The end of celebrity

Michael Jackson Star
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A New York Times article on Michael Jackson and the demise of fame in a digital world:

When the Beatles were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, more than 70 million people watched, that is, more than one-third of the entire population of the United States. Yes, the Beatles were that good. But at the time, there were three networks and the radio. No Facebook, Twitter, video games, movie multiplexes, Sirius radio, malls or a dozen other potential drains on an audience.

There weren’t a lot of rock bands, either. George Harrison was the only Beatle who’d visited the United States before the group landed for that historic performance — his sister lived in Illinois — and when he returned to England he gleefully informed his mates that nobody in America could compete.

Likewise, Michael Jackson had MTV, which was the place for music videos, and as close to an Ed Sullivan platform as he needed. Of course, it’s been a long time since MTV played hour after hour of prime-time videos. Today, you watch music videos on YouTube, but because there are no programmers to curate what you see, every artist has to compete with thousands of others. And now that anyone with a computer has a miniature studio, and anyone with a Internet connection can post a song, there are more genres, subgenres and artists than ever.

That’s why even Michael Jackson would have a hard time becoming Michael Jackson these days. Come to think of it, Farrah Fawcett, who also passed away this week, would never have become Farrah Fawcett if she showed up in that red, one-piece bathing suit today. In the ’70s, she became the fantasy of choice for every post-pubescent teenage boy in the country, selling 10 million posters of her iconic, high-beam smile. Now, there are so many vixens grinning seductively from so many Web sites and lad mags that no single woman could ever commandeer the public imagination in quite the same way. There is no “this year’s model” anymore. There is this week’s model, and that’s about it.

Success is a blip. Celebrity a myth. The rules have changed.

Bozeman, MT rescinds social networking profile policy posted an article last week indicating the city of Bozeman, Montana’s policy of requiring social networking profile passwords from prospective hires.

According to KBZK, the local news station, which said it was tipped to the requirement by an anonymous source, city attorney Greg Sullivan said this was required to ensure employees will protect the public trust. He also added that no applicant had removed their name from consideration due to the requirement.

“In order for us to get access to the chosen candidate’s information, we need to be able to view their page,” Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the interview. “And so that’s the way we’ve chosen to go about doing it. As far as we know, there’s no other way to get into their specific Face book [sic] page.”

But a day after that article was posted, the City of Bozeman — learning first-hand how fast word can travel on the social web — the city posted this press release (PDF) rescinding the policy:

The City of Bozeman believes we have a responsibility to ensure candidates hired for positions of public trust are subject to a thorough background check. The extent of our request for a candidate’s password, user name, or other internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community. We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman.

Effective at 12:00 p.m. today, Friday June 19, 2009, the City of Bozeman permanently ceased the practice of requesting candidates selected for City positions under a provisional job offer to provide user names and passwords for the candidate’s internet sites.

In addition, until further notice, the City will suspend its practice of reviewing candidate’s password protected internet information until the City conducts a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice.

Since the initial media inquiries, the City of Bozeman has been reviewing the practice of requesting user names and passwords to access a candidate’s internet sites.

Whether they learned a lesson here or not remains to be seen, but it’s clear from this snafu that more organizations and people are going to need to learn more about social media to operate in a world that’s increasingly blurring the lines in ways we never have before.

The greatest hits: edustir over a year

I decided to head back into the archives and dredge up my personal favorites, as well as some of the best received posts over the past year or so:

1. Debunking “You Have To Go Where The Students Are”: One of my favorite posts of the year so far. It’s not proposed as an either/or proposition, it’s really speaking to the reasons people decide to invest in social media platforms and it’s usually related to “going where the students are.” In this post, I confront that myth and really try to parse out things institutions need to consider when extending their brands into the social media realm.

2. Social Media, Participation and the Free Rider Problem: I enjoyed writing this one, maybe because the former copy editor in me enjoyed coming up with the headline.

3. Social Media Isn’t Medicine: Not lots of comments, but lots of people have searched for this over the past few months, which surprised me since it’s not a particularly long piece. But the post was well received and we dig that sort of thing.

4. We Need More Social Media Experts: This one was funny. I got a lot of awesome feedback from the Higher Ed braintrust, then a bunch of other people came in and thought I was advocating for a rise in the number of people who put “expert” in their Twitter bio.

5. Content Cowboys & The Need For Wranglers: Redundancy and CMS vendors.

6. The Web and the offices behind it: Some riffing on the idea of web offices in higher education, a big bully pulpit topic of mine last summer.

7. Twitter is just like high school / Only fools don’t use Twitter: These were a series of posts describing my distaste for Twitter, followed by a post praising the brilliance of it. If you can’t beat them, join them. Or play both sides.

The absurdity of vacating wins in college sports

Men in Black II
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Remember those “Men In Black” movies where they used those devices to erase your memory? Well, the NCAA owns one and has been wielding it for years.

What do I mean? Well, remember the Fab Five from Michigan? The group of freshman who managed to get to the NCAA championship? Their records were erased after a scandal occurred involving payments to ex-Michigan players during their time in school.

Who knew those esteemed educators, those proud defenders of the student-athlete, could wield such an amazing tool as invisible ink to erase the accomplishments that have been etched in our memories?

So now that the University of Alabama has been sanctioned after a number of sports were implicated in a scandal involving textbooks, the school will “vacate” wins from the said period of time that the infractions occurred.

I get the underlying premise: Cheaters don’t win. And schools ought to be punished for wrong-doing. But who are we kidding here? It just seems like such a disingenuous thing to do and the fact that academic institutions are the ones participating willing in this scheme just makes me shake my head. I don’t know if there are necessarily “better alternatives,” but I think tons of people who watch and enjoy intercollegiate athletics believe that there are options preferable to the ones the NCAA currently employs in its governance schemes.

In more upbeat news, edustir will have has a new contributing writer. Her name is Lauren Shopp and you can read more about her right here. I suspect she’ll bring this blog back to its roots in a sense, focusing on her duties as a web content guru and practitioner of social media in higher ed. Welcome her, because she’s your respite from my rantings. :)

One more thing: I bought the edustir domain for a project that we never ended up doing last year and so, when I was thinking about a way to shorten the domain address for this site, I decided that I might as well use it here. That’s where the most recent name change originated from. (Someone asked…)

Happy Weekend, folks.

From the bad PR in recession times…


Between this graph which trended on Digg and a recent story in the NY Times about Reed College and the decline of “need-blind” admissions, the money questions aren’t going away.

The questions aren’t going away, though.

So when people say:

My tuition in 1959 at Cornell University was $650 per semester. A Chevy Impala cost $3450. Today, the Chevy costs 8 times more. Why does Cornell cost 70 times more?

It’s problematic for the industry and if folks don’t get on the offensive, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Someone else addressed the subject in the comments:

As an alumnus and administrator of a small liberal arts college with a reputation and challenges similar to Reed’s, I empathize with their predicament. I suspect that they will weather this storm and the world will be better for it. To those who think we should all go to “State U”, get engineering degrees and make money (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), I would suggest that the world would be poorer for it. There’s a reason that they (and we) pump out Fulbright and Rhodes Scholars and disproportionate numbers of Peace Corps volunteers: we teach young men and women to think, to reason, and to care. There’s a need for that in this world, just as there’s a need for engineers and accountants and mechanics and plumbers. This country could implement an efficient one size fits all, standardized higher education system, but I suspect we’d regret it.

Social media, participation and the free-rider problem

Graphic representation of a minute fraction of...
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Story Article in the Times about blogging and how you can go from being very interested in writing, to not very active at all. It probably spends too much time talking about people who blog because they wanted to get rich and famous, but it’s a pretty good article anyway. The quote I liked most was from Nancy Sun of

“The Internet is different now,” she said over a cup of tea in Midtown. “I was too Web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.”

I started my first blog, mostly by accident. I’d been writing an online newsletter from about 99 to 2001 and after I changed platforms, decided quickly to take the niche production and put it into blog format. I used Movable Type and the blog was pretty popular for what it was and I met all sorts of random people. For me, a bigger issue is the problem of social media and the free-rider problem. I mean, we all know of the 90-9-1 rule that:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

But what does this mean for people how continue to develop a footprint in a world where they’re just not fully developed yet? You see it all of the time with these so-called social media guru who aren’t quite 30, have had maybe two jobs in their entire lives, yet have branded themselves as experts in the field and who will tell anyone who will listen the “keys to success.” Age has nothing to do with this, but it’s sorta funny. We’ve shifted from an era where blogging, tweeting and other sorts of venting was under the radar. It’s becoming mainstream. As a result, people who are looking for a more complete snapshot of you, will read what you write and use it to judge you. For better or worse. The difference here is, not everyone will participate. And those who do, might only do so to keep tabs on you. So while it’s fine if your entire social sphere is interactive and on the web, it’s not as good if you’re something of a trailblazer in your own world. Your seemingly innocuous tweets or blog posts where you rant out ideas about this or that, might be evaluated by people who have no context for how you communicate ideas. It’s a worrysome trend, but what can you do? You can’t expect everyone to start participating. And does participation really level the playing field? Not really. It’s about exposing yourself. If you’re going to blog, tweet or use other forms of social media, you have to have a purpose and understand why you’re doing it and you need to get something measurable from it, because there are costs to that blog that you think no one is reading. The more established you are in your career and the more integrated your web presence is to your offline persona, the more latitude you have to use social media as a tool to advance your career. But even then, there are limitations and challenges embedded in it. I recall a few years ago, I had a job interview at an institution. The first set of interviews were almost all about my blog posts. They’d printed them and were just asking me all sorts of questions about my thoughts and insights. It didn’t seem to be a negative and I appreciated the opportunity to flesh out my ideas a bit better. But it was at that time, that I realized how serious this all was and I hadn’t prior to that. What you have to say, really matters. So be thoughtful and conscientious about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it.

A call for writers

So here’s what I’m thinking.

I started this blog (in all of its random name iterations) as a vehicle to really interact with the larger higher ed community. Mission accomplished.

As I’ve been contemplating the future of the blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about it being something other than a place for me to vent about whatever I’m thinking or to flesh out my logic to a wider audience. I’d like it to be a lot more useful.

Since I was planning to redesign it anyway, I’m thinking about retrofitting the whole thing for a larger audience of higher ed types who want to share their experiences, learn from others and start conversations with the diaspora of folks in the field.

Maybe people who don’t have the time to maintain their own blog, but have time for a “weekly column” of sorts or folks who can share a lot, but might not have the higher profile to reach the wide higher ed audience.

The design and format would change to reflect the more inclusive nature of things, but I’d love to see this turn into a  (more topical?) venue for pushing the higher ed envelope and letting folks (and their ideas) take it wherever it goes, rather than just a personal fiefdom of my ideas.

If you’re interested, drop me a note or pass this along (tweet?) to someone who might be.

Crisis & Opportunity: The future of college athletics marketing

The Gooch Pavilion on the sports fields.
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An article from The Economist entitled “Should American tax university sports” coupled with a host of other scandals like a major university supposedly being informed of a student-athlete having possibly cheated on the SAT to qualify to attend, makes you think there’s something of a crisis in the marketing of college athletics these days.

Joe Favorito does a great job of covering stories on college athletic marketing and branding and his latest post, In his latest post, he mentioned the brewing crisis that a number of mid-major schools are having over student athletic fees to support their sports programs due to declining revenues and he makes five prescient points on college athletic branding and the future and his recommendations are spot on:

First, colleges of all sizes must learn from the best practices of minor league sports, which are able to translate every opportunity into year-round community branding and brand building.

Second, colleges should invest wisely in staff, especially in the communications and marketing areas. Effectively spending money on staff to make money back will go a long way, as opposed to the usual turnover that occurs in many places with inexperienced and underpaid staff.

Third, having a university’s athletic group in lock step with the overall school communications and marketing group is important. In many places the two groups have no contact, and the lack of open communication makes it an us vs. them workplace which makes small problems huge.

Fourth, encourage networking within the industry. Many times colleges do not consult with local professional brands or teams on best practices and resources, and by staying a part of a professional network both sides may learn and benefit from the other.

Five, prove and merchandise value to the school.

But in the midst of this turmoil, what can small, non-revenue generating college programs do to reach out to their fans? What about schools that play in Division 3 or even schools that offer athletic scholarships to students who actually have to go to class and might never step foot on a professional court anywhere except perhaps as a spectator?

Perhaps college athletic conferences need to do a better job of marketing in the communities where their teams play? Spend more money on allowing streaming of games online, rather than charging for them. I’ve seen small time athletics and it’s generally very community based, but there are some real takeaways that would allow institutions to showcase student-athletes, especially since they make up a large percentage of the population at some small liberal arts colleges.

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