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7 lessons worth learning from the Navy Social Media Handbook


This post was originally published in Federal Computer Week on November 29, 2010, and it was written with Kristin Bockius of Microsoft.

Kristin Bockius is relationship and social media marketing manager at Microsoft’s U.S. state and local government business. Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. The opinions expressed in this article are their own and do not reflect the official position of Microsoft.

The Navy’s recently published Social Media Handbook has some good lessons for everyone.

Geared toward Navy commanders, the handbook is intended to encourage the use of social media and provide some guidance on matters of online etiquette, privacy, security and related issues. However, although the handbook is Navy-centric, many of its ideas and best practices apply across the government.

Here are some of the takeaways we found, along with insights we gathered in developing a similar guide for Microsoft’s public-sector customers.

Get guidance from the top. Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan, the Navy’s chief of information, clearly supports the Navy’s use of social media. Such senior-level support is necessary for any corporation, agency or institution that plans to engage in social media conversations. Employees should not be confused and wondering if they may or may not use social media or how they may use it. Now more than ever, they need some structure and guidance.

Keep an ear to the ground. The handbook points out that social media provides a great way to learn about your employees’ thoughts and concerns. That is incredibly insightful. Social media can indeed be a great indicator of things going right or wrong at your organization.

Protect your brand. The Navy’s handbook points out that service members and employees who use social media are always brand ambassadors and should act accordingly. We take it one step further: Your actions and reactions online affect not only your reputation but also your professional affiliation. Thus you must act in a way that is proper for yourself and your employer.

Keep the brands simple. For our work in state and local government, we use two big brands — @Microsoft_Gov and Bright Side of Government — rather than breaking up our content by solutions, such as e-mail or cloud computing, or audience, such as states, cities and counties. In many cases, we feel that such divisions unnecessarily dilute a brand and make it harder to engage in consistent online conversations.

Centralize brand management. The manual reminds people that anyone who is establishing a social media presence must register that outlet with the Defense Department’s public affairs office. That makes it possible to roll up all the activity into a master online directory. Our own company could do a better job of this, considering the many brands and social media accounts that we have.

Have a response plan ready. For an organization such as the Navy, having a crisis communications plan is somewhat of a no-brainer. But that is true of all kinds of organizations. Your public relations team should have a crisis plan in place — for before, during and after conversations — so you can manage any crisis or rumor that arises. All brands are increasingly at risk for public criticism. Acknowledge that and plan accordingly.

Save your work. The Navy’s handbook suggests that people should selectively choose what to archive and even use screen shots to do it. But these days, you can find cheap or free tools to help you archive everything automatically. For example, many government agencies already use SharePoint to share enterprise content. You can now get a free, open-source SharePoint plug-in that can help you manage archiving.

Overall, we think the Navy’s social media guide — like the Air Force’s flowchart for online rules of engagement that preceded it — will provide valuable information about social media not only for the military services but also for agencies across the federal government and beyond.

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I Unleash My Journalism Students To Critique Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons


September 17th, 2009 – a day that will live in infamy.  It is the day I officially became bored with defending Twitter to columnists that “don’t get” the popular microsharing service.  On that day, Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons (who frankly, I’d never heard of until that day, even though I knew of his Fake Steve Jobs work – great PR!) wrote a piece called “Don’t Tweet On Me: Twitter shows that stupid stuff sells,” which I immediately hated for at least three reasons.  One, most things people say seem stupid and useless to random people, so this is not novel observation.  Two, everyone who has observed general society knows that stupid sells (maybe Lyons should visit a comedy club sometime?).  And three, Lyons effectively insults 99.9% of the population with his remarks (of course, they didn’t notice because they don’t read Newsweek – whew, bullet dodged).

But honestly, I’m bored with writing posts about Twitter.  I don’t really care if anyone “gets it” at this point – frankly, the less people and businesses use it the more advantage those that do gain over the others, and that’s much more fun to watch.  There are tangible benefits quantified and qualified out there – and I feel no need to share them here.  But please don’t think how busy I am means that I don’t think Daniel Lyons should escape a good skewering.

So, taking a page out of the Web 2.0 playbook I’m fond of, I crowdsourced the task to my journalism students (each writer volunteered and no one was graded) in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I’m currently teaching a class called Sustainable Journalism in a New Media Age, and I felt this would be a perfect opportunity for some of my students to publish something on True/Slant, to work out their contrarian / critique style, and to perform a useful service to humanity – picking apart Daniel Lyons’ arguments about how stupid Twitter is.  (And maybe they will even personally experience mainstream media blowback!)

Starting on Monday, look for brief, funny, engaging, authentic and biting guest posts from four of my undergrad students in my column at True/Slant.  They’re going to be great.  Not only do they poke, poke, poke at Newsweek until its measly article looks like Swiss cheese (sorry Jon Meacham, I like you), but keep in mind that these writers are ages 18-21 – and by the time they graduate this hot young talent probably wouldn’t be caught dead working for a dinosaur like Newsweek.  But I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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OPEN LETTER TO UC ALUMNI & FRIENDS


At the corner of 13th and Franklin Streets in downtown Oakland, a worn bronze plaque hangs on the wall of a two-story parking garage. Easy to miss, state Historical Marker No. 45 identifies the spot where, 140 years ago, a California miracle began. Here the University of California spent its infancy, occupying a two-story Victorian that had housed one of the state’s first colleges. In 1873 the university – after graduating an original class of 12 – migrated to Berkeley and began its rise as a land-grant college dedicated to teaching agriculture, mining and the mechanical arts.

The enterprise, of course, has endured, and then some. Under the stewardship of some great leaders, and with the support of alumni like you and, for that matter, all of California, the University has grown from its humble origins to the point where it now stretches all across the state, from Merced to Santa Barbara, Riverside to San Francisco, Irvine to Santa Cruz, San Diego to Davis, Los Angeles to Berkeley – 10 campuses, five medical centers, three national laboratories, 225,000 students, 55 Nobel Prizes and 1.6 million alumni.

It is to that great army of alumni, along with other friends and beneficiaries of the University of California, that we write today, and we do so with a sense of great urgency – to ask you to become engaged as never before in building legislative and financial support for this great institution.

This is a time of peril for the University we all love.

The UC model – providing universal access to a top-notch, low-cost education and research of the highest caliber – continues to be studied around the globe among those who would emulate its success. And yet, this model has been increasingly abandoned at home by the state government responsible for its core funding.

In the past 20 years, the amount of money allotted to the University through the state budget has fallen dramatically: General Fund support for a UC student stood at $15,860 in 1990. If current budget projections hold, it will drop this year to $7,680.

Moreover, it now appears likely the UC system, in this current fiscal crisis, will be ordered by Sacramento to absorb yet another $800-plus million in additional cuts. Its 2009-10 core budget will be reduced by an estimated 20 percent. This will bring the amount of state investment in the University down to $2.4 billion – exactly where it was in real dollars a decade ago.

In the same time frame, by the way, funding for state prisons has more than doubled, from $5 to $11 billion. It’s been reported that, based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget soon will overtake that of the state’s universities and community colleges.

And so, our work is cut out for us. As one Chairman of the Board of Regents steps down and another takes over, we are asking you, as stewards of UC, to step up and help arrest this slide of support, as quickly as possible. It’s often said that it takes 40 years to build up a great university, but only a few to tear one down.

Elected officials in Sacramento who control our core budget must be asked to re-examine their priorities when it comes to future higher education funding. They also need to understand that a fiscal crisis is precisely the wrong time to be putting the pinch on education. Consider what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in a recent column:

“… The country that uses this crisis to make its population smarter and more innovative – and endows its people with more tools and basic research to invent new goods and services – is the one that will not just survive but thrive down the road. We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity. We need everyone at every level to get smarter.”

The core money UC receives from taxpayers, via Sacramento, goes to the nuts and bolts of higher education, everything from paying professors to lighting laboratories. But it also establishes the institutional foundation needed to attract the research grants and endowments that enhance the mission and burnish the University’s international status.

Over time it’s been money well-spent. Of the more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the nation, only 60 research universities, public and private, have been judged worthy of membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities. The UC has six members. No other state system has more than one.

In turn, the University has given back to California, not only by educating generations of high-achieving Californians, but also through its triumphs of research. From better ways to grow tomatoes to the birth of biotech, from viticulture to cancer treatments, UC campuses have been incubators of countless scientific and product breakthroughs that add quality to California life and invigorate its economy. For 15 years in a row, UC has developed more patents than any other university in the country.

This is what’s put at risk as state support shrinks. In the end, there are two choices: excellence or mediocrity. While a mediocre UC might cost less in the short term, over time it will enforce on society its own ledger of taxes. Top professors and researchers will begin to drift away, taking with them the best students. Pools of grant money will recede. The engines of invention will sputter.

To those who complain the university has been bloated, wasteful, we say this is a new day. In the last few years, we have seen the institution reform itself. Under a new administration, it is setting new standards for transparency and leadership. We’ve worked hard to maintain strong bond ratings, cut spending in the Office of the President by $60 million, and taken additional cost-cutting measures at the campus level. But there is only so much that can be cut. We are no longer chopping at fat and muscle. With the new cuts, as proposed, we soon will be slicing into bone.

And so, there is much at stake and the threat is real. Now is the time for alumni and other supporters and beneficiaries of the University to spread the word that UC excellence must be preserved and nurtured. Please, do whatever you can. Take time to write a letter or an e-mail to your political representatives. Or lend whatever support possible to the UC system or to your preferred campus.

The message – not in just this current crisis, but into the future as well – must be clear: A just-good-enough University of California would not be good enough at all. Mediocrity is not an option. It’s time to start fighting back for the UC.

Richard C. Blum, Immediate Past Chair, UC Board of Regents
Russell S. Gould, Chair, UC Board of Regents
Sherry Lansing, Vice Chair, UC Board of Regents
Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California

Mark Drapeau is a 2003 graduate of UC-Irvine (Ph.D., Biological Sciences).

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Do You Take Twitter Personally?


Ocassionally, I get notes from people I know only from Twitter. They’re along the lines of: Why are you following me now after so long? Why did you stop following me? Why don’t you follow everyone? And so on.

But my question for them is: Why do you take Twitter so personally?

People can do whatever they please with Twitter. Some people like to follow everyone to form a ‘Twitter mutuality’ and use the system as a multiplex instant message platform. Others like to follow only a few people that really influence them, regardless of how many followers they themselves have. Still others conduct experiments with Twitter, following new people in batches, seeing who may be interesting over the course of a week, and then unfollowing the rest.

Some people are also trying to balance their work and personal lives with their Twitter accounts, whether you know it or not. There may be constraints on who they can follow, or how often they can tweet. Who are you to judge? It’s as silly as looking at someone else’s cell phone minutes.

You can’t possibly keep track of what everyone on Twitter is doing! So don’t try. Focus on yourself and what you want to get out of it. Spending too much time thinking about why someone unfollowed you distracts from what should be much more important – saying interesting things.

Moreover, even if someone isn’t following you on Twitter, direct messaging isn’t your only option. People can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, by email, and at real events. And if you can’t get ahold of them at any of those places, they probably don’t want to be found!

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Business Adaptation and the Biology of Failure


I’m not a professor, but here’s my business school metaphor for adaptation and survival: Wear a business suit and act calm at all times; evade local detectives, the FBI, and Mexican gangsters while you assassinate a heavily guarded Asian badguy inside a nightclub blasting Paul Oakenfold (in Korean, no less); do this while you hold your own chauffeur hostage;  catch flight home at LAX. But most businesses are far more complacent than the adaptive, erudite character Tom Cruise portrays in Collateral.

Traditional newspapers in major U.S. cities are filing for bankruptcy under selection pressure from the changing environment they failed to adapt to: increased media outlets, more online readers, and less advertising revenue.  Jeff Jarvis recently noted the stark differences between a modern company like Google and a failing one like the San Francisco Chronicle in a blog post he aptly named “Time Travel”.

As economist Paul Ormerod points out in his excellent book, Why Most Things Fail, patterns of business extinction and species extinction are very similar, with long periods of stability interrupted by large spikes of failure (a.k.a. “punctuated equilibrium“). One of Omerod’s theses is that while the future can be quite difficult to predict, experimentation in the present can help adapt to an uncertain future.  The benefits of genetic diversity in living organisms operate on the same theory, and are useful in practice.

Just the opposite of experimenting, media coverage of newspaper failure focuses on giant office buildings filled with cubicles and landline phones, lists of addresses where employees hand deliver products daily, and disruptions of pension plans and workplace friendships. But in biology and business, the nimble, innovative, and adaptive do well in turbulent times. Somewhat ironically, this line from Citizen Kane sums it up: “I don’t know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher, I just try everything I can think of.”

Unfortunately, most things fail. Nearly all of the species that have ever existed are currently extinct. The Rocky Mountain News was published for nearly 150 years, making people sentimental about its demise. Past success is irrelevant to survival, however. Dinosaurs roamed for millions of years, but their extinction made the rise of mammals possible. So too will new companies fill niches abandoned by failed ones.

Students should ask why business schools offer so many courses on economic theory, operations management, and accounting principles that teach about “doing” business, but don’t offer many courses about “thinking” business. Here are some of my suggested topics: (a) ecological niche theory, (b) coevolution, cooperation, and competition, (c) genetic diversity and adaptation in fluctuating environments, (d) network science and emergent behaviors of complex systems. Does your business school make Darwin required reading?

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