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The Two Things You Need to be Successful When Using Social Media

People ask me how all the time, “what’s the best way to use social media successfully?” I’m going to tell them (and you) a little secret – you need to have two things, and they won’t cost you a thing.

No, I’m not going to tell you that you have to create a Facebook fan page or that you just totally have to use WordPress for your blog. I’m not saying that you need to get celebrities and other “influentials” to retweet you or to hire some social media gurus to get you thousands of fans. No, the two things you need to be successful in using social media are inexpensive and available to everyone, yet are very difficult to attain: loads of self-confidence and extreme self-awareness.

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Are you confident in your abilities? Are are acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses? You better be!

Seems pretty simple right? Be confident. Know your strengths and weaknesses. OK, that’s do-able. No expensive training to take, no conferences to attend, no certifications to go and get, no books to read – what’s so difficult about this again?

Well, here’s the thing – a lot of people SAY they have self-confidence and that they’re pretty self-aware, but you’re probably not one of them. Oh, you might be totally sure of yourself when you’re talking to the people in your office but what about when your audience isn’t your Luddite boss, but a conference room full of other social media “experts?” Hearing negative feedback from your boss is one thing, hearing “you suck!” from another blogger is another.

Self-confidence and self-awareness can’t be achieved just by reading, attending conferences, or subscribing to blogs – it actually takes some honest introspection and humility. For example, are you confident and self-aware enough to handle these situations?

  • You might be used to seeing your boss mark up that report you’ve been working on, but what are you going to do when hundreds of people pick apart your blog post? Can you listen to that feedback, internalize it, and adapt?
  • At the same time, are you confident enough in your writing and opinions to stand up for what you believe and defend it?
  • Are you comfortable having an argument with someone in front of thousands of people? Can you remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of immaturity and uninformed opinions?
  • What are you going to do when your first 2, 6, 8, or 10 blog posts get a total of 30 visits? Keep plugging away? Adapt your writing style? Quit?
  • It’s easy to be confident when you’re the expert in the room, but what happens when you’re in a room full of other social media experts? Are you confident enough in what you know and aware of what you don’t know to have actual conversations with the authors of the books and blogs you’ve been reading?
  • Remember that the brand on your business card may give you some instant credibility when you first start out, but are you ready to deal with both the good and the bad? What are you going to do when people start attacking you on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter because they have an issue not with you personally, but with your company?
  • I know your officemates loved that blog post you wrote on your intranet a few weeks ago, but you and I both know you just paraphrased a chapter out of Chris Brogan’s latest book and called it a blog post. Are you comfortable enough in your own skin to attribute that or would you let your colleagues think you’re the “thought leader” behind it?
  • Are you comfortable asking for help or do you view it as a sign of weakness?
  • You’ll meet people much much smarter than you, people with more experience than you. Are you humble enough to admit that and learn from them?
  • You’ll be wrong…a lot…and everyone will know it. How do you feel about that?
  • Do you have visions of being the next social media A-lister? If you do, tell me what you absolutely suck at. Is it video blogging? Is it recording podcasts? Is it editing your own posts? Managing your time? Regularly commenting on other people’s blogs? What areas of social media do you struggle with and why? If you can’t easily answer this question, go back to the top and start over. You’re not awesome at everything, trust me.

The answers to these questions can’t be found in a book or blog post. Even the so-called experts’ advice for how to deal with these situations will be all over the map.  The answers will be different for everyone, depending on their own strengths and weaknesses, and that’s kind of the point. Are you confident in what you know? Are you willing to admit what you don’t? Until you’re able to develop that self-confidence and self-awareness, you’ll always find yourself struggling with how to best use social media.

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Seven Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College

I talk a lot about the need to do a better job of integrating social media into the world of higher education. That’s why when my my alma mater asked me to speak at their annual Communication Week this year, I jumped at the opportunity (well, that and I was able to take my daughter to see her grandparents for the weekend). Because these students are already learning the basics of social media in their core communication classes, I didn’t want to do yet another Social Media 101 type presentation. Instead, I wanted to help them understand that even though they may learn what Twitter is, how to use it, and some case studies, there’s nothing like doing it in the real world. That’s why I gave a presentation last Friday titled “The 7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College.”

Here’s the presentation I gave, with the key takeaways below:

1. I am not an audience, a public, a viewer, a demographic or a user – I am an actual PERSON with a VOICE
Throw out what you learned in Mass Communications 101 and instead focus on what you learned in Human Communications or Interpersonal Communications. You’re better off knowing and understanding the fundamental principles behind communicating with someone face-to-face than trying to replicate the influence that the War of the Worlds broadcast had on the American public. The megaphone approach doesn’t work when everyone has a megaphone. Learn to interact with actual human beings instead of nameless audiences and users.

2. I don’t care how many friends, followers, likes, or blog comments you have
I really don’t, not when anyone can go and game the system by buying thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 followers is irrelevant to me. I want to know that you’ve at least tried to use Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Foursquare for a purpose other than getting more people at your Edward Forty-hands parties. Having demonstrated social media experience on your resume is great, but not because I care about the numbers, but because it shows me that you’re willing and able to try something new. It shows me you’re willing to take a risk and follow through. So don’t tell me that you have 10,000 Facebook likes, tell me how you used Facebook to increase the donations to a local animal shelter. Using social media in a professional context is hard, especially if you’re not learning it in class. I understand that – that’s why I care more about the effort than the numbers.

3. “Social Media” is not a career option
The New Media Director is just a means to an end.  Sure, there’s lots of demand now, but what happens when social media is no longer the new hot thing? You can’t JUST be a social media specialist. That’s a short-term role, much like the “email consultants” that sprouted up 15 years ago. I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.

4. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job
Not everyone has the personality or interpersonal communications skills to take full advantage of the full potential of social media. Are you comfortable introducing yourself to new people? Telling someone you really liked their work? Building a relationship with someone without having an ulterior motive? Disagreeing with someone in a very public way without offending them? Knowing how to apologize? Comfortable with having every aspect of your professional life available for public criticism?  It takes a special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness to be really good at using social media to effect some sort of impact. I can teach someone how to tweet, but it’s much more difficult to teach someone how to really enjoy getting to know other people.

5. Your innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge ideas aren’t as innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge  as you think
Most of corporate America has VERY little knowledge of social media for business purposes, so by simply proposing that you use Twitter as part of your marketing plan during your internship, you may end up becoming THE social media subject matter expert. Here’s a news flash – you’re not.  Senior leadership, your boss, your peers – they may very well start referring to you as a guru, ninja, SME, etc. but just because you know the basics doesn’t mean you’re an expert. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines an “Expert” as someone with ten years or 10,000 hours of experience. Twitter just turned five years old. You do the math. You MUST continue to learn, to network, to read, to listen because that’s the only way you’re going to keep up.

6. You’re always on and everything is public
Your day will not end just because it’s 5:00 PM. That picture of you doing bodyshots off that waitress? Your boss, your clients, your peers – assume they’ll all see it. It doesn’t matter that it’s up there on your “personal” account or because it happened while you were on vacation. Your online life is your online life, both professional and personal. Your name and face will be freely available to everyone online – are you comfortable with a client recognizing you at the bar on Saturday night?

7. You’re going to come across a lot of jerks – don’t be one of them
Ever meet someone and the first thing they do is tell you all about how they graduated magna cum laude from Harvard or Yale? Or, they throw around their job title? Or, how much money they have? Or how they’ve got this great idea you have to invest in? Maybe you have a friend who never has money and needs you to spot him when you guys go out?  How about that guy who always seems to have an ulterior motive – he always needs a favor, some money, a ride, a recommendation? Do you LIKE being around them? Do you WANT to do them any favors? You can’t hide anymore – you can’t lie, you can’t be a jerk. People talk….about you, about your work, about how you talk about them.  Everyone is connected – that guy whose blog post you stole last week?  He’s probably in a Facebook group with your client, and guess who’s going to see him complaining about you?

Ultimately though, none of this matters because you’re not going to have a choice. While the tools that we talk about will change over time, the kinds of communication that social media enables isn’t going away. As communications students, you can either start learning about social media now and be a forward-thinker or be forced to learn it later on the job where you’re expected to know it already.

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Just Because You Run the Same Plays Doesn’t Mean You’ll Get the Same Results

The Packers dominated teams using the Lombardi Sweep, but few teams had the talent to run it as effectively

“That’s easy – even I could do that!”

Really?  Could you?  How many times have you been watching a game and said that about that highlight catch that you saw on Sportscenter?  How many times have you watched Tiger Woods swing a golf club and then try to recreate that yourself? How many times have you yelled at your favorite team to just run that one play because you just know it’ll work?

Guess what – you wouldn’t have made that catch, you can’t golf like Tiger, and your play calling leaves a lot to be desired.

This same thinking unfortunately, also carries over to the business world. Over the course of eight years in the consulting industry, I’ve noticed an increasing number of colleagues, peers, and clients thinking that just because they read/downloaded/heard a white paper, strategy, or presentation, (a play, a swing, or a catch) they too can go out and be a communications or social media expert too. Or, they ask for the detailed step-by-step guide for “using Twitter/Facebook/blogs successfully.” Like the weekend golfer who tries to be Tiger Woods or the YMCA rec league player trying to dunk, the results are similarly predictable. You downloaded that community management strategy that I did for a client two years ago and you’re now using it with your team in a totally different environment with a totally different culture? How’s that working out for you?

In the 1960s, the Green Bay Packers repeatedly ran the “Lombardi Sweep” with great success. With Vince Lombardi coaching and Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, and Jerry Kramer running the play, it became virtually unstoppable. Seeing this success, other teams started to incorporate the play into their playbooks although none were able to duplicate the success the Packers had with it. Running the Lombardi Sweep with four Hall-of-Famers had predictably different results than when you’re running it with a bunch of guys off the street! The actual play wasn’t some proprietary, secret play – it’s actually a pretty simple play to run that many teams already had in their playbook. Despite the widespread availability of the play and game tapes of the play being run to perfection, no one was ever able to consistently duplicate the results that those Packer teams had. Because they had one thing the other teams didn’t – Hall of Fame talent running the play.

The current world of social media isn’t all that different. All it takes is a simple Google search and you’ll easily find millions of blog posts, white papers, presentations, and case studies on social media best practices. You too can use the same tactics used by Zappo’s! You can create an Enterprise Social Computing Strategy just like Intel!  Unfortunately, just like your repeated attempts to dunk like Blake Griffin, your ability to emulate the successes by these companies will likely leave you frustrated and in pain. Do you have the talent to implement something like that? Do you have the right people on staff to help you?

Remember this the next time you read a white paper or listen to a presentation about social media or community management and think to yourself, “hey, I could do that!” There’s a reason people recruit, hire, and pay experienced community managers and social media specialists to do these things – because these things are hard to do. Stop looking for the quick fix, magic bullet strategy/play/framework/model/methodology/secret sauce to social media – it doesn’t exist. Instead of trying to copy another team’s success, focus on recruiting, hiring, and developing your own talent and matching up your strategies to fit. After all, you may never dunk like Blake Griffin, but you might be able to shoot the three better than him.

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Can Greater Social Connections Improve Higher Education?

I’ve written about my interest in the potential of social media to improve higher education before, and as one of the members of the SMCEDU Board of Advisors, I want to help increase awareness among colleges and universities in how social media can help improve the quality of education and why students should be learning the business applications of social media in college. That’s why when I saw that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently invested $2 million in a Facebook app to improve post-secondary education, I knew that I had to find out more about this app and how it might help further the SMCEDU mission.

Created by Inigral Inc., the Schools App allows you to create a private, branded social network for your students within Facebook that will engage them in ways that Pages and Groups can’t.  It leverages the connected power of Facebook’s social graph with the added functionality of creating “lighter” relationships — that is, connections that don’t require friending each other — centered around common hubs like interests, classes, or programs. I got an opportunity to talk with Inigral CEO, Michael Staton about the Schools app, the $2M in funding, and his vision for the future of higher education. Below is our Q&A.  [note: Neither my company or I have any financial interest in Inigral or the Schools App – I am writing this solely from the perspective of an SMCEDU Advisory Board member]

SR: First of all, I just want to say that I absolutely LOVE the idea of the Schools App – college students have been self-organizing on Facebook, and MySpace before that, for years before classes actually started. It was only logical that a platform would emerge that would make this easier and “official.” Can you give me an overview of the advantages that the Schools App provides over the self-organization that typically occurs?

MS: I like to use analogies with physical spaces for this.  When people look into building a Student Union or Student Center, do people ask themselves – well, aren’t people already hanging out on the campus green?  The answer is: sure they are.  But if you made spaces for people to effectively congregate, hold meetings, and access information and services that would be more effective for the institution than just letting people hang out on the campus green. Students self organize on Facebook all the time.  That’s great.  There’s two issues though –

  1. Institutions have no way to monitor or further facilitate that organization and that kind of activity, even though they’re starting to understand that engaging online is important to student engagement and retention.
  2. Facebook isn’t focused on organizations like universities.  Facebook’s objective is to get everyone on the planet on Facebook and then advertise to them.  To keep them engaged, they make features that help people connect, but they choose what their priorities are – and right now Higher Education isn’t even on their radar.  Pages are great for brands to push out information.  Groups are great for small groups of people to share and communicate.  Community Pages are mainly good for Facebook’s attack on Google search and Wikipedia search results.

So, we’re the only company that’s asking ourselves “How can we engage students around their college and academic experience through Facebook, how can we drive student involvement, how can we make sure that students are getting issues resolved?  Let’s make sure that students are getting connected and involved in ways that help them succeed and graduate.”  So, our design goals are different, our products are different.

SR: But why is it so important for students to get connected and involved with other students? What impact does that have on things like grades, graduation rates, student satisfaction, etc.?

MS: Research by ACT has demonstrated that three of the top five reasons students drop out are social in nature – they didn’t feel like they fit in, they didn’t get involved, or they didn’t have a supportive group of friends.  What the direct impact of a great foundation of friendships has is unmeasurable and elusive, but everybody knows theres an ROI in giving students a great experience, and that a lot of the college experience is in the relationships students make with one another.

SR: What are the biggest challenges that the schools that adopt the Schools App face?  Is it getting people to log on and contribute? Is it typical Internet behavior (bullying/trolling/flaming), etc.?  Is it maintaining engagement once school starts?

MS: In general, our clients’ hope their Schools App is a self-sustaining and self-regulating community.  And, for the most part, it is.  They run into issues when they try to approach it like “administrative” software, as if it’s going to work precisely within their business workflow.  It doesn’t.  It just does it’s own thing.  They also feel like somehow this is “competitive” with Pages that have sprouted up, been promoted, and are generating traction.  But, it’s not competitive.  This is a space for students to connect, meet one another, communicate, and share.  Saying that a Schools App is competitive with a Fan Page is like saying the Student Center is competitive with the Football Stadium.

SR: What kinds of services does Inigral offer – is it just the platform and maintenance, or do you offer professional services like community management and user adoption as well?

We make sure that students are adopting the Schools App, and we do some best practices sharing within our Customer Success services.  Customer Service and Technical Support are available with our annual agreement.

SR: You just received $2 million from the Gates Foundation – how are you going to use that funding?

We’re going to make the product even more useful throughout the student lifecycle, and make cutting edge developments in converting online engagement into off-line involvement.  We’ll use these advancements to contribute and lead the dialog on how to better measure and predict the types of social integration that lead to retention and graduation outcomes.

SR: Where do you see the Schools App going from here? I can see tons of potential for integrating this into classes to enable collaborative note-taking and enhance group projects; I can see clubs and sports teams using it to help coordinate meetings/work collaboratively, etc.  I can also see a lot cross-over application beyond the world of higher education – any thought to leveraging this sort of thing for other groups (churches, community groups, etc.)?

MS: We’re solely focused on education.  We believe there’s enough there to fulfill a lifetime.  Higher Education alone is a $400 billion dollar market, with Lifecycle engagement representing a $7 billion dollar a year effort by our nation’s institutions.  Right now, we’re focused on issues around student engagement and connectedness, and we’re staying away from “transactional” and “management” problems.  There’s lots of technologies that (no matter how poorly) help manage office  information.  Over the next four months, we’re imagining better ways to facilitate interactions across siloes and make sure that students start school with a supportive and diverse group of friends.  We’re imagining better ways to match roommates, organize study groups, foster academic advising and peer-to-peer mentorship. In the next nine months, we’re also exploring ways we can be even more important to the student recruitment process.  We want to get a schools most enthusiastic students to be a part of the recruitment process online, and give prospects a window into the student experience.  In addition, we’ve been dreaming about how to better collect student experiences and work, so that as our users graduate we remain something they come back to as young alumni.

SR: Let’s say I’m a student, faculty member, professional advisor, or administrative staff and I think the Schools App is something that my college or university should be using – what’s my next step? Who at the University should I go talk with? The Director of Residence Life? The Dean of Admissions?  And, do you have any sort of ready-made presentation that I can use to advocate for the Schools App with these people?

MS: We’ve found that the VP of Enrollment Management and the person in Admissions in charge of interactive marketing and social media are our best allies.  It’s a no-brainer for them  – we optimize yield on Facebook and make a great hand off to the Student Affairs crew.  We’ve also found that Presidents, believe it or not, sometimes immediately see that this is a long-run move to make the institution more successful and tighten the community.  When the President has gotten involved, we’ve had decisions to move forward in ten minutes. Lots of other people can be our allies, but we’ve found that getting too many people involved can create a sense of indecision – almost like there are too many moving parts to know if they should be moving forward.  So, limiting the conversation to leadership and admissions is the best way to approach it.

For more information about Inigral and their Schools App:

For more information about SMCEDU, make sure you check out:

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