Three goals for 2010

New Year's fireworks in Helsinki
Image by taivasalla via Flickr

I sat down to ask you this question, so I’ll answer it first.

1. Putting work in perspective. Work became a bigger part of my life than I liked and I had to take a step back. I went from someone I thought was pretty interesting, to being pretty consumed with this nebulous thing called success. If I’d arrived there, I decided it wasn’t a place I wanted to be. Since the middle part of this year, I’ve discovered quite a bit about myself and what motivates me. For someone who has made a vocation from preaching the importance of being authentic in communicating your message, this is no small thing. 2010 will be better for me, as a result.

2. More social, less media. I’ve made a conscious effort to use social media more as a tool to inform my everyday life, rather than a stream of consciousness communications tool. The majority of the people in my active life simply don’t use social tools. Which is a bit strange, but…it happens. Those who do are primarily confined to Facebook and I think we’ve covered how I feel about that already. Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot more watching and reading, rather than participating. My interaction hasn’t decreased, I’ve just been more selective about what I say and when I say it. I felt more constrained by social presence and made a change to fix that. In 2010, I feel like there’s more balance in that area and it’ll result in better conversations, posts and content on the whole.

3. More interactions. I wasn’t able to do much on the conference circuit this year and it’s a gaping whole I intend to fix in 2010. In part because I’ve talked to so many people on the web that I feel like I already know, that it’d be nice to actually meet them. So this is a pretty big one.

What are your goals for next year?

Thanks for your comments, emails and other feedback this year. I’ve far surpassed my humble expectations for this blog, by simply knowing I’m connecting with so many people professionally and personally. Here’s to a whole new set of adventures!

Why you should dump Facebook in 2010

Let’s face it, Facebook just isn’t the tool it used to be.

The old networking tool that helped college students and young professionals stay connected to their peers and local networks has morphed into a full scale web utility that intends to help people maintain their connections and serve as the defacto business card of life.

Along the way, many have rued the day they ever signed up for the service. Everything imaginable from Facebook obituaries to mock job firings have occurred through the site, making it a very live part of our public culture. So why do I think people ought to give it up, cold turkey?

Here are a few reasons:

1. Facebook adds more people to your “friendship” docket than you can keep up with: Even if you go through the onerous process of setting up friend lists, the entire site is constructed around the notion that all of the people in your life deserve access to the same types of information. It makes it easier to maintain false relationships with lots of people you don’t really know. Maybe this works if you’re just using it as a networking tool, but as a social device, it’s unwieldy at best.

You could argue, “Well, don’t add those people. Know your limits.” Sounds good in theory, but not in practice. Adding one family over another, could make holiday chatter even more interesting than it would be anyway. And those high school or college friends that you selectively choose to show your “limited profile?” Yeah, that’s going to be a fun and somewhat awkward message that might transport you back to The Wonder Years faster than you ever intended.

2.Facebook induces friend stalking It starts off innocently enough. A peek to see if those two are still dating. Checking out that third-tier friend to see what they’re really up to. Before you know it, you’re irate that people haven’t invited to cool parties they’ve attended and wonder why that broke friend of yours went on a trip to Europe when she claims to have no money. Is any of this really your business? No. Is it easy to make assumptions that aren’t the truth? You betcha.

3. Facebook encourages you to hate your life What better way for people who’ve graduated college and are worried about their social standing, than a Facebook feed full of friends who all seem to be getting promotions, married to unusually hot people, having babies and going on trips to exotic places replete with a heavy dosage of smiles.

Chances are, it’s all in your head anyway. Not everyone is happy. Not everyone is living out their dreams and even if they are, you’re not there when the cameras get shut off. So stop worrying. But…logging in a lot can make it worse. Especially when you couple that with a lack of facebook love in the form of pokes, wall messages and other ways for people to let other people know that you are indeed well liked.

Look, no one makes us sign up for Facebook or any other social service. So you really can’t blame the messenger. But at the same time, the site has changed itself a lot and that’s really where the consternation is for a lot of people. For the college student with a profile centered around a school network, the tool was incredibly useful and generally safe. But now that it’s turned into some sort of strange Myspace/Craigslist collaboration featuring all of your Flickr pictures, Facebook is a social anchor weighing down and overly complicating the interactions of people who are likely to be better off staying in touch with only the people they remember to call, text or email.

So much of the consternation of our modern lives seems to be an endless need for attention and affirmation that we’re headed in the right direction, that we’re loved and that our lives have value. We get this from those close to us and it’s not a new human need. But a tool like Facebook gives the friendship equivalent of a sugar high; leading you to believe that there’s an entire world of people whose arms are stretched wide open and into your direction. When you find out that only a sliver of them really care, it can be a difficult adjustment and can otherwise distract you from what’s a pretty good life.

If you can’t completely give up Facebook, consider a Facebook holiday each month. Deactivate your profile and only reactivate it once a day each month. (For the weak among us, maybe you can settle for a week.) Inform your contacts ahead of time and magically, all of those people who added you randomly might be a lot more interesting when you reappear to get caught up on their lives each month.

You might find, however, that the people who managed to find and keep up with you anyway didn’t need your profile to keep you in their loop. That alone might make 2010 a bit better before it begins.

The best 100 albums of the decade (2000-2009)

If someone wants a euphonium player to join their rock band, let me know. I’m totally down.

In any case, here’s my Top 100 albums of the decade list. The international brand master himself commissioned a few of us higher ed blogger types to each come up with our own lists and together, we’re running down a list of the Top 100 albums of the decade.

What’s released below is my personal list. The only real rule for me was ensuring I didn’t pick two albums from the same artist. I could’ve in a few cases, but opted against it. It’s also possible if I’d poured over this, I’d have chosen a different set of albums in a different order literally each day I did it, so at some point I just had to stop.

So I did it all in one sitting after compiling an initial list in a different series of sittings, then made a bunch of changes to make sure I didn’t miss anything huge (for me) and well…what we have results in a fairly accurate reflection of my listening habits. The rankings are a bit curious, but then, what rankings aren’t? (Hello US News & the BCS!?)

With that, here’s my list:

1. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods (2005)
2. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant – Raising Sand (2007)
3. Laura Veirs – Year of Meteors (2005)
4. Bright Eyes – Lifted or The Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground (2002)
5. Brand of Horses – Cease To Begin (2007)
6. Frou Frou – Frou Frou (2002)
7. Dr. Dog – Fate (2008)
8. Radiohead – Hail To The Thief (2003)
9. Metric – Fantasies (2009)
10. Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001)
11. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (2009)
12. Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005)
13. Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
14. Interpol – Antics (2004)
15. The National – Boxer (2007)
16. Blindside – About A Burning Fire (2004)
17. The Postal Service – Give Up (2003)
18. Tegan and Sara – This Business of Art (2000)
19. Ray Lamontagne – Till The Sun Turns Black (2006)
20. Appleseed Cast – Peregrine (2006)
21. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (2004)
22. Keren Ann – Nolita (2004)
23. Coldplay – Parachutes (2000)
24. Other Lives – Other Lives (2009)
25. Field Music – Tones of Town (2007)
26. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (2009)
27. Heartless Bastards – All This Time (2006)
28. Julieta Venegas – Bueninvento (2000)
29. Mirah – Aspera (2009)
30. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (2009)
31. Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
32. Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere (2006)
33. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2008)
34. Basia Bulat – Oh, My Darling (2008)
35. Flaw – Through The Eyes (2001)
36. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
37. Cake – Fashion Nugget (2001)
38. Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antartica (2000)
39. Architecture In Helsinki – Fingers Crossed (2004)
40. 30 Seconds To Mars – 30 Seconds To Mars (2002)
41. Ha Ha Tonka – Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (2009)
42. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine (2005)
43. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005)
44. Brand New – Deja Entendu (2003)
45. Nelly – Country Grammar (2000)
46. Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)
47. Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (2006)
48. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (2008)
49. Jill Scott – Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (2000)
50. Passion Pit – Manners (2009)
51. Pretty Girls Make Graves – Elan Vital (2006)
52. TV On The Radio – Dear Science (2008)
53. Sondre Lerche – Faces Down (2002)
54. Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s – The Dust of Retreat (2006)
55. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001)
56. System Of A Down – Toxicity (2001)
57. The Dears – Gang of Losers (2006)
58. Deftones – White Pony (2000)
59. Esperanza Spalding – Esperanza (2008)
60. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (2005)
61. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (2008)
62. Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood (2003)
63. Circa Survive – On Letting Go (2007)
64. Dungen – Tio Bitar (2007)
65. Devotchka – A Mad & Faithful Telling (2008)
66. The Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army (2007)
67. The xx – xx (2009)
68. Feist – The Reminder (2007)
69. Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (2007)
70. God Forbid – Earthsblood (2009)
71. Panic at the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005)
72. Nada Surf – The Weight Is A Gift (2005)
73. Floetry – Floetic (2002)
74. A Perfect Circle – Mer De Noms (2000)
75. The Shins – Oh, Inverted World (2001)
76. Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (2008)
77. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
78. Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)
79. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes (2002)
80. The Wrens – Meadowlands (2003)
81. Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)
82. The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
83. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans (2005)
84. Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope (2006)
85. Land of Talk – Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss (2006)
86. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (2006)
87. Two Gallants – Two Gallants (2007)
88. Black Gold – Rush (2009)
89. Stew – Something Deeper Than These Changes (2003)
90. The Strokes – Is This It? (2001)
91. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (2007)
92. Zero 7 – The Garden (2006)
93. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (2009)
94. Guster – Keep It Together (2003)
95. N.E.R.D. – In Search Of… (2002)
96. Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows (2000)
97. Spoon – Gimmie Fiction (2005)
98. Murs – Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004)
99. Paramore – Riot (2007)
100. The Roots – Game Theory (2006)

Most overrated album of the decade?
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black (2006)
Runner up: Vampire Weekend (2008)

Most underrated album of the decade?
Richard Swift – Dressed Up For The Letdown (2007)
Runner up: Hilary Hahn – Violin Concertos (Mendelssohn/Shostakovich) (2002)

Song of the Decade:
Fiona Apple – Better Version of Me (2005)
Runner up: Plus/Minus (+/-) Steal The Blueprints (2006)

If you find yourself wanting to make album cover wallpapers of your Top 100 albums,

Be sure to check out the countdown on the Higher Ed Critics list. I can assure you if you didn’t love my rankings (and heck, I look at them now and would make some changes!) you might find the taste of the collective better than what I managed to do alone.

The blueprint project


Since I started this blog almost two years ago, it’s been largely a compendium of my stories, recommendations and rants about what I think would make the (higher ed) world a bit better. It’s been interesting (right?) but while I hear a lot from people who write blogs and tweet their thoughts for the wider world, I’m sure there are people out there who are doing interesting things at their schools — big and small — who deserve a showcase. Perhaps there are folks out there who have random ideas they want to put before a wider audience to get folks to chime in and share their two cents? My email box tells me this is true, so here’s my plan for the coming year:

I’m going to transition this blog largely as a place to post interviews and features from people around the education diaspora who are doing interesting things on the web. I really want to spend the year learning from people we don’t hear from, as well as those we do. I’m going to seek some of them out on my own, but will welcome your recommendations and ideas for profiles, as well.

What I’d like to do, is combine these features along with my own insights I’ve been collecting for the past year into a document I release via this site tentatively called The Blueprint (or maybe something better, depending on how I feel…) which will reveal a treasure trove of insights, ideas and introspection along the intersection of web strategy and marketing in higher education. Probably in quarterly editions.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I’ve wanted this blog to contribute more to the active dialogue that’s happening in the community. I feel like this plan will do just that.

Thanks you for reading, commenting and being actively interested in what goes on here. It’s something I truly appreciate and it keeps me motivated to raise the bar.

Letting “web people” manage web tactics

The Blueprint is coming

There is a civil war going on. You probably haven’t heard much about it. The combatants in this battle are traditional organizations who allow web practitioners to manage content and handle development, but don’t want to give up control of overall strategy.

On one hand, this is understandable. Marketing strategy is about more than just a plan for what you’ll do with the digital space. It encompasses print and a whole lot more, depending on the size and scope of the office charged with managing it.

The problems are more acute the smaller the institution and the stakes, because we find ourselves embroiled in turf wars that threaten our control over a certain budget, supervision of staff or some other prized asset we’re not willing to give up.

Despite the desire to hold onto what’s dear to us, we need to entrust the very capable people inhabiting the digital space to make bold decisions about where we take communications and marketing strategy in this highly communicative age. The talent exists, there’s little doubt about that. You can read their insights, see their statistics in their incisive blog posts and hear their perspectives at conferences all over the country. I often wonder what higher ed would look like if many of these innovators were given more than just a seat at the table, but an actual line item to work with.

The list: edustir Year in Review

While I spend a bit more time with the chisel before unleashing my big project I’ve been working on, I decided to take a look back at the past year on this blog and see what sorts of shenanigans I’ve been up to.

I think I feel a bit more pressure now that people actually read it, to be more interesting than when it was just me writing and not worrying about the rare instance that someone might be reading. If you like lists, fear not…my Top 100 albums of the decade list is forthcoming once the higher ed compilation gets posted.

But first, here are a few of the posts that seemed to hit a home run this year in my mind:

The Peril of Being Social (I changed the title from “When being social sucks” heh.) I piggeybacked Michael Stoner’s term “engagement fatigue” to talk about the peril of “always being out there” and how it might affect authenticity in the long term.

Keep It Short & Simple, Easier Said Than Done Lauren Shopp was a contributor to this blog earlier in the year, before a new job engulfed her. In this post, she wrote about some tips for writing online that often get lost. It’s a handy one.

Debunking “You Have To Go Where The Students Are” This one got a pretty loud response and it wasn’t all fawning either. I stand by it though and if I were to write a Part 2 right now, I’d say “don’t believe the hype. Get your own data and figure out what your students are doing.”

Social Media and the free rider problem One of my pet peeves are voyeurs who participate and criticize, but don’t actively participate. It’s part of the deal, I guess, but…here I examine the problematic nature of the whole 90-9-1 principle.

The Gen Y Guide To Social Media Just a primer on social media for the generation that came up with the term “sexting.” Seriously guys? Seriously?

What motivates you?

Why do you bother? Why do you try? What motivates you to get up every day and to try again when there’s absolutely no proof that you’ll actually get any further this morning than you did all day yesterday?

I’d like to hear from you. Yes, all of you.


Managing Crisis 2.0: Tigerproofing your digital strategy

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 28:  Mobile TV crews pa...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

People who’ve read me for a while know I like golf.

Back when I was just learning tennis and spent my weekends fishing with my grandfather, the other thing we shared was watching golf on TV. Of course, this was pre-Tiger. Nonetheless, the whole story about his “transgressions” has gripped me, but only because it’s made me think about self-image and the way we brand ourselves in this digital age and how some folks think they can control the story when it runs amok.

Whether you’re a fourth tier school in a town that no one outside of your local area cares about; as far as the media in that area are concerned, you’re the big dog on the block and some intrepid reporter is going to get the scoop. It’ll just continue to get worse, but we’ll accept it more and more as the tools become more insidious.

Is this is a sign of our declining times or a triumph in historical proportions? I don’t know.

I do know, that not everyone can manage authenticity. For every person who is able to communicate themselves in a manner that allows them to reach wider audiences and tell great stories; to share in a manner that gives their readers or followers a true feeling of connectedness, there are lots who’ll haven’t the foggiest clue how to do that. Authenticity is about being yourself and you simply can’t fake that. You can change your culture, while staying true to your values.

That’s what Team Tiger needs to realize right now. You might want to stay silent, keep your mouth shut and let the company line do the talking. After all, whether it’s three women or three hundred who come out and say they went to the zoo with Tiger, it’s going to sting the same and the scrutiny won’t be any less. Sometimes a crisis can be an opportunity to break the impulse to continue with business as usual within an organization

Your school might probably doesn’t have the brand of Tiger Woods, but you can learn from his disaster. The inclination to believe that internal problems should stay internal makes sense. And some stories just have legal implications that prevent you from really putting much out there. If you’ve built relationships and try to capture the goodwill of whoever you fanbase is; you’ll be able to find ways to create opportunities from even the most horrid situations. You have to remember that the dust will settle eventually and you’ll have to move on from whatever the circumstance is, so the sooner you put a plan in place to do that, the better off you’ll be.

Rather than detail what Tiger Woods ought to do (simply put: re-brand himself as a real person, rather than an automaton. Oh and win a Grand Slam.) let’s talk about something a bit more topical:

Binghamton University men’s basketball comes off its best season in school history, then crisis strikes:

The scandal at Binghamton highlights the way intangible sports benefits so sought after by university administrators — like increased visibility and buzz — can backfire. The university is facing an investigation by the State University of New York into accusations that it bent its academic standards to build a competitive men’s basketball team. Three of the team’s players have been arrested in the past three years, including one in September on charges of selling crack cocaine. This fall, six players were dismissed from the team. The athletic director has resigned, the basketball coach has been placed on paid leave, and university administrators have been accused of retaliating against an instructor who said she was pressured to show grading favoritism to athletes.

So far, the web site strategy seems to be “focus on other programs besides men’s basketball.” That’s smart. But how are the coaches supposed to recruit with a team under turmoil?

Here are a few ideas:

Establish your values publicly and stick to them. The language on the basketball site should communicate the values of the program loudly. If it’s clear there were none before, you establish some and demonstrate your commitment to them throughout the year. It gives you fodder for the entire season and while it could be something that could be program-wide for all sports, having it reflect on the sport that everyone is paying attention to, helps your recruiting effort by giving parents ease that you’ve weeded out the “bad apples” and you’re heading in a new direction and gives potential recruits a sense of ease they’re heading into a ship that’s steadying, rather than inking their signature to join the Titantic.

Side note: One of the reasons I hate the trend of schools using their big-box athletic web site CMS is they lack the flexibility to do much of anything beyond the standard package of 1) post news stories 2) post scores 3) post bios and pictures. If the sites were more nimble, you’d have the ability to brand to the individual sports and adapt the pages more fluidly for all sorts of situations. But I’ll save that bully pulpit for another post.

A basketball team blog that features players and coaches.
Highlight the good things going on, how hard they’re working and ultimately, reconfirm why they’re glad to be where they are. For a regional public university, you’re not tapping on tons of people to begin with. But you do have an audience and you are actively pushing your message out. And for better or worse, the negative publicity you’re getting is going to drive traffic to your site. Use it as an opportunity to tell your own story, rather than letting media reports and press releases do all of the talking.

The 13th Man: A viral show Unless they’re sports fans, students don’t really connect with student-athletes. Athletes tend to run in their own cliques at most schools, save for the few who branch out and students don’t really understand a lot of the sacrifices made by top-level college athletes. So you announce a new promotion. At each home game, a student would suit up and become the 13th man. They’ll practice with the team once or twice, dress for the game, sit on the bench and participate the whole experience. It’s like fantasy camp (no, they can’t play) but with a personal twist. Students would sign up in droves for the experience, too. Video-tape the whole deal and showcase it on your site. Maybe have them blog about their experience. This might be considered a mockery, but when things are a complete mess anyway, I don’t see how it could hurt anything and it’d be fairly easy to do, even if you didn’t do at each home game, but only a few times during the season.

I realize these sorts of ideas can’t happen overnight. They also require a lot of buy-in and commitment from the team at large, that taking a bold approach to marketing is going to solve the PR issues that come from a crisis that causes your program a black-eye. It requires support and when there’s a cloud hanging over a program and the last thing some people want to do is smile for the camera. But if you’re paying them, you have leverage and if they won’t, someone else will seize the opportunity.

You have to do something. The days of stonewalling in the hopes of making a story go away are over. In the end, it’s far better to be on offense when you can, because once you’re defending it’s hard to turn the tide back before you’re consumed by it.