Monday, December 31, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

This Lifehacker article about the science of storytelling says it all.

It reminded me of one of my history student's comments about being in class.  It seems like you're just telling us stories each day.  And THAT was the point.

I can tell you all day long about how Northwestern State is a family.  When we show you examples of that, like an 86-year-old graduate, you get it.

If you'd like to read me rattling on, some previous suggestions include The Keys to Engagement, It's All About Voice and how a meme becomes that Whisper to a Scream.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Are You Anti-American?

Listening to Grammar Girl last week, Mignon Fogarty covered hyphen rules.  One of her points was the need for a hyphen for prefixes attaching to proper nouns, and her example was "anti-American."

Not "Anti-American."

Because you can be "anti-intellectual" according to the AP Stylebook, just not "all-American."

Shouldn't it be the same?  Yes, it should, and without going into the depths of this running error within the logic of the AP Stylebook (the provenance of the "All" relates to AP's claim to trademark on the naming of all-American teams in football and men's basketball; and was struck from the guides in the early 1980s leaving behind the misnomer that any all-America team should be All-America).

If you want to delve further, here's the link back to my justification to AP of why they should change the stylebook from 2011.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Unfortunately True

Right on the heels of yesterday's post on internet rumor and meme, I see this link from two friends on my Facebook feed.  OK, I'm skeptical.  Surely this is a PR blowout like the would be $35 Indian tablet for school kids.

No, Facebook really is trying to turn Instagram into the greatest repository of stock artwork.

That was at 3 p.m.

Now by 7 p.m. central time, they are backing down.

I say, for now.

A standing line I present to students or the public in talks about social media is this.

So, what is Facebook?

Get lots of different answers before I flash mine on the screen.

"The largest voluntary data mining and information collection system in the history of mankind."

Think about it.

What If Everything You Read Was Wrong?

Oh.  Isn't that a sweet picture.  And wasn't that something what Morgan Freeman said?  How terrible that they banned Bibles there.

Welcome to the social media, where everything can be, and likely in some part, is wrong.  More times than not recently, maliciously wrong.

They call them "memes", and we talked at length about what they mean and their impact -- good and evil -- on society.  I subscribe to the theory they are mental viruses.  The bad ones spread with an r-naught of frightening scale.

No, Ben Stein didn't write that about Christmas.

Hey smarty-pants, how did you get so smart?  First, when you see those juicy long stories -- particularly the ones that you need to "see more" -- that should be the first indicator.  Second, if it's too good (or to bad) to be true, it probably isn't, and a quick visit to can clear that up.  The website specializes in vetting internet and urban rumors.

In a world where being "true enough" and trading in the fark of the day goes for news, we miss the vetting that came from timely journalism.  Problem there is in the rush to first, the truth is the first casualty.  Report then verify from the twitter world.  Adding more memes, eroding a little more of our confidence in what we read.

Why Craig Silverman made a book and a career out of tracking those infamous Regret the Error statements in print.  Now working at Poynter, he just issued his 2012 best and worsts of media.  You might give it a read to see what story you might still believe is true because you missed the retraction. What, Morgan Freeman is not dead (and others)?

(Total sidebar: my sports industry friends MUST read the Silverman piece and scroll to the bottom to find what might be the most true piece of sports journalism of the year -- many a truth is told in jest).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The New Normal is Just the Forgotten Past

Who financed the great aeronautical achievements of America?  Private investors literally provided the fuel for the great speed, altitude and endurance records prior to the Cold War.

Why do you think it was called The Spirit of St. Louis?

The reason some find the Red Bull Stratus work with Felix Baumgartner distasteful is generations grew accustomed to both human flight achievement and the promotion of it linked to the government.  The main reason we have not had a private space industry was the limitations, no, more like outright bans, on non-NASA or DOD space work.

Hardly the case in the 1920s and 1930s as individual daredevils sought funding for their literal flights of fancy from the aviation industry, or those who wanted to advertise with the new entertainment vehicle.  More than a few aircraft sported the old Texaco star -- and many of them live today within the Smithsonian.

Anyone remember the Vin Fiz?  Let's call it the Red Bull of the 1910s.  The first airplane to cross the United States carried the advertising under its wings for a new grape soft drink from meatpacker J. Ogden Armour.  There was a support team following on train tracks, flyers, maps of the achievement.

Where can you find the Vin Fiz today?  That would be in the Pioneers of Flight Gallery in the main atrium of the National Air and Space Museum.  Wait, excuse me, that would be the Baron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery.  Near the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom capsule Steve Fossett soloed around the world.  Just around the corner from that civic-sponsored Ryan monoplane that Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic.

"No bucks, no Buck Rogers," was a perfect throwaway line in The Right Stuff, and exciting America about spending taxpayer dollars on human space flight was vital.  Scaled Composites fought to remain independent of government funded corporate aviation, and today Burt Rutan's unique visions continue to inspire -- the Rutan Voyager and the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipOne (and Two). 

Fair to say that Red Bull will get its chance to stand alongside Vin Fiz in the gallery, almost one century later.

If you want, a very nice piece from On The Media talks about this classic case of presentism -- forgetting our past -- and the shock and "dirty" nature of corporate sponsored science.

Literally Shooting the Messenger

Holidays are for catching up, and while this episode from On The Media is now two months old, it speaks to a timeless problem: confusing bad news with bad people.  The first package seems like a really poorly written Sasha Cohen routine.  What to do if the tide of public opinion turns against you because someone actually reported on the bad things you do?  Kill them.

That was the Taliban strategy -- along with intimidation that you'd be next -- after the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the teen aged girl who dared stand up to their lack of education for young women and other issues.  Actually, that's a two-fer -- they first killed the tribune of the people then the messengers.  It's a tried and true method, just ask the Russians.  Now if you're really No Agenda-ish, you'd add lots of whistle blowers here who got "suicided".

The On The Media piece covers how apparently surprised the Taliban was at the blowback from a quite sensible honor killing.  Well worth the listen. 

Second up from OTM was a package on the fate of scientists who wrote reports on the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout.  It is a more nuanced, because at the end, you must consider that while BP did nasty things and asked for lots of info, it was -- and still is -- trying to defend itself against extinction level legal battles.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This Blog Reports, Twitter Confirms

So forget the Mayan apocalypse.  The end of the world for Twitter bloviating is Feb. 20, 2013.

Seems like years this space has preached less than 120 characters on tweets, to not mix your Facebook and Twitter together and that in general, less is more when crafting your messages.

Now Twitter requires it -- a new policy limiting the message to 117 or 118 characters when including a link -- is being reported to start in February.  More from Mashable and a link to the technical info from Twitter itself.

Start practicing now.

Here's a primer -- and with inks to other posts on Twitter etiquette.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is No Answer the Best Answer?

Everyone agrees, open comments are the bane of the internet age.  The recent case of Rhonda Lee, former TV meteorologist here in my neighborhood, brings up two distinct issues.  Should you respond to comments on Facebook?  And, yes, you can get fired for violating company policy on social media.

Like any good internet case, this one has plenty of plot turns.  I'll take it from my P.O.V.

This morning, I see that KTBS has a lengthy Facebook post that begins:

Typically this station does not comment on personnel matters, but due to the publicity and interest about this issue, the station has included the following statement. 

OK, you officially have my interest.  Reading on (from the post):

On November 28, 2012, KTBS dismissed two employees for repeated viola

tion of the station’s written procedure. We can confirm that Rhonda Lee was one of the employees. Another employee was a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station. The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page. Included is an email that was sent to all news department employees informing them of this procedure. This procedure is based on advice from national experts and commonly used by national broadcast and cable networks and local television stations across the country.
Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow.
Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.

Attached was an email that had everyone's name blacked out except for Ms. Lee -- including the sender.  Highlighed in the email was the statement:

"When you see complaints from viewers, it is best not to respond at all."

This was the basis of Lee's firing, according to the station.  I can't say that works, and it sounds like advice from the Age of Cronkite when the mode of communication in the pre-social media days was broadcast -- one to many -- not interactive -- one to one.

Let's accept the premise, however, that the "advice form national experts" is to not reply to comments.  One of the viewers hits the nail on the head in comments on the post: "You should have never allowed that negative comment to stay on YOUR page!"

No one believes there is a right to leave derogatory comments online.  A well curated page will delete them, and have a clearly stated policy to that effect so no one can then say you squelched free speech.  You're free to say what you want on your page, not necessarily on mine.

Here's the bottom line:  if a brand decides that not commenting is policy, what happens when the brand decides to comment?

On the one hand, KTBS honors the free exchange of the social media by bringing out its point of view and it has a right to say its piece.  But is the station now fired for violating it's own policy -- after all, it has now commented.  That was my first thought -- and not lost on the commenting public (and to the tune of 293 likes on that one).

If the goal was to put this to rest, that was a huge miscalculation. I follow the KTBS page and Twitter for news -- I had no clue this was going on until KTBS brought it to my attention.  Nor did national outlets, for that matter, like Poynter.  After 10 hours, the post is at 83 shares, 93 likes, but the real numbers are inside the comments, where 808 people have responded, and isolated comments have picked up north of 350 likes -- and mostly comments negative toward the station.

At this point, KTBS has to weather the storm and let the public have it's say.  To it's credit, it is.  Meanwhile, is a question worth asking -- what is the station's curation policy for its page?  Why did an inflammatory comment linger?

And whoever drafted that email on the policy -- I can see some level of privacy for not revealing the rest of the news staff names (although, kinda silly since all their names were likely on the station's website and it just looks like you're hiding something) -- why did they feel the need to not stand behind it by blacking out their name?  But left their title?  So that took five seconds of Google to figure out who wrote it.  How would any TV station respond to a government agency that did that?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nobody Said Social Wasn't Cruel

Welcome to the gallery of rogues Lindsay Stone.  She is on leave for being a prankster, and we all get to pillory her thanks to Facebook.

Life, Lindsay, isn't fair, and we just looooove to cluck at screw ups.  She gets her own Facebook page where people throw stones (to the tune of 19K "likes" at this posting) and call for her firing.

I recall the last mass bludgeoning -- the Texas Ranger couple blasted by Yankees commentator Michael Kay for "taking" a kid's foul ball.  After helping blow the whole thing up, ABC News at least tries to close the book with the "whole story."

I'm certain I'll get smacked down for saying so, but doesn't this all smack a little bit of cyber-bullying?  Certainly elevating the discourse by screaming at each other.  Fire her.  Freedom of speech.  (We've been watching this since 2011, and of course, last month was one of the multiple anti-bullying months.)

Some advice?  First, think twice (or a whole day) before you post your jokes and spoofs.

Second, when the media firestorm hits, there is precious little you can do.  Going on TV won't really help.

Finally, as the living proof that this digital stuff lives forever, Stone made her post in mid-Oct.  Reaction started around Oct. 20.  Today, she gets to be the pre-Thanksgiving smorgasbord of the media as HuffPo and others make big deals of it.

And why?

Because we're about to hit that ever so slow period of a holiday that no one likes to work.  Lob some pre-chewwed red meat to the masses and we can all go home for early deadlines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Social Web We Weave

Can we all declare calling in bomb threats to a college campus a trend that's passed?  If you still feel the urge to disrupt thousands of lives and cost lots of money for a prank, at least make sure you're not doing it with Facebook friends.

The latest round in Texas involved a threat at Texas State in San Marcos and Texas A&M in College Station.  In Lone Star State terms, two schools not THAT far apart.

And who knew they shared a connection through their fake bomb threats.  Yes, when Dereon Tayronne Kelly was arrested for the TAMU call, police noticed he had a Facebook photo with a young woman, Brittany Henderson, the week before was arrested for the TSU call.

Actually, not just a picture with her.  It was Dereon's profile picture.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It Can (And Will) Be Worse

Ah fall.  The leaves.  The colors.  The insane schedules of events.  Sorry to be away, but projects have a way of soaking up energy and time.

Nevertheless, the great faux pas of Facebook roll on.  While we have survived our own trying start to the semester courtesy of a new student records system (lots of one-on-one relationship work there), it can, and will, be worse.

Consider the dilemma of Green Mountain College in Vermont.  A private school that has a strong sustainable footprint mission.  Including making full use of the livestock.  As in putting down old Ox when the time comes, and turning it into, well, what you do on the farm.

But in this case, the ox comes with a name, Lou, and even after the student referendum of how best to take Lou's fate -- the vote was for fulfilling the mission of sustainable farm management -- imagine the feedback.  Kudos to Kevin Coburn, the director of communications for GMC, for fostering a transparent process, including lengthy posts on their Facebook and not (one assumes within the reasons of good taste, language and decency) squelching the commentary.

Here's a small liberal arts institution with just under 3,000 likes but a current traffic of almost 1,000 discussing the end of Lou's career.  Takes some commitment to that transparency and a willingness to engage the students to stand up to that social media microscope (might seem like a proctoscope) at times.

WEDNESDAY PM ADDITION:  The Chronicle of Higher Ed weighs in with a nice background look.

Just to show it's at both ends of the spectrum, our colleagues to the south at LSU -- close to three-quarters of a million like -- are working through a controversy of photoshopping photos of student groups that had body painted crosses at a recent football game.  Same type of passionate opinions, and after their less than rapid early response to the September bomb threat on social media, we'd be curious to see the reaction.  Kudos there as well as once the issue became apparent, the LSU team cross posted the student opinion and sought to be more open regarding the changing of the photos.  That honesty is limiting what could be a pretty nasty exchange.

WEDNESDAY AM ADDITION: A tip of the cap to Chris Syme for adding this link from ABC News which gives you a look at the photo and other overview of the decision.

So whether you're big or small, there are social media constants:  Be open.  Be transparent.  Tell the truth.

Monday, October 01, 2012

World Bullying Day Starts Out West

I see that today, Oct. 1, we're suppose to wear blue in support of anti-bullying.  Sure hope that's not UCLA Bruin blue based on today's dispatches from the West Coast.

Seems one of the assistant SIDs let media wander to the wrong spot in practice, and new UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. let him know about it in front of the whole team.

I pick it up from one of the Bruin blogs via a colleague on Facebook.  Frankly, the Los Angeles Times source for the story is far more cutting than the blog.

Not gonna act like I haven't received or seen such ass chewings -- just not usually in full view of the public, the team and the people you're suppose to work with.

T.J. Simers, the LA Times columnist, picks it up:

It's what we've come to expect from our really good college coaches as they set out to make men out of the kids in their programs.

And you know the Bruins had to just love it, with UCLA fans no doubt also admiring Mora's drive to be the very best at whatever the cost of human dignity.

That's when a program knows it has the right guy, or as Mora put it: "I'm not going to jeopardize what we're doing as a football team because of the incompetence of some people."

I think it's pretty well understood football is the most important thing going on at UCLA, and every man, woman and child needs to understand that.

UCLA is 4-1.  It's all good.  Nothing to see here.  More along.  Just inside the house banter.

Sports might not build character, but it sure can reveal it.

Before I get emails and calls from colleagues in the field, look, you all know that you do that behind closed doors.  Even that is tantamount to creating a hostile workplace and sooner or later, it is a college campus.

Another colleague said it: coaches at that level are kings.

The collective we allows this.  Don't forget, they're winning.  Before you cluck about your school or your rival, ask yourself an honest question: would you let the coach go bat guano crazy on helpless staff if you thought it would lead to a 4-1 mark?  Hell, they'd volunteer for it (and at many institutions, functionally speaking, they do).

Oh, and by the way, that Stomp Out Bullying Day artwork?  Yeah, it's blue and gold.

Where Did My Likes Go?

Speculation that Facebook's total membership was inflated by as much as 25% and that the number of actual live users (discounting those who legitimately made accounts but do not participate on a regular basis) could be as low as 15% of the total number got a boost last week as the social media giant began purging known bad accounts.

So if your Facebook page's growth stalled last week, it's likely you didn't really drop meaningful members.

Read more.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Best Politics is No Politics

Growing up in Louisiana, there were notable political legends, and epic reactions to same.  The way that Huey Long politicized the state's employees led to some fairly draconian restrictions on political activity by classified workers.  If you worked for the state or city, no yard signs.  No bumper stickers.  No political rallies.  In some ways, quite a limit on your freedom of speech.

Today, that still applies to classified workers -- unclassified are no held by that law.

Maybe they should.

Civil servants have to work with whoever gets elected.  On the sports side of college, Lou Holtz can tell you that handing out endorsements has a way of biting you.

The state of Louisiana issued its semi-annual list of thou shalt nots for classified employees during elections, and I was pleased to see the addition of the social media realm to the list.

Employees in the classified service are prohibited from engaging in political activity. Political
Activity means an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or to
support or oppose a particular party in an election. Therefore, you cannot display political signs
in your yard, bumper stickers on your vehicle, or wear a button or pin that could be perceived as
supporting a person or party. Also, you cannot “like” a candidate or party on Facebook or follow
on Twitter or any other social media.

At the same time, I have to ask this question of the regulators.  Yes, "like" can equal endorsement, but what if a voter is simply trying to stay up with the news?  Is following both sides to make a decision?  What I believe they intended was to prevent partisan posting in the wall -- which is really your "endorsing" or "engaging" in political activity.

The regulation is intended to prevent political activity.  What this does not directly address within social media is just that.  By reading what was said, an employee can't "like" the party on Facebook, but they could share and post all the obnoxious campaign fodder they want.  Later in the circular, the commission says the very limited things a classified employee can do:

You may vote, you may be a commissioner or poll watcher, you make express your opinions
privately, and you may sign a recall petition.

Expressing opinion on Twitter much different from prohibiting someone from simply following and consuming the information.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Make It Viral Spiral

Walking away from a meeting at which the subject of the conversation was creating something for video that would "go viral" reminds me that the desire to be the flavor of the day is strong among this generation of marketers and communicators.

The smart money says you can't "make" anything viral -- the meme rolls or it doesn't.  What separates PSY from PS2?  Aside from good coding, one is catchy.  The other was the 1980s failed attempt to get everyone excited about an operating system that just didn't have it.

It is the magic.  It is doing something slightly out of the ordinary.  Doing it well.  And doing it over and over.

Thus the exact lessons proffered by Deborah Marquardt in a Q&A with Ad Age sent out last week via the PRSA feed.

Here we have another storyteller in Marquardt:

Story is already at the center of marketing, and we need to keep it central to the process when there are so many touchpoints for consumers and people aren't reading your story in a linear way.

 OK, you want the spark approach.  Sure, create a video INTENDED to inflame and you might get the job done.  Or, you might not.  There are literally hundreds, thousands, of pot-shots taken at Islam on-line.  What separated the recent from previous?  What made it viral?

It is the same in the political races.  The ginned up Romey killed by wife commercial isn't having the same viral impact of his own words (the 47%).  And all the Obamacare scares in the world didn't have the traction of the president's misstep (you didn't build that).

Some tips?

Genuine beats designed (again, look to politics)

Take the viewer where they can't go (our POV stuff with the 50-yard line is extremely popular -- both band or sports)

Best possible quality.

Relate it back to your story.

And stop trying so hard.  Make it good -- your people will appreciate and spread it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Al Qaeda Sleeper Cell Sex Video

See, so maybe the point of The Atlantic article that written media needs better headlines to draw attention is overstated.  Then again, you did click on it.

Boring Headlines by Conor Friedersdorf makes his point with good examples of how to do it wrong.

Let me suggest to you who is doing this right -- NPR News.

Without undercutting their credibility, NPR gives me the level of "attitude" that is appropriate.  In fact, I've wondered if they hired a former Onion editor to write for them.

Seriously -- that funny. 

The key, however, is they do these tease headlines for real news on social media -- links in Facebook and Twitter -- where that voice is appropriate.

Consider -- which of these are NPR and which are Onion:

Freedom Soda: New York's Ban on Big Sodas Hitting Us Where We are Human

Report: Majority of Americans Stopped Paying Attention Several Words Ago

Are Today's Millenials The "Screwed Generation"?

If you don't want to click, just like a sandwich, the NPR links are the bread around the Onion.

No snark from NPR on things like the killings in Libya or other "hard news", but what is wrong with standing out from the crowd?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Obama Campaign Not Reading This Blog


The case for putting more human in the loop for social was made by the President's campaign this week.  Did they really mean for the first thing from the official Twitter feed on Sept. 11 to be a shameless plug to volunteer for the campaign?

I doubt it.

Did someone think, hey, I can automate a tweet every Tuesday heading down the stretch.

To quote another politico, you betcha.

And, the campaign that was so in tune with the online world in 2008 looked tin ear in 2012.  The reaction was quick and visceral.  Defenders were quick to say the President followed later in the AM with his personal "-BO" tweet.

I'm not going to act like I have never used scheduled tweets.  In particular, on a football game day there are certain things (gates open 3 hours out, etc.), but I also carefully watched that A) the tweets actually went [no small issue] and B) things didn't change.  Nothing like a thunderstorm and lightning to change your pregame schedule, and you have to be ready to delete those messages.

To reference back, here's the previous tweet about People Matter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Shocking Social News: People Matter

Have I mentioned lately the best $300-ish you can spend is on PRSA membership?  If only for the daily brief, because you're going to get curated news gems like this one.

It's a Business Week story about the more we automate, the more the human element becomes crucial.

I could not agree more.  The more social tools are employed, the more significant it becomes to have trained people to handle them.  And by that, I don't mean a student worker ('cause you know, kids get these interwebs) or a minion.  Front line reputation management folks who know your operation front to back, and can stay disciplined in the storm to carry forward a message.

Or, I might opine, not run away if the heat turns up.  But I digress.  Here is your rock solid 140-like takeaway from Business Week:

The lesson here is simple: People matter more than ever. When things go wrong, as they inevitably will, you’ll be glad you made people a priority.

Winners know that.  Penny pinchers and the petty don't.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

CoSIDA Presentation

For those wanting the slides, I've turned it into a PDF that you can download.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Some Columns from the Weekend

Tim Dahlberg's summation of the events of Happy Valley are succinct and prescient -- the coverage of the Cult of Personality at PSU are far from over.

In my own head, I have had to reconcile Joe Paterno (and other college football coaches) with the Lance Armstrong case.  Finding myself somewhat conflicted -- is Lance no different than Joe -- I discovered this column from Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (pay link) which at least began to sort it out.  It will suggest it is worth the day access to read as Martin brings Barry Bonds, Armstrong and the opening question "What if there was a pill you could take to lose 50 pounds overnight?" together.


Catching Up Soon

Apologies for a few days break, but a spontaneous experiment to verify both the law of gravity and Newton's laws of motion delayed my writings about social and hurricanes.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Not Even the Nastiest

Taking a little history break today after working through the fun of Hurricane Isaac (and more on that over the weekend).

Enjoyed reviewing for my American History 2020 before the hurricane break just how nasty Presidential politics have been and that no matter how bad you think it is now -- this is neither unprecedented or unusual.

Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer did us the service of reviewing the original Presidential campaign -- the election of 1800.  Remember, George Washington didn't find himself in too terribly deep in partisanship, but with the Father of the Nation off the scene and Thomas Jefferson ready to rev things up against John Adams, well, it went nasty fast.

These are great reminders that no matter how noble we recall our past leaders, they were competitive politicians.

I used some of the back-biting comments in Polman's column for a We're History episode about a year ago.

So until one side calls the other "a hideous hermaphroditical character" or a "son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father", let's just say today's politics are just par for the course.

Friday, August 24, 2012

One Man, One Million Dollars, Nine Days

Want to know how to succeed on-line?  Look at The Oatmeal, the website of bizarre posters and satire.  Matthew Inman was a programmer in the Seattle area who wanted to find a way to express his point of view, and by the start of the '10s his creation was clocking over four million uniques a day.

How to describe The Oatmeal?  Maybe Mental Floss run by Gary Larsen.

He recently used the power of his following to generate a million dollars to seed a Tesla museum at the legendary scientist's old labs in New York.

He did it in nine days.  You can read his take on the success on his blog.

This isn't his first foray into fund-raising.  When a website was infringing on his copyright -- and Inman called it out -- the website had the balls to sue Inman for defamation.  In true digital century style, Inman fought right back, creating the "Operation BearLove Good. Cancer Bad" cartoons and campaign.  The illustrations featured the website's owner's mother seducing a Kodiak bear (you might now get a sense of the humor displayed at The Oatmeal, made famous by cartoon concepts like Five Reasons to Punch a Dolphin).

The battle was not fair.  The Oatmeal asked for donations to cover the $20K in damages called for in the suit.  He raised $220K, with proceeds split between American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Federation.  The website then filed a federal suit against The Oatmeal, ACS, NWF and IndieGoGo, leading to another round of blowback.  Eventually, the site backed down dropping its suits.

What can we learn from The Oatmeal?

Born Digital:  The Oatmeal is the poster child (hmm, quite literally) for an enterprise that would never exist absent the networked media.

Single-minded focus: The Oatmeal is one man's vision of the world, and relentless in promoting and defending it.  His previous big moment was shouting down some detractors.  Living proof that we have to come up with some different way of expressing "don't get in a pissing battle with people who buy ink by the barrel" that fits the digital age.

Genuine: What you see is what you get, and not unlike George Takei on Facebook, The Oatmeal is legend for saying what he thinks in a sincere and endearing way.

Unique: This is Gary Larson 2.0.  If you haven't read much of The Oatmeal and you are of the generation that misses that warped yet spot on take of the world, you need to take some time to read the back catalog.

Learn more The Oatmeal background from WikiPedia and from Inman.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

You Mean They Like to Blog the TV Games Too?

It is good the research is in to support the reality that the second screen is for interaction with TV.

I had running discussions -- hesitate to say battle, but they were skeptical -- with administrators back in the beginning of interactive blogs at Arkansas thinking it wasn't necessary to do any game on TV.  Some thought that "infringed" on the TV rights; others naively believed "who would follow that" when they could watch.

For the community.  And while we did get a different crowd -- the ones who had no other way to follow the event previously (no TV coverage) -- were less and the need for volumes of play by play was reduced, a much different dynamic began as the fans could discuss among themselves what they saw.

In the report, I'll call out two obvious problems.  First, this looked at 16-to-24.  My experience is this is NOT a youth movement.  We had as many fans over 30 as under on sports blogs at Arkansas.

The second one was this quote from the report:

The challenge for second screen content today is that it is likely to be relatively expensive as we are still in an experimental, bespoke phase.

Relatively expensive?  Compared to the total production cost of the event -- are you kidding?  A CoverItLive or similar interface account is a modest expense without advertising and finding a staff member to interact.  That's it.  We never had marketing or the rights holder on board sufficiently (read: they didn't care because they didn't see it as a revenue stream worthy of their time), but there was no doubt in my mind that a little effort could have washed the minimal costs through a sponsorship agreement.

Like so many things in social -- they aren't free, people's time is money, but it is about believing in the end result -- building community and affinity -- and deciding that it is going to get done.

As master Yoda said:  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It Is All On The Record

Another reminder that once it is in digital, it becomes easy to find.  Toss politics aside and focus on the error of trying to cover tracks but at the same time communicate in writing.  Investigators have unearthed this advice to subordinates in Washington:

"Don’t ever send an email on doe email with a personal email addresses,” Silver wrote Aug. 21, 2011, from his personal account to a program official’s private Gmail account. “That makes them subpoenable.”

You can read the whole story at the Washington Post.

It reminds me of the attempts by athletic administrators to similarly avoid FOIA by taking their discussions to Gmail or Hotmail rather than good old .EDU.  This also reinforces the answer to that question I still occasionally get - you mean they can get my private email?

Jonathan Silver tells you exactly how -- at least in discovery of your email account name.  I still caution that even if you follow Silver's advice, if the perception arises that official business was taking place outside of the official channels - whether you are state or fed - subpoena power can compell a network admin to show activity records.  Guess what now? Better hope you never logged into that other account at

Monday, August 13, 2012

PRSA Weighs in on Penn State

Earlier this summer, the Counselors to Higher Education group within PRSA noted that in the Freeh Report that it appeared the internal PR staff at Penn State was a non-factor -- neither consulted and in the one reference in the report, ineffective.

The PRSay column by Gerard Corbett about where PR should be in a crisis of this magnitude is required reading -- for "C"-level executives.

The five-points given are spot on, but one in particular brings it all into sharp focus:

At Penn State, senior officials don’t appear to have consulted with the public relations professionals who could have helped the university avert the crisis it is now facing.

Can't help if you're not asked, but I also know, you can't be a part of the solution if you are seen as "being negative" for pointing out the problems.

By the way, if you don't believe it could happen at your institution, read through this checklist from Poynter.  Jill Geisler is brutal -- BRUTAL -- about the eight ways you could be at risk, starting with:

Your organization uses words like “integrity” and “values” in promotional literature, but leaders rarely utter them in the course of daily decisions, much less the toughest ones.

That's just number one.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Have You Posted a Photo Today?

Forget #FollowFriday or whatever small meme you track -- ask yourself this key question:

What have I done to create interest or engagement today? 

Not one day a week, every day of the week.

And to that end, what better way than posting great, interesting photos.

Don't believe?  Here's another fact-packed note from WOMMA about images and how they dominate social.

If you want to go in depth, click back to the Facebook Five, particularly talking formula when it comes to Visual.

(In order: the Doctor BS Facebook Five: Immediate | Sentiment | Visual | Mobility | Brevity)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Fab Four of Facebook for Students

Just finished talking to the instructors of our University Studies 1000 course -- which is an orientation and study skills class required of all freshman at Northwestern State -- and encouraged them to get their kids to link themselves to the social fabric of the campus by engaging with the Fab Four Facebook pages:

#1 -- The university main page (which for us is /NorthwesternState)

#2 -- The athletic department main page (which again is /ForkEmDemons)

But the next two may be the most important for their retention at college and their integration into the social life of campus.

#3 -- Their academic area of interest

#4 -- Their social area of interest

We as a university spent a lot of meeting time this summer discussing retention and how to improve engagement with students.  The consensus -- the more students relate to each other, find connections, find older peer leaders -- the better chance for success.

Thus, what better way to get students to meet more peers and find new interests than actively encouraging them to get involved with the sub areas.  Follow the university and athletics -- great -- helps my overall numbers.  Knowing when the next literary event, recital, lecturer in their area is and commenting back and forth among friends -- that is priceless.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Another Arkansas Trooper, Football Event

In case anyone thinks football troubles are unique to the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State completed its own crisis involving state troopers, high profile people and its head football coach.  Michael Dyer was dismissed from the ASU team, and head coach Gus Malzahn initially resisted discussing the matter.  The problem was the public record via Arkansas State Police due to the dismissal of an arresting officer who pulled Dyer over in March.

The timelines here intertwine with those of Bobby Petrino's motorcycle accident.  Dyer was stopped in March, an internal ASP investigation into began in May.  Petrino, of course, was April 1 through the month.

The Searcy Daily Citizen got the ball rolling with the first Freedom of Information Act request which brought out the details of the investigation and the trooper's video.  I'd like to give you some samplings of what is there, but the paper has a hard firewall.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette had a accounting of the dismissal of the trooper, Royce Denney, who among other things turned off his in-car camera to lecture "Dyer about his future and how these items can mess up his football career".  Before the video was stopped, Denney told Dyer on tape that he was being a "total dumbass" for driving 96 mph in a 70 zone, possessing marijuana and a firearm and that he -- Denney -- was going to leave what to do about the weed and gun to "Coach", implying that he was going to give the Auburn transfer and former Little Rock high school superstar a break.

"You've got a career ahead of you. . . . What I should do is bend you over here and whup your butt."

Unlike Arkansas where the connection between Troop L commander Lance King as the head of the sideline protection delegation with Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino (and others before him) was quite clear, whether or not Malzahn really knew Denney isn't clear -- and that Denney in his mind was trying to help a young man get straight by giving him just a speeding ticket and turning the rest of the details over to the ASU head coach.

What we do know is that as soon as Malzahn had the full story -- the claim was Dyer had told him about the traffic stop, but not about the weed and gun -- he dismissed Dyer from the team.  And after putting off trying to talk about the event in detail, Malzahn used the start of a press conference a couple of days after the story and the dismissal broke to talk at length about it.

The initial problems were using the "I'm here to talk about something else" politician's move when first challenged, something he corrected soon after, for the football coach and the "I'm taking the law into my hands and giving you a break because you are a talented young athlete" by the trooper.

Turns out, trooper had other issues and while the focus will now be on his most recent mistake, he's fired.  This detailed out in the Friday ADG.

As yourself, would any of this have been hotly pursued by media prior to Sandusky?  Or locally to these folks in Arkansas, Petrino.

Do we have a larger systemic problem as it relates to law enforcement and college football, regardless to the size of community?  The DA in PA went public the week after Joe Paterno reached his record-setting win, but two games before the close of the season.  That was timing that to me appears odd.  The ASU events show that at some level, it wasn't just UA.  Don't overlook that a part of what is transpiring in Montana with investigations into the football team relates in part to the local police department or campus police and reporting Cleary Act crimes.

You get the sense that Denney in his mind was trying to the right thing in getting a talented young person to stop acting like a fool (and on the tape, the female passenger was joining in to berate Dyer).  We also get another careful what you do in public like the Chick-fil-A protestor (especially when you are a public servant) because video is out there and it will get to YouTube.  Here's a link to the dash-cam video, which was picked up via Freedom of Information Request.

But at some point, trying to guide young people and give them second chances to learn from mistakes as they mature in college -- something we all are suppose to be doing in higher ed whether it is athletic or academic side of campus -- crosses the line into enabling.

For Michael Dyer, who now has found himself gone from a second major college program, those second chances look like they are fading fast.

For the wider us of higher education and governance, it gives everyone pause and consider -- and remember that while we in theory have been in a transparent world as public servants that today's tools -- social media (where first rumors of all these events with the football programs at all levels started) and digital media (for the tapes and other records) are now fully enabling FOIA.

In other words, get your procedures in line (ASP issued new ones now to deal with football related duties -- since all of this brought up that they didn't have one) and make sure you are fulfilling that first crisis plan rule -- trust in God, verify everyone else.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Revolution Will Be YouTubed

Adam Smith was one of the Founding Fathers' ideological gurus, and the high priest of free market economics.

And this weekend, he also just got the harshest possible lesson in his namesake's hidden hand.  CNET has one of the best front to back recaps of the events.

The 21st century Adam Smith decided to express his opinion about the Chick-fil-A.  Fine.

He decided to take out his frustration on an employee. Not cool, but his right.

He felt the need to tape it.  Then share it on YouTube.

At the risk of drawing the same kind of wrath, might I suggest that the Adam Smith got a heapin' helpin' of hubris with his waffle fries.

It is bad enough to worry whether or friends or enemies will be taping your antics and posting them for laughs or hates on YouTube.  Or, to document violence - foreign (like Syria now, Arab Spring earlier) or domestic (the police clash with residents in Anaheim, complete with Bull Connor-like dog action).

This is social self-immolation, pure and simple.

He is now sorry. He has lost his job, and he's all over the Internet trying to apologize and delete the original posting.

Unfortunately for Adam Smith, he runs smack dab into one of Bill Smith's iron rules of the Internet: digital assets are extremely portable and easily copied PLUS once posted, always available somewhere.

So the linked version of his drive thru is locked by someone else.  It is clocking 750,000 views at this posting time with 353 likes and 3600 dislikes (that's a for real order of magnitude).

Be careful out there kids.  Keep your head on a swivel, and most important, stay frosty - don't let your passion get the best of you posting.

So once again, think before you post, kids.  Stay frosty out there. Keep your head on a swivel.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Balancing Students and Faculty on Facebook

Listening to faculty the past few weeks, I hear a consistent worry: students don't know boundaries.  As one professor with a strong reputation of mentoring and caring for students said, "Teaching isn't a 24 hour job - they shouldn't expect me to answer them at nine o'clock at night."

While many cite legal or ethical concerns, I find more and more that this is one of the top reasons why academics don't want to engage through social media with students.  Not only is the crossing of a boundary between teaching and private life a worry, the expectation of always on connection to students is a major issue.

The problem is this generation isn't like us.  They were born digital, and they are programmed to share.

And overshare.

From The Chronicle this week, a column about the excessive nature of sharing to a professor by his students illustrates the problem.  These stories weren't from social media - they were in class or in other public settings.

Yes, boundaries need to be established - but sometimes they will be inside our perimeters, not theirs.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Future Arrives In Oceana

Let me say at the outset I've been on the sidelines with life to become involved in the social media dust-up from the Olympics, and I'll just remind everyone again that Dan Gillmor told us all so in 2006 at CoSIDA San Diego.  He only missed the cycle, thinking that technology would be ready in 2008.  The worst nightmare of those who wish to license air is upon them in 2012.

Here's a recap on the latest round of Olympic Social Media Policy vs. The World via PC Mag.

Aside from the muzzling of athletes and officials, the attack at the backlash is a bit frightening.  Now that Twitter itself appears somewhat co-opted, how exactly will the world view the platform that once was seen as the tool of Arab Spring and other political uprisings.

As Sascha Seagan of PC Mag points out, while Guy Adams' account appears to have been reinstated, you can't overlook this:

By blocking his account, Twitter sets a terrifying precedent. In the run-up to the Olympics, we've watched big businesses ride roughshod over small businesses, with multinationals stomping on small food vendors, florists, and shoe stores. Now the Olympic sponsors can silence voices of criticism as well.

Or, as one of the few notables from the recent literary past of Great Britain who was NOT included in the opening ceremonies once wrote:

The citizen of Oceania is not allowed to know anything

At this point, The Revolution Will Neither Be Televised Nor Tweeted.

BTW -- name the author and the book which also carries the lines:

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'

Thinking of India

Courtesy of Chris Syme, a prompt to think about what do you do to insure you can get the message out during a catastrophic emergency.  Here was my answer back to her for the project she was assembling:

Planning for catastrophic failure is a necessary part of communications.  A checklist of alternative methods of distributing information is the starting point.  Knowing where located and how maintained on your current networked infrastructure is the starting point.  During Katrina then Rita, universities on the Gulf Coast discovered that while their primary webservers went underwater in the campus data centers, the companies used by their athletic departments were in other parts of the country and could take over critical communication roles.  As recently as the Joplin, Mo., tornado, the local school district temporarily declared it's Facebook account as the official communications tool as the school system lost its IT department.

Do you travel with an emergency USB key?  On this key should be a copy of every policy and procedure related to an emergency used by your organization, lists of vital phone numbers and email addresses, important data needed to access remote computer resources, and portable versions of the browser and email client used by your organization.  The key may become your computer at any moment, anywhere in the world.

This week, however, the difficulties in India reveal that entire power grids are vulnerable.  At these times, it is important to have procedures in place on how alternatives like partnering with local public safety or public communications volunteers like amateur radio to continue to maintain the ability to reach others with vital information.  Both the Department of Homeland Security through FEMA training courses and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) with "When All Else Fails" programs provide guidelines for how to continue to operate as a public safety communicator in times of crisis.

Proficiency in using alternate methods and the ability to maintain them comes from practice.  In the event of a serious crisis, the assumption should be the local cell phone network will become overloaded, at least temporarily.  Begin your process of hardening your ability to disseminate messages by unplugging the desktop and turning off your phone -- what is your next step?  Where is the campus/city/county emergency operations center?  Who on your campus has access to satellite phones, and equally important, who is authorized to use them?  Where is the nearest hard-line telephone -- one not dependent on the computer or network based digital phone system?  In extended events, having back-up power, manual equipment, analog radios and the personnel trained to use them is vital to your success.

The most important piece of information is the last one: reach out to the people within your organization or community who have access to these catastrophic event resources.  The last place to exchange business cards with the head of IT, the director of security or public safety, and the regional 911 or emergency operations center director is in a shelter during or immediately after the onset.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Words from Old Source

I discovered a copy of the 1956 president's address to the American Historical Association by Lynn Thorndike in a box of stuff from my old house today.  Thorndike was lamenting a proto-presentism in his talk, and when taken in the context of the rising Red Scare and soon ramping up of Cold into at least Lukewarm War in the 1960s, his points are worth considering in bulk.  Here's the key passage, and I found it interesting both when considering changes in how we communicate today and how we look at our past.

"Innovators and reformers too often have had single-track minds which were taken possession of and overwhelmed by one dominating idea.  A solitary reason for making a change may appeal to them so powerfully that it alone is sufficient to stir them to action, goad them into agitation, and impel them into propaganda.  Of arguments to the contrary they take no account.  How the situation which they wish to alter came about, they do not inquire, or, if they do, assign it to an unwholesome origin and ascribe to evil motives.  Nor are they interested in the many reasons, past and present, which this state of affairs has continued for so long, and possibly should continue for still longer.  For them, the very fact that it has endured for so long a time is in the nature of presumptive evidence that it has outlived its usefulness and its long persistence they regard not as a sign of inherent merit but as so much the more a lag from the march of modern progress. They do not pause to reflect that ancient Egyptian civilization may have lasted so long because it was not continually being reformed . . .  The iconoclasts who smashed statues, shattered stained glass windows and whitewashed over religious paintings, thought only of ridding the church of idolatry, and recked not of the irreparable loss to art, archaeology and history."

Ah yes, in other words, don't change it for change sake and consider the impact.  Thorndike goes into a long example of how there's a new problem in the world with juvenile delinquency and that the modern 20th century world essentially invented it through well meaning child labor law and other reforms.

"For the first time in history we are keeping in a state of tutelage persons who were physically, emotionally, and often intellectually adult."

Of his four illustrations of minors, the one regard Joan of Arc was best: "by the age of 19 [she] had defeated the finest military machine in Europe, crowned a King of France and herself suffered martyrdom. If today she were training as a teacher, she would be allowed out after 10 p.m. once a term, on written application and on promise to take another member of the college with her."

Does it mean that everything old is justfied?  Hardly.  The title of his piece was a take on Alexander Pope, saying "Whatever was, Was right" and meaning more as a caution to say those old folks, they weren't stupid.  You can't judge their decisions by today's standards (ie, presentism), accept that for them what they did was valid and take a little time to understand why.

Later, Thorndike makes it clear that change isn't always good. "Such innovations and reforms and changes, which were made from some one compelling reason, or from mere love of change, are of course likely to be undone for another compelling reason which has been overlooked before, or from the same mere love of change."

It's in these old position papers that I find great nuggets of current inspiration.  We talked at length at CoSIDA about the way that social media impacts coaches, athletes and institutions.  Consider Thorndike talking about the printing press, and substitute the networked world of fans as you read:

"Here was an innovation that was not merely a mechanical improvement but of stupendous mental and educational promise.  Instead of merely enabling man to move faster -- like the horse, the locomotive, the automobile and the airplane, it enable one to read faster, to think faster and it was for some time fondly believed, to publish faster."

He goes on for a page to talk about just because the cost dropped didn't mean that people actually took the time to publish, that what they created was worth publishing or that what you ended up with was what you were really looking for.  Sound familiar?

While I'm picking at the old essay to talk change, I have to close on the real theme -- the study of history -- in Thorndike's lecture.

"The more we study the past, the more we find that it was right, not wrong as previously supposed on the basis of insufficient evidence and knowledge.  The more we know concerning any past period, the better our opinion of it becomes.  Charges of ignorance against it are usually a sign of our ignorance about it.  Charges of bigotry and superstition against it may be due to our own prejudice and narrow-mindedness."

If you're interested in the entire article, Lynn Thorndike, Whatever Was, Was Right, American Historical Review, Vol 61, No. 2 (Jan 1956), p 265-283.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Never Waste a Crisis

That's become a meme, purportedly part of the Saul Alinsky rules for radicals. No better example than listening to a national radio news program on the day of the Aurora shooting.

The expert guest laid blame for the events of the day at the feet of social media, and the prospect of copycats due to the 24x7 nature of Twitter. He implied that the gunman may have been inspired or agitated to his acts through consumption of so much information.

At one point, the guest alluded to the 1980s when we didn't get news this fast, then the 1990s when we got cable news and things sped up, then today with its immediate news through social. I almost had to pull the car over.

Was this person really saying that social media had a cause in this? Was he really implying that because we have MORE information that was leading to violence like this -- or Norway, or Fort Hood? I can see the bumper sticker now: Guns don't kill people; Ideas kill people.

When later revealed that the assailant was either social media agnostic or a great deletion expert -- no traces of accounts anywhere (even MySpace was invoked in that news report) -- I am left gobsmacked with what the original commentator was really trying to say.

Was the point that we need to go back to the times where certain knowledge was held by the high priesthoods -- ranging from the literal ones in the church to the cultural and intellectual ones among the educated elites?

A nation ignorant of its history is easy to sway. Things have never been like this before. This is unprecedented. No, the sad reality is in the history of human endeavor there has always been -- and regretably shall always be -- inexplicable evil.

What may be said for the networked media is that we can learn about it faster and in greater detail than previous generations. Let me trot out my history lecture on presentism, and reformat it to the events in Colorado.

Does the name Andrew Kehoe ring a bell?

In 1927, Kehoe went on a vengful rampage in the small town of Bath, Mich. Killed 45 people -- 38 school kids -- and wounded another 58. You can read all the sordid details, but the similarities are important. Kehoe rigged several bombs in really evil genius ways to take out as many people as he could.

Kehoe didn't need assault weapons. Or costumes. Or the internet. Or social media. He used his considerable anger toward society, his intelligence and a commitment to cause rampant violence.

By the time I'd drifted back into listening to the radio, the next expert came along to talk about his work that showed that these kind of massive killings tended to happen in states that were more rural and lower affluence. The tone was in those ignorant back waters you get things like this happening. I had to turn off the radio. And write it out.

At this time, there are no news stories in the Googleplex that include the name "Andrew Kehoe". Anyone want to bet me that he won't become a part of the current narrative?

Penn State Punishment Likely Not Unprecedented

As we await the fate of Penn State from the NCAA tomorrow, here's what is forgotten in the "SMU is the only death penalty" meme.  We're talking football, not NCAA sports.

There are two cases of high profile misdeeds leading to the end of programs, but both in men's basketball and ironically, both from Louisiana.

An investigation at then Southwestern Louisiana began with the right-minded move by boosters to provide scholarship money to African-American basketball players.  The Louisiana legislature did not allow scholarships to blacks in the 1960s to its public universities, but the move brought the NCAA to town and they discovered far worse things happening -- systematic academic fraud that ranged from forging signatures on transcripts to admitting five players who lacked the GPAs to be at USL to general recruiting violations and extra financial benefits.  The Ragin Cajun men's basketball program was suspended for two years by the NCAA from fall 1973 until spring 1975.

In the late 1980s, a point shaving scandal at Tulane led to the discovery of a wide range of NCAA violations.  The combination led the president of the New Orleans private school to suspend the men's basketball program.

One has to suppose that, well, since that's basketball it's OK; football is too important for that kind of action and what happened to SMU was "too devastating" to allow again.


Consider that the "death penalty" was designed to address a cavalier attitude in the 80s and 90s that cheating was just part of the NCAA game if you wanted to win at the highest level and it was "worth the cost".  If you had violations while on probation, the institution had not learned its lesson -- thus the suspension of the program.

We find ourselves in the 21st century with a different kind of problem -- protecting the "brand" at all costs.  The cover up of NCAA violations is one thing. Sweeping federal and state law breaking under the carpet goes to the core function of a state agency.

Whatever the NCAA has in store, Mark Emmertt telegraphed on the Tavis Smiley Show last week that he and the organization were ready to create an unprecedented response to an unprecedented problem.  After all, the Big Ten was hinting at throwing out Penn State (remember, the 11th member who was not exactly well received by the academic elites in the old-school league) -- in the age of conference realignment and expansion it doesn't get much more drastic than that.

The talk of crippling the program is a bit much.  Recall the "just short of death penalty" move in 2002 and a five-year probation against Alabama football didn't exactly end the legendary program.  If I remember correctly, they have not one, but two, national titles since then.

What happened in State College, Pa., is different.  And the fate of the Nittany Lions lies not in the NCAA but in the public at large.  Think not?

How many times do the basketball powerhouse of City College of New York and New York University grace the headlines?

Because these national champions of the 1950s were the heart of a seven-school mob-based point shaving conspiracy that shook the very foundations of college sports.

With the NIT ruling the basketball world, that virtually none of the New York Seven realistically survived (only St. John's is major Division I hoops) tells us that Penn State's disappearance from the ranks of the football elite is neither far fetched nor historically unprecedented.

What may end Penn State football?  The combination of crushing penalties -- beyond what Alabama and others have endured -- and the public's memory.  Bama, USC, Miami -- all had loyal fans willing to outlast their times in the wilderness.

The shame of what transpired in Pennsylvania might be more than can be endured.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Take Your Moon Shot

ADDENDUM, 2:35 p.m. -- I wrote this late last night, and posted this morning before I read the news.  At the risk of some offense, I want to urge you even more so to think about -- what if that theater was in my college town.  What if I had students involved in that event?  Who saw that coming?  Please, please, please -- do your Moon Shot today.  You have every reason in the world now to think about your crisis plans.

A few weeks back, I urged you to take a moment to pull the crisis communications plan down off the shelf, dust it off and at least do a table top exercise.

You really meant to do that, but the media guide was on deadline and now well fall drills are just around the corner.

And you really want to bring the cabinet together, but there are some 10-month folks and vacations are here between the end of summer session two and fall registration.

Athletic or academic -- they both have their reasons why.  Let's call them what they are -- excuses.

Joseph Brennan prompts me to rattle your collective cages again with his post on Zehno about 12 Rules for Surviving on the Front Lines in a crisis.  Take a moment and read through.

I was a big fan of #10 -- as Joe talks about learning your FEMA terms -- but his #1 is about as good as it gets anytime.  He quotes Lori Doyle, Senior Vice President of University Communications at Drexel University:

A crisis has to be managed methodically, not hysterically

Now, do you really think you'll do well in a crisis having not taken some time to train?

When the AD says there's no need or time for this, ask him if he thinks it would be acceptable for the basketball coach to send a player to the free throw line with the conference championship on the line who had not been practicing free throws.  Joe has a big pull quote on the side of his blog that captures that a little less colorfully:

Have a policy and plan in place before disaster strikes.

So here's my modest proposal.  Since that Penn State-Arkansas-TCU level athletic event or Katrina-scale natural disaster or Virginia Tech campus incident is about as likely to happen on your campus as a man in the moon, take today, July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts stepping on the moon, and do that drill.

Get your staff.  Find the emergency plan.  Take your one small step for your department to help avert a giant disaster.

If no one wants to join you in the war games, here are some links to how to define your crisis, learning to work with local emergency professionals, who will tell your bad news, crisis work in general, avoiding self-inflicted crisis and a great new book in the field.

If you want to learn about FEMA's Incident Command System, many of the courses are on-line for training.  Your must do's are the basic 100 level course, which now has its own higher education edition, and then basic public relations with FEMA's system.

Gene Kranz didn't put Neil and Buzz on the moon without procedures and checklists.

Go through yours today.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Specialized or Siloed?

A recent rash of job postings -- both athletic and academic -- reveal some counter trends.  In athletics, more and more institutions are creating positions for specialists.  Directors of Communication, Directors of Engagement, Directors of New Media, Social Media, Media Relations -- you name it but none of them seem to be over the entirety of the message.

No because there are Senior Associate Externals and other various formations of "the fundraising guy over marketing . . . oh yes, and sports information" that are in theory setting that agenda.

The days of "sport contacts" are fading, but the unitasker remains -- just the one person doing Facebook inside the marketing office (because that's "fan-sy"), and maybe then the one person assigned to do Twitter and blogs in the media office (because that's "news-y").  Oh yeah, that guy in the corner?  He's the YouTuber (because that's "tech-y").

This is not even to discuss The Silo: the Director of Football Communications/Relations/Media.  The wholly owned subsidiary of The Football Office, with narrowly defined responsibilities to that single sport area.

They report down different paths to the Senior, and more times than not, the messaging is muddied in the process. Or worse, things get bottled up inside those units.  Sometimes it makes the light of day at the right time.  Sometimes, well, you know the schools.

Meanwhile, across the campus, more and more positions are multitasking and team oriented.  They are focused on the overall strategies across modes of communication.  That world has its own set of Titles That Are Capitalized -- throw that AP Stylebook to the wind -- as well.

But the difference as you read through and more important as you talk to people involved in the hiring -- there seems to be more emphasis on strategic communication of the institution and organizing that into team groups.

Frankly, the university relations offices are starting to look a whole lot more like the old SID offices from back in the day -- when the marketing and the other functions were just an organic whole of the area charged with publicity for the entire department.  I've seen some interesting org charts from new hires in this realm that confirm -- more unified, group operations and less stratified and hierarchical.

For all the team-talk and silo-busting management blather from athletic directors, the academic side is doing more and more to create the kind of message unity.  The more advanced ones are daring to advocate some real old-school ideas -- bringing together the entire university under one umbrella.

There are positives to both approaches, but I lean toward the unified command of a communications director that is closer to the ground and able to manage the entire process.

Cause there's two things I know about silos.  On the farm, you don't vent them often, they just might explode.  And the other?  Well, back in the day, that's where we stored those nuclear warheads.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Engagement Success

Yeah it stung a bit when a consultant said, well, your main page at Northwestern State lacks an engaging tone.  What he really meant to say was you don't get a lot of comments -- which granted for a lot of the link-based media release stories, frankly, we don't.

In support of my own Facebook Five agenda and urging to have less story links and more live content, I made a stab at a little fun P.O.V. and make the best of a slow weekend by talking about the weather.  And by slow, in there's either a NSU event or tourism something Natchitoches, we literally had nothing going on for Saturday, June 14.

I'm walking downtown and whip out the iPhone for this one. It's a line as old as rainy seasons -- hey, that isn't a UFO in the sky, it's the sun.  But I tweaked it a bit into this:

For those here in Natchitoches, there is no need to be alarmed. We have confirmed with members of the College of Science, Technology and Business that the bright object in the sky today is called the Sun. Hope you can take advantage of our first rain-free (so far) day in well over a week.

About five minutes after I posted it, I homered (head slap-D'Oh!).  Why did I mess up a really nice pithy line by not putting up a picture of a sunny sky on campus?  Idiot; blown the visual.  I'd gotten great results from a simple shot of the wildflowers that sprung up in front of one of our icons the previous day.  Oh well, too late.

What happens next shows that sometimes, it really is right time, right message.  The update took off -- 61 likes and a couple of shares in a little over an hour -- and one person saying -- tongue in cheek -- that's not funny right now because it's really hot and I have to mow the yard.

Hearing that "you've not been engaging voice in my head", I waded in.  And over the course of the next two hours, we had some light banter -- adding that the College of Nursing and Allied Health approved of his move to get into the AC and beverages rather than staying in the sun.

Then, my (so far) caveat came true.  It did rain for what was our ninth straight day late, and of course, that provide some more fodder.

By the time it was said and done, this simple whimsy became the top post all-time on viewed and shared, plus we added 10-15 likes to the overall total.

I'm pointing this out not as much to brag about brilliance but to emphasize ANYONE can do this and be successful if you are trying to be yourself, engage your audience and provide them unique content.

The previous record Facebook update?  That was from the start of the week when we picked up a photo from one of our students as one of our Greek organizations picked up two national awards.  And during the week, our library scored high points -- and a ton of sharing -- by remembering that Saturday was Bastille Day, no small issue in Francophile Louisiana.

All three of those -- the pick up of the cell phone picture of a priceless moment, a pithy comment to start the day and a well placed share -- are what define your Facebook personna.

But I'm still mad -- how much further would the right picture have taken that Sun post . . . .

Here's graphic capture of the whole exchange (you can see the Bastille Day also):

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Doctor Heal Thyself

This is a weekend of high passion with the release of the Freeh report.  I listened to some talk radio and was appalled at a former SID defending Paterno with the "he's done so much for thousands" argument.  What?  Did he read the report?  Has he not felt the heat of the public and opinion classes?

Today, I'd taken a little recreational time inside a couple of interest groups on Facebook and found myself the frog in the boiling water.  Why no, I don't think that is right.  Why of course, that shouldn't have been that way.  Before I knew it, I'd made some of my own most preached errors.

What I said was not wrong, but without the visual cues of regular communication, in reflection, I'm sure it sounded harsh.  And when pounced upon, I at least took a moment to pause before the counter attack.

That's when I realized, I don't get an opinion on that issue.  Because of where I work and who the interest group was -- I pulled back.  I did the only thing I could do.  Apologize, delete and retreat.  I left the field to others to hash out.

The fact of the matter -- shouldn't have even gone down that road.  It made me reflect back on the talk show I heard earlier.

We take a lot of time talking about how we want honest opinion and exchanges, but we really don't.  We really want the losers to shut up and go away.  We really don't like a lot of back and forth.

And a sober reminder that as we often shake our heads at what clients and colleagues do in social, we must remind ourselves, but by the grace of God go I.

Friday, July 13, 2012

We Are All Penn State

The last 24 hours start the next phase for Penn State.  I read that in a lot of places.  That is false.

Whether we like this or not, to bastardize the rallying cry of the Happy Valley faithful, we are all Penn State.

There are some events that touch everyone within an industry -- this is one.

Louis Freeh summed it up into a single quote at his press conference:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.  The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized.”

The underscore becoming a banner deck headline on the front page of the Philly Inquirer today.

I've seen some of the comments of the defendants -- lawyers for the soon-to-be former athletic director and retired senior VP -- that the Freeh Report did not "tell the whole story."


History is written by the victors.  In this case, it is recorded by the participants.  What part of the "whole story" didn't get documented in email or memoranda? The part that was spoken back and forth so there would not be a record in the future?  That's convenient -- and unfortunate.

Because if there is exculpatory material to the chain of command's decision making, bring it out.

I suspect there isn't.  It would already be in the report.

See, that's the thing about 17 1/2 minute gaps in the tape -- or the "whole story" not being recorded -- it looks like what it is.

A cover-up.

Administrative history is written by the supervisors.  A record which justifies the actions taken is what we create.  Not just today -- I've read my share of "memorandum of conversation" letters composed by high functionaries of the FDR administration during the 1930s and 1940s as they sought to put down for the record their version of what transpired.

This is human nature, not a byproduct of email trails and social media postings.

What should be the issue for all of us in higher education -- athletic or academic -- was the janitor's testimony to Freeh's investigators.  He didn't report what he was told because he feared for his job and his safety.

Let's not kid ourselves.  That's not just a "Penn State" thing.

One big reason why the disinhibited behavior is so popular in social media?  The anonymous bomb thrower is also the anonymous whistle blower.  Too many have seen what happens to the janitor in any industry.  So we have the hoggrads of the world trying to get the word out.  They too have agendas which makes the monitoring of and response to social -- even the crazy conspiracy theories or the malcontent agitators -- so important.

This is why we are all Penn State today.  Take a moment for serious reflection.  What happens at your institution if similar events transpire?  Before tut-tutting the lack of Clery Act work by Penn State (or Montana -- just to make sure everyone understands PSU isn't a one-off isolated problem), what is your institutional procedure for compliance?

Call a meeting.  Have yourself a little table top exercise.  Maybe even, dare I suggest it, an honest conversation about what would we do.

Good luck.  You'll need it.  Wear a cup when you suggest it.