Embracing failure?

A Marketplace story that aired this morning on my way to work got me thinking about failure. The story was about the website, and it’s current status as a zombie website. A zombie site is one that still functions as if it were competitive, active, and relevant, but will never break out from its minuscule user-base.

Is it okay to embrace failure? Or should lack of success be viewed as something to always avoid?

Sectors of the tech industry consider failure a “badge of honor,” to be celebrated as risk-taking adventure. Blazing new trails often leads to failure. According to the Wall Street Journal, three out of four startups fail.

The question for Advancement/Communications is whether this same ratio is applicable for projects within our larger organization? Do three out of four projects fail? Is this an acceptable rate? If we are batting higher than .250 are we taking on enough risk to be innovative? Are we trying enough new things to approach this 1/4 rate of failure? And should this be something we are aiming for?

The tech industry and venture capital may tussle over the correct way to celebrate or punish startup failure, but here in higher education Advancement/Communications failure is seen as a bit more taboo.

What is your tolerance for failure?

Chicago in December

Chicago in December

Flying to Chicago on Saturday morning, December 14 for the CASE V conference was going to be a challenge. The forecast was calling for 2-3 inches of snow in Columbus, and possibly even more in the Windy City. Luck was on my side though, and the flight was only delayed an hour. We landed in plenty of time to get the Sheraton on North Water Street before the conference kickoff committee meeting. CASE V was about to get underway, and this year I wasn’t just attending.

Following my presentation last year on the collaboration around launching OSU Mobile, I was asked to co-chair the Communications Track for the 2013 conference. CASE (The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) is the premier international organization for Advancement professionals working in education. A year of planning, coordinating presenters, brainstorming on quality keynote speakers, and scheduling fun events for the three-day conference was finally becoming a reality.

My main focus while in Chicago was to rally the communications session track speakers, to volunteer at the registration desk, and to welcome new CASE members with a casual networking dinner. The sessions all went very well. Standouts included a communications keynote by Michael Stoner of the mStoner agency on social media; a breakout session led by Heather Swain, vice president of communications and brand strategy at Michigan State; and the closing keynote by Liz Murray, author of “Breaking Night.”

Michael’s advice to the audience included a very concise list of social media lessons taken from his recent book, Social Works – including focus on the channels you own (website and blogs); when giving is a game, everyone wins; and don’t be everywhere until you are awesome everywhere you are. His main premise is that we must have creative ideas to spread when participating in social media, but spreading that focus too thinly can work against larger goals. Good advice, indeed.

Heather shared a reinvention of the Michigan State President’s annual report. They used Big Ten Programming funding to realize a “twofer.” Spending just under $300,000 on international airfare and travel, the communications office sent out three teams of videographers and producers to university research initiatives in China, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and around the state of Michigan. Their final product was Spartan’s Will: 360, an interactive, video-driven website focusing on how Michigan State is making a difference in the world by conducting research and outreach that addresses society’s most pressing problems.

The final program was both humbling and inspiring. Liz Murray has been the subject of a Lifetime Network docudrama and has been featured on major networks promoting her life story of going from being homeless in New York to graduating from Harvard. She was brutally honest in her description of growing up with drug-addicted parents in the Bronx, and inspirational in her continued compassion for them and the situation they found themselves in. Tears were shed during her talk in one of the most authentic ways I’ve witnessed from a room full of conference attendees.

I encourage you to explore CASE to see what the organization has to offer Advancement professionals. Get involved if you have the time. Attend the conference next year if it fits within your department budget, and please connect with me if you have questions.

Segmenting and streaming user experience

Segmenting and streaming user experience

Trying new things can be both a luxury and a headache. But status quo rarely moves us forward. In the long run, the new things we try become go-to tactics that move our work into alignment with goals and strategies.

One place where Ohio State has potential to engage our alumni, donors and friends? Streaming live events on the Web.

Live web streaming plays directly into the Advancement goal of enhancing audience segmentation and analytics to deliver the right messages to the right people. There are two parts to this goal: measurement and analysis, and content creation and personalization. Streaming is rich media content, and each online event is an opportunity to measure and analyze how users interact with us. Do our audiences watch the event live, follow on social media or view the archived version at a later date? Or do they ignore the event entirely?

Web streaming isn’t cheap, but when it is promoted and tracked accurately, it can deliver stimulating, relevant content to the right audience. Engaged audiences help Advancement staff learn new things about what users want in the digital space.

The recent “Symposium on the University President” was a chance to share strategic, high-quality content while tracking audience interest in Ohio State’s online offerings.

The symposium–an August panel of current and former university presidents from across the country, convened by the Board of Trustees–helped frame Ohio State’s search for a new president. Streaming the event live on the Web gave us an opportunity to try new tactics. A variety of channels were used to get the word out, but one of the most effective and trackable turned out to be a reliable standby: broadcast email.

To track who was most interested, we divided our alumni/donor email distribution lists into six categories based on work Edelman Consulting did with Advancement in 2011. We then used those lists to measure specific audience segments’ interest in this type of programming. Each email message to each segment contained the same content, and was sent out at the same time of day, but used different links created specifically for each group. These links synced up with Google Analytics, the online link tracking and measurement tool. This approach allowed us to see that alumni identified as Life-Learners were most interested in the symposium, followed by Enthusiasts and Connectors.

As we continue to identify opportunities to learn more about what our audiences are interested in, we can send them more relevant opportunities, thereby increasing engagement with our alumni and friends.

It’s Social, It’s Local, It’s Yammer

[Originally posted on Digital Union Blog]
By TED HATTEMER | Published: OCTOBER 27, 2010
Quick. What is the most popular social media platform within Fortune 500 companies?

If you said Facebook, you’d be wrong. Private enterprise-level social networks are the up-and-coming way for employees to share knowledge, collaborate, and keep projects moving forward. While Facebook and Twitter are sometimes seen as distractions in the workplace, platforms like Yammer,, and Sales Force’s Chatter add value by limiting the social conversations to coworkers and focusing the power of social networking on solving organizational issues.

At their core, social media networks are both microblogging and push notification systems. Microblogging is the regularly updated nuggets of information submitted by users of the network. Collected over time and focused on areas of expertise, these “status updates” and “quick hit FYIs” have the potential to create a bottom-up searchable resource or knowledge base. Push notification, either through email or text messages, remind users to return to the platform for updates and information sharing. Other features recently rolled out on the Yammer platform are surveys and polls, events, and questions–all intended to help manage the knowledge within an organization.

Ohio State’s Yammer platform is two years old this month. There are more than 4,000 posts by 860 members and 37 groups. People are participating in what’s turned out to be a free-for-all experiment. No one is leading the mission or goals of this platform other than the users who populate it with content day after day. At some point our relationship with Yammer may need to become more formal; policies and procedure will probably need to be implemented. Currently Ohio State doesn’t “own” the data being input into the Yammer platform. We would need to pay a monthly licensing fee for that privilege. While that’s not a big deal for a fledgling technology, over time the university may want to archive and protect content produced by its faculty and staff. For the time being, this information sharing is happening organically, bottom up, and is growing by word of mouth.

The question that lingers for me as a frequent Yammer contributor is, “How will the university formalize this platform and keep it vibrant at the same time?” It remains to be seen. In the meantime, forward-thinking colleagues all over the university are online and using social media at work. What they are talking about in this new space just happens to be… work.