” them on the reasons they need to use the web effectively or to replace old content as it’s been in other circumstances.

I think the bottom line is, understanding that once you give up control of the day-to-day input of content into the site, you’re not going to get it back without a fight. So it’s important not just to understand who’ll be approving content up the ranks, but ensuring that people throughout the institution are very familiar with institutional style guides and requirements for how web content is able to be published. Nothing is worse than having to explain to folks for an hour why they can’t have flashing red text on their pages or why their name can’t appear in green text, because green is their favorite color.

Consistency is key and ensuring that everyone is on the same page early, is how you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches as you prepare to roll out your new web site.