Thursday, October 28, 2010

Has social media killed empathy?

Last week, a colleague sent me a USA today article that raised the question of whether social media has killed empathy. My answer: it hasn't.

Through online discussion forums and social networks, I have made new friends, connected with our profession's thought leaders, and kept in touch with classmates, neighbors and family with more frequency than my schedule would otherwise allow. Sure, there are those who live online to the exclusion of connecting with people in real life, but that's hardly a new phenomenon. (Raise your hand if know any video game addicts or workaholics.)

I view social media as an amazing means for enriching real-life relationships, particularly in higher education. Our audiences invest some of the best years of their lives on our campuses, and social networks now make it easier to maintain those relationships—both with the institution and among classmates—for a lifetime. And for those who are preparing to join our community, accepted student groups and networks can engage students long before the official orientation process begins.

The blurring of professional and personal spheres online can also increase empathy in ways we could never expect. Over the past two months, I have watched a colleague's story unfold on Twitter as her two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer and started experimental treatments. I have been deeply touched by her tale, and I know many others have as well. Our higher ed marketing peers have supported her through prayer and fundraising. Ironic how one can feel such empathy for someone only known through social media. (Read Andrew Careaga's blog post to read little Sydney's story and find out how you can help.)

Speaking of Andrew, the Educational Marketing Group is looking for his replacement as International Brand Master. If you want to nominate a current higher educational branding professional, EMG is accepting nominations through Dec. 15, 2010.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Got water?

In honor of Blog Action Day's theme of water* today, I thought I'd share a (barely) relevant anecdote. My employer gave up its bottled water contract a few months ago for both financial and environmental reasons. While I completely agree with this in principal (and have switched my home water consumption from bottled to filtered), the tap water in my building tastes awful.

But thankfully, I work with creative problem solvers.

Thanks to the miracle of the interwebs (pump courtesy of eBay) and Sam's Club, my Web developer assembled the contraption pictured here so that we can all now drink filtered water from his house.

Now, we can go green without the water tasting green.

*Disclaimer: Blog Action Day is really focusing on global access to clean, potable water. Since I have no real insights on that issue (and certainly nothing related to marketing or working in higher ed), this post would probably be more appropriate for the 2009 Action Day theme of environmental protection. If you can think of a good way that higher ed communicators can help get clean water to remote areas of developing countries, please include your suggestions in the comment section below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Everyday adventures in managing Facebook pages

Much has been written on how to set up university Facebook pages, how to handle crises (both literal and virtual) on Facebook, and why we should have all have a presence on Facebook in the first place. However on most days, the management of an institutional Facebook page is much less dramatic.

Here are a few tips about the more routine issues that have come across my desk(top) in the past week:
  • Plan for the grey area. Decide in advance, if possible, where you want to draw the lines for spam, negative posts and other related issues, then post guidelines in your Notes section to inform your fan community. You might want to allow local businesses to offer special discounts to your students, or you might choose to bar all advertising. Some negative comments are inevitable in social media, but when will you stop someone who is hijacking your page? Posting guidelines can set ground rules for the entire community and make future decisions much easier. Take a look at other higher ed Fan pages for examples; we really liked the University of Kansas comments policy when developing ours. If possible, get your legal counsel's buy-in before you post.
  • Differentiate your voice from your institution's. While the common wisdom is to use a personal tone on institutional social media channels, never forget that you're still representing the institution. When our parent university asked a question about a legal term, I first feared that my answer would appear as the Voice of The Law School speaking on The Law. Since I'm not a lawyer, this could have been a dangerous role for me to fill. Thankfully, answering this question on the university's Facebook page with my regular profile identity worked out well—I could explain the answer, my source, and my role in an appropriate context.
  • Be clever. While I wouldn't advise posting jokes when speaking for your institution, showing a little wit every now and then can be fun. A news item about a best-selling author lecturing on how lawyers could pursue writing careers prompted another recent speaker (Craig, also an author and journalist, but not a lawyer) to respond with the following exchange:

    I would have let the first statement go had it been from any random fan. But since this person's identity wasn't clear to the other fans, I chose to help the conversation along. In this instance, speaking as a straight-laced institution (with a dose of marketing language) showed some personality in a way that shouldn't offend even the most nervous college administrator. (Note: I don't advise using a marketing tone in most social media interactions.)
  • Monitor others' use of Facebook in crisis communications. God-willing, none of us will never have to use our social media channels to communicate the threat of an active shooter on our campuses. But it's always wise to follow the Boy Scouts mantra and be prepared. Following the actions of other institutions in crisis via Facebook or Twitter can be valuable training. Check out Jessica Krywosa's .eduGuru post on "Does Your Campus Security Have a Place in Social Media?" about how the University of Texas at Austin handled their emergency communications on Facebook last week.
  • Added 10/5: Keep your eyes open for opportunities in unexpected places. Thanks to Andrew Careaga's post on a Facebook fundraising effort to help one of his staff (Mary Helen Stoltz, whose two-year-old daughter is fighting brain cancer), I discovered FundRazr, a low-cost fundraising app on Facebook that processes PayPal donations. At a glance, it looks like it should work well for individuals as well as universities and other nonprofits. (And if you want to support a fellow higher ed communicator and her beautiful kid through a rough time, donate and test out via FundRazr here.)