Tag Archives: social media

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:

Continue reading...

Drive for Show, Putt for Dough – a Lesson for Enterprise 2.0 Platforms

Stop worrying about hitting the big drive and concentrate on the fundamentals

Ever hear the phrase “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough?”  It’s  time-honored sports cliche that refers to the oohs and ahhs that a huge golf drive off the tee will elicit from the crowd. However, despite all the attention a big drive gets and hundreds of dollars a good driver costs, that shot is used maybe 12 times each round. The real money is made on the green where an average player will take almost 3 times as many strokes. You can make all the highlight reels you want with your 350 yard drives, but if you can’t make a 10 foot putt consistently, you’ll be in the same place I am on Sunday….on the couch watching someone else who CAN make those putts.

I bring this up because I’ve seen one too many Enterprise 2.0 implementation – be it a wiki, a blogging platform, discussion forums, microblogging, or Sharepoint – fail miserably because they forgot to focus on the fundamentals.  They end up being too concerned with the big drive off the tee that they forget to practice the short putts that are needed to truly succeed. Nearly every Enterprise 2.0 vendor out there offers a similar set of features – blogging, microblogging, wiki functionality, profiles, tagging, search, etc. – they all hype up the fact that THEIR platform is the one that can do X or can do Y, that they have this one unique feature that puts them out in front of the competition. Likewise, once these platforms are purchased and installed, the client teams responsible for customization and integration get enamored with all of these features as well. I’ve seen way too many internal launch emails that sound something like this:

“Visit our new website, the one-stop shop for all your collaboration needs. This new website offers all of the Web 2.0 functionality that you have on the Internet, here in a safe, secure, professional environment – blogs to share your expertise, a wiki that anyone can edit, profiles so that you can connect with your colleagues!”

Seeing all this empty promotional language makes me think of my friend who absolutely crushes the ball of the tee. After another monster shot from the fairway, he’s now gone 524 yards in two shots and the crowd is loving it. He then proceeds to take three putts to go the final 10 yards because he spent all of his money on a new driver and practice time on perfecting the big drive.

Unfortunately, Enterprise 2.0 implementations are suffering from this same, all too common problem.

Day 1: After being enticed by the blogs, the wikis, the microblogging, and the rest of the features, you visit the site, you poke around a little bit – so far so good.  Everything looks great.  The design is eye-catching, there’s a lot of great content up already, some of my peers have friended me, and I already found a blog post relevant to my job. This is the best site ever! Enterprise 2.0 FTW!

Day 2: I visit the site again and invite a few of my managers to join as well…well, I tried to invite them to join, but the invite a friend button wasn’t quite working. That’s ok – I’ll try again tomorrow – must be a bug.  I can’t wait to get them using all of these cool tools too!

Day 3: Well, that invite-a-friend bug still isn’t fixed, but everything else is going pretty smoothly…other than the fact that the blogs don’t seem to work in Firefox. I guess I’ll have to use Internet Explorer for those, but that’s ok.

Day 7:  I’ve got a big meeting today with the new VP at this conference we’re both attending – I’ll demo all these new social media tools for him and show him how he can start a blog too!

Day 7 (later on): Damnit! I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to access the site unless I was behind the firewall in one our corporate offices 🙁

Day 14: On my way to a meeting, I was checking out my co-worker’s Facebook page on my iPhone when I saw his latest status update – “OMG – I can’t believe that someone said that about our new HR policy on our corporate blog!!” Intrigued by what was said on the new blog, I try to navigate to our blogs…foiled again!!!  No mobile support….I guess I’ll check it later tonight.

Day 17: Working late on a report again – luckily, I’ve been posting all of my findings to our new wiki so that when I leave for my vacation tomorrow, everyone will have easy access to the latest and greatest data.

Day 18: Disappointed to receive an email on my way to the airport that our Enterprise 2.0 site is down for maintenance for the rest of the day, rendering all of my data unusable to the rest of my team. They can’t wait a day for the wiki to come back up so it looks like they’ll be working extra hard to recreate everything I did last night.

Day 19: &*%$ I’m DONE!!!  Why is this thing so slow?  What does Facebook have 500 million users yet is always up?  Why can I download a movie from iTunes in 3 minutes, but it takes me 25 minutes to download a Powerpoint presentation?  Why can I read Deadspin from my phone no matter where I’m at in world, but can’t access the blog I’m supposed to be using for work?

Sound familiar to anyone? This is what happens when Enterprise 2.0 is too focused on the teeshot, and not enough on the fundamentals of the rest of the game. Features galore that will get people ooohhing and aahhhing, but lacking the fundamentals of speed, accessibility, and reliability that will keep people coming back. If you’re talking about implementing an Enterprise 2.0 platform, before you start talking about all of the bells and whistles you want, make sure that you take care of three very fundamental issues.

Make it Fast – People have to expect anything online to be fast. If I click something, it should take me there immediately. There are no exceptions. Load times for simple html pages (we’ll give multimedia an exception here) should be almost non-existent. I don’t care if I’m behind a corporate firewall or not – if it takes 4-5 seconds to load a page, that’s going to severely limit how often I can use it. If my bank’s site can be secure and fast, why can’t my Intranet sites?

Make it Accessible – Laptops, desktops, iPads, iPhones, Android devices, my old school flip phone, hell, even my TV all allow me to get online now.  I can access Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of other sites from a dozen different devices while on the subway, in my house, in a rain forest, or in my office.  But, you’re telling me that I can only access my work from one kind of computer that’s located in one place? Doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Make it Reliable – There shouldn’t be a fail-whale on your internal work systems. If I need to access some information to do my job – be it a blog post, a wiki page, or a file – I need to be able to access it, with 100% certainty.  If I need access to some data for an important meeting, and I can’t access it because our site is “down for maintenance” or it was accidentally deleted in some sort of data migration error, that’s a serious breach of trust that is going to make me question whether I should be using the site at all.

Concentrate on perfecting the fundamentals before you start getting into the fancy stuff – practice your putting before your driving, learn to dribble with both hands before entering a dunk contest, practice catching the ball before you choreograph your touchdown dance, and make the wiki work in Firefox before you start working on some drag and drop home page modules.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Stev.ie

Continue reading...

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

Continue reading...

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?

Continue reading...