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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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Justifying the Time You Spend on Social Media

"Ummm, so I didn't see the ROI of that last joke - try again with something a little more effective and maybe then I'll pay attention"

The other day someone asked me, “how do you justify the time you spend on Facebook and Twitter – don’t you have real work to do?” This was after I told my wife that I couldn’t make dinner yet because I had to finish up some work, only to have her chastise me for responding to some messages that I received on our company’s Yammer feed. Presumably, if I had instead been working in a spreadsheet or typing an email, neither question would have been asked.

But why should it be any different? When we’re talking about social media, why does the medium matter more than the content?  Why is it professionally acceptable to send a client an email than a Facebook message? Why is writing a white paper looked at as real work but a blog post isn’t? I’ve been asked to justify the ROI on individual blog posts, but no one has ever asked me to demonstrate the ROI of any of the hundreds of emails I send every day.

Shouldn’t the content be what determines what is considered work, not the medium? Why is social media held to this impossibly high standard when other technology isn’t?

This double standard has frustrated me for years – just once, I’d like to go through my colleagues’ emails and phone calls and ask them to justify all of their time spent using their technology. “Hmmm….looks like you’ve sent the same email out five different times – seems like a lot of unnecessary duplication! What’s with these status meetings you keep going to – are they bringing in any additional sales?”

Here’s the thing – the effectiveness of social media, like other forms of communication, should be measured at the macro, not the micro, level. Measured in a vacuum, all of those emails, phone calls, and business lunches wouldn’t mean much either. But taken as a whole, they paint a much different picture. You had lunch together, which led to a follow-up phone call, which led to a marketing meeting at his office, which led to another phone call, which then led to a new contract – congratulations! While that last phone call may have sealed the deal, that doesn’t mean that that lunch you had two months ago wasn’t just as, if not more, important. Just because it didn’t directly lead to a new contract doesn’t mean your time at that lunch was worthless – it helped you build that relationship.

The same is true in social media. While that Tweet about your favorite movie may not be related to your core business and wasn’t retweeted hundreds of times, that by itself doesn’t mean anything. There should be ebbs and flows in the content you post, and while individually, those tweets about your favorite movies may not contribute directly to those all important metrics, they do help lay the foundation that will allow everything else to be more effective.

Now, whenever someone asks me to justify the time I spend here, or on Twitter or Facebook, my responses usually end up sounding something like this:

  • “Remember when you needed a contact at that government agency and I was able to connect you with Joe? Yeah, Joe and I have exchanged a few messages over Twitter – he’s a great guy”
  • “You know how we got that project of yours highlighted in the New York Times last week? I read the reporter’s blog and he recognized my name from all the comments that I’ve left there”
  • “Those two junior employees we just hired who you absolutely love? I actually met them at a conference last year and kept in touch via Facebook, so when I saw they were frustrated with their jobs, I reached out and brought them in for interviews.”

Trying to parse this out and determine the ROI of a single tweet, blog post, or Facebook status is a futile, short-sighted effort.That’s why the Twitter feeds for most big organizations are unbelievably boring – we need to make sure that we track the ROI for every post, link, and tweet!! Instead of measuring each of these things individuals, try looking at it holistically.  If you do, the ROI of the relationships that you form over time will actually be pretty easy to demonstrate.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user russeljsmith

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The Social Media Resolutions I Want You to Make

Ugh – the phrase 2011 social media resolutions returns more than 12 million search results on Google and I find most of them totally insufferable. Let me guess – in 2011, you resolve to “blog more often,” “double the number of Twitter followers you have,” “stop spending so much time on Facebook,” and “engage more with your customers/readers?”  Two years ago, I even did one of these posts myself.

So why do I have such an aversion to these posts now? To start,  most of them are cliche (blog more often!), totally ambiguous (engage more!), or common sense (listen to other people!).  For most people, the social media resolutions post has become blog filler that doesn’t really offer any value, to the author or to the reader. Now, if you really want to make some social media resolutions, here are the ones that I wish I’d see more of among those 12 million.

  1. I will stop using the terms “guru,” “ninja,” “evangelist,” “rockstar,” and “czar” to refer to people who know how to use social media.
  2. I will blog less.  I will stop filling the Interwebs with my self-important crap and instead blog only when I have something valuable to share, not so that I can maintain some search engine ranking or social media web ranking.
  3. I will do at least a cursory Google search before I write a new post to see what other people are saying about the topic about which I’m going to write.
  4. I will not copy and paste other people’s entire blog posts onto my blog with two lines of “analysis” and claim it’s a post that I wrote.
  5. I will write about someone other than myself or my company at least once in a while.
  6. I will read every blog comment I write at least once to myself before clicking submit to make sure I don’t sound like an idiot.
  7. I will check the facts of the content that I post before I upload it.
  8. When I make a mistake, I will apologize and correct it as soon as possible.
  9. I will attribute all content to the original author if it’s not my own.
  10. I will stop getting frustrated with people who don’t understand social media and instead will empathize with them.
  11. I will finally come to the realization that for all the hype I help spread about Twitter, it’s still only used by less than 10% of the U.S. population.
  12. I will stop telling my clients that they have to have a Facebook page, Twitter account, Second Life presence, or blog. I will instead help them integrate these tools into their strategies where it makes sense.

What about you – what social media new year’s resolutions would you like to see more of?

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