Sunday, May 30, 2010

Managing the unmanageable: fostering an online community

I’ve been doing research lately on online communities for a project I’m involved in. The project (in a current state of un-linkable transition) is essentially to become a resource for building connections within a community.

Thus, we’ve decided that we need an online portion to gather our users together and let them really participate and take advantage of what the project has to offer.

On my quest, I’ve uncovered some great articles other community managers have contributed. Here are the top three I’ve found so far.

Community Spark: Okay, this is actually a whole website dedicated to building online communities. How cool is that? It’s full of articles to pick and chose with great tips. My favorite so far is a kind of fill-in-the-blank Q&A that you should be able to answer before starting your project. How is your community unique? What subjects raise the most interest from your community? Can you sum up its purpose in a sentence? I will definitely be using this sheet as my team develops our presence.

Building and Online Community: Matt Houghey gives an overview for people who are thinking about starting an online community. It’s a kind of heads up of what to expect in the managerial role.

6 Truths: Mack Collier’s article is either a wake-up call to those with an online community, or a good guide for those who are starting one to keep in mind.

Generational Gap: Learning to learn from those around you

Each generation is defined with a stereotype given by the generation ahead. Generation Y, also known as the “Millennials,” is often thought to be generally lazy, self-absorbed and entitled. As many of us are approaching the awkward age between college freedom and career-oriented “adulthood,” we have to learn how to overcome this stigma and become accepted by those ahead of us. It’s a right of passage that every generation must go through; it’s a passing of the torch from the old to the new leaders. Before we can change the world, we have to prove that

In a recent blog post, Lauren Fernandez gave some tips to how up-and-coming professionals can tackle the negative stereotypes and highlight the more positive sides. She believes that age doesn’t have to be an indicator of what you can achieve. This is something I’ve always been a believer in. As mushy as it sounds, you really can accomplish anything if you have the drive. By sticking to your values, generational perspective, and consistently doing good work, your age and its associations will soon be a nonissue.

Fernandez makes one particular point that really speaks to me. Use the Internet as your classroom. Coursework cannot and will never be able to teach you everything you need in the job market. Period. Academia moves slowly and can’t always keep up with a subject, such as communications, that is moving so rapidly. It’s obvious to me as a classmate, and I assume employers in any industry, what students take it upon themselves to learn about the world, their industry and their interests on their own time.

So, as Fernandez suggests, take advantage of the many, many learning opportunities around you. Communicate with people online that you may never meet in person. Utilize social media for your own benefit. Put yourself out there not just as a promotional tool, but in a position to gain information and experience from those around you.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So I went to New York ...

As I mentioned in a couple different posts, I went to New York City in mid May. I would also like to go back now, but that’s a different story.

Every day was pretty jammed with activities, learning experiences and exploration. The last day of our whirlwind trip was up for grabs … so naturally we jammed it with as many activities as possible. I had a few museums I needed to go to before the trip was up, and took advantage of the day. The plan was set: Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Here’s tidbit to you all: This is an exhausting plan. It’s incredible, fascinating, wonderful and exciting. But absolutely overwhelming. If I had more time, I would have loved to stretch these visits out longer.

Another note: These trips don’t have to break the bank. We were fortunate to learn from a cab driver the night before that the Met and History museums are tax-funded and the admission price is actually suggested. Score. If you’ve got the money, please spend it. These places take a lot to run. But if you’re a broke student like me, take advantage of this amazing opportunity and just leave what you can.

So … here are some my highlights from the museums. They are very biased to my interests. To see somebody else's pictures of this trip, check out Isaac Viel's Flickr album.

American Museum of Natural History: Overall this place is incredible. Seeing the Dinosaur exhibit was a dream come true! I've always been a big dino nerd. However, there were quite a few exhibits were sadly neglected. For so many people on staff, I was surprised to see a lot of dusty artifacts in badly lit display cases. Nonetheless, fun place to check out. Ignoring some of the outdated anthropological sets. ; )

Most beautiful beast ever.

These are average sized children. Holy cow!!

Passing through central park on the way to the Met.

The Met: Love. This is pretty much all I can say. Go. Spend days soaking it up.

Left: It's a Moche vessel!! These things are so incredible. Did you know it's modeled after a real person? That's right, it's a portrait!

Below: Silver ... not sure from where.

Ugolino and his sons. 1865 by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

I'm in a gothic sculpture class right now so this is relevant to me! It's a column statue of a king from Abbey church of St. Denis.

Caravaggio. It's even more beautiful in person.

MoMA: This was last on my list of places to go for my first NYC trip. I don't really consider myself a modern fan, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But my mind was blown. The product design exhibit especially was so incredibly cool. I loved seeing the crazy inventions artists developed and wanted to have them all sitting on my kitchen counter.

Van Gogh and Picasso. Just chillin'.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Trying to get a life

What’s your hobby? Too busy for one? I know I’m guilty of that last statement.

There have been too many times where I’ve put my interests aside for work, chores or other “real-life” duties. I’ve only recently stopped to think how this work flow is actually affecting me.

You know what? It sucks. I’ve made myself miserable by pushing away my passions for a rainy day that never seems to arrive. Or worse yet, tried to convince myself that my work should be the one and only activity that really fuels my engine.

Fortunately, my life epiphany seems to be part of a larger shift in thinking in society today. More and more companies are valuing the well-rounded individual. Someone who loves his or her job, but something else too.

BBH just posted a blog highlighting projects that its employees maintain in their spare time. Author Heidi Hackemer, a planner for BBH New York, states what BBH and many other companies are starting to realize: someone’s personal pastimes are just as important as a formal education in his or her field of interest. A hobby, no matter how silly or small, shows a person’s drive to learn and an endless pursuit of inspiration.

Google has a similar mentality, and has actually transformed it into work policy. Engineers are given “20-percent-time” to focus on other interests that Google believes allows employees to bring inspiration back to their work. Apparently, Google Suggest was one project sparked by outside interest that was brought home to Google and developed.

What’s my take on this? Thank god. I want to do valuable work that I enjoy, but that’s not all I want. I was always the child with a new career aspiration every week. I can barely commit to lunch, how am I supposed to pick one single interest to pursue for the rest of my life? I haven’t even graduated from college and I’ve already found myself in a rut where I fixate on the resume benefits and time consequences of every move I make. This has turned me into a (more) neurotic, anxious, tightly wound person.

I feel like I am finally starting to acquire the reassurance and self-assurance that it’s okay to not want to dedicate every moment to a project, a favorite class, or something that will look pretty on my resume. I have a limited amount of time in this world, why shouldn’t I (and everyone) focus a little more on the present rather than how every action will affect our future? I want to do good work, and make time for the things I enjoy.

So what am I up to now?

I’m baking again, even if that makes me a domestic homebody.

I’m running at night, even if that means getting a little less sleep.

I’m writing again. My own thoughts, on paper. In color, too.

I’m also learning (slowly) to take advantage of every opportunity I want, and not what I think I should want.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Can I take your order? Change in the industry

How is your life changing?
Kind of an interesting thing to think about, right? We don’t often notice the subtle, small changes that occur in our daily lives. Instead, we have a pretty major “wtf” moment when we look back on the past year or more of our lives.

On a more specific level, how is your job changing? What new roles or skills do you apply to an average workday that you never utilized before?

Todd Defren of PR-Squared just wrote a short post on the increase of customer service within a PR person’s role. Defren explains that with the rise of social media, a practitioner is more and more a “public relations counselor,” who oversees customer needs and responds directly (usually on a public medium, such as Twitter).

How interesting it is to think how social technology has not only affected the way in which we communicate, but also changed when there is even a need for communication. Going social means opening up that direct line of communication, and being open to more one-on-one interaction – even in a public domain.

Let's be friends

I have returned from Creative Week in New York City and my mind is still reeling. What a whirlwind. We visited top agencies, showed off our school’s work in a student exhibition, had incredible “wow” moments at the unConference, and explored the beautiful city in our spare time. I’m still in the filtering process after an overwhelming week of information and creative stimuli. At the unConference in particular, we had the opportunity to meet and learn with some of the most brilliant minds in the industry.

At the unConference, I learned about one particular project that related to my own work. Peoplescape is a “connective social experiment” driven solely by Maria Scileppi. Beginning in June 2007, Scileppi set out to meet one new friend every day for an entire year, record their story, and make an impact. In a digital world overwhelmed with social media, Scileppi wanted to explore the power of human interaction. From Peoplescape’s wesbite:

“Peoplescape is about promoting human connection and breaking down social barriers. It is an exploration and affirmation that each day and every individual is significant ... Affecting the people around you and being affected by them is the essence of life.”

To conclude her project, Scileppi hosted an exhibition to share her experience with others. In this space, the project participants could finally meet and interact themselves, expanding the connections formed around this project.

Peoplescape was a big “aha!” moment for me, especially with my work with Talk, a community-building project for the University of Oregon. We have similar goals, but have yet to get to the point where we can really foster a connection between our project’s participants. Scileppi reminded all of us at the unConference that your brand, project or organization is a friend to your audience. You always need to be thinking of what you are giving back to the relationship. Why does your audience want to be your friend?

Scileppi’s project is a huge inspiration to me. Whether it be for a personal or professional experience, I think it’s important to be reminded of how to connect with others. Turn your neighbor, customer, or classmate into a friend.

Monday, May 10, 2010

New York City … let the tours begin

I am visiting NYC this week with a group of advertising students from the UO SOJC. It’s an incredible group of people led by an incredible professor (Deb Morrison) visiting incredible agencies in this incredible city. I’ve just completed day one and I’m already in awe of my surroundings. There is an indescribable energy in the air. It thrills you, intimidates you, and motivates you to do something.

Today we had the opportunity to visit and speak with Euro RSCG at their PR and pharmaceutical advertising branch. Check this place out – they’re pretty incredible. In 2009, Advertising Age listed them as #2 in the top ten best agencies. They do traditional marketing as well as some pretty incredible creative business ideas that develop a company or organization outside of its direct-to-consumer marketing.

The entire visit to Euro was fantastic, but there was one topic in particular that really stuck with me. A fellow student asked how we might better foster relationships between the account and creative sides of a campaign. Coming from a PR/planning background, I can definitely relate to the tension that forms between the creative genius and the logistical multitasker. Naturally, the advice offered was to work together. If the strategy is developed and/or discussed between everyone beforehand, each element can be more secure in what he or she contributes to the overall project.

Here’s the key point: you have to be confident in what aspect of the project you are representing. Our advice to planners was to not be afraid to discuss and suggest creative elements, and vice versa. Personally, I have a tendency to back down against someone who I feel ‘knows more’ than I do. Leadership and management roles have always come pretty natural to me, so I tend to disregard it as something easy in comparison to other more intimidating aspects. But you know what? Some people can’t get their shit together. I’m proud of my color-coded planners and will try to respect my coordinating, aligning, rearranging, constantly churning brain as a skillset that I can bring to the world. And believe it or not, I'm creative too. It just doesn't always express itself as boldly as others.

So thanks, people of Euro RSCG, for helping turn my neuroses into selling points. Because if I got them, I might as well use them for the better.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Collective cultural histories: an archive merging the past, present and future

As a concept, history is a record of past events. So what happens when history merges with the present? When we begin to publicly record our daily thoughts and activities with public status updates, we are actively recording our (global) culture’s history. It may seem trivial in the moment, but think how meaningful these candid broadcasts will be to society a century from now? Imagine what an archive of conversation will reveal about our social structure, interaction, and communication. What will be the overall themes of global thought?

These are the questions that a group of historians with the Library of Congress are hoping to answer. As this New York Times article explains, Twitter has given its archive of public messages to the Library of Congress for a historical archival project. These historians are now faced with an enormous collection of personal anecdotes that will only continue to grow. This project has an incredible amount of potential. As one source stated, “Twitter is tens of millions of active users. There is no archive with tens of millions of diaries.”

I am fascinated by this project. As a history buff, I am captivated by the lessons we can learn by turning to our collective past. What bothers me most about the historical field, is how there is often a disconnect between the academic study and a consciousness of the present moment – pop-culture, technology, and all.

I think the relationship Twitter has formed with the Library of Congress is a step in the direction we will be moving as a culture. More and more people are recognizing the potential power clutched by social media, interactive media, and whatever social communication channels the future will offer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mandatory tweets?

Social Media – the final frontier? Recently, I’ve read several articles addressing the impact that social media channels are having on our lives, relationships, and professions. On one side, I’ve heard that the whirlwind of social media is preventing us from fostering and nurturing real-life connections. From others, I hear that it is absolutely necessary to promote your name as much as possible into the ether or else you won’t find a job. Surely, there must be a happy medium.

Quite frankly, I don’t get the hype. I think the rapid evolution of communications is absolutely fascinating. I also think it’s incredibly important to stay atop of these changes if you wish to be a part of the communications industry. What I don’t understand, are the two extreme takes on this (sort of) new phase in the way we connect.

To those who seem shocked or overwhelmed with interactive media – catch up. Are we really that surprised that communication is changing? Language evolves, cultures evolve, it’s only natural that they way we relate to one another is too. I was not one of the first members of Twitter, but I caught on, got used to it, and found my own way to contribute.

Now, to those who think social media platforms will save the world – they won’t. They will change the world, but only in many small and individual ways.

One article on Social Media Today summarizes the debate pretty well by presenting two arguments on whether or not social media should be a required skill for PR professionals. The first author, Kasey, thinks social media is great for some, but isn’t right for others and shouldn’t be touted as a necessity. Rachel, the responder, seems to think that is the point. Interactive media channels are not right for every audience or every business, and that’s why professionals need to understand them.

So in sum, know your stuff. If you would rather not update your whereabouts on Gowalla, that’s a choice. But you better understand how it works and why others may want to utilize it. If you would rather not maintain a personal blog, feel free, but learn how blogosphere communities work. But … what’s a better way to learn, than to do?

Creating Community

What makes us feel connected? What makes us feel engaged? I’ve been pondering these questions a lot lately, partly for my own self-betterment, and partly for different projects I’m working on right now. Out of context, these questions are pretty vague. However, they are also the most important to address when trying to understand a community, learn how they work, interact, and where there is the potential to develop.

Let’s use Eugene, Ore., as fun example to test out these questions. Eugene is a warm, inviting town that anyone can quickly call “home.” However, like every home, there is always something that needs to be fixed, sometimes tension between generations, and every once and a while … it’s just a big mess.

I’ve called Eugene home for most of my life. At times I feel a loving comfort from its familiar faces and spaces. But sometimes I also feel a disconnect. I sense the mounting tension between the wealthy and the desperate, the young and the “mature,” and those who wish to evolve and those who fear change. How can we overcome these groups individual isolations and come together as the engaged, proactive, united community that I know we all wish it to be.

Maybe it’s just my wishful kum-bay-ya approach to life, but I really feel that the more opportunity people have to contribute, the more they will. If you reach out to someone for help, more often than not he or she will come to your aid. Why don’t we take this approach to the whole community? Let’s let people create the change they desire, let’s let people have fun.

I work at the Eugene Saturday Market. Every week the Eugene Park Blocks attract people from all scopes of life who talk, listen to music, eat, and most importantly – enjoy the company of their community. How can we apply this sort of all-inclusive feeling to every day life?

A year or two ago I discovered the legal graffiti wall behind Amtrack on Shelton McMurphey Blvd. What a great idea this is! Eugene already loves its murals; what if there were more spaces for continuous, expandable, adaptable, engaging outlets of creativity? Let’s not reserve our communal artistic aesthetic for planned programs. I want to see a space for anonymous expressions of creative thought. I want to see a visual conversation created between two people who may never meet. What would it matter if someone abused the free space and painted something obscene? They would only be adding to the discussion, and someone else could come along and challenge it with a fresh coat of expression. The current graffiti wall is a fantastic start, but it’s pushed to the edge of town – out of site, out of mind. Let’s push community involvement and interaction to the front of our minds.

This is just one way in which we could become a more engaged community. There are many more out there, and even more brilliant-but-untapped minds who can provide their thoughts. Don’t ignore the tensions of a community, let’s address them and create an opportunity for involvement. Let’s make our town a home.

*Photos by rerinha and Dynamic Street Art