Strategic communication in major college athletics is a critical need

Where are the crisis communicators inside big-time athletic departments? I cringe when I see players give interviews, watch coaches rant about the perils of social media and see consistent failure to understand how the mediums of communications in a digital age have evolved.

It seems most athletic marketing focuses on promotion, rather than strategic communications and it’s something that really needs to be a more visible part of the communications strategy for athletic programs at the highest levels of inter-collegiate athletics.

 

Setting the social media agenda where one doesn’t exist

Last week, I was having dinner with some friends who were discussing their frustration with being in organizations where it felt as though there was no true agenda in regards to their web presence. While these folks are quite good at what they do, neither of them felt particularly strategic in their thinking and it wasn’t part of the job they felt they were taking. I told them they needed to reconsider that the thought that their only job was execution, but rather, being an asset required taking a more strategic view of things.

The conversation fired me up enough, that I had to put on my teaching strategist hat in-between bites of gluten free pizza.

Here were some of the takeaways:

1. You need to be the subject matter expert: Maybe you feel as though you’re good at specific things and feel out of your realm when it comes to trying to provide a senior leader direction on a topic. That’s understandable. But the reason you’re there is often to be the “young, fresh mind” offering up key insights and information that will help the organization move forward in its marketing digitally. In the case of these two folks, they’re working for non-profits with limited budgets, but that’s not a unique thing. Which leads me to…

2. See what others are doing well: There are so many resources online that you can spend entire days — to your peril — researching discovering and voraciously reading the pros, cons and so forth of what other people on doing online. The bottom line here is you can find people in your field and around it, doing things that can be of benefit to your organization. It doesn’t mean doing the same things, it means figuring out what’s working and what doesn’t, so you can provide a value-added benefit to the organization.

3. Assess your goals by listening and asking questions: For my shy friends who flourish designing, this one seemed the hardest. “What if I say something stupid? I mean, what if they ignore what I have to say?” Understandable fears, but you never know until you try. And the tactics involved in converting people to a new way of thinking often require showing rather than telling. It can be tempting to want to inundate folks with the bevy of new things that may or may not help. (And don’t get me started on the calls from consultants offering to change your life with this product or that one…) But it’s your responsibility to curate the best ideas, implement what you can within your responsibility and be able to show how it’s helping.

4. What’s the punchline?: Often times, it just boils down to giving someone the punchline. In organizations where people are wearing lots of hats, with leadership who might be set in a different way of doing things (read: older), it might be challenging to convince them to really propel forward with bold new innovations for fear they won’t work as well as conventional methods. That’s where it’s your responsibility to track, measure and evaluate what’s working and what doesn’t. Make sure that everything you’re doing can be tied by to goals that you established, so there’s no confusion about what time is being spent on.

Time will tell whether this recommendations from this spirited discussion — ok, spirited from my end — will necessarily help, but they’re both reported feeling more confident since our little impromptu lesson.

“Facebook and Google do it wrong, Twitter does it better”

A very eloquent and passionate treatise from 4chan’s Chris Poole on social networks, identity and how we represent ourselves online.

This is a topic I think about a lot, because I never know to explain myself to people on the web. I don’t think many of us are one-dimensional and we all have lots of interests. But mine are pretty woven into the fabric of how I live and so, when I move seamlessly from doing very technical things on the web to working with kids on the finer points of their tennis games — I see no disconnect. Other people have communicated to me at other times that this is strange to them; wondering “well what don’t you do?”

Talking specifically about the web, I have lots of places that I’ve been a member for well over a decade. Communities that I’m an active part of where there are — for better or worse — strangers whom I’ve interacted with for the better part of my adult life who know a lot about each other and are brought together for interest and love of a common (often obscure) hobby, passion or game.  While these interactions are meaningful in context, they don’t necessarily translate to the day-to-day dealings of what I do. Nor should they, really.

Facebook is especially harrowing for me whenever I think about it. Here there is a pool of nearly 800 people with whom come from different aspects of my life at different times. There’s my favorite uncle and that kid from summer camp from a few months ago. My closest college friends and that girl from grade school that I haven’t seen in ten years but with whom it’s cool to “know how she’s doing.”

I digress, but that’s the challenge of trying to communicate your interests with disparate communities takes time, effort and becomes onerous. I’m not sure it’s the job of social networks to be tailored to the diverse ways in which we communicate or the ability to use say, a handle on a network is even the best way. But I do agree wholly that I have far richer interactions — and always have — on social mediums where I feel more anonymous, less exposed and more apt to communicate with the wider world without regard for pagerank, bios or who is going to take what I say out of context. It’s almost why I blog so little and why my real life friends are often bored by my internet persona via blogs.

It’s a contrast that I’m aware of and that Chris Poole articulates concisely in this speech.

Online personas and authenticity

At #tweetwyo last night, we got into a pretty vibrant discussion about whether filtering web content was somehow masking who you really are. The consensus was that there’s a place for professional decorum, even on the internet and a place for personal information.

I think it’s an even bigger issue than just a matter of personal v. private decorum. It’s about nuance and information sharing. It really depends on what purpose the social web serves for you. For many of us who have connections to higher ed, we’re often attached to more than one profile and it’s another reason to be conscientious of our audiences. Even if you’re speaking for “yourself” there are people who will quote you on the name of your institution or job. “Bob of New York Widgets says that he hates New York.” Injuring the corporate brand is an inherent risk.

“Should personal content on a personal profile really be used in a punitative way in a professional setting?” If your boss reads your Facebook profile, should it be able to get you fired? If you tweet a message about something, should it result in a public flogging all over the web?

Most agree that it probably shouldn’t. But it doesn’t matter. People still take things out of context personally. If a blog post can even be construed as being negative or directed at someone, the mea culpas will have to be distributed, sometimes “just in case.”

So what do you about? Is separating your professional and personal life inauthentic?

No. It’s a survival tactic in a world where not everyone knows you. While it can be empowering to blog all of your feelings in the off chance that someone, somewhere will read about it and care, it’s a risky move.

For me, Twitter is about networking. LinkedIn has a networking component, though the bar is set a bit higher and Facebook is for people I have existing relationships with and even that’s on a case-by-case basis. The lines are far too blurred and all you need is something to happen.

The key to social networking is realizing that 1) you’re not alone and 2) nothing is private.

Not everyone has it easy on the web

My neighbor found out that I knew how to do computer things and has been asking me to help him a lot with the new computer he bought for himself.

Yesterday, I was helping him setup his internet and it occurred to me how confusing all of this would be for someone who 1) isn’t computer savvy and has a 2) poor command of the English language (he’s Bosnian) and even if I can figure out how to get it into Bosnian language mode, I felt like it was still a huge gulf for people who’ve largely been left out of the tech wave of the past decade.

I know this isn’t news to anyone who works with end users who abhor computers and refuse to use them unless they absolutely have to. But it’s interesting to get that perspective when you forget — and I hadn’t really thought of technology from the perspective of someone like him until I was faced with trying to teach it for the first time in a while.

As I contemplate real life relationships and the trading card friends phenomenon of our social networking existences, I wonder what we’re really trying to accomplish. Are we trying to live vicariously through our teenage selves, who would’ve been thrilled at the chance to have “friends” in far flung places, who might wish them Happy Birthday (Oh, you remembered! Even if Facebook reminded you?!) , but really are just using them to prop their own self esteem up?

Maybe the weird stares that come from “real grown ups” who don’t understand why you’d want to hear from someone you hardly know and let them into your world have it right?

Perhaps it’s worth the effort to compartmentalize between your “real” friends and the ones you want to keep at arms length?

I suppose there are lots of different ways to go about this. Maybe you can just view people as transactions just waiting to be leveraged. Or keep a more distant view of things. I’m sure that gets easier when you have a network, because then you spend less time preening yourself for folks who were best off left how you remembered them then and spend more time on those you’ve already built bonds with.

As things evolve, I think we’ll just continue to build networks that bring us closer to our “inner circles” and keep others at a distance. We don’t need constant updates about their lives, to find out what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with.

Literally.

Facebook as a concept was great when it was centered around college and university networks because that’s about community. While cities, companies and others might simulate that in some way, it’s just not the same.

Insularity provides room for authenticity, because once you’re comfortable with the folks you’re surrounded with, you let your guard down. Perhaps it’s folly to think that such things should be invested onto an open network where someone else is charged with guarding your personal belongings — pictures, personal data, graphic representations of your relationships in plain view — all for a small price.

The freedom to close the door, but still participate.

When I think of the inanity of most of the tools I use daily, it makes me think back to when I first moved to Wyoming. I realized there had to be a way to take social tools — many of which were still in their infancy — and make them useful for ordinary people.

We already know the web can help folks fundraise wads of cash, let advertisers inundate us with more images of more stuff we just have to get and of course, allow us to waste more time than ever sending clever chain letters to our friends.

But what about something useful?

Some of us mock end users lack of awareness or make assumptions about what people know versus what they don’t. Once you roll your sleeves up and show them that it’s just not that complicated they become converts and bring others along the way. It can be empowering to save people time, money and help them reach out to others.

Too many folks are being left behind.

Isn’t it time to make web products that reach beyond the early adopters?

Four innovative ways to use Twitter as a tool

As promised in my post about why Twitter is like high school is a follow-up post that describes the brilliance of what Twitter can provide as a useful tool.

Rather than sing its praises — there are plenty of places on the web to do that — I’ll just come up with a few out of the box ways that Twitter could be especially useful.

1. For teachers to share general classroom information about parents: When I first thought this, I thought “what about those parents who want to know when Jonny had a bad day in class? Wouldn’t this be a great thing if they could simply follow the protected Twitter feed of his class and find out when the teacher posts that he’s been sent to detention? Probably not, because of all of the privacy issues involved I’m sure.

But…as far as disseminating information that they want to get to a wide swath of parents without emailing, sending a note home that gets lost or talking to each individual one on the phone…(not that you wouldn’t have to do that for parents without web access) it’d be a great way to bring the information to them more quickly and efficiently.

2. To broadcast garage sales in a local community: Hilarious and random, to be sure. But I grew up going to garage sales with my grandparents, so I recall vividly how my grandmother would go through the newspaper to find them. Other times, we’d just drive around to find them — especially in areas where we knew they were plentiful — and see what we could find. I can only imagine the advances that have been made in garage sales online in the past 20 years since I was a regular, but they’re still very localized activities that having to search a huge database or even a newspaper web site that covers a geographic area could be very inefficient.

A Twitter feed could cover all of the sales in a particular town on a particular date and would be handy for driving around to find what’s happening or to alert folks of a change of time, rescheduling due to weather or something else that print time lag would make difficult.

3.  Commuter Feed: Now, I know about Commuter Feed, but in places where there’s no critical mass, it’d be a hard thing to make work. So perhaps it’s just not something that could work on a large scale. But everyone  wants traffic information. In New York City and Chicago, it’s to know how long it’ll take you to get to the center of town. Heck, in Wyoming I needed to know whether I-80 was covered in snow, closed or otherwise going to affect my 50-mile one way commute to work each day. There have to be better ways to organize or integrate the information in a useful way. Perhaps in a feed, that’s maintained by journalists or radio traffic folks. I realize that the ad angle would be lost, as would the whole “listening to the radio for the 5 minutes of traffic coverage” but it seems like a value-added is embedded in there somewhere.

4. A rapid feedback service: Have an idea? Need someone to give you feedback on a powerpoint proposal, a speech or just need to talk through your writers block? The possibilities are endless, but I think Twitter could be a huge value for someone here. I know that people with huge followings are already able to post something and get back lots of replies, but some folks are never going to be as “cool” (or insane) as you are with your thousands of followers and devoted fans who jump at your every Tweetmand.  ;)  Look out for @needastartup

The best thing Twitter has to offer is instant communication and feedback with folks. Now there is no wrong way to do this, but it has to be suited to the way you communicate or you won’t find much value in using it for anything other than “status updates.”

Any other ideas you’d add?

Twitter is just like high school

You’ve got your bullies. Divas. A whole “in” crowd of people who talk to each other, but don’t actually listen to what’s going on around them. Sorry folks, but once around the high school block is enough for me.

I think that’s my biggest criticism of the Twitter phenomenon. It’s like this elaborate Ponzi scheme built around the fraudulent notion that if you say something “interesting” that people will “tweet” back and thus, you add followers who will project your sage wisdom and insight to the world.  But I call B.S.

Twitter’s value to the individual correlates directly to:

1. Power of your brand: If your brand is already hot, people are already talking about you anyway. So Twitter gives you plenty of opportunities to extend that power into an entirely new venue. So it makes sense that its biggest evangelists are people who already have huge followings.

2. Your intrinsic ability to self-promote: If you can handle being annoying and don’t mind spamming people with lots of information, even if it only applies to a small few, you’ll do great at Twitter. It’s truly an exercise of sifting through lots of junk mail to find the one coupon that applies to your situation. It’s lame, but it works for a lot of people.

3. Time wasting is proxy for work: Twitterphiles say that it’s not time wasting. That it’s just part of the job. But it’s not. You legitimately take time from what you’re doing — your real job, driving, a conversation with friends — to post something on Twitter. But since it takes seconds and it’s done on the fly, it’s far easier to say that it’s not that big a deal. It’s not until you get ensnared in hour long conversations about things with people there. Also, it’s not all work. There’s  a lot of play and superfluous commentary going on.

The more derisive comments I’ve heard about Twitter usually revolve around Gen Y’s narcissism and belief that people truly care about what they’re doing all of the time. But those folks just don’t get it.

One of the things that’s great about Twitter is the feedback you can get from people at the drop of a hat. I enjoy being able to put an idea out there and test it from legions of folks of whom, you don’t know personally in many cases, but have relationships with professionally — or in my case, through this blog and little else.

But it’s not all that earthshattering, really. It’s just a different medium.

I can get the same sort of feedback and input (well, better actually) from one of the online communities I’ve been a member of for almost 10 years now. Twitter offers people who don’t have that sort of history on the web, the opportunity to cultivate conversations with people they meet in other places online.

While I’m sure there are folks who contend that organic, natural relationships and conversations generate from Twitter. Yet, I’m convinced that the time that you’d need to invest to get them would be better spent on other things. Open networking on Twitter is just a disasterous waste of time, generates noise that distracts you from the people you actually want to hear from and devalues it as a potential service.

We’re doing this social networking thing all wrong. Until we get away from what I call the “trading card friends phenomenon,” we’ll all be spinning in our office chairs and say we’re moving forward and making progress. While there are lots of different ways to make connections, the correlation between “more eyeballs” and “valuable ones” is a distinction that more social networking sites need to make.

Closed networks are influential. The real money will be delivery of a product that allows influencers to disseminate valuable information to people who want it and can cut through the noise. We’re developing too many products that don’t serve part and parcel of the general population any use at all.

Sure, it’s nice for me to have a Facebook account where my mish-mash of high school, college, military, work and camp and online friends can assemble and be easier for me to manage. But the layers and complexities are friendships could be loosely called “The Long Tail of Friendship

Just having them together for a narrow, specific purpose would get it value. When you start adding applications, games and spammers to the mix, you’re just asking for trouble.

You’d think these people would’ve learned from America Online. AOL in the mid 1990s was successful because it was the biggest dog on the block. It was a content network with the most folks, offering the most services and where people would literally assemble because they didn’t want to lose their online relationships.

Those of us who used it for very specific purposes,valued it because our existing relationships on the network were more valuable than going on the web and trying to create the same infrastructure. (But maybe it’s just the projects I was involved in at the time that make me unique.)

But the trick is, we all paid for that right.

Twitter, Facebook and their ilk are all going to die and the future will be, someone who figures out how to create something that can be monetized because it actually has value.

Novel concept, I know.

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