As 2011 comes to a close, it's only natural (and for a blog, virtually mandatory) to reflect on the year that's passed. Since that first post more than three years ago until now, this blog has served as the foundation for everything I've done in creating and building the social media practice at Booz Allen. During the first year, it was the pioneer, carving the way for others throughout the firm to feel empowered to create their own blogs as well. The second year was probably my most enjoyable year authoring this blog because I had moved beyond the "justifying my existence" stage, the Gov 2.0 community was active and engaged, and I found myself really in the trenches with a lot of my clients helping them work through many of the issues that I got to write about. This third year though, was a little different. As my firm's social media capabilities matured beyond the start-up phase and expanded to other areas of the firm, I found myself struggling with how to scale and sustain these efforts and this was reflected in my writing too.
I wrote about a lot of different topics this year – from community management to higher education to public relations, and even personal introspection - reflecting the many different focus areas I had in my own career over the last year. Was I going to focus on Enterprise 2.0? Or Public Relations? Social Media? Social Media and Higher Education? Sports? Change Management? Management? While I remain interested in all of these topics (and many more), I've realized that I have do a better job of focusing, both professionally and personally. As I look forward to 2012 and my fourth year of blogging here, I'm going to do a better job of focusing my energy on a few areas instead of trying to get involved with every opportunity I'm interested in. Now, I just need to identify what those focus areas are….
While I think through that, here are my top five posts of 2011, as determined by how much you liked them, the reaction they generated, and how much I enjoyed writing them:
Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas - Probably my most controversial post of the year as some applauded it and others (predictably, some social media ninjas) heartily disagreed. While I used stronger language than I usually do, that's because I really do think social is better when integrated into other functions rather than operating in a vacuum.
The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager – One of my favorite posts I've ever written because I lived it and because this was one of the best ways I found to really show other people what it is a community manager actually does and why the role can't be filled by just anybody.
More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term, "Public Relations" – This one hasn't gotten as much traffic as I would have hoped, but I'm including it here because I'm tired of the bum rap us PR practitioners get and because we've got an opportunity now, as an industry, to change this perception. We have the tools to put the relationships back into public relations.
Insulate Open Government Efforts from Budget Cuts - This post became one a frequent soapbox of mine over the course of the year, as I frequently found myself asking both my team and my clients, "what's the business objective you're trying to achieve? Your goal isn't to get more Facebook fans – what's your real goal? How does this effort tie back to your mission?"
This blog, much like myself, was a little all over the place this year. I'm looking forward to this next year, to meeting more of you who read and share my thoughts, to working on projects that really make a difference, and to sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and finishes out 2011 having a great time with great friends. See you all in 2012!!
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 -
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.
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:
As most of you know, the topic of using social media and education is one that I’m very interested in – whether that means using social media in the classroom or teaching social media, I believe that there is a lot of opportunity to use technology to improve the ways the next generation learns. As I detailed in this post, this is one reason that I got involved with the SMCEDU project at the very beginning. Founded in July 2009, SMCEDU has established more than ten chapters at colleges and universities across the country, it was officially granted a 501(c)(6) non-profit designation, and it’s forming its Advisory Board now. There are a lot of exciting things happening now with SMCEDU and that’s why I was excited to talk with Yong Lee, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and current director of the SMCEDU project.
I got the opportunity to ask Yong seven questions about SMCEDU – what it is, what’s going on now, and what’s in store for the future. The full interview is below:
Finish this sentence – the Social Media Club Education Connection (SMCEDU) is the: SMCEDU, a division of Social Media Club, is a formal attempt to gather the lessons and experiences of educators, students, and professionals across the country to address the need for social media education, including what social media are and how to use it for different purposes. You can follow the conversation surrounding social media and higher education under the #SMCEDU hashtag.
What’s the mission of SMCEDU? The mission has three parts:
Bringing about awareness of social media and its impact on both personal, professional, and civic engagement to educational communities
Studying how this impact is affecting social dynamics, especially as it relates to higher education.
Connecting students to professionals with the intent of creating internship and mentorship opportunities.
SMCEDU seems to really be growing – I’m hearing more and more about the need to integrate social media into higher education, from Twitter to New York Times to blogs across the world. What are some of the new and exciting things that SMCEDU is doing now and where do you see it going from here? One of the most exciting things to me is the growth we’re experiencing right now. The project kicked off in July 2009, and this semester alone we’re seeing new chapters forming at American University, Kansas University, Kansas State University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Penn State University, and the University of Texas.
Since awareness and connection are the first steps, what I would like to see in the future is students that are actively engaged with SMCEDU making connections with the professionals in their fields of study, and documenting how they’re using social media to make classroom learning experiential and engaging rather than insulated and theoretical.
There’s much discussion around education reform right now, and I see social media being an aspect of that. I don’t know how “tomorrow’s classroom,” or whatever you want to call it, will shape up in the coming years, but I know that the social component is becoming increasingly influential in our daily consumption of information. How can we let something that important go by unstudied? There might be research underway, but from speaking with several educators I don’t know of any peer-reviewed journal or accredited source of information regarding social media use or impact.
Social media has traditionally been the realm of either communications or IT professionals. But what about those college students studying things like biology, chemistry, math, political science, etc.? Is there a role for them in SMCEDU too? So this question interests me because I’ve had a different experience when it comes to finding IT/techies on social media. I often wonder why I don’t find more programmers on Twitter. I follow the #coding and #code hashtags, but I don’t see Twitter being leveraged the way I think it could, as a personal learning network that can answer questions in real-time. I can think of many nights working on a project and reaching a point where I couldn’t find an answer on my own, I needed to ask someone. But who’s available at 3am to answer a question like that? The traditional means of communication for this situation, forums, are responsive within a day or two and are comprised of great communities. But they don’t respond right now, and are limited to just the people participating in those forums rather than a broader audience. Granted, in programming, you don’t need answers from everybody, just the experts that know the answer…but why limit the question to just that handful? Why not give questions greater exposure, and give the people that credibly answer them the same?
Communication happens in every field. Universities were traditionally just places where scholars could get together and discuss/argue about the problems they were thinking about (which is why I don’t think physical classrooms will ever go away). But a classroom shouldn’t be defined by campus boundaries. Generations that were/are raised on the Internet expect greater (in terms of number) conversations, conversations that can introduce new people and new thinking…this applies to ALL fields. I think because at its core, social media is about communication, PR/marketing/communications pros have seized it as their own. But in reality, everyone communicates, and it’s about time we devoted academic study to this particular form of communication.
Yong is the current Director of the SMCEDU Project
One of the reasons that I like entry level candidates with social media skills and experience is not because I’m necessarily looking for “social media experts,” but because they generally also show the most initiative and ambition than other students. Do you agree, and if so, who are some of the students you’ve met who are demonstrating these traits?
I agree. Some reasons why:
Social media is still seen as a new technology. I have reservations about calling it a technology or even “new” anymore, but the people that have social media savvy tend to be of the early adopter mindset which requires taking the initiative to try new things.
“Social media experts” are social people. If you’re someone who enjoys talking to others, is outgoing, and asks questions, you’re going to learn something (assuming you listen as well as talk). I’m not saying quieter people are any less ambitious, but it seems that the people that are working hard to develop social media presence are the same ones that don’t mind having a conversation with strangers, which requires an openness and willingness to risk.
The secret ingredient to success with social media is passion.
Two students that come to mind are Alex Priest, an undergrad at American University, and Andi Narvaez, a grad student at UMD. You know them both, they’re go-getters.
The majority of the readers of this blog are involved with the government, either as civil servants or contractors – why should they care about SMCEDU now? Because social media has greater implications than we currently understand. Nobody was paying attention to Facebook five years ago, now it’s everywhere. The social aspect is mandatory in nearly every tech startup, which shows me that people are becoming used to and expectant of it. This means everyone has to have some baseline understanding of how to interact online. All those stories you hear about how someone posted something on Facebook that got them fired or in trouble? It’s becoming unacceptable to not know the ramifications of your online behavior.
As I said earlier, social media impacts personal, professional, and civic engagement. You have to know what’s going on: the tools being used, the conventions/purposes for each, how to learn newer tools, how to separate BS from useful information. Social media, in my mind, encompasses all of that and will be a necessary bullet point in most any resume in the near-future. SMCEDU is trying to help form that education, that understanding, in lieu of academic study. Hopefully soon, schools will get on board.
Look ahead five years from now – what’s SMCEDU look like? Great question. I work in higher education, so I see how long it could take for schools to adapt to newer things. I think social media — both its study and integration — will inevitably become an academic convention. For now, it’s not, and who knows how long it will take.
I’d like to see SMCEDU continue to be both an entry point for those interested in learning more about social media, and a thriving community that both accepts and provides contributions of knowledge. I’d love to see SMCEDU acquire some level of accreditation, some trust and authority beyond “social media gurus.” I’ve heard a few ideas of how we can accomplish this, but for now, we’ll keep trying to fill the role as both indicators for need, providers of information, and pathways to professionalism.
For more information about SMCEDU, make sure you check out:
The following is a guest post by Jen Dryer, a current student at the University of Southern Indiana. I first met Jen at the 2009 PRSA International Conference in San Diego, and was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about the business uses of social media. She, along with Brooks Cooper, have since become the linchpins for integrating social media into the classroom at USI. Given her unique perspective and our mutual interest in all things #SMCEDU, I asked her to write a guest post here on what social media in higher education means to her.
Looking back ten years ago, the thought of social media didn’t even exist. We kept in contact through traditional media like phone calls, e-mails, and sometimes even the good old-fashioned hand-written letter. Company promotions and advertisements were broadcast through television, magazines, billboards and the occasional internet banner. Now, fast forward five years and advertising is now found on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, making everyone’s lives a lot easier. Not only are more websites being created, but each individual social media site is expanding and integrating to make things more convenient for its users. We have entered the world of social media and we are now using our online voices to speak louder than ever before.
Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks
Social media is starting to shape the world we live in on a “most recent” basis. However, since social media has existed, most of the education departments of America have not “signed in.” Social media is an essential part of our professional business world, and if we want students to succeed, then it must be part of the curriculum. One reason it hasn’t is because social media often started out as a fad with the younger generation, so it is automatically assumed that our generation of students is very knowledgeable of social media.
It is true that our generation knows a great deal about using social media, but usually only for personal reasons. When I had an interview for my current internship they told me one of the reasons I was chosen for an interview was the fact that my Facebook page was “acceptable” to their professional needs. Employers do not want to hire a person whose Twitter or Facebook page could make their company look bad. The other students may have been very worthy candidates for the position, but the picture with eight shot glasses surrounding them seemed to prove otherwise. Though my employer may not have necessarily disagreed with the candidates’ drinking, they did think it was very unprofessional to not take the initiative to untag themselves from the picture.
It’s an interesting question – why are today’s students held accountable for not knowing how to use social media professionally, yet they haven’t ever been taught formally?
Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea. I don’t think it should be specifically called a social media class; rather, it should be a well-rounded class that focuses on communicating in a digital world. It may be best to start by integrating it into speech classes that every student has to take at every university across the United States. The speech class I took as a freshman had integrated communication skills, such as interview tips, handshakes, etc. Being that the speech class isn’t solely focused on speech, it would be a good starting place to integrate social media communication.
Image courtesy of Flickr user lawtonchiles
Those studying areas such as health or sciences are taught how and why things work and also how to be ethical. Their main focus is not how to communicate effectively, so communications and social media doesn’t always come natural to them. A general “Internet etiquette” course would be valuable to them. Or maybe we can follow the University of Kentucky, who recently combined their English Composition and Communication courses to create a more efficient way for students to engage in the classroom. This revolutionary required course incorporates the use of social media so that students learn the essentials of writing professionally using social media. No matter what one may be studying, social media importance can’t be underestimated.
I’ve often found that professors are teaching us how to do old school tasks, such as writing a memorandum. But, we don’t learn how to tweet. Education should be constantly updated with the most effective and convenient ways to educate those pursuing that career field. Professors wouldn’t teach students to create overhead projection slides instead of using PowerPoint, so why do they refuse to adopt the principles of social media as a quick and effective way to replace less effective methods?
One main question always arises when discussing how to integrate social media into higher education. How would we assess a social media course? Let’s be honest – all of the college grads have heard of how Facebook content can limit their chances of scoring that job. What we need to be teaching is not to just delete the bad content, but rather to teach students how to add valuable content. The best way to grade would be to assess them on the valuable content that they post, not just for the inappropriate content they don’t have. The main point of the social media class should be graded on “what if” situations and facts about professional Internet writing, social media settings, pictures, videos, news and crisis management on the Internet.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Liako
We have come a long way from Morse code and telegrams to a much faster and easier way to communicate. It almost boggles or “bloggles” our minds! Perhaps five years from now everyone will jump on the social media bandwagon and will be more advanced and complex enough to create classes in our higher education system. If students are not even being educated on the current issues, we can’t expect to move on to bigger and better things. As for now, we must try to push social media into our higher education and create a more professional and more networked world. After all, students learn much better in a natural environment and nothing is more natural for our generation than social media.
This video is a great example of how social media is being integrated in not only the professional world, but also secondary education. It’s a great idea to grab young adults’ attention and expand their possibilities in communications today. But, why doesn’t higher education, the institution where one becomes a more intellectually rounded individual, jump on this opportunity to help better prepare their candidates for the real world?
For more information about integrating social media in higher education, make sure you check out the following resources: