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Posts Tagged ‘Higher Education’

Social Media Director at U of M Becomes Casualty of Social Media Transparency

December 11, 2012 4 comments

Jordan Miller Case Study Collage

[Disclosure: I applied for the University of Michigan Social Media Director position.]

In October of 2011, the University of Michigan announced that it had created a Social Media Director position.  I was elated; it was a great sign that the practice was gaining the recognition it deserves.  In February of 2012 they announced that after “dozens” of applicants (a suspiciously low number for that high-profile of a position with an elite school that paid $100k/year) they had selected Jordan Miller to be their new Social Media Director.

Flash-forward to December 7 when a post appeared on Reddit titled “UM Social Media Director Jordan Miller lies on resume about bachelors degree, keeps job.” posted by citizenthrowawayx.  The post contained links to three scans of documents that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Miller had indeed lied on her job application claiming to have completed her studies at Columbia College in Chicago when in fact she had not.

Jordan Miller's Followgram Profile Description

Jordan Miller’s Unfortunate Followgram Profile Description

As of today, Miller resigned from the position at U of M.

There’s a lot more to the story (that the anonymous individual who did the legwork and posted the damning information is an ex-husband who happens to also work at U of M and who is involved in a custody battle, alleging that Miller manufactured child abuse allegations against him to negate his custody of their child) but I’m less interested in that than the larger ramifications of this case study in how not to approach social media.

Beat the Dead Horse: Radical Transparency

What I can’t get over is that someone would think they could get away with something like this in applying for (1) a social media leadership position at (2) one of the best universities in the US.  Who thinks this sort of deception can last in such a position of scrutiny?

Forget unethical (although it’s certainly that), in the age of radical transparency duplicity is just plain impractical.

Digital Shrapnel

Here is just a sampling of the ripples Miller’s lying has sent off in the direction of everyone she’s had contact with:

U of M Human Resources: Why doesn’t the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Office vet the higher education credentials of its applicants?  How many of the rest of the university’s employees are lacking in degrees from accredited higher education institutions?  Why didn’t the HR department take action on this information when it was forwarded to them “a few weeks ago?”  Why did it take contacting the university’s Compliance Hotline to get something accomplished?

Past Employers: Now that we know Miller lied on her U of M job application, does that mean that she lied on her application to the Ann Arbor News?  As a journalistic organization that trumpeted her hire and is now reporting on her downfall – it’s incumbent upon them to now shine that same light on themselves and their hiring practices.  How many of their other reporters are lacking in degrees from accredited colleges/universities?  Why don’t they verify higher ed credentials? Ditto to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency that employed her for a year and a half.

References: This kind of situation makes me less inclined to want to give out references or endorsements, which are becoming ever-present on social networking sites.  You practically trip over them logging in to Linkedin, they’re on Facebook and its apps (like Branchout) and everywhere else.

Past Work: If Miller lied about something as substantial as her higher ed credentials, what else is lurking in her past?  Has she fabricated any of the information in the stories she wrote for the AnnArbor.com?

What They Think I Do - Super Hero

Social Media Pros: Specializing in social media is already a profession that hurts for credibility.  Here’s a comment from the story announcing Miller’s hire typical of the opinions of many people on social media:

“Wow. $100K per year to Twitter (aka “gossip”) and create seminars teaching other people how to Twitter (aka “gossip”). It’s too bad the UM doesn’t have any marketing students or anyone like that, who could devise and maintain “social media” strategies as part of their degree programs. What’s another $100K in taxpayer dollars anyway? It’s just disgusting. A hundred THOUSAND dollars a year. It’s incredible.”YpsiVeteran

This act can’t help but contribute to the sentiment that social media pros are charlatans and hucksters.  As a result, all of us suffer.

The Other Applicants for the Position: There were some other applicants for the position who were probably better-qualified than Miller (whose social media credentials I found to be surprisingly sparse – leading me to long suspect that there was some sort of backroom arrangement for the hiring process which is depressingly common at higher ed institutions).  Forget me, Lindsay Blackwell comes to mind – even I was impressed by the multimedia site she set up to apply for the position.  I worry that U of M will eliminate this position and kill a great opportunity for someone else (and an opportunity to show how far ahead of the business world the academic world is in terms of social media acumen).

The Silver Lining

Radical Transparency is here to stay.  It is the norm.  It is one of the rules of the ecosystem.

As we work to get past the social norms that are in conflict with this new reality, we can facilitate this by making use of all of the amazing computing power arrayed before us.  There is value in verification – think of what Linkedin could do to further attract employers as a job posting website by offering the verification of credentials.

I’m not optimistic about the odds of it happening, but hopefully the human resources world takes this opportunity to reflect on how outmoded its conventions for vetting job applicants are.  There are so many ways to measure the abilities of people online, and so few HR departments are flexing all of those resources.

Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out (and it is literally playing out right now on Reddit as Miller’s ex-husband is able to respond to the questions and comments of other Redditors).

Yes I am a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, and Guru

August 17, 2012 4 comments

Social Media Jedi

Eric Stoller at Inside Higher Ed recently wrote an article (You Are Not a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, or Guru) poking fun at people who use any of the wide array of “Social Media _______” titles online. As someone who has used such titles in the past, I feel it’s up to me to write a rebuttal and defend those of us who feel we’ve earned these appellations.

To be sure, there are tens of thousands of people running around claiming credentials they don’t rightly deserve for a variety of fields. Social media is currently the most notorious for this because it’s a field in its embryonic stage and as such hasn’t had any formal rigors applied to it. Moreover, it shifts so much more quickly than other disciplines that establishing an objective rubric by which to measure one’s bona fides is virtually impossible. Read more…

Michigan’s Education Transparency Bill is a Good Idea – Poorly Executed

August 2, 2012 1 comment

Michigan Legislature Derp

Here in Michigan, a provision was added to the Education Omnibus Budget Bill this year that concerns me as a website administrator for an educational organization.  It’s poorly crafted by legislators who are clearly (but not unsurprisingly) ignorant about technology.

The specific portion of the bill is Sec. 209 in P.A. 201 of 2012.  The full text of the public act is below, but it basically says that all educational institutions in the state (including K-12 and colleges/universities) now have to put a large, dog-ugly logo on the front pages of their websites linking to details about their budgets in the name of transparency. Read more…

You’re not a Master of Social Media if You’re not on Facebook

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

facebook800lbgorilla

In a recent blog post on Inside Higher Ed (Visiolibriphobia: Fear of Facebook *), Professor Afshan Jafar discussed her concerns with Facebook that keep her from using the platform.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Call me crazy, but I am not on Facebook. That’s strange for somebody my age and stranger still for somebody who belongs to a group of writers here at UVenus who are masters at using social media.”

I have two issues with the article:

  1. You’re not a master of using social media if you’re not on Facebook.
  2. It’s impossible to stay off Facebook.

Permit me to explain…

1. Mastery of Social Media

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m touchy about the subject of social media mastery.  A primary means I make my living is through my understanding of social media, and my ability to ply my trade is substantially hampered by people who falsely claim to be experts like me.  Regrettably the learning curve with SM is so great that the average person often isn’t able to distinguish good practice from bad practice.  I’m hardly alone – virtually every profession or area of technical expertise faces this problem.

The 800-lb Blue Gorilla in the Room

Facebook is easily the most massive social networking site world-wide – particularly in the West.  Right now they’re coming up on one BILLION users – or one 1/6 of the planet.  Mastering social media inherently requires a thorough understanding of Facebook given its dominance.  To be a social media expert and have no ongoing hands-on experience with its most key player is the equivalent of attaining a Master of Film Theory degree without learning anything about Sergei Eisenstein.

Social Media’s Shifting Sands

Online the only constant is change.  As such, remaining a master of social media means constantly learning, growing and evolving with platforms.

To wit: every single social media presentation I do is different.  I often stay up late into the night before a presentation revising it with the developments that happened that day.  I even modified a recent preso I did for Crime Stoppers International from one day to the next because the social media world had changed significantly overnight.

Professor Jafar qualifies my first assertion by arguing in her article that Facebook nurtures two characteristics of McDonaldization (efficiency and calculability) that are harmful.  Hopefully Professor Jafar is heartened by the fact that we as a society have evolved away from those measures precisely because of the effect of McDonaldization.

Social media experts AND Facebook know that impersonal shotgun blasts of information are far less effective than one-on-one engagement and discourage it (in the case of Facebook, its algorithms will de-prioritize that content so it shows up in the newsfeeds of fewer users).  Even casual users of Facebook are opening their eyes to this reality, and todays’ students are getting better at communicating differently to different audiences.

With respect to calculability, virtually everyone from tweens to multinational corporations know that sheer numbers don’t matter online.  Actual interactions and action are what matters – and those qualities are rarely present in inflated numbers of fans or friends.

2. You ARE on Facebook

Whether or not you want to be, you likely are on Facebook already.

If you know anyone who is on FB (or possibly even people who don’t know you), doubtless they’ve uploaded photos of you, updates about you, and if you’re a publisher of content like Jafar – that is being shared, liked, and commented on in Facebook.  Institutions or events also publish content about us – like TEDx Conferences:

At the very least every web-accessible digital snippet about you is searchable through Facebook:

AfshanJafar_FacebookSearch

The ubiquity of recording equipment in society means that there is constantly digital documentation of our behavior.  We’re able to ignore this reality on a daily basis because it’s usually never interesting.  That changes the minute we do something sensational or outstanding in either a positive or negative sense.

In Professor Jafar’s case – this likely takes the form of her students discussing what an excellent teacher she is.  Right now these wall posts, photos and posts are mostly unsearchable in Facebook – but that will invariably change as our notions of privacy evolve and become more permissive (a massive shift in public opinion that Pew has documented).  The pressure Facebook is under to monetize its users will only accelerate this trend.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook should give everyone pause with respect to their privacy.  They’ve made a number of moves over the years that remove control from their users over what is shared about them.  A decade ago, staying off a social networking site was a viable pursuit, but we’ve reached a saturation point where that is no longer the case.

The solution is not to abstain – it is to engage.

When you refuse to engage digitally (be it on Facebook or the web in general) you accomplish two things:

  1. you lose the opportunity to monitor what is said about you and…
  2. you give up the ability to contribute to the conversation about you.

How to Create the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Template for the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

Given the field I work in, I pay a lot of attention to billboard campaigns.  I suspect this makes me different from many of the publics we target.

One thing I’ve noticed in my years of careful Billboardspotting is how remarkably similar all outdoor advertising is for colleges and universities.  It’s eerie.  It’s almost as though everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and copying it in some sort of marketing feedback loop.

This is likely what is actually happening, which explains the creative entropy. Read more…

CANCELED: Community Colleges and the Impact of Social Media Webinar

May 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Perhaps summer isn’t the best time to schedule a learning opportunity for education professionals.  Unfortunately the Paperclip Webinar on Community Colleges and the Impact of Social Media has been canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date.

As soon as we have a new date, I’ll post it here.

grcctwittercustomerservice

Community colleges across the country are finding ways to teach, market and communicate using various forms of social media. In this rapidly changing environment it is challenging for professionals to stay up to date on the latest trends and functions of a social media landscape.

In many cases, higher education has led in the adoption of these new tools and technologies. Much more can be done, however, both inside the classroom and outside the college engaging publics.

Join me for an interactive webinar where you will learn how to develop a greater awareness of hot trends in social media as they relate to community colleges and begin the process of creating an effective social media marketing plan.

Register Here: http://bit.ly/ccsandsocialmedia

How Not to be a Social Media N00b – Resources From the 2012 NCMPR National Conference in San Francisco

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

San Francisco Trolley

On March 11, 2012 I did a pre-conference workshop at the 2012 Conference of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (NCMPR).  It’s an organization for marketing and PR professionals in higher education at 2-year colleges.  Below you can find the resources from that presentation (the slides, handout, audio, and some video).

ncmpr2012hownottobeasocialmedianoob

If you found the materials or the workshop to be helpful, I’d appreciate a review on Linkedin.  Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do more workshops like these.

Video:

Handout:

  • How Not to be a Social Media N00b (.pdf) [I essentially crammed a variety of social media resources into this handout with brief descriptions so that attendees wouldn’t have to scramble to take notes while I blathered on.]

Slides:

Audio:

Internships are Study Abroad Experiences

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Internships are Study Abroad Experiences

Ideally, Internships aren’t just about getting resume-filler.  They’re about practical experience, networking, and portfolio-building.  One aspect of internships that most of us take for granted is the vital role they play in acclimating young people to  office culture.

Don’t laugh.  I was fortunate to have worked in my father’s insurance office since I was 13, but most young people don’t have that sort of exposure to the white-collar working world and its various intricacies.

Office culture is so ubiquitous and richly-textured that the sitcom “The Office” has spawned numerous adaptations for the varying office cultures around the world, beginning first in the UK but then moving to the US, Germany, Canada, Chile, Israel, and Sweden.

Virtually every textbook in Communications and Public Relations stresses the importance of cultural competence in effective communication.  So many of our paradigms for encoding and decoding messages are culture-specific.  Here’s what I mean:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K5SycZjGhI

Tips for Students on Maximizing Their Internships

1. Get Something out of the Experience: Unfortunately there are still a lot of organizations that don’t monetarily compensate their interns.  The practice is unethical in my opinion (and the opinion of the Public Relations Society of America).  The current dismal economic climate isn’t helping matters much, but for students unable to get hourly pay or a stipend (to cover the cost of the credits for the class) for their efforts there are still ways to get value from the experience by ensuring that one of three things comes out of their work:

  • A Name: It’s easier to make the case to take an unpaid internship if the organization is one that has a solid reputation that will look good as legitimate work experience on a resume.
  • Solid Experience: Another intangible value if a name and money aren’t available for an internship is hands-on experience.  Particularly for nonprofits and small companies, the possibility exists for an intern to be given a great deal of responsibility that exceeds the typical student experience.  Being able to oversee projects and produce valuable portfolio content also has a great deal of merit.
  • Cultural Competence: For the rare student that already knows what field or type of PR that they want to practice, gaining exposure to the networks of professionals and world they operate in is also valuable.  Absent a name, cash, or responsibility in return for one’s work – being a fly on the wall in high-level meetings or consuming industry-specific literature on the job can also be valuable.

2.  Keep a Diary: Many people find journaling to be valuable while studying abroad and that also applies to “studying abroad” in the office environment.  Frequently when we’re in the moment at a job, it can be extraordinarily difficult to process and remember everything we experience.  Writing them down helps not only the exercise of processing what we learn, but helping us internalize it so that we can actually apply it to our own careers.  Try the following:

  • Jot down terms you don’t understand to look up later.
  • Keep records of the names of people you meet and the organizations they work for (this may come in handy .  Maintain a running list of all of the unspoken “rules” for office behavior that you encounter (email alone is rife with behavioral norms).

3.  Stay Open to Unfamiliar Experiences: Just as when traveling abroad, working in an office is a richer experience when you keep an open mind and volunteer for (or better yet, seek out) opportunities to do things or go places we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Looking back now after 15 years in PR, I realize that learning what I DON’T like has been just as valuable as learning what I DO like.  The earlier you can develop self-awareness, the more opportunity you have to change your career trajectory toward a career that is fulfilling.

It may not seem like it now when you’re eating Ramen and worrying about affording gas for your car, but money isn’t everything.  Contrary to what many textbooks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and services like Salary.com say – you’re likely not going to get rich doing PR (the “starting salaries” they list are laughably inaccurate) … and that’s okay.  What matters more is that you like the work and find it life-affirming.

4.  Observe Others Reactions to You: Despite egalitarian ethos espoused by the the US, not everyone is equal in the workplace.  Different standards (and in some cases, double-standards) still exist for for race, gender and culture.  Understanding this is critical to navigating office politics.  I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you that a strong work ethic and quality output aren’t all you need to be successful in the white-collar world.

Given how much of PR is interpersonal relationships (with the media, with clients, with co-workers, with customers), every aspiring professional needs to be aware of how they may be received by the people they interact with daily.  Fortunately you have plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them early in your career – those opportunities diminish as you get older.

Women especially have to be aware of relationship dynamics in the office, as they are more frequently held to a different standard than men.  Take the adage “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult” from Charlotte Whitton.  Regrettably I’ve found this to be true in the so-called enlightened workplace of the “modern” era.

The curious thing I’ve observed is that women need to worry less about sexism from men than they do from other women.  Throughout my career, the majority of my supervisors have been female and I’ve watched as a female colleague many years my senior in experience and ability has her view challenged where I am not even though I’m making the same contention.

As far as race and ethnicity go, the sad reality is that most organizations put the “White” in “White-Collar.”  There isn’t nearly as much diversity in most offices as there should be.  The upside is that this creates a great deal of opportunity for minority PR students: savvy firms and companies are looking to hire them.  Naturally, PR pros know the intrinsic value of a diverse range of backgrounds and viewpoints in generating creative ideas as well as in relating to the increasingly-diverse US population.

Three Reflections on the Tao of Business Cards

September 29, 2011 2 comments

My New Run of Business Cards From Moo.com

In a recent post, I tried to compile some strategies for students to maximize their networking opportunities in the hope of gainful employment.  One of the things I advised them to do was to have their own business cards to give to people they meet.

Though it seems like a superficial practice, the act of preparing one’s own business cards can be an important opportunity for reflection and self-realization.  They’re not just for other people – they’re also for ourselves.

No, I’m not kidding.  Here’s why: Read more…

Video – My Team Competes in GRCC’s Innovation Competition

April 26, 2011 3 comments

Visualization of Parking Feature of App

My favorite thing about working at Grand Rapids Community College is the small group of amazing people I get to collaborate with on a regular basis on really innovative and tech-driven projects (many of which we’ve managed to get through bureaucratic hurdles and actually put into practice – like being the first college in Michigan to offer text message alerts for students/employees in crisis situations back in 2005).

Some of these people (Szymon Machajewski, Garret Brand, and Eric Kunnen) and I recently entered GRCC’s “Armen Award” competition as a team with a mobile application built entirely by Szymon in his free time based on a concept we developed that would help save both students and the college time and money and promote conservation and sustainable practices at the college. Read more…