Goals, objectives, strategies and tactics

April 20, 2012

Strategic communications efforts start with goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics.

Embedded in Flash below (apologies to Mr. Jobs) is a presentation I gave at the 2011 High Ed Conference using the University of Oregon’s Celebrating Champions campaign as a case study.

The idea is to structure your web and social media efforts around measurable outcomes. With the help of Higher Ed Experts intensive Google Analytics course, I’ve learned to focus on outcomes  a lot more since giving this presentation.


Being blunt about digital communications

April 12, 2012

Had fun today doing the Social University webinar with the University of North Carolina’s Rebecca Bramlett and Jill Carlson of Argyle Social. Highlights of that conversation got me thinking about some blunt truths about digital communications, be it web or social media. Here are my top five. What are yours?

1) It’s OK to suck for a while. But not for long. Give yourself a chance to jump in and start swimming. But you need to know where your headed — and why — pretty quickly. Hatch a plan.

2) Broccoli plus chocolate cake is a recipe for success. Feed your audiences plenty of interesting and engaging — even tasty — tidbits fortified with vitamins, minerals and yes, institutional messaging. You have to strike a balance. Too much broccoli (messaging) makes for a dull digital presence and you’ll lose your audience. Too much chocolate cake (fun stuff) and you’re feeding your audience empty calories. Strike a balance. It’s OK to Tweet it and Facebook it when your profs win national awards as long as you do the same when the folks on Modern Family mention your school.

Brocollli and Cake

3) Content is a dirty word; the same with Web Master. Dignify what you do by being specific. Video? Feature story? Photo collage? Slideshow? Web designer? Web reporter? Web developer? Web programmer? Call it what it or you are. Just don’t call it content or master or master of content.The days of the one-person web and social media shop are limited.

4) It is a dinner party, not a performance. Social media involves everyone. You are the performer and you are the audience. You are the host and you are the guest. Nobody likes a host who babbles about himself all the time. Ask questions. Welcome feedback and input. This is your party. Don’t dominate it. Host it. Work the room.

5) If you’re not measuring, you’re wasting time. It doesn’t cost a thing to use Google’s Campaign Tracking. But if you’re not combining it with a url shortener for your social media posts, you’re missing out on the simplest way to show return on your investments. Track it. Always.

What are your blunt truths about digital communications and social media?

Thanks to Jill Carlson for the sweet food graphic from the webinar.


Soothing a burned armpit

January 16, 2012

I wrote this letter home on July 1, 2005, after searing myself in an ice-cold shower during our first summer as Peace Corps volunteers in Kryvvi Rih, Ukraine. A recent 36-hour stint without hot water reminded me of how tough I once was — and how soft I am now.

I burned my arm pit and nearly destroyed one of the most primitive electric devices ever made after we lost hot water this week. And it was all in an effort to keep myself clean.

Just about the only dates that are firm in Ukraine are those that involve heat and hot water. Heat goes off in most buildings April 15 and comes back on Nov. 10. It’s about as close to clockwork as Ukrainians get. So our hot water went off a week late.

I’ve been here seven months. I’ve been nearly torn apart by a pit bull, shared a train compartment with a snoring drunk, eaten 100 percent pig fat, gained 20 pounds and lost 40 pounds. I’m not going to let a cold shower get me down. I cheerfully jumped at my first chance to bathe in adversity.

Rather than wait for our stove to boil water in our four-liter saucepan, I bought an immersion heater, which is a much more complicated name than something so simple deserves. It’s a metal coil with a plastic end. An electric cord comes out of the plastic part, and, yes, you stick that end in the wall and you put the metal coil in water. The metal gets hotter than a soldering iron practically the instant you plug it in. So I stuck the plug in the wall and the coil in the pan and was pretty happy because I could hear the metal sizzling in the water. It was getting hot fast.

“Genius,” I thought, “this person who thought up an electric piece of metal.” The coil got my water hot, damn hot. So I unplugged the heater, grabbed the small plastic part and started to pull it from the water. Only the plastic part looked more like a Hershey’s Special Dark left on the seat of a car in the summer. What wasn’t melted off it was pretty well already fried. “Genius,” I think, “this person who put a plastic handle on an electric piece of hot metal.”

How hard is it to engineer a piece of hot metal? I just bought a new computer. But if I can’t keep from breaking this high-tech piece of metal how will I handle my computer? There was enough unmelted plastic for me to throw the coil in the sink, where I ran water on it until it cooled. Then I took my water to the shower. I turned on the frigid water and stood under it just to get wet before lathering up.

It was nipple-flinching cold. So in my shock I reached for the sponge I had put in my hot water pan. I immediately thrust it into my armpit. I don’t why. Maybe because when you grab a hot sponge you almost always stick in your arm pit. I don’t know, maybe my pit was the coldest of cold places. Anyways, where freezing water had just been was now a sponge saturated with near-boiling water. I threw the sponge back in the pan and turned the cold water back on to cool my pit but its tough to get cold water from a shower head to hit your pit and only your pit.

So there I am, burned, freezing, cold, hot, trying what’s damn near impossible: to get cold water from a shower head on my now seared arm pit. I’m freezing my ass off and burning my pit off. So there I stood, HOT, COLD, hot, cold, for about another 10 minutes until my pit was soothed and I was clean.

 


Web communications mixes technical with playful

January 17, 2010

To be good on the web, we’ve got to do everything from php scripts to Facebook posts.

It takes a systems administrator to think all about security and stability, a writer to think about stringing together great combinations of words and a graphic designer to give a site the perfect look and feel. A developer and programmer make the site smart and functional. You need communicators to decide if social media like Twitter or Facebook can be integrated. So a successful effort requires more than success in a single area.

Web professionals don’t just write and design the pages. We also code the site, write custom applications, test the pages, move them into production, and then, if we’re smart, we even do our best to see what, when, and how people are reading our pages and who they are.

So in newspaper terms, we’re the ones who lubricate a squeaky press and dive in when it breaks, meanwhile we’re reporting, writing, editing, laying out, sending to pre-press, press, collating, rubber-banding our papers and taking them to your porch – preferably a porch that uses Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox. In a very figurative sense, we might even use web analytics to peer over your shoulder just to see what captures your interest.

Our tiny team has a designer, a programmer, a developer and me. When we sit down for our weekly coffee-house get together, the programmer might talk about exploring the best ways to migrate a WordPress site or WP plug-ins he’s written. The developer will chat about his ever-flattening learning curve in Drupal, and his progress testing modules and applying security patches. Meanwhile, the designer might talk about custom headers he’s designing, the intricate styling of a site or usability issues he’s tackling.

I’m the non-technical one. I’m the communications guy, the one who wears golf shirts and tries to explain the web to non-web folks. I’m the one who dabbles in Twitter, calls Facebook work, writes stories and edits homegrown video.   And I’m here to tell you, a good web effort takes a great team with a wide variety of skills and abilities.


To be a champion: “You have to be willing to suck…”

January 7, 2010

It’s a tough world for directors of web communications. I’m doing a job most places didn’t even have five years ago. It’s a challenge to explain it to friends and family and sometimes even to the supervisors who created the position. Finding resources on a college campus in a tough fiscal environment can be downright frustrating. But I just a read a great post about sharing your successes by Kyle James on doteduguru. It inspired me to return to blogging and to start talking about our successes.

All the combat with communication traditionalists about uses of social media finally paid off for us in the Grand Daddy of all ways. No, our web team didn’t help the University of Oregon into the Rose Bowl. Once the Ducks made it, however, we were poised to take advantage of the captive audience we’d cultivated on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube over the last 12 to 18 months, launching Celebrating Champions in Academics and Athletics.

See, we didn’t wait to generate momentum on those channels until we needed it. We consistently built our audience, moving runners around the bases with regular status updates, new videos and consistent — and fun — tweets. Then when it came time to swing for the fences, we hit more than a solo shot because we already had a loyal, growing and active community of fans.

The Celebrating Champions site captured all the enthusiasm around athletic success to highlight the university’s excellence in scholarship and service. We grabbed a feed from an existing — and fan-created hashtag, #goducks. We solicited fan photos on the UO homepage and Facebook and used some of the photos in a slideshow on the Champions site.

Fans jumped to answer questions we posed on Facebook and the Champions blog. We did all of this while also serving up stories and videos about award-winning professors and students. We’d planned to take the site down after the Rose Bowl died down. Enthusiasm for it is so great we’re now in the process of revamping it and keeping it alive. Now, we’d never have been able to do anything like this had we not dived into social media, had we not tried new things, had we not made a commitment to improving.

It wasn’t that long ago that I took part in a panel discussion at a gathering of science writers. Scientists and journalists boast some of the world’s most cynical, curious, and critical minds. Combine the two into a single profession and you’ve got a room full of people who are skeptical of even proven tools,  let alone new ones such as web video, Twitter and YouTube.

They peppered our panel with questions and even declarations. “How will you know it works?” “How do you justify the time?” “What’s the goal?” “What if you fail?” “I don’t know how to edit professional video.”

I’m frequently impatient with folks unwilling to taste everything from sushi to social media. I’ll get lucky sometimes and say the boldest and bluntest thing at precisely the right time.

“Sometimes,” I said in mild exasperation, “you have to be willing to suck.”

Denise Graveline expressed the same idea far more eloquently on her blog, “don’t get caught…”

Denise says anytime you try something new, gardening, golf, the violin, you’re going to fumble your way through it at first. And we did. We made rough videos. We had disorganized Facebook pages.  We were twitter-pated for a while. By the time it counted, we were ready.

And more than a year later, I can tell you that sucking for a while continues to pay off.


Sears: is the neighborhood store toast?

May 3, 2009

My friend Grady walked into the office giggling the other day. “I have to tell you,” he said, “I tried cleaning my gas grill like you said. And it burned up.”

534-flame-broiledSee, I’d read in a recent Cooks Illustrated that a good way to burn up the excess grease in the grill, to clean the grate and prep it for salmon, was to put a layer of tinfoil over the grate, crank up the heat and wait 10 to 15 minutes. Worked for me. So I bragged to Grady about it. Then he tried it. “Flames were shooting out the front of it. Melted my knobs,” he said. Just as I prepared to offer my deepest condolences, to even offer to help replace it, Grady giggled again. “It wasn’t your fault. The whole pipe was rotted. So I went to Sears online, ordered all the parts, new burners, new knobs, everything, put it all together, cost less than $40.”

So two lessons. Yes, it’s OK to clean some gas grills by superheating them. And two? Anybody can order replacement parts for Kenmore and Craftsman stuff. Which is awesome, Rather than replace the entire grill — as Grady might have had to do with an off-brand — he simply replaced a few parts that were easily ordered. That’s awesome.

Just don’t try going to your neighborhood Sears store and expecting to get even close to the knowledge or service a simple google search would net. Thinking I’d support my local retailer and try to keep a few jobs local — unemployment in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon is pushing 15 percent — I tooled on down to the nearest Sears in search of a garage door opener remote control. “If I buy the wrong one,” I thought, “I can just bring it back.” Remembering Grady’s words, I scribbled down my model number and even took my user manual into the store with me.

I found a display of replacement remotes and a bevy of hungover-lookin’ sales dudes, with little more than bad goatees and worse stories about the night before. They huddled around the sales desk so caught up in bragging about rolling in late unnoticed, they hardly noticed me.  All the replacement remotes were $39.99, all had different specs, some for openers with green buttons, some for black buttons, some for blue… Mine? It has a red button. No worries. I’ve got the model number, I thought. Finally one of the badly bearded sales dudes wandered over. After briefly glancing at the cover of the manual that remained in my hand, he pointed at one. “If I had to guess, I’d say that one would work.”

“I can guess on the Internet. Can we look up my model number, maybe order a part?” I asked.

He shook his head. “That department doesn’t open for a couple more hours,” he said.

I grumbled something about how he needed to know his product and headed for the door. On my way out, I noticed an 800-number on the back of my manual. I dialed it while still in the parking lot. Before reaching my car, I’d given the Sears phone rep my part number, he identified the replacement, promised it would work, and finalized my shipping address — all in less time than it took to talk with the hungover doofus inside. Intelligent conversation aside, the remote I ordered also cost $26 with shipping, more than 30 percent less than any comparable in-store product. There are plenty of smart people around town who’d love a job. Too bad hungover sales reps aren’t as easy to replace as grill parts.


Seattle: what Detroit might have been

April 25, 2009

Detroit built cars, Seattle made planes — for the glory decades of the 20th century that was true, anyway. Now, however, the cities are following very different paths. Hindsight might be obnoxious, but its irony can be painfully insightful.

This morning, I swilled coffee and read an article in Fast Company about Seattle, named the magazine’s City of the Year. The article, by Garth Stein, details the city’s emergence as an intellectual, geological and gastronomical land of plenty. Once the land of Boeing — because of easy access to timbers needed for planes during World War I — it  is now the land of Microsoft, Amazon, Costco, REI, Jones Soda and many, many more innovative companies and bio-tech researchers.

While I read, in the background, NPR’s Steve Inskeep was reporting on Weekend Edition from Detroit, a broken down city plagued by a lack of industrial vision, marked by Ford, GM and Chrysler’s collective failure to transition from automakers into transportation titans. Detroit’s city leaders hitched their wagons to a dying industry. And now, the nation and taxpayers must help them tighten up a rusty, rusty belt. We’re paying the price now for yesterday’s conservative, stay-the-course philosophy.

Meanwhile in Seattle, a spirit of innovation, of creativity, of self-sufficiency long ago allowed the city’s economy to soar beyond the work of making planes.  Seattle’s unemployment rate is less than half that of Detroit’s. And its prospects for the future are much, much brighter. Amazon’s reporting record profits. And this week, Microsoft reported that for the first time in 23 years its profits declined. During the worst economic times in 80 years, profits declined. They did not evaporate, and Bill Gates is not panhandling. Over the same period, Detroit stood idle or slid backward, committed to milking the last drops of prosperity from a shrinking industry. Seattle moved beyond, intent on the future, forward-looking, do-it-now types setting the stage for the next century.

Detroit could have been a rustic gem of the midwest, where creativity and efficiency blossomed. Instead, taxpayers will prop it and the Big Three up a little longer, desperately grasping for innovation they should have been chasing years ago. The hybrid has left the building. And it’s a Toyota. The high speed train? Light rail cars? Mass transit?

GM, Chysler and Detroit could have headed that direction a decade or two ago. They could have built a lot of things other than rusty piles of debt and layoffs. We can only hope it’s not too late.  The only thing more obnoxious than hindsight? Repeating history.