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Am I SMRTer? Lessons Learned

Women in Mac Eng Blog

To round up the last part of our Social Media Research & Techniques (#SMRTCCE) class, our instructor, Jared Lenover (@autoblot) asked each of us to answer a few questions about our experience working in groups on our final case studies.

My team created a blog, which you can enjoy at http://womeninmaceng.wordpress.com . Following is a summary of my “Lessons Learned”.  Feel free to comment ~ let me know what you think!

What you learned about working as part of a team.

The best kind of team…

… engages with a project from the beginning, whether or not the topic or focus is of interest to them personally. A strong team looks at the overall scope of a project, determines if a leader is required and then assesses each member’s strengths. Whether using a democratic process, personal volunteering or delegation, in order to make any true progress, sections must be allocated to each member as if they are a ‘project lead’ on that particular task.  Then the team members should take turns reviewing each other’s work to provide feedback and then perhaps add or edit the material to improve on quality. Even if someone is ‘assigned’ a certain area of a project, it’s important that they are aware of what all the members are working on or else there will be a lack of consistency and the integrity of  the overall project will be threatened. It is tricky to work separately and then come together to dovetail research and communications plans to create a solid, impressive outcome.

During this project I learned that people have very different working styles and bring different skills and experience to the table. It’s important to take advantage of these strengths, rather than see any particular lack of experience as a disadvantage. I especially respect a team member who was honest about not having a background in a particular area but who was willing to learn and do whatever it took to achieve what was needed. She has an amazing attitude and was a valuable team player.

Alice, Allyson & Deborah

Alice, Allyson & Deborah

The success of an overall project in any team situation is dependent upon the commitment and engagement of the participants. If any of the workload balance or engagement levels are uneven, personal conflicts may arise and then either someone has to step up and oversee more than their share of work or allows it to remain as is. There is a very subjective point where one must decide whether one has contributed as much as is ethically reasonable. I propose, however, that when team members are committed and engaged, this kind of dilemma would not naturally occur. The most exciting team is made up of people who are equally invested in the success of the project.

The best kind of tools…

… in my opinion, social media platforms are increasingly popular because of the opportunity they provide for people to connect, to collaborate and to produce high quality content independently. We no longer need to hire graphic designers, ad companies, video producers and the like to achieve what we, as creative individuals, wish to do. It’s so exciting to be able to affordably create a video or animated presentation using free tools and space to post them ‘in the cloud’. For example, our “Women in Mac Eng” project, incorporated multiple sources of media, and we were able to create our own YouTube video, Prezi animations, a faux Women in Mac Eng website, a faux Twitter identity and put it all together in one beautiful blog with no cost to our team other than time and some ‘elbow grease’.

I have to credit Google docs with providing an essential set of project management tools and a space that became our creative ‘hub’. We started with a Google spreadsheet: tracking research, posting a growing list of tasks and goals and managing links to our assets. This was effective in keeping the project on task and on time, as we could all check to see what had been accomplished and what was still pending at any given time we chose to login.

When it was time to ‘get down to writing’ as one team member liked to put it, we were able to work (even simultaneously at times) in a Google document to build content for our blog. Through the revision history, we could see when each other had accessed the document and review the evolution of our thoughts and work. It was highly effective to communicate key ideas with each other in highlighted colours, rather than in separate emails. We could leave spaces or reminders for areas that required further analysis and development. And we could see different members’ contributions so that any one of us could edit and revise the copy to communicate even more strategic ideas as we progressed. Finally, it was possible to highlight what had been posted to our project blog as we went. Final edits and tweaks were done in the WordPress environment, but the Google doc was wonderfully accessible no matter where we were working from, even if in a café.

What you learned about your personal abilities, work habits & behaviours.

I have always been a hardy researcher, who definitely goes above and beyond a reasonable scope at times. I am a zealous worker, always looking to put the pieces of a puzzle together and find ‘the masterpiece’. I am aware that I sometimes spend far too much time researching and then must push myself to get into a ‘writing state of mind’. I appreciated my team mate Alice, as she kept reminding me when we needed to step back from the minutiae and move the project forward with concrete deliverables. It’s valuable to have all kinds of workers on a team and perhaps sometimes I am a bit too much of a visionary, enjoying the creative problem solving and hesitant to commit to the final product direction. When I work on a project, I don’t usually measure the amount of time (unless meeting a deadline requires it) and say ‘that’s enough…I don’t need to do any more’. But sometimes I wonder if that drive can push me too far in the speculative phase of a project and actually create a type of ‘writer’s block’?

What you will do differently in the future to be more effective both as an individual contributor and as a team member?

In terms of projects, in many areas of my life I have been in leadership roles and I sometimes find I must slow down and consider the contributions of others. I really practiced that with my group this time and it was a good challenge, since the topic of McMaster University admissions and public relations was originally my topic (and is my current career focus).

It is tempting when you’re a subject expert to assume you can do something better than someone else who doesn’t have the same experience or information you do. But I realize that getting the perspective of and considering the ideas of unbiased contributors is very valuable.

It is also important to give credit to your appropriate resources and to remain transparent when quoting other people’s thoughts, research or writing. I really like the Institute for Public Relations article on “Ethics and Public Relations” if you’re interested in that topic. SIDE NOTE: In fact, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) just recently released a new definition of ethical public relations, which applies strongly to the concepts taught in this course regarding social media communications. It is, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This also applies to the type of relationships required in an effective project team.

In fact, there were areas of the project that I allowed my partner to take the lead and I realized how nice it is to sometimes take on the role of individual contributor. I enjoy leading, but in the future I want to practice learning from others and seeing the value in following someone else’s lead when appropriate.

Also, I noticed in this project how much I enjoy editing but have to sometimes allow communications from others that are not as I would submit them. Everyone writes and thinks differently and no one person is ‘right’. However, I cannot resist grammar or layout issues. I realize I am a perfectionist who loves when the final product is appealing as possible.

In a collaborative project, it’s key to have patience with each other and communicate clearly in order for everyone to feel valued and respected. This project, more than any I’ve ever worked on, showed me how important clear communication and face-to-face conversations/work sessions are when you want an excellent outcome.

In conclusion we were asked to describe what we would ‘stop‘, ‘start‘ and ‘continue‘ as a result of our lessons learned. Here is my ‘take’!

For those of you who have read ALL my posts on this blog and checked out the Women in Mac Eng blog, thank you from my heart for coming along on this journey!

Stop

Worrying so much about creating perfection and just jump into the heart of a project.

Start

Considering more than one way of solving a problem or presenting an idea.

Continue

To appreciate the contributions of team members who are engaged and excited to find the fun in working together.

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Ambient Awareness: a culture of connection

In September 2008, Clive Thompson of the New York Times coined the social science based term, Ambient Awareness in his piece Brave New World of Digital Intimacy. He described this phenomena as social media connections creating a sense of community from ‘weak ties’ rather than close, personal relationships we experience in our day to day lives. Social scientists are now using the term “ambient awareness” to describe a peripheral social awareness of the lives of others “propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social networking platforms on the Internet” (Wikipedia).

Daily postings on Twitter or Facebook may seem mundane individually, but when a person follows the ongoing stories of their ‘friends’ lives, it can become a “surprisingly sophisticated portrait of friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting.” While these connections may be considered ‘weak’, there are numerous personal and professional benefits possible. When your network extends beyond your immediate social community members, a simple posting requesting help could quickly generate career opportunities, advice, interest in supporting a business, event participants or creative solutions to problems.

Consider the forum social media presents for those who would be typically isolated from their personal community, for all kinds of reasons ranging from business travel to confinement to a home for medical reasons. Social media combats loneliness, a universal human experience that comes from the same emotional strain as boredom. I challenge anyone to deny that is a huge motivating factor for those who frequent highly interactive platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

Also consider how ‘weak connections’ can grow into much stronger ones and even shift from acquaintance to an actual, personal friendship. Sometimes the people that surround us face to face are not as open and willing to share in person as they are online. Or maybe you would normally overlook someone based on an assessment that the person “couldn’t possibly have anything in common with me”. I’m sure anyone who regularly engages with social media can anecdotally describe ways in which a digital connection has evolved into a live, personal connection. Online interactions offer the real possibility of creating affinity between people who may not have connected well in person.

Some people have yet to truly adopt popular social media tools, and challenge their value, but I challenge them to go online regularly for a few weeks and to follow the stories and “shares” that amuse or interest them in any way. Ambient awareness is likely to draw them in to a world they didn’t previously consider relevant.

To those who approach social media as a sales tool or chance to “convert the market”, consider that our virtual, global community is not about “us versus them”. There is no “them”. We are all “us” once we truly engage. And engagement may mean many things to many people; just remember why YOU personally want to be present online. Honour that when creating content and reaching out to others.

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To Pin or Not to Pin

While I have been excited and eager to explore Pinterest as an admissions outreach tool for McMaster University, I’ve been coming across some articles which suggest using this site is definitely a challenge to organizations re: copyright infringement. Although the popularity of this site is skyrocketing, how can we ethically use it as an organization with policies that are intended to respect privacy and intellectual property?

I also find it interesting that there seem to be unwritten Pinterest etiquette rules which discourage self promotion. Does this fit within the outreach and enrolment initiatives of higher education institutions? I’m not sure. Initially, I thought it would be a wonderful new avenue for public relations tactics that would appeal to the female demographic which has naturally congregated in the Pinterest community. But there’s a fine line between authentic two-way communication and blatant self-promotion that pretends to be truly interested in the social media “conversation”.

I know that there are numbers of Pinterest users self-promoting, but is there  could be a ‘hard sell’ implication if McMaster were to use it as a recruitment tool. Perhaps it’s safest to stick with posting photos we have rights to, such as images of an alumni event. It’s probably a great tool for connecting with those folks on Pinterest who happen to be in the McMaster community network, but not likely the greatest place to generate prospective student interest.

I recommend you read: “Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest inspiration boards” and “Pinterest: Trouble in Pin Paradise”  for more insights on this topic.

There are also considerations for bloggers, photographers or others with professional sites that are working at maintaining profitable site traffic. You can add code to prevent pinning of your content, which I highly recommend you research if you have concerns about search engines driving your traffic to your images on Pinterest rather than your own!

I like the article on Unmemorable Title “Why I’m Seriously Losing Pinterest” as a clear explanation of the hazards and offenses possible in this realm. It’s unfortunate that we can’t just enjoy our social media playground without serious issues of copyright infringement raising their ugly heads, but it’s a reality that must be considered. Not only is it a personal risk for individuals who click “I AGREE” without reading the Terms & Conditions, it’s especially dangerous for an organization that could be put at risk without proper evaluation of rules and regulations of each social media platform.

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A #MacPirate Adventure

SYNOPSIS:

On Wednesday, February 15, 2012, our #SMRTCCE class participated in the McMaster Class in Advertising at the Ron Joyce Centre in Burlington. The event featured a major gift announcement and a presentation by directors of the Pirate Group from Toronto.

The hashtag #MacPirate was used on Twitter for tweets related to the event. Tweets with the hashtag were projected onto a screen during the presentations. Some students were there at the RJC participating from the audience. Others participated remotely or reviewed the tweets afterward. Following is a review from Deborah McIvor (@mcivorda), a virtual participant.

#MacPirate panellists (courtesy:@alexbielak)

INSIDE THE FRAME – MY TAKE:

This event was an opportunity for our classmates to head out on a ‘field trip’ of sorts and support the Twitter ‘back channel’ as participants engaged with the presentation. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to a previous commitment. I did, however, tune in near the end of the event and reviewed tweets (and blog posts) afterward. As an added bonus, McMaster’s Daily News, as well as other media sources (e.g. Globe and Mail), had posted a great write-up and video interview with Pirate Group co-founder , Terry O’Reilly @terryoinfluence . This gave me a framework for the event’s context and content.

VALUE ADDED:

It was great to see added media to the tweets, which gave me a visualization of the set up, lighting and atmosphere and type of crowd in attendance. McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business supported content revelations throughout the presentation in tweets that were basically ‘sound bites’ ( See an example). That made it more interesting than just hearing background chatter about how the event was going from participants. I liked getting a sense of the event on a timeline, however, the real content I wanted to see was what I would have hoped to hear in person. I wanted more depth perhaps than a few tweets can provide, but at least sound bites of true content made me curious to pursue topics on my own after their mention.

VIRTUAL vs. LIVE ATTENDEES:

It was great to see collaboration, where #smrtcce class members would remotely tweet questions that live participants could then ask on their behalf. Even @maclibraries got in on the action, offering to ask questions for cyber attendees, however, I didn’t see a sign of answers in the thread. Perhaps not everyone asking questions remembered to use the #MacPirate hashtag?

A really engaged #smrtcce participant, Beth ( @ thebethamer) took on many different roles during the evening: querent, citizen journalist and commentator, as she puts it! Read her blog post here.

I agree with another #smrtcce virtual attendee, Danielle,  @danidogdays who wrote on her blog that it would be much more engaging if we could watch a live Web feed or perhaps even an archived one within the following 24-hours.  I would add to her suggestion and ask the main presenters, specifically Terry O’Reilly, to follow up with responses to the Twitterverse community interested in following along with #macpirate.

WHAT WOULD I…?

STOP – As a #MacPirate event organizer, I would make sure there weren’t too many advanced comments about an event’s registration details that are not really content related. For example, questions or complaints about tickets or RSVPs could be handled through direct messaging to move them into a private aside.

START – I would encourage live Web feed of an event, promoted through Twitter periodically and find some way to respond to virtual attendees questions so that everyone monitoring the hashtag would see both the Q & A. It would be amazing to have the presenters respond, even if only to a few of the main inquiries on Twitter post-event. And if a Twitter user, such as @maclibraries, agrees to ask the panel questions live, can they somehow post the response in an easy to find manner?

CONTINUE – Advanced preparation of a hashtag that is unique enough to the event and not presently trending is excellent. It is also great to have a group of students or interns prepared to engage through a Twitter backchannel as an ‘ice breaker’ of sorts. ( I would recommend advertising the #MacPirate hashtag in the media release and on McMaster’s “Worth Mentioning” section of the home page.) I’m not aware of whether live attendees were coached to participate in the Twitter discussion, but I imagine they probably were. I think people love to see their tweets posted in a projection of word clouds, so that would definitely be encouraging.

IN CONCLUSION:

While I would have preferred to attend in person, at least the online discussion allowed me to get a small taste of the event and piqued my interest in terms of attending similar McMaster University events in the future. I must also add a big THANK YOU note to Pirate Group, for providing McMaster University students now and in the future with an awe inspiring amount of resources in the field of advertising, marketing & communications and public relations.

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Where do we go from here?

With a strategic social media plan, recruiting undergraduate students would be more targeted and effective. A strong, integrated online presence would not only provide information to help high school students find the right school and program, it could increase awareness of the McMaster brand. A plan that would find the social media communities who are eager to connect and get responses from the University admissions staff would benefit both sides of the conversation.

Communications Objectives:

To effectively engage the Ontario high school prospects through the use of social media tools. Through strategic and entertaining use of Facebook and Twitter, McMaster University admissions staff will build trust and reputation earned through the good will possible in these forums. This will create two-way communication between students with questions about the University and the people that can help them with the answers.

Bridging the GAP

One of the risks of creating an online presence that is not maintained is that a space is created where a conversation can occur, but the visitors may find no one ‘home’. Having no answer to an inquiry is sure to cause frustration.

Or getting a delayed answer which isn’t an answer would too.

This question was posted more than once to more than one McMaster Twitter account. The next day there was a response…but if you click the link, it takes you to a page where you submit a question to a form that generates the best matching FAQ. There is no ‘liaison@mcmaster.ca’ account anymore but if a user is patient and clicks their way through to AskMcMaster they may find someone who sees their submitted question and responds by email.

Maybe this question could have been answered on Twitter in minutes. We’ll never know. It was just a referral service in this instance.

Opportunity Knocks

While it may sound like a criticism, it’s actually a chance for Mac to meet a communication need in a new way. If the University can build upon its existing success on YouTube with McMasterUTV, there may be a strategic, yet entertaining way to connect with and respond to the high school students who are looking for their future path. Using Facebook and Twitter to encourage two-way communication between prospects and the University can build trust and brand reputation. It’s a matter of listening to our desired demographic and giving them what they want and need to make the life choices that are right for them. And this can be accomplished within a fun, engaging context.

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Finding your social media audience: II

Perhaps this post should have been part ‘I’, as I’m stepping back to look at my findings from my social media statistics adventures. Part ‘I’ is a focused analysis of a particular audience for my case study (McMaster University), but I will backtrack and tell you how I got there.

Under the Lens: a closer look at the tools

Even though there are hundreds of patented social media platforms with thousands more in the patent application process (Wikipedia), I am choosing to focus on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Blogs.

According to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report (Michael Seltzer), these are the top four tools used by marketers, “…with Facebook leading the pack”.

courtesy of http://www.nouveller.com/ creative commons license

Marketers are among the most avid users of social media and see it as key added value to any communications campaign. In a SHARE based community it makes sense that the communicators would be willing to share discoveries in the social media frontier. We love to share, by nature. It’s the transparency and helping attitude of one person to another which drives the reciprocity we all crave. So it makes sense to model and organization’s social media plan on that kind of exchange.

How do the numbers stack up?

An Ipsos study, as quoted by Webfuel.ca in their Canadian Social Media Statistics (2011) report, found the 18-34 year old demographic as the heaviest users of social media in Canada. They state 60% of Canadians online are using social media, with 86% of those users on Facebook. The numbers vary slightly from study to study but are roughly the same across the board.

David Scholz, Executive VP of Leger Marketing published results of a Social Media Reality Check (2011) with the following results: image courtesy of Leger MarketingLeger Marketing states that 69% of Canadians who are online use social media. Of those, 91% are active on Facebook. They also found that 51% of social media users surveyed prefer to read about topics of interest and 35% research services or products. These categories are most relevant to a higher education institution wishing to outreach to online communities of prospective students.

A survey from The Creative Group  (2012) found, “more than half (56 percent) of advertising and marketing executives interviewed said Facebook would be their social media site of choice if they were limited to using just one”. It seems to be the lead horse in this race for both personal and professional users of social media applications.

Blogger Ken Burbary posted some interesting bullets on his blog “Web Business” about Facebook (FB):

  • An average FB user spends 15 hrs/month
  • 20% of FB users are ages 13-17
  • People who access FB via mobile device = 200 million/day
  • Mobile device users are 2x as active on FB

This certainly seems true anecdotally. I see high school and University students living with their smart phones seemingly ‘attached’ to their hands. Perhaps my case study should not only consider McMaster’s social media strategy on Facebook and Twitter, but how to optimize its use for mobile devices. (Don’t even get me started on the geo-location based applications that are the next trending wave!)

So this post should clear up any questions you might have had after reading part ‘I’. It also elaborates on the primary and secondary research I’ve conducted. And it proves once again, how much professional communicators LOVE to communicate.😉

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Finding your social media audience: I

Many people start a social media project with lofty goals. Some think it’s ‘easy’ to ‘do social media’ but using technology to communicate is not new, it has just evolved. The game is bigger now and potential reach of a campaign is virtually limitless. The Internet is no longer new and novel; users are savvy and have a critical eye toward information that is pushed to them. Organizations must consider social media channels with the same strategic public relations approach as with traditional media. While the growth of social media and mobile application use is exploding at a pace, we can’t ‘market to’ audiences; we must connect and ‘converse with’ our target communities.

Where are they hiding?

When I began my research, I thought it would be relatively easy to find a way to pin down numbers on McMaster University related social media identities; but I found no quick (free) tools to measure Facebook groups or Twitter accounts with specific content. (I stopped counting manually after 150 Facebook groups. There is no way to separate out the ‘official’ sanctioned groups from personal or even the non-maintained accounts.) I also thought I would easily find statistics on Canadians who use social media. Then I could look for ‘my audience’.

I thought: Where are they? What platforms do they prefer? Where do high school students research what schools they want to go to? How can McMaster meet (and greet) them online?

My discovery? Social media as a topic is not only ‘hot’ but a Goliath! There are thousands of ‘social media experts’ with many opinions, tips and statistics. You can research yourself into a panic attack.

I also discovered it can be overwhelming to stay focused when you travel down that rabbit hole. I needed to know what information was required for McMaster University to more effectively reach prospective students where they would want to interact with us.

But WHO are they?

Luckily, Facebook provides a targeting tool for advertisers to estimate the reach of their ads before launching them. According to socialbakers.com , there are approximately 17,190,240 Facebook users in Canada. I realized my original plan to look at attracting students from across Canada was unrealistic for this project, so I’ve narrowed my focus group to 16-18 year olds in high school in Ontario.

The audience for my McMaster outreach research.

Nearly 74,000 Facebook users in my target demographic might be interested in hearing about the programs and student life at McMaster University. That’s a good place to start!