Crosstown Digital Communications

Best Practices for Scheduling Social Media Posts

Recently, I’ve been playing around with various options for scheduling social media postings. After poking at Buffer and Timely, I caught up with many of my peers in falling in love with IFTTT (If This Then That).

IFTTT a smart-smart-smart service that allows you to cook up deceptively simple looking cross-posting “recipes.” For example, if I tweet a link via XYZ account, that trigger the same link being posted to my LinkedIn profile. My top accomplishments are a couple of recipes that allow me to use Google Calendar for scheduling content and, depending on which field of the event listing contains certain elements of the content (specifically, the text tease and the link), post to a Twitter account and a Facebook page accordingly. Magic! Content scheduled for each platform, with text appropriate to the medium.

While scheduling posts may make the real-time, always-on nature of social media seem like a piece of cake, it’s nothing more than an aid. Social media still needs you in order to succeed. If we use scheduling options smartly, though, we can both ease the burden on ourselves and make our hands-on presence more meaningful.

Here are what I’ve come to embrace as best practices around scheduling posts.

Be mindful of changing contexts

When you schedule posts, don’t adopt a set-it-and-forget-it point of view. Rather, set it and mind it. A fun, flip tweet scheduled for six hours from now will seem hopelessly ill-placed and ill-timed if, in the intervening time period, something dramatic happens on campus or out in the world.

This is one concern I have about services such as Buffer and Time.ly, which pick times for when to publish content. That outsourcing can mentally remove you, as the account manager, from the awareness of what’s going up where and when. Also, you know your audience, and you are the best person to gauge which audiences will be likely to pick up on certain types of content and when.

Don’t abdicate your real-time responsibilities

As I said above, post scheduling is an aid. It does not replace the essential role of your presence and engagement; it should complement those functions.

With that in mind, you should be prepared for real-time reaction and response to anything that you post. The danger of scheduling, say, a tweet that asks, “What is your favorite thing about summers on campus?” is that, if you’re not around to monitor and field replies, you might miss out on the opportunity to retweet, Storify or reply to responses while the conversation is still active. Or what if someone replies sarcastically, “My *favorite* thing is how the library closes at $#%@ing 5PM when some of us have summer classes!!1! What gives??”

Scheduling social media postings does not relieve us of our real-time responsibilities, so we should plan accordingly.

To each (platform) its own

Twitter has a 140-character limit. Tumblr is a short-form blog. Facebook is, well, Facebook. Each of these platforms is unique — not only in terms of format, but in terms of both audience and considerations for appropriate voice and tone. This means that we can’t write one block of text and blast it out to five different platforms. Keep the specifics of the service and your audience at top of mind at all times.

In addition to text, each platform has its own fields to consider beyond text – links, pictures, embeds, hashtags, mentions, etc. Will your auto-post to Facebook show up with the thumbnail that may help it stand out in the news feed crowd? Will posting with a bit.ly link obscure the link’s metadata in the resulting post? It’s worth testing such things before fully committing to a post scheduling regimen.

Your turn

These are just a few ideas that rise to top of mind for me. What are some other things to keep in mind when scheduling your social media postings?

Photo by alancleaver / Flickr Creative Commons

Don’t Make Love Work Harder Than It Has To

On July 11, Stamats and HigherEdLive partnered to stream the annual TeensTALK panel discussion live from the Stamats Integrated Marketing Conference in Chicago, Ill. The discussion always yields frank and enlightening insights about higher ed web marketing and recruitment, straight from the mouths of college-bound high schoolers, and this year’s event was no different.

But one exchange in particular stuck with me. The moderator asked the students about their experience using college websites during their search. One student remarked that, upon visiting the website of a school he really liked, he found the website difficult to use, likening it to an “labyrinth.” His love of the school, however, was strong to enough to not let the dissatisfactory web experience sway him.

The school in question is lucky that this student loved them so much that its crappy website didn’t put a kibosh on the whole thing. Because what about the student who’s on the fence? Or loves them some, but not wholly? In those cases, the crappy web experience could mean the difference between an application and a bounce. The research bears this out. According to the 2011 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations report:

  • 47 percent of prospective students (and 57 percent of parents) said “A bad experience on a school’s site may have some negative effect on my perception of the school”
  • 17 percent of students (and 16 percent of parents) said “If I don’t find what I need on the school’s Web site, I’ll probably drop it from my list.”
  • 20 percent of students (and 13 percent of parents) recalled an occasion when they disliked a school’s site so much that they removed it from consideration.

In my talk “Storytelling as a Framework for Higher Ed Web Marketing,” I emphasize that a holistic approach to web development is required to support a school’s narrative on the web. That means content, technology, design, user experience, the whole enchilada. All of these need to work together, in concert, in support of the brand and in the service of user needs. If one falls down on the job, the narrative is compromised, and no one’s needs are served.

But telling that story well extends far beyond the web.

Shut One Window, Open Another

Have you ever been in a car or a room where the air conditioning is on, but a window is open? “Close that window!” someone might holler. “You’re making the A/C work harder.” And it’s true. That open window is letting in heat, making the air conditioner work harder to cool the space to the designated temperature. It has more heat to overcome.

With a crappy website, you’re making whatever interest a site visitor has in your organization work harder. It’s like putting up a wall between you and your visitors and asking them to scale it. Sure, if you’re lucky, they like you enough to muddle through whatever labyrinthine web obstacle course you’ve laid before them. But even if they accomplish the task at hand and move on, that love is a bit taxed. The A/C may have achieved the target temperature, but it spent more energy to do so.

Every part of the university experience — from the landscaping to the website to the tour guide to the president — should support the school’s brand and story. They should all reinforce and support that idea of what the school is, means and stands for. A weak link compromises the story — it’s like finding out that pages 67 through 103 are missing from the book. Sure, I can get to the end, but I’ve missed something along the way, and I run the risk of abandoning the story entirely.

The connection that prospective students — or any target audience, really — have to our institution is a powerful, but also fragile tie. We can’t take it for granted, and we have to nurture it. We have to realize how all aspects of the university experience have the opportunity to either reinforce or sever that connection. For our purposes, that means always advocating for the value of a good web experience. Your web presence should reinforce and grow the interest a visitor has in your organization, not make it work harder to overcome the obstacles in its path.

By addressing the weaknesses on our end that are asking too much of our site visitors — prospective students among them — we are opening a window of opportunity whereby we can kindle that spark of interest into a heat that you won’t want to cool.

Photo by bixentro / Flickr Creative Commons

A Newsroom Without the Drama

New York Times newsroom, ca. 1942

Lately, everyone is talking about Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama, “The Newsroom,” where an anchor goes rogue and dares to, you know, report the news. I don’t get HBO, but I did have a chance to watch the pilot in my hotel room recently, and I know that if I did have HBO, I’d be hopelessly hooked. I wouldn’t even be writing this—I’d be off reading episode recaps and character analyses. (Good thing I don’t have HBO, huh? Sigh.)

See, when people ask me about my professional history, I have to be honest and admit that, as much as I love higher ed, my biggest career thrill was working in the newsroom of The Boston Globe. It’s a thrill I don’t think higher ed could ever top, if only because breaking news is an adrenaline rush like no other. (I wrote about it a little bit in this LINK article about being an ex-journalist in higher ed.)

My career has taken a few twists and turns since my days at the Globe, but I still find myself in the business of dealing with newsrooms—of a slightly different sort, of course. Organizations, in higher ed and beyond, are realizing that they can be their own publishers. They can own their stories and communicate them to the proper audiences in the most appropriate manner. Hooray! This is great!

But it’s also work. It takes a whole heck of a lot of process and protocol to make those stories shine, and a lot of that is work that the audience never sees or even knows about. The best newsrooms, in fact, are silent, invisible machines that churn our all sorts of relevant, targeted content without revealing their inner workings.

I learned a lot about this at the Globe, but also during my time at Tufts, where
I had a hand in multiple news efforts—including the university’s new integrated news site, Tufts Now, which was more of an exercise in editorial problem solving than it was a mere website.

A lot of people ask me about Tufts Now and say many nice things about it. “Great online newsroom!” And while I love hearing people say this, because I’m very proud of what our team accomplished, it compels me to clarify something:

A newsroom is not a website.

A newsroom does not end in .edu or begin with www.

Newsrooms are silent, invisible machines. Your news website is what that machine, all gears spinning and pistons churning, churns out.

A news website like Tufts Now may look great, but it’s like an iceberg—the true heft of it, warts and all, is hidden below the surface. Buried deep in that icy mass are the real successes—and the real challenges—that no one ever sees.

If you look beneath the surface and chip at the ice a little bit, what you’ll find is that a newsroom consists of calendars, editorial workflows, messaging priorities, incredible stories (of course), epic whiteboard sessions, CMS customization, usability testing and surveys, social media, community management—and much, much more.

But above all, a newsroom is people. You can have the best stories at your fingertips, and the most advanced equipment and technology at your beck and call, but if your people aren’t invested in either the value of telling those stories or the best process by which to tell them, all you’ve got is a machine that makes a lot of noise but creates nothing of lasting value.

I am extremely fortunate to have two opportunities this fall to talk about how to create these silent, effective story machines. One will be on Sept. 27 as a speaker at the inaugural Content Strategy Summit, an online event organized by Environments for Humans. Alongside incredible speakers such as Relly Annett-Baker, Margot Bloomstein, Karen McGrane, Melissa Rach, Ginny Redish, I am going to talk about content strategy for online news organizations. There are many unique content strategy considerations for organizations that find themselves publishing news content, and I hope to share some insight on a few of them. (Psst! You can get 20 percent off of this incredible lineup by using the code 20GEORGY when you register.)

In addition, I am presenting a post-conference workshop at HighEdWeb on creating an effective online newsroom. That’s going to be a fun, hands-on opportunity to learn what makes a higher ed newsroom work, diving into many of the same ideas I’ll share in my CS Summit presentation and that I’ve shared with many audiences and clients over the past year-plus. I’m really looking forward to that. (Psst! You can still sign up! And early bird registration for HighEdWeb is available until July 31.)

When I first spoke about this topic at HighEdWeb last year, my talk had a “Newsies” theme, and I feel that it’s appropriate to invoke the film (not the musical) again here. Because, like Davey says, “Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.” The stories don’t tell themselves. It’s up to us to tell them. So let’s figure out how best to get that done.

Photo by vitike/Flickr Creative Commons

And Now For Something Completely Different… My TEDxSomerville Talk, “Becoming a Twin at Age 23″

Back in March, I was honored to speak at the inaugural TEDxSomerville event on a topic that deviated from my normal fare about higher ed and digital marketing. I spoke about how I found my twin brother at age 23. Strange, but true! Curious? Watch the video and hear the whole story:

Confab Reflections

On May 15-16, I had the pleasure of attending the finest content strategy conference in these here United States, Confab. Over on Meet Content, Rick and I posted a ton of coverage from the conference, including:

That’s a lot! But I had a few additional ruminations that didn’t quite fit in that coverage. I shared a version of these thoughts at last week’s Content Strategy New England meetup, which featured other great recaps from Confab. (P.S. If you’re interested in content strategy, July is your month! Brain Traffic, the fab organizers of Confab, are declaring July to be Content Strategy Meetup Month. Find your meetup and go meet other folks who love to think about content. You don’t have to be a content strategist, per se — you just need to want to talk about content with fun, smart people.)

Anyhow, some of my spare thoughts on Confab:

Face the Future

One of my favorite quotes from last year’s Confab came from Erin Kissane, who observed, “It’s a weird time for publishing.” iPads, Kindles, time-shifted reading, you name it — there was a lot more to think about. But if was weird then, it’s downright bizarro now. Responsive web design has become a (nerdy) household word, we’re still figuring out mobile, our CMSes still often fail us and folks are buzzing about the value of a little thing called structured content.

Well, if last year’s Confab was an acknowledgment that the times they are a-changin’, this year we began to figure out what to do about it. From Cleve Gibbon’s discussion of CMSes and content architecture and valued tool to Karen McGrane’s clarion call of a closing keynote to embrace adaptive content, the whole conference was peppered with valuable, practical strategies and tactics for facing the future of publishing head on. It was just what we needed.

Journalism is Vindicated

I am a huge advocate of bringing lessons from online journalism to higher ed web publishing, so I was hearted to hear Kissane and McGrane relate to the field in their talks. In Kissane, which explored a wide range of ideas and inspirations from fields beyond content strategy, she talked about the promise of big data and how journalists are leading the way in using it to craft narratives.

Then McGrane shared a great nugget with the crowd as to why journalism is also ahead of the game when it comes to structured content — they’ve been publishing structured content for years. Hed, dek, lede, captions, cutlines, nut grafs—that’s structure, and that’s an inherent part of newsroom workflow.

Culture Club

When you think about it, the way you approach content reflects an institutional value. Multiple sessions at Confab addressed this. Fidelity’s Juli Smith talked about content strategy from an anthropological perspective — the need to observe the landscape, embrace the organizational values and understand the context in which the organization operates. She likened content strategy to terroir, the characteristics that geography, geology or climate lend to produce such as wine, coffee or tea.

From change agents to content sympathizers to the various relationships that ensure good work gets done, Smith reminded us that people are always at the heart of it. The other core component is process—even in content strategy, there are symbols and ceremony that are important.

Gerhard Arnhofer from Merck shared a case study of his company’s project to create Univadis, a portal for health professionals, out of a tangle of 20 CMSes, 250 content streams and no shared taxonomy. Such an effort, said Arnhofer, requires COURAGE—choosing partners carefully, outsourcing sensibly, understanding your environment, reusing what’s worth keeping, automating what you can, galvanizing your team, and evaluating your efforts.

For Arnhofer, building a culture around content meant ensuring only people who believed in content strategy were part of the team. In addition, he emphasized the value of alliances, information sharing and leveraging institutional knowledge for future efficiency.

There’s no single methodology for creating a content-centric culture, but it’s a huge priority. Content is a cultural value, and from authors to strategists to top level stakeholders, you need a shared vision in order to excel.

Preach It

While Confab is a somewhat elevated discussion of the ins and outs of content strategy, digital publishing and related concerns, the conference made me realize how fundamental those concerns are, and that I need to keep talking and learning about it. Why? Because it affects everybody. Content is a ubiquitous thing that people rely on heavily and invest in substantially.

The future of publishing a big deal. It matters a lot. Luckily, there’s a healthy community of people both in and out of higher ed who are constantly talking and presenting about this stuff. But we need to bust out beyond the echo chamber of fellow content nerds and preach the good word to the uninitiated. We need to advocate and evangelize. As I’ve charged audiences in the past, go tell it on the mountain! The future is depending on you.