Banning Twitter isn’t the answer for college sports

I can understand gunshy professional sports organizations and their image consciousness banning social media tools, because it’s just another way for the media to jump on things athletes (and coaches) say to make stories where there don’t otherwise exist.

But colleges and universities need to be smarter. Specifically in the athletic department. Case in point: A story that Texas Tech’s football coach Mike Leach has barred players from using it.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, linebacker Marlon Williams asked on his Twitter account why he was still in a meeting room when “the head coach can’t even be on time.” That tweet has been deleted and his page no longer exists.

Offensive lineman Brandon Carter, a team captain, also had a Twitter page. After the loss to the Cougars, he tweeted: “This is not how I saw our season.”

On Sunday, Carter was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules unrelated to his Twitter page, which was nowhere to be found later that day.

Leach said players don’t need Twitter or Facebook. He called them “stupid” distractions.

“I think that a guy who plays college football gets enough attention,” he said. It’s “a bunch of narcissists that want to sit and type stuff about themselves all the time. We’ll put mirrors in some of their lockers if that’s necessary but they don’t have to Twitter.”

Leach said players’ Facebook pages will be monitored. He does not want his players sharing information about the football team on them.

Teaching student-athletes to use these tools intelligent (as well as the student body at large) is a far smarter idea than barring these tools. The fact that these students have discovered these tools at all signals a certain level of savvy that could serve as a primer for skills that they could use post-graduation.

Coaches of revenue generating sports — heck, all coaches, really — have a responsibility as educators to help their students prepare themselves for whatever they’ll be doing post-school. And if it means finding people who can help them leverage their tools OFF the field to be more successful, then that’s what they ought to be doing.

I understand as a coach where Mike Leach is coming from. But social media tools are part of a program’s growth arsenal, even with the risks they contain to exposing you when players aren’t responsible users as stewards of your athletic program.

The bottom line is you have to teach them, develop informed policies that leverage social media tools and then use them effectively.

Medical Schools wrestle with student content online

Apparently, medical students are having a hard time figuring out what to put online. According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 60% of deans in the study indicated incidents of students posting unprofessional content online.

As part of their study, the researchers surveyed the deans of all 130 medical schools in the United States; 78 responded. Of those who responded, 47 — or 60 percent — reported incidents of students’ posting unprofessional content online.

Posts that violated patient confidentiality were rare; only six schools reported such episodes.

By far the most incidents involved profanity, discriminatory language, sexually suggestive material and depictions of drunkenness. Most resulted in informal warnings.

Here’s the story from the NY Times on the topic. Is the issue a higher standard for future doctors? A brightline between administrator ideas of “inappropriate online content” or is something amiss with the entire premise of the study?

Things to ask before you redo your web site (for higher ed)

Now I’m piggybacking pretty heavily here on a post by Seth Godin today, but I felt it was a timely post and one I’ve touched on before. As you might not, the real reason I started this blog in the first place, was as a place to log my thoughts in the process of the various web redesigns I’ve been a part over the past few years.

So much the redesign process in higher education is about pleasing a ton of people who often times don’t understand what really goes into getting a new site up and running. Other times, the process involves a metric ton of folks who all have their own ideas of what the site ought to look like, do and how it should work. It can be exhausting for the people charged with figuring it all out and making it work, especially if they’re working alone or don’t have the best support system.

Seth’s suggestions were useful for business, but for higher ed I think the things to ask might be a bit different, so I put together my own list of questions you ought to ask before lifting a finger to start your web site redesign: (in no specific order)

  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • Who are we reaching effectively right now through our other campaigns?
  • Can we save money by melding print content onto the web? Will this help us reach a wider audience?
  • What about auxiliary, constituent and other organizations attached to the school who have separate sites? Will they be folded into a new site, if at all?
  • Does athletics need a separate web presence? Have we included them in the process?
  • Will a new site help us communicate who we are better to our intended audiences?
  • What are we doing right online right now? How can we improve on that with our existing web presence?

I’m just scratching the surface here, but it really depends on the college or university. Ultimately, redesigning your web site is akin to erecting a new building on campus. It’s not just a piece of marketing material, for the time it exists it’s part of your physical plant. People will see it more than they see obscure buildings on your beautiful campus. If it’s an eyesore, if it’s difficult to use and fails to provide information about your school that people are looking for; every visit will be like getting lost in a huge building with no one to guide you.

What are your suggestions? What should people ask before embarking on a web site redesign?

On time and efficiency

How much do you value efficiency in your organization? Not just money or resources, but time? Is it important to you or is it one of those things that contains many shades of gray?

Revisiting my first redesign

My first redesign project wasn’t really all that long ago. Just two years ago last month. But since then I’ve worked on sites at three other schools, launched two and I’m on the other side of the aisle.

What I was thinking about a bit ago, was how much I learned on the fly through that process and how the support I received from the people on my team really helped make things go a lot smoother than they could have.

Our redesign wasn’t mandated by someone on high. It was actually just something I initiated, after about a month in my new job. Our site at the time was a mish-mash of a Dreamweaver site with some SQL databases controlling some aspects of parts of the site. There were no instructions and the person who designed had since left and gone into business for himself. As a result, when there were problems (and there always were), we had little recourse as to what we ought to do to fix the problems, save for what I could figure out on my own.

After doing this for a few weeks and noticing other problems related to content delivery, outdated content on the site and an inability for it to really meet our needs in a real way, I went to my boss and told her what we had wasn’t going to work. I could’ve sat there and done nothing, maintained status quo and let it go, but it wasn’t serving anyone’s needs as it was.

So after developing a proposal for her, that the President approved and then presenting to the board of trustees, there was a consensus that we needed a new site and we moved forward.

I won’t revisit the whole process for you, but I will say that what I was thinking back to are the problems we ran into. I recall my boss asking me throughout, “is everything okay,” and I’d always preface my statements with, “I’ve never done one of these before. But I think we’re cool. At least, we’ve done everything they’ve asked of us and we’re ahead of schedule on everything.”

Until we launched and we magically ended up two weeks behind on everything. There was no “web team.” It was me and whatever support IT gave me, as the web guy working in public relations. I took ownership over the project more than just a person charged to do something. I felt like this HAD to work better than what we had before and I needed to make sure things were as smooth as possible, because I didn’t want anyone to feel like we were in a worse state with the new site than we were with the old one, “because at least it worked” to the untrained eye.

Rather than feel like I had to make water into wine, my boss and even the President backed me up when the snags happened. A lot of this had to do with the fact that throughout the process, I kept them informed of everything. But their doors were always open, the lines of communication were there and they took the time to let me know that they were interested and I did my best to translate the process to them in a manner that communicating the measurable impact of each part of the process and how it would help us post-launch.

Here are a few old blog posts around that time that were really helpful as a reflection tool to what we went through, too:

The first thing you learn about a redesign
Once the site is delivered…

To summarize, I think it’s important — especially for small teams — to get support from those who lead the process. Sometimes, resources in the way of staff can’t be added, but you can relieve pressure when necessary and let people know their work is valued by being a sounding board and clearing the path so they can walk and see ahead of the more clearly.

Sports and the cold embrace of social media

Who’s advising sports teams on social media policy? Voldemort?

First, the behemoth Southeastern Conference (SEC) originally wanted to ban Twitter updates by fans, before mock outraged caused them to push back a bit.
Now, you have the notorious National Football League (nicknamed the “No Fun League” based on its opposition to touchdown dances, fines for not tucking your uniform shirt in and other foibles) deciding that players shouldn’t tweet during games, by banning phones on the sidelines during games.

Once an industrious player tried to create an elaborate scheme to get around the ban
, the league amended its policy to “no updates are permitted to be posted by the individual himself or anyone representing him during this prohibited time.”

Then the US Open tennis tournament posted warnings to players that tweeting could be a violation of the sport’s anti-corruption rules:

“Many of you will have Twitter accounts in order for your fans to follow you and to become more engaged in you and the sport — and this is great,” the notices read. “However popular it is, it is important to warn you of some of the dangers posted by Twittering as it relates to the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program Rules.”

So again, I ask, who is advising these teams, leagues and organizations on social media policy and strategy?

National Football League
Image via Wikipedia

In an era where scripted TV has lost its edge to reality shows and where traditional media takes its cues from blogs that cost a fraction to develop, sports organizations need to realize that access is the key to increasing revenue. In the old days, you ran promotions to give fans access to players. These days, the players give their own access. This helps them improve their notoriety, as even the most obscure players can raise their profile through connections they create with fans.

But we’re just scratching the surface. Players and their representatives are still going to fumble through the best ways to do this, while teams and leagues will continue to miss the revenue opportunities that exist when you leverage the communication tools of the day to improve, expand and grow your offerings. Protecting the existing contracts you have with old media might seem like an effective defensive tactic. After all, they’re the ones bringing home the bacon.

What they’re missing is the opportunities involved in developing a strategy that embraces the passion of fans and uses that as a way to expand beyond traditional markets. Some leagues — mostly second tier ones — have embraced social media and allowed players to involve themselves heavily in pursuits such as tweeting on the bench and giving bloggers press credentials. This is a good start, but teams and organizations (whether it’s revenue generating college sports or the professional ranks) have to realize there’s money to be made when you invest your energy and time into developing cohesive strategies that meld what you’re doing on the field, with the people talking about you off of it.

Taking targeted giving to a whole new level

The City College of San Francisco is giving donors an opportunity to directly impact student lives, by donating to keep sections of canceled courses open.

For $6,000, the City College of San Francisco is offering sponsors a chance to restore one of the hundreds of classes being canceled because of budget cuts.

Even after freezing hiring, cutting student support services, and reducing administrative salaries, the college is facing a $20 million deficit that has forced it to cut or postpone almost 800 courses this year — about 300 in the fall, and 500 in the spring.

There’s no indication that this sort of thing is going to turn into a trend. But perhaps it’ll be a way to allow donors to connect themselves in different ways. I think naming the classes after a particular sponsor might have taken it too far, but they’ve already removed that from the plan.

So in the new version, donors will not get naming rights. In fact, while donors can specify which department they want to support, it will be left to the department, and not the donor, to decide which course to reinstate.

Maybe this is a good idea, but I can’t see it being a sustainable one and a ploy to cut unpopular programs with those that might be more revenue generating.