#PSEWEB recap: spreading the awesome since 2010

Ready to rock me some #pseweb. And @mmbc made my design into a phone case! Squee!

A photo posted by Courtney Raybould (@courtraybould) on

Have you been to #PSEWEB yet? I’d recently attended the fourth-ever conference (my second-ever) in Vancouver and man, I needed to decompress so much of the awesomeness that was shared. I had the privilege of meeting some truly excellent, smart people—some were brand-new friends, and some I’d known over Twitter for a good while—and, after two jam-packed days of learning, sharing, socializing, and pancakes, my brain was full. I didn’t think it was possible to fit all of that expertise into two breakout rooms, but superstar conference coordinators Melissa and Jessie somehow found a way to get it done.

#PSEWEB keynote Stuart Foss' kickoff slide. Yes we can!

A photo posted by Courtney Raybould (@courtraybould) on

Having had about two weeks now to sit with my thoughts, there were—without a doubt—a few recurring themes in the sessions that I’d attended:

Be student-focused
– Keynote Stewart Foss of EduStyle discussed the importance of student experience design for websites
– You wouldn’t build an inaccessible building, so why would you build an inaccessible website? Anna Beard and Jonathan Woodcock from UWaterloo discussed AODA’s implications for higher ed sites in Ontario
– Just as you wouldn’t wear your underpants on the outside, Jake Redekop from ImageX spoke on IA and how our sites shouldn’t mirror internal divisions and silos
– Jared Lenover’s Writing for Humans session advised us how to avoid feeding the jargon robots, what having an FAQ page really means, and his distaste for the word ‘utilize’

– Alan Etkin from BCIT completely made my stats-nerd heart leap with the potential that lies in Google Analytics’ custom dashboards.

Getting it done is better than doing it perfectly
– Who says you can’t do social media with a committee? U of Guelph’s Andrea Karpala shared some of her best practices and how she’s made it work
– Janeen Alliston & Phil Chatterton from UBC broke out of the traditional siloed mold and jointly rocked the development of their mobile website 
– Daphne Simone encourages universities to move quickly, spend less, and be unexpected to have successful videos.
– Following in the theme of a low-budget, quick-turnaround project, UWaterloo’s Steve Krysak walked us through the successful use of videos to explain complicated things to prospective students.  

Silos are so passé
Another recurring theme that I’ve encountered year over year in higher ed conferences has the pressing need to lose the departmental silos, and that we need to lose them fast. Even though I was attending the other session running at that time, I’d be remiss in mentioning that word in the Twitterverse had it that team Ryerson (Kareem Rahaman, Hamza Khan, and Samantha Read) won #PSEWEB with their talk about lifetime engagement management.

All in all, #PSEWEB never fails to provide some great info, great food, one of the most solid conference Twitter backchannels that I’ve ever seen (I haven’t been to #heweb—yet), and the opportunity to rub elbows with some of Canada’s best + brightest digital marketers. Highly recommended.

Next year’s conference is in 2014 in Toronto. Will I see you there?

#MomentGL: A case for crowdsourcing on a small campus

Crowdsourcing can be a rewarding experience that’s absolutely wonderful for building and uniting a community under a common goal. But it’s not necessarily as easy as it looks, particularly when you’re drawing on a very small audience for content. However, our campus has an abundance of community spirit (and a high level of engagement) that often more than makes up for their small size.

MomentGL community wall

An opportunity fell into my lap earlier this year when an old marketing campaign was coming down and, in place of it, our EO was hoping to brighten up an all-white campus building with some photos. With a bit of discussion, the project evolved into finding ways to leverage our community’s content as a celebration of campus pride, just in time for convocation.

With a bit of legwork and support from key campus partners, our first-ever projet communautaire was a great success, having numerous photo submissions over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and a few through email. We wrapped the 2013 leg of the project with a printed community wall and are featuring our contributors photos via Storify; we’ll also continue to encourage hashtag use of #MomentGL into next academic year.

With a little luck (and some elbow grease), we’ll have an ongoing source of fresh images for use on our social channels through the rest of 2013, and potentially, some leads on budding student photographers.

While the crowdsourcing process can be a bit stressful for some because you never quite know what you’re going to wind up with, it can be a great way to unite a people, showcase talent, or simply get things moving on your social platforms. You just need some forethought and careful planning.

To pull it off, a few key questions that you’ll want to consider:

1. What are my goals with this project?
Simple enough, right? What do you hope to achieve by coordinating this? Is it additional recruits? Increased exposure? Just a feel-good project? Make sure that these goals align with your execution and messaging. And don’t lose track!

2. Where can people go for more info?
One of the most frequent challenges I’ve run into with people asking to promote initiatives online is the fact that they don’t have a link for more information.

It’s just not enough to post a paragraph about your objectives and to ask people to please email organizer@yourschool.com with things they’d like to submit. At best, it looks amateur; at worst, your post will get very little engagement because it’s boring (and again, looks lame). Consider how much of a missed opportunity this is; especially considering the fact that it’s painfully simple to put together a quick Facebook event or Tumblr page.

When choosing where your homebase will housed, be strategic. Go where the majority of your users are, and try to anticipate your project’s needs. For #MomentGL, we were torn between using a Facebook Group or an Event when what we ideally needed was a hybrid of both; in the end, we chose the Event because it would show up in participant’s calendars, serving as a convenient reminder to share their photos. It was also somewhere that people who didn’t use Instagram or Twitter could post their images.

Further to that, it turned out that we needed to go even simpler in the interests of inclusivity: our professors wanted to contribute but weren’t on Facebook so we built a webpage that included instructions on how to share via email or social networks, links to each network, and now that the the initial phase is finished, features an embedded Storify feed of all images.

Overkill? Maybe, but this shift aligned with our goals. I wanted it to be a truly community project; not just for undergrads. Allowing submissions via email allowed for our less tech-savvy faculty members to participate, too.

3. Who can help me promote the project?
Don’t try to be a one-man show. Consider aligning yourself with key allies (students, alumni, administrators, and faculty members alike!) to get them on board with spreading the word before jumping in head-first.

Before we even started developing #MomentGL, we connected with the president of our student union and our colleagues in student affairs for their input and buy-in. Once we had that, we implemented an kick-off announcement and strategic reminders into campus communications (via bi-weekly student newsletters sent by student affairs; promotion through the student union, faculty/staff email listserv, and institutional Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram updates).

We also found it exceedingly helpful to reach out to key influencers on a person-to-person level to encourage participation – this is where my student team came in exceptionally well. Building community happens one person at a time, so reach out to these leaders; it’s a lot harder for people to ignore a personal invitation than a generic one.

Unless it goes viral, your results will be directly tied to the amount of effort your team dedicates to spreading the word. So get out there!

4. Is this where my community is already?
Is your community very active on YouTube but less so on Facebook or Instagram? Is there a significant cohort on Tumblr? Awesome. Go where they are. In case you hadn’t figured it out already, a key aspect of crowdsourcing is, well, the crowd. If your community isn’t comprised of vloggers or film-savvy people, don’t try to run a contest on YouTube because chances are, it’ll flop.

5. What’s their experience/ability level?
Our community has tons of spirit, but varying degrees of talent or technical ability. We wanted to ensure that #MomentGL didn’t scare anyone away on the basis of being “not good enough”; this meant that the messaging had to be extremely approachable, lighthearted, and accessible.

We intentionally described it as a project (not a competition), and a few contributors (not winners) would be chosen through a curation (not judging) process to have their photos included in the final print piece. We included a wide variety of examples for types of photos in our introductions, and were also very intentional in the variety and quality of photos were selected for the project’s website header.

Don’t get me wrong – they all fit very much within the grassroots aesthetic that we wanted, but this was strategically set so that we could be more inclusive in our selection process.

6. What’s my back-up plan?
I’m going to level with you – sometimes things don’t work out. I’ve tried content crowdsourcing to build community for other unrelated projects, and we had to fold early and move to plan B. What did I take from that?

Firstly, much of this can be avoided if you plan out your communications well in advance, tapping into your network of allies for contributers and joint promotions, and assessing the project fit with your community’s existing social presence/abilities. These are all key steps that were missed in the other projects.

Secondly, always have a plan B (particularly if the content was to be purposed for a high-profile initiative). Sometimes, this may include focusing your search for targeted contributors; other times, it may involve a complete 180. Either way, track a project’s progress carefully so that you can make an informed decision should you need to put on the brakes.

photo 2

7. How am I going to close it out?
Wrap up your project gracefully. Depending on your goals, the rational answer may very well be that the initiative has run its course. If that’s the case – don’t leave people hanging! Put up a post-event site, thank your contributors, and kick your feet back with a cold one, basking in the glories of your success.

However—if there’s still interest, consider opportunities for further interaction. With #MomentGL, we wanted to encourage people to keep sharing their experiences, so we specifically asked that they do so on the printed community wall.

We’ll be entering phase 2 late this summer, when the students are back on campus.

Have you successfully crowdsourced a project? What advice can you give on how to rock it?

In which we discuss what to say.

One thing that I hear often in conversation about social media is that users don’t feel like they have anything to say. “I don’t want to tweet about my cat, or my lunch,” they lament, “and I’m not an expert at anything.”

Following that logic–why bother saying anything, ever? All of the words have already been said. Why do great books and movies keep being produced? How is it that the most irritatingly mundane things still manage to go viral?

Part of the beauty (and yes, quite often, the pain) of social media is that every can be an expert in at least one thing: themselves. Your experiences, tone, approach, and philosophy, hasn’t been covered before in just the same way that you would. Your perspectives on life are different, so why should your contributions in the social sphere matter less? Not to go all special snowflake on you, but let’s get real. Your individual story is one of your biggest assets. Writing for a branded/institutional account? You can take a similar approach, but with a few tweaks.

What’s even better is the fact that there’s a pretty solid chance that, once you start to share it a little bit, there’s someone out there that it’ll resonate with. With a bit (read: a lot) of planning, it’ll probably resonate with a lot of someones. You’re not the only one out there with opinions or ideas for posts, but you’re the only one who has your unique life experiences to help shape the way you write about them. If nothing else, this makes your opinions completely valid and legitimate; even if you don’t quite feel it.

(Friend, meet the imposter syndrome. Yes; it’s a thing.)

So. With that– what should you write about, after all? I’ve included a few tips below that I’ve found helpful in the past:

  • Write what you know. It’s a solid way to boost your repertoire, audience, and confidence. Not interested in that? Alternately, consider flipping the approach: research something you’re more interested in, and write about your learnings from the perspective of a complete beginner. Nothing says interesting quite like an Idaho potato farmer learning how to play the cello (also: a solid opportunity to integrate audio and video!).
  • What topics do you find yourself drawn to? Have you recently been unavoidably sucked into a compelling conversation? Assess your consumption of books, movies,  magazines. Is there a common thread? Look through your browsing history, if need be. What trends do you find? Take a hint and write about it. If it’s too long, break it up into a series. (And blammo! Now you have a bunch of posts lined up.)
  • Finally, I’ve found that the most interesting posts are written by people who actually do things. If you’re looking for great content, get yourself away from the computer screen. Put living your life first, and share about it second.

In short – the best advice that I can give is just to get started with it. Obsessing over how qualified you are to publish to the interwebs is a surefire way to clothesline your goals. Just get out there and publish something, already. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a plan (you totally should, and I’ll write about it next week), but stop nitpicking. The only way to improve at something is to actually start doing it.

So really – what are you waiting for?

4 considerations before starting a new social account


While there are a lot of factors to take into account when starting up a branded account online, here are a few steps for consideration before you get started. 

1. What do you need to share, anyways?
Before you get rolling, ask yourself what you really plan on sharing with the world. And I don’t mean that in a “get-down-on-yourself-because-everythings-been-said-already” kind of way … but quite literally, what do you want to talk about? Because the worst thing ever (or maybe just really, really high up there on the list) is having an account that just fizzles out due to lack of forethought and strategy.

If possible, brainstorm a few sample updates or posts. If you’re feeling really keen, stick them in a calendar to see how long it’ll take you to run out of ideas (which is okay, by the way). Got it? Good. Now set it aside. We’ll talk about that more in another post. There’s more work to be done!

2. Dip, don’t dive.
The second worst thing ever is when people try to jump head-first into using a platform with a branded account without trying out the waters first. There’s different etiquettes between each network, and barrelling past them can make you look like a complete noob. It’s generally not the best plan to slap that Facebook ‘f’ all over your website unless you’ve spent a little bit of quality time with the service on your own first, and then have become comfortable with posting regularly. It makes everything just a little bit less awkward. And we like less awkward.

3. Shop around for pet peeves and best practices.
Once you’re situated, poke around a bit to see if there’s anything cool going on with other users. You may want to scope out specific colleagues or competition who you know do it well, but I’d recommend to also have a look at users outside the industries you’re writing for. This can help to expand your horizons about designs, practices, and programs that are being used in other areas that you might be able to adopt with a little planning and creative thinking.

Shopping around is also a great way to figure out what you don’t like, too. As a publisher on whichever platform you’re going to use, you may unknowingly be doing things that are annoying from a reader or user standpoint. Take the opportunity to interact with others’ channels to see what’s done well, what you like, and what you absolutely can’t stand (I’m looking at you, #abysmal #overuse of #hashtags in #services that #don’t #use #them). Use this as a launching point for your own strategy, tone, and style.

4. Avoid Shiny New Object Syndrome.
New services pop up almost every day. A few of them make it; most of them don’t. Whether you’re an early adopter with your personal accounts or not, try to avoid the pitfall of becoming a bandwagon-jumper with your branded accounts. Experimentation is great, but take the time to make an informed decision before you join every platform in existence. Plus, the more accounts you’re on, the greater likelihood of point 1 [read: fizzling] happening. To help you decide where to focus your priorities, have a look at the network’s user demographics to decide which ones to use, how to use them, and what sort of potential they hold.

For example—Pinterest users are mostly white women under 50 with some post-secondary education; furthermore, a quick cruise through pins on the site will give you a pretty good indication of its user’s intentions. Are they using it to make high-involvement purchase decisions, or are they collecting recipe ideas? There are certainly some people who do a fantastic job at leveraging unique, compelling content in places that aren’t the usual haunts for their brands; but for most people, resources are limited and adding networks to your repertoire takes time and care. Get the hang of stellar networking where your users are first, and then you can add more tools to your toolbelt.

image:  Flickr Commons

On working with students

I’ve been working directly with students for the entirety of my career in Higher Ed. It’s one of my favourite—and most rewarding—aspects of my job. The way I see it, involving students in your planning- and decision-making process is a key way to generate buy-in, to get a fresh pair of eyes on things, and to get feedback from a representative of (quite possibly) your largest body of stakeholders.

While the scope of my student development experience has been in the services side of things (specifically, in orientation, transition, leadership development and, most recently, student recruitment & marketing), there are a few key pieces of advice that I’d give to anyone working with students.  Continue reading

Tribes, students, and developing content

The concept of tribes, as explained by Seth Godin, absolutely fascinates me.

We are living through—and are right at the key moment of—a change of the way that ideas are created, spread, and implemented. […] We’re in a new model of leadership, whereby the way we make change is not by using money or power to lever the system, but by leading.

You don’t need everyone; you just need a thousand true fans. A thousand people who care enough that they’ll help build momentum for your cause.

In higher ed, those of us who are passionate about creating compelling, exciting content are part of a cozy little niche. How though, do we leverage our resources to expand our tribe?

Grow our student teams. Find brand ambassadors – you don’t even need to find a thousand of them, as Godin suggests – but nevertheless, find a small, manageable group of students who are passionate about your institution’s brand. Invest in them. Train them effectively on all the things that you know, and then set them loose on your campus. Let them recruit their friends. Let them be your campus cheerleaders.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

One of the key challenges in maintaining any sort of regularity with your social channels is to figure out precisely how often to update it.

A general rule of thumb is that the more regular you are, the faster you’ll build a dedicated readership.

You’re a publisher now.
No matter how you slice it, anyone who’s putting up any sort of content on the web (yes – Facebook status updates are included!) needs to understand and embrace the fact that they’re a publisher. By posting online, you’re contributing content to the massive body of information that is the interwebs. Shifting your mindset from a casual, off-the-cuff approach to one where you take yourself—and, by extension, your content—more seriously is a great first step to seeing increased traffic.

Develop a schedule (and stick to it).
Depending on the topic, a lot of bloggers that I’ve come across aim for a weekly post; this frequency is what I’ve laid out as a ground feature for my own team. However, if you have more time on your hands (or have much more to say!), you can consider accommodating more frequent posts. If you’re relatively new to the blogosphere, though, it may be a better idea to wade slowly in rather than doing a giant cannonball. Trust me – enthusiasm can ebb and flow; a solid schedule takes dedication and planning.

In terms of Facebook and Twitter updates, there are many different schools of thought; my best recommendation to start off is to post regularly and switch up your content. Facebook uses an algorithm (called Edgerank) that essentially the be-all and end-all to getting your posts seen by more people. The fresher your content, the more times users interact with your Page and even the types of interaction that happen can all affect your Edgerank score. Keeping an eye on what type of content is the most popular and aiming to post more of that type is a good way to get yourself started.

On Twitter, your best bet is to (you guessed it!) be consistent and be present. Aim to tweet and check your account at least once a day, and respond to tweets directed at you as soon as you can. In short: keep the conversation moving!

Great. I have a schedule. Now what? 

Simple! Get posting. A fantastic post on generating your own content and a great example of a posting schedule is available here.

Remember – if you fall off the wagon and miss a post (and most of us do at some point or another), don’t be apologetic. Just dust yourself off, get back up, and keep on writing.