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

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.

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

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joe Bonner, dontgetcaught. dontgetcaught said: Why persisting at social media works: RT @bonnerj: Great @zackbarnett post: To be a champ "You have 2B willing to suck" http://bit.ly/8VG9Mx [...]

  2. Kyle James says:

    Glad that you found the post inspiring! :)

  3. Thanks for the hat tip, sir–and here’s mine back to you: http://www.dontgetcaught.biz/webdocs/blog/2010/01/are-you-social-media-ready-for-success.html You’ve hit on an important point, and it’s great to have positive examples like this one to share with those who are still skeptical. Congrats on the site and the success.

  4. I agree, Zack, it can be exhausting at times justifying positions like ours. When you pointed the supervisors in my department toward a web kudo on being among the top higher ed admissions Twitterers in the nation, one of the high-level staffers in the department publicly asked in a staff meeting, “There are *more* than two?”

    All the same, I *am* glad we work for an institution willing to take a risk in this area. At times I’m frustrated the UO isn’t in the same rarefied social media air as some of our competitors… but I try to remind myself that many schools aren’t doing this at all.

    Good, thought-provoking post.

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