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So I showed my Unleash Your Awesomeness blog on higher ed marking to a coworker in my Communications & Marketing Office. I asked her opinion on the overall look and feel of my blog, and it was pointed out that I might be violating my own trademark and licensing policy (of which I maintain) by using the eagle graphic. They also thought it made my blog look like it was trying to hard, and that if I wanted it to be taken seriously as a presenting me as a knowledgeable expert in the higher ed marketing field, that I should choose a different theme and rework the artwork, so I did (http://unleashyourawesomeness.wordpress.com). Still not exactly what I want in the overall look, but it is getting there. 

As for content and features, my coworkers agreed that chronicling some of my major projects could be insightful to my potential audience. One of the voids in higher ed marketing is finding a thought leader that can take commercial marketing techniques and show how they can be used (for real results) in the higher education setting. Nationwide, there are only a few higher ed specific marketing firms (Noel-Levitz and Simpson Scarborough) that can provide resources. By talking about my projects and the challenges to overcome, my blog can be of use to my counterparts at other universities. I hope to be able to post at least 2x per week on the blog and draft my own strategy for self-promotion. After working in marketing for 10 years (half my time in a corporate setting and half in higher ed), my current position is not just a job for me, it is my career. I hope to use my blog and other social media tools (Twitter & LinkedIn) to establish myself as a leader and resource in this area.

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Reflections on Readings Week 6

This week’s readings in my Social Media & Theory class focused on the power of new social tools to do social good (or not). In Chapter 8 of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody, the author describes the Prisoner’s Dilemma in which two prisoners, without communicating, have to decided when to cooperate and when to deflect. In describing this thought experiment, Shirky also notes that the “shadow of the future” is at work. This concept is about direct reciprocity and assumes that if you do someone a favor today, that person will do you a favor tomorrow — kind of like pay it forward. As I have assumed more management duties at work, I can definitely see this at play. The more interaction coworkers have with each other, the more friendly (hopefully) they will be — in turn, this generates its own goodwill. I am more likely to help someone if I consider them a friend because they have helped me in the past. When you think about it, the basic societal structure can be boiled down to this concept. 

Shirky also notes in this chapter that many other authors have written of the nation’s declining social capital (we don’t meet for bowling leagues or community civic endeavors as we once did). However, the promise of cyberspace is to rebuild that lost sense of community, but not in all ways that social scientists expected. For example, Shirky details the rise of MeetUp groups — that groups of people who can’t necessarily find each other easily in society at large can congregate online (i.e. witches as on the most popular/active MeetUp groups). I really thought it was a good point when Shirky said, ” Falling transaction costs benefit all groups, not just groups we happen to approve of,” and when he noted that “it’s not a revolution if nobody looses.” These new social tools have created improved centers of communication and assembly, but we have lost professionally (news media/journalists) with mass amateurization, traditional definitions of what is a journalist and being more connected (even the bad guys like terrorists).

In Chapter 9, Shirky discusses the Small World Pattern and Six Degrees of Separation. The primary advantage of small world networks is that they are highly resistant to random damage because the average person doesn’t perform a critical function (unlike in a traditional hierarchy). I think this holds true, and is applicable to many of today’s online groups and friend-of-a-friend networking. Another good point here is that the tools like Facebook that rely on friend-of-a-friend networking actually work better when they augment human social choices versus replace them. I also agree that these tools boost the leverage of the most connected people/businesses/organizations/etc. In the end, it really is more about who you know versus what you know.

For the additional article reading, I thought the Steve Buttry article on Pinterest was really good. I use Pinterest a lot personally. In a professional capacity, my university Tennessee Tech uses Pinterest too – we have boards pinning items in the school colors of purple and gold, boards of campus photography and boards to give inspiration on what’s best to wear to an interview. I think the potential to use Pinterest for commercial brands has a much higher success rate versus what we have been doing — it’s harder to sell the college experience versus a particular designer brand. But it is a platform that our audience uses, and having a presence is important. We also use it internally as a place for our Creative Services unit to showcase some of their design work.

The second article for this week focused on tips for good digital photography. I have always been big into photography as a hobby — always taking photos at the birthdays, kids’ milestones, reunions, vacations, etc. I actually have a love/hate relationship with digital since I now rarely ever print my photos — they are just archived online — versus when I had film to process. Any photography/video is a must now for web and social media. Our most active social media posts at the university have a multimedia component. In last night’s Twitter chat #PRStudChat, several participants noted that your posts on Facebook that have no photo/video with them get pushed down below those that do. I also think this is good to keep in mind that today’s modern journalist needs to be a jack-of-all-trades — must be able to interview, write and photography/film a story from beginning to end.

Reflections on Readings Part IV

This week for my Social Media Theory & Practice class, we continued reading in Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. This week’s chapters focused on collective action, institutional challenges and the speed of group action. Shirky notes in Chapter 6 that collection action erodes institutional monopoly on large-scale coordination. He uses the Catholic Church and its recent priest/molestation scandal as an example of an institution under siege from its own members via the increased ability to organize and connect groups. He points out that the old limits on sharing on gone and the ease of becoming a member of a group online. One comparison I appreciated in Chapter 6 was when Shirky compared the ability of groups to form and act to that of the spread of disease — that as the likelihood of infection or contact between any 2 people go up, as well as the overall size of the population, then the spread of disease goes up. Hence the term viral marketing. One point he made that I think is relevant in my higher education work setting is that geography used to be a core organizing principle, but no longer such an important factor. I think as a university we still struggle to overcome that way of thinking. Where I work, Tennessee Tech, we currently have limited options in online programs, which I would like to see grow, especially at the graduate level. We also find it challenging being in a rural setting, approximately 1 hour away from Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. We have a commitment to serving our rural region, while at the same time, most of our recruited students come from these major cities. We also have a goal of claiming the state and becoming more known in West Tennessee.

In Chapter 7, Shirky addresses the fact that as more people adopt social tools and those tools allow for an increase in rapid communication, then the speed of group action will also increase. And that groups exert a different force versus just an individual and that the difference is a threat to existing institutions. I thought this concept fit in nicely with the article by Alfred Hermida, Seth Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith on “Sourcing the Arab Spring.” Shirky’s concept here of “shared awareness,” which is the ability of any different people and groups to understand a situation and to understand who else has the same understanding, allows otherwise uncoordinated groups to begin working together more quickly and effectively. In reading the Arab Spring article detailing Andy Carvin’s use of informal sources on Twitter to report coverage of the events, I wonder why the same thing has not taken off in Syria? We get a trickle of news stories about the plight of Syrians, but not widespread on social media like the Arab Spring. I believe this may be a technology gap where Syrians do not have the cellphone/Internet access that Egyptians had to get their stories out. I think the connection that Skirky and the Arab Spring article are making here is that many political bloggers and journalists see technology and these new communication methods as tools for positive social change, and that using tools like Twitter can avoid the delays and censorship of official news channels. On the flip side, terrorists are using them to coordinate their efforts. Shirky also notes here that the more familiar and ubiquitous a communication method is (such as mobile phones), the more real-time coordination and less predictable group reactions exist.

Another good example that Shirky uses toward the end of this chapter is the airlines and the difference that 7 years can make. He gives 2 examples one from 1999 and one from 2006 of passengers being stranded on the runway for 6+ hours waiting to exit the plane. The difference in the events is that in 2006, thanks to the comments section on an online newspaper article, one angry passenger was able to connect with others, forming a group and taking action by proposing the Passenger Bill of Rights. Newspapers that had once been a one-way platform became a shared platform and then a cooperative platform with the comments sections and discussion boards. These new social tools, especially social media, lower hurdles so that people who cared a little could participate a little while being effective as a group. At a university, we often see this when someone makes a comment on Facebook about the lack of parking spaces or the unreliability of our wireless network, or any controversial issue — when someone starts to complain, and the barrier is so low that you can participate by just commenting, that post can gain traction quickly and grow. We have seen in these situation and others that it is often best if the university allow its “fans” to talk amongst themselves without interjecting an official voice. We have often seen that sometimes fans rally support for the university and counter the complainers.

Reflections on Readings — Part III

This week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class, we really dug into the Clay Shirky book Here Comes Everybody. In Chapter 3, Shirky discusses at length the eroding line between amateurs and professionals. I agree with Shirky in that a “profession exists to solve a hard problem, which requires some sort of specialization” and that most professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management.

Looking back at how I ended up in my current profession of higher education marketing, I can attribute that first step to an event in 1998. At that time, I was a sophomore in high school, intending to pursue a college degree in psychology so I could work with the criminally insane (I know, what was I thinking). I had studied psychology as an interest since middle school, and that was my desired career path — to someday become a clinical psychologist. As a hobby, I was also a reporter for my high school newspaper, The Upperman Times. I had been on the staff since 8th grade and was considered a good writer.

Well, in 1998, I co-authored a sports story on drug testing, and it ended up winning first place for sports story of the year in the TN High School Press Association Awards. That one award as an acknowledgement of my writing skill set me on a new career path — I wanted to be a journalist. I stayed on with my high school paper, eventually becoming Editor-In-Chief. I then went on to study journalism at Tennessee Tech University, and the rest as they say is history, with a few detours into editorial contracting work, reporting and 5 years at a local ad agency.

So, in the sense that Shirky describes, I do take myself seriously as a trained professional. I also agree with him that many in the journalism industry have had blinders on to the disruption of the Internet and now social media. My blinders were not so tightly sealed coming of age with the Internet and working in marketing/advertising. Shirky described this process best in simple terms that the costs for production, reproduction and distribution of media have all dramatically declined, and that the Web is not a competitor for print journalism, but rather a new ecosystem. 

I also think he makes a very interesting case for journalistic privilege (great topic for a media law paper!). That the right of journalists to grant promises of confidentiality in order to convince potential sources to cooperate is much harder to guarantee when the question now is “who is a journalist?” If now anyone can be a publisher, then anyone can be a journalist.

I thought this chapter of Shirky’s book dovetailed nicely with the article by Jay Rosen “The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs Journalists: My Talk at South by Southwest.” In this article, Rosen describes the same scenario of amateurs vs professionals, but in terms of bloggers vs journalists. I am not sure if I agree with Rosen (probably my internal indignation at work in the fact that I was educated/trained in the art of objective journalism, and in fact that opinion/editorial pieces were always difficult for me to write). I think that every reporter has an opinion on the story they are covering, but the heart of objective reporting is to present the facts and let the public form their own opinion (journalists and media are already influencing what the public thinks about with agenda setting).

I almost see objective reporting as a public service not to be tainted with opinionated, partisan efforts (like those of bloggers). On the flip side, I do follow Rosen’s logic — many of the historic examples we read about in journalism’s history are the muckrakers, making waves and “not preserving the facts” but challenging them for the social good.

And I think that ideal works in theory, but not practice — everyone takes a side. For me there is no altruistic venture in blogging, it is always to promote a cause that may or may not benefit the public good. Especially, when it is the public tendency nowadays to expose oneself to only those opinions that closely match one’s own — no diversity in thought; nothing to challenge your worldview. That is where I believe the facts are the most important — sort of like “the truth will set you free.” The facts don’t lie or take sides, they just are. And in a nutshell, that is where I have a problem with blogging being mixed up with the traditional profession of journalism. Its fine to be an advocate, but that does not in my mind replace the positive benefits of objective reporting.

Okay, off my soapbox and back to Shirky. Since I have read his other book, Cognitive Surplus, I thought Chapter 4 on publish, then filter really hit the points in that book. Editors used to serve the function of a filter, deciding what news gets printed, and today with notion of anyone can be a publisher, then how do we separate the good, quality content from the bad? In his other book, Shirky describes at length the concept of filter failure (not mentioned here) and how no good filter yet exists.

But for this chapter, I thought his explanation of user-generated content was good. He notes that user-generated content requires access to recreative tools (Flickr, Wikipedia, etc.) and that this is the way users create and share media with each other with no professionals involved. He also delved into a discussion on fame. Fame in this instance is the point where one’s status outgrows the ability to respond directly to and interact with fans/followers. This is not a function of technological limits, but social ones. The communication stops functioning as two-way and becomes one-way. 

I also thought that Shirky’s concept of a “community of practice” was good. As a higher ed marketing professional, I maintain membership in two organizations: American Marketing Association (AMA) and the TN College Public Relations Association (TCPRA). With my AMA membership, I have resources to national experts and peers to ask questions on forums, access to webinars for training and discussion, and opportunities for face-to-face conferences. It is less personal, but gives me access to things I don’t have at the university level. On the flip side, my membership to TCPRA is more personal. This organization provides direct interaction with peers (and competitors) across the state that work in the same kind of Communications & Marketing office that I do. These folks directly understand the challenges I face on a daily basis. We usually have one big 2-day conference a year (last year, TTU hosted) so we can meet face-to-face and interact at a professional level to gain ideas so that we all become better at our jobs. 

Another topic covered in at the end of Chapter 4 and more in Chapter 5 was the concept of non-financial motives — that you create content not for profit but because you enjoy it and want to share it with like-minded people. Shirky uses LiveJournal as an example. I agree with this — I have several book and TV fandoms I enjoy, and belong to email distribution lists for discussion groups and am an avid reader of fanfic. No one in these groups are in it for the money, but the shared interest and passion for content.

This leads to collaborative production where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, which is harder than just sharing. In Chapter 5, Shirky expounds on Wikipedia as a success model for how this process happens. In reading this chapter, I found a correlation between what Wikipedia has done and a social media page that I keep tabs on at the university I work at.

In addition to our main Tennessee Tech Facebook page that boasts 36,000+ fans, there is an organic student-driven page called Tennessee Tech Confessions that has 6,000+ followers. This page first caught my attention last year because it is using an official university logo, which is trademarked, as its profile picture. And since I function as the licensing manager for the university, my first instinct was to ask them to remove it. But after some internal office discussion, we decided to leave them alone and just check in on the page from time to time to see what kind of content is being shared.

Since this is a confessions page, a lot of content is meaningless fluff about someone’s secret crush to dorm life, but some of the content is enlightening. Sometimes students ask each other about professors and whether their classes are hard, or for tips on handling our frustrating parking situation. What I began to see over time was that this page for a select group of students was providing an outlet for expressing frustrations and ultimately sharing knowledge and helping each other. That is why we have left it alone. It is serving a purpose that can’t be handled by an administrative office, and any whiff of oversight would destroy what has been built. It has become an outlet for entertainment, venting and helping each other. 

Other Blogs on Higher Ed Marketing

Another assignment for this week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class was to find three other blogs related to my beat (higher ed marketing) and to review them. The three I chose are Bob Johnson Consulting, Higher Ed Marketing Journal and Noel-Levitz. Taking these three blogs, I will answer the following questions: 1) What kind of problem doe these websites/blogs help solve for the audience and/or what needs to the fulfill? 2) What do they do well? 3) What could they improve? 4) Can you identify any gaps in their content or features that a competitor could fill, and how is what you could offer different or better? 5) Look at their social media presence and the comments or interaction they get: Are they cultivating an active community around their site?

Bob Johnson Consulting (http://www.bobjohnsonblog.com/)

  • Bob Johnson Consulting is a higher ed marketing consultant that works with universities to improve their online marketing. His blog is an extension of his business. He specializes in expert/competitive website reviews, writing for the web and web analytics. 
  • This blog is great because it is timely and updated regularly. I have followed this one for 5+ years, and get a weekly email summary of what he has posted. Bob uses examples of other schools to point out success stories, and sometimes examples as warnings on what not to do.
  • Bob could improve on the look and feel of his blog. It is text heavy, and needs more engaging content (photos/videos).
  • The only gap in this blog is that he is a consultant, so there is always a sales element to the blog (he’s not just an expert sharing advice/info with no ulterior motive). I think my blog does a better job at personal connections — I actually work in a Communications & Marketing office in higher ed, so I know firsthand how it works.
  • Bob has 6,530 followers on Twitter and does not have a Facebook presence. Also in looking back at this year’s blog posts so far, he has no comments posted on his blog — low level of reader engagement.

Higher Education Marketing Journal (http://higheredmarketingjournal.com/)

  • Higher Education Marketing Journal is an extension of the printed publication of same name and is the official blog of Circa Interactive. This blog provides marketing tips, advice, best practices, case studies and analysis on higher ed marketing issues. 
  • This blog is a good resource for practical posts on addressing a variety of higher ed marketing issues, such as marketing of online graduate programs, analytics and key-performance-indicators (KPIs) in higher education, search engine optimization and paid search. I enjoy that this blog covers case studies and real life examples of challenges faced by those staff in higher education marketing.
  • Once again, this blog like the previous one, lacks any engaging content (photos/videos). It is text heavy, and the layout is not very attractive.
  • This blog covers a variety of content. The only gap would be that it is not regularly updated – just sporadically every few months. I believe that my blog is more personal, since I am writing from first-hand experience about my involvement in higher ed marketing.
  • Higher Ed Marketing Journal does not have a Twitter or Facebook account. They provide opportunities for readers to leave comments on the posts, but most posts have no comments, so a very low level of reader engagement.

Noel-Levitz (http://blog.noellevitz.com/)

  • Noel-Levitz is a well-known higher education enrollment management consulting firm that has been in business for 40 years. They are an industry leader in higher ed marketing. The blog is an extension of their business. This blog focuses on topics, such as enrollment management, financial aid, marketing, student recruitment, student retention and professional development opportunities.
  • Noel-Levitz is skilled at working one-on-one with institutions to collaborate on detailed plans of action for branding and student recruitment. They are also a respected leader in research, publishing reports and white papers about trends in the industry.
  • As noted previously, they are a leader in industry research, providing market, comparative and benchmark data. In effect, they can become your market research arm for a Communications & Marketing or Admissions Office. The downside is that once again, this is all about sales – and they can be expensive.
  • The blog is updated frequently and covers a variety of topics. I don’t see any gaps in their coverage. Most staff that work for Noel-Levitz have at one time worked in higher education, so they can speak with authority and experience on what marketing works for this industry.
  • Noel-Levitz does not have a Facebook page, but they do have a Twitter account with 2,280 followers (and they are one of my personal followers!). Once again here, there is not much activity in the comments sections for posts on this blog.

 

Reflections on Readings – Part II

So this week for my Social Media Theory & Practice class, the focus of the readings was Twitter. I think Twitter is a great tool, and will admit that I should use it way more often than I do, especially in a professional capacity. The Communications & Marketing office in which I work also maintains the university’s official Twitter account, which is mainly tied to our News division.

The first article up for reading was Steve Buttry’s suggestions for live tweeting. I thought the author here was spot-on when he said that same standards of good reporting should apply on Twitter, including accurate, fair, interesting and engaging content. He also referenced the reliable who, what, when, where, why and how questions every journalist uses. One example that comes to mind here is the JC Penney tweets during last week’s Super Bowl with many typos and misspellings – JCP blamed it on tweeting with mittens, but it was embarrassing to the company nonetheless.

I think Buttry could have spent more time explaining the importance of hashtags on Twitter – it is the way your tweet is catalogued/can be found. I also thought it was interesting that he emphasized using a narrative technique in tweeting to tell the story — it’s not just the facts, ma’am. When live tweeting you should be able to describe the atmosphere/setting, plot and characters to make the story easier for readers to follow. A success story that my office had in live tweeting was when we covered the public job interviews for a new CIO for the university. Live tweeting the interviews caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal, and they wrote about it (http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/12/11/when-your-job-interview-is-live-tweeted/). Big props here to Lori Shull, our News Director who did the live tweeting. Our office also regularly live tweets Chats with the President, so that readers can follow along even if they can’t attend in person.

The second article for this week focused on Storyful. I found this very intriguing in the way this service vets online content (photos/videos). I watch a lot of crime dramas (Criminal Minds, Law & Order, CSI) and it was almost as if Stroryful use an investigative/forensic approach to find the original source of content, using image technology, embedded data and keywords.

I thought the article from the Nieman Journalism Lab by Michael Roston that summarized how the NYTimes uses Twitter was really good. It was helpful to see that their social media team works hand in hand with print reporters/editors to promote stories on Twitter and increase reader engagement. Much like we do in our office, they measure Twitter success looking at the number of click-throughs and retweets. The author didn’t mention it here, but I am curious if more readers are pushed to Twitter because of the paywall on the NYTimes main website? Also, in reporting their most successful Twitter stories (Boston bombing, crash of Asiana Flight 214, the Syrian conflict), for a former news person like myself, even in this new social/digital age, the old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” still holds true. I also like that they acknowledge the skill of headline writing is even more important in the Twitterverse and that “clarity works better than being clever or obscure.”

Moving from journalism to the world of literature, another article for this week was “Only Literary Elite Can Afford Not to Tweet.” I like how the author, Anne Trubek, said, “Twitter has offered me an intellectual community I otherwise lack.” I agree with that since I try to follow successful marketers and brands on Twitter to see how they are using this tool. I also have a personal interest in authors on Twitter. My favorite author, Stephen King, just recently joined Twitter in December and has racked up 300K+ followers. King also has been making headlines using Twitter to delve into the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen controversy (http://entertainment.time.com/2014/02/04/dylan-farrow-woody-allen-stephen-king/) — showing me that even celebrity authors need to realize the power of this platform and the nuance of every word (especially since you only have 140 characters).

The last article for this week gave a good overview of Twitter analytics. I logged in to see for myself what my personal analytics were, but unfortunately the system is not set up the same as when the article came out last summer. It is more about promoted tweets and ads. Currently, for my profile, I only have 99 tweets in my history (I know, it should be way more). I also have 58 followers, and I follow 158 people. At the university where I work, I just set up a partnership with another office (Campus Compass) to use data that office is collecting on students’ most frequently asked questions and using that in shaping the site map for the new university website that will roll out in May. And since our contact there is into data, he also agreed to help us regularly review analytics (Google analytics for web traffic and social media analytics for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). This will be very beneficial, especially on the marketing/recruitment side. Tennessee Tech University has a strong Facebook presence with 36,780 fans. We use Facebook to help promote news stories and keep campus informed. It is also the most engaging tool (students post questions and we help answer them). Twitter is more for our News Department to promote events and do live tweeting. We have 4,576 followers on Twitter. And the same is true for our YouTube channel being a primary hosting site for news videos that accompany press releases. We only have 213 subscribers. 

Lastly, for class this week, we were asked to find and review an academic article on Twitter. I chose “Fish Where the Fish Are: Higher-Ed Embraces New Communications Tools to Recruit the Wired Generation.” This article was published in the Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice in 2012. One of the challenges we face as the Communications & Marketing office for a university is that we have professionals in our office who know how to use these social media tools and to speak with a consistent voice across platforms. However, many offices/departments across campus also want to be on social media – that is good, but oftentimes, the tool is not the right fit and accounts get created and quickly abandoned. We have even started holding periodic training sessions for faculty/staff on how to properly maintain a presence on Twitter/Facebook. We’ve also developed some Social Media Guidelines we hope to get codified into our existing Web Policy. Besides our office, I will say the only other major effort in social media at the university is from our Athletics Department. They have done an excellent job on Twitter, incorporating it into their Sports Information unit. They also have Twitter promotions on campus to gain followers — offering free t-shirts as giveaways to anyone who signs up.

This academic article focused on how admissions offices use not just Twitter, but also blogs, Facebook, podcasts and wikis. It reported on a survey of 478 college admissions officers and/or those in charge of the university’s social media programs. Of the 478, 59% have a university Twitter account. I know our Admissions Office uses Twitter when the recruiters are traveling to give a shout-out to what high school/college fair they will be at. Another interesting statistic is more than half of the institutions monitoring social media do so manually. This speaks for a need to emphasize analytics and tools available to make reporting easier so that the upper administration understand the significance/impact/reach of social media. That is what we are trying to do in our office – quantify our time/resources spent on cultivating a sizable social media following and what that translates into in terms of student recruitment and stakeholder engagement.

 

Reflections on Readings

I think I have confused myself with the dates on the class syllabus – I think I should have posted this last week. I am blogging on readings for my Social Media Theory & Practice Class #SocialJ #J7330 that I am taking at the University of Memphis. As noted in my bio, I am a grad student pursuing an M.A. in Journalism, and by the way, the online program I am taking rocks!

I wanted to start by sharing my thoughts on the first two chapters of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. I have previously read Cognitive Surplus by this same author and found it a good read. Shirky has a talent for using detailed stories to convey his message. He begins the book with a lost cellphone and demonstrates the power of the Internet, social media and human persistence in the recovery of the phone along with the arrest of the person who ended up with it. He defines a large portion of people who became connected/interested in this story as the “former audience.” The former audience are people who react to, participate in and even alter a story as it is unfolding. Since people are more dramatically connected to each other than ever before using online tools, there has been a power shift from traditional media to this new audience. It is important to note that although there are altruistic stories like the lost cellphone that represents a human interest in seeking justice, these new social tools extend not only our essential social skills, but our characteristic social failings as well (i.e. trolling, flaming and schadenfreude).

We recently saw an example of this at the university where I work. After a winter storm left some of the sidewalks and steps icy, a student sat in the cafeteria overlooking a back parking lot and filmed students, faculty and staff repeatedly slipping and falling down a set of steps. The student went so far as to set the video to music and post on YouTube. In the time it would have taken to alert campus facilities to fix the problem, this student instead wanted a funny video of other people getting hurt.

Getting back to the book, Shirky notes in the first chapter that for most stories like the lost cellphone to be successful, they must have a “plausible promise” that means the story inspires interest, yet achievable enough to inspire confidence of the desired outcome. I think this holds true as well for stories that achieve high interest from traditional media.

Another concept that struck a chord with me is when Shirky described the institutional dilemma. He defines this as because the institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what these institutions are capable of in theory and in practice. As I recently took on more administrative and managerial duties at my university job, I can see this at the office level — managing people is tough. There is a way in your head that the workflow should go, and then you throw people and emotions and their motivations into the mix, and that plan goes out the window. I am right now grappling with ways to help project management. We have two revenue accounts in our Communications & Marketing office that charge university departments back for services rendered. These are Photo Services and Creative Services. They start out each year in a negative balance in their revenue accounts and must dig their way out. Right now, I am unraveling the knot of how production gets slowed down and jobs end up not getting billed out, which hurts our office’s bottom line. So I am getting firsthand experience with the institutional dilemma.

Shirky’s second chapter focused on sharing, groups and community. I have always known that getting universal agreement in large groups was difficult, but had never heard it referenced as the Birthday Paradox. I expect to experience this up close and personal at an upcoming Presidential Cabinet meeting where our office will be presenting new visual identity graphics to the highest level administrators at the university — talk about showtime 🙂

I also agree with Shirky’s statement that the collapse of transaction costs makes it easier for people to get together, ease of assembly. He covers material here that was also in the Cognitive Surplus book, specifically the ladder of participation. This is where one goes from sharing (awareness) to cooperation (creation) to collective action (responsibility). I also appreciate that he recognizes that in today’s world, this often translates into content of the lowest denominator (i.e. lolcats). However, there are examples of people doing the right thing for positive, meaningful social change (i.e. #freemona example in the Zeynep article).

I though the articles were good that went along with the book readings. I thought Seth Ashley’s piece was particularly insightful. It is easy to get caught up in the do-gooder potential of the Internet and social tools, but don’t forget that current media power is highly concentrated, especially with gatekeepers like Google and tech giants like Amazon and Facebook. Also, he noted that many of these powerful companies keep detailed data on consumers that is worth a literal fortune in terms of advertising and marketing potential. As for the two articles of pro versus con on if the Internet makes you dumb or smart, I fall on the side of smart. Yes, multitasking does derail your focus, but I believe it you have fundamental skills such as reading/writing (outside of the Net), then you can adapt to today’s 24/7 world just fine. Being connected at all times and able to juggle multiple projects is just a fact of modern work culture. My first photo on my #photoaday project on Flickr was of my new work phone — I was excited to get an iPhone, let alone let my work pay for it, but I knew beforehand that it came with a price, which is my availability and ability to be contacted and respond at a moment’s notice.

As for the article on “The Natives Aren’t Restless Enough,” I agree with the author Derek Willis that most communication students today would classify themselves as digitally savvy, but have no real concept of what that means. They may play with the tools but have no understanding of strategy in terms of using them effectively. I’ve also in general seen a decline in the quality of writing from students in my university’s journalism program and in the basic organization of a story. I believe that in order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader (reading not just other news, but books both fiction and non-fiction). I also agree that coding and technical skills should be a fundamental part of any undergraduate communications/journalism program.