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Archive for September, 2010

Hitting the right note

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Clearly, we’re a big fan of Ken Kiewra’s work. The UNL educational psychology professor has done groundbreaking research into the art of being a student, including a rather robust body of work on note-taking. So it’s great to see when he gets some well-deserved recognition like he did in the 2010 education issue of New York Times Magazine.

In a story about Livescribe, “the pen that never forgets,” the Times talks with Kiewra about his 1990s research about what makes note-taking important. The Times also refers to him as “one of the world’s leading researchers into note-taking.”

I’d say that’s a fair way to describe his work. The French appear to agree.

Catching up: What we’ve been working on

Monday, September 20th, 2010

– We’d mentioned a while back about our long-term pitching goals regarding the Trauma Mechanics Research Initiative at the UNL College of Engineering. Here’s the latest story on the work, this time from National Defense Magazine.

– UNL economist Ann Mari May has had a good month. First, she penned an opinion piece on how tenure promotes diversity for the New York Times. A few weeks later, we worked with her to promote her study regarding unionization’s effects on the proportion of female faculty members at major research universities. After a week or so of pushing the research, we were pleased to see a good-sized story outlining the research land in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

– The recent research by UNL assistant psychology professor Tim Nelson did well, getting picked up by a number of national outlets as well as The Associated Press.

– Speaking of The Associated Press, UComm colleague Kim Hachiya was mentioned in a story that circumnavigated the globe over the weekend. Kim responded on Facebook to an AP request for comment on the controversy over a female reporter being harassed while in the locker room of the New York Jets.

– And … remember Julia McQuillan? She’s becoming what we like to call a Perpetual Placement — an expert who reporters seek out first for comment on a particular topic. In the last two weeks, the UNL sociologist has done interviews for both Glamour and Fit Pregnancy magazines on women’s attitudes toward pregnancy. Those interviews are aftershocks from the national saturation we helped her work to receive back in May, as you may recall.

10 ways to get ignored, unfollowed or blocked on Twitter

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Yep, it’s one of those posts — where a singular crank goes off about his pet peeves about how others abuse one of his favorite social media platforms. I realize this is probably bound to be just another entry into the Great Unheeded Canon of Twitter Etiquette, and that the typical reaction to the following list probably will be “Geez, uptight much?” or “Y’know, pal, the nice thing about Twitter is that there are no rules” but really … these 10 practices aren’t really rules. They’re an anecdotal accumulation of some of the most surefire ways to get ignored, unfollowed or blocked on Twitter. Hey, feel free to ignore them if you like, but if you’re interested in making your Twitter feed more interesting (and therefore more relevant and credible), you might want to hold up a minute before clicking the back button on your browser.

These are in no particular order, and for heaven’s sake, it’s not a complete list by any means. I only had a half-hour to post this blog entry, after all.

Regardless, you can:

1. Post a Tweet suggesting people check out something at your site without giving sufficient context as to why people should take the time to check it out. Bad Tweeters often implore followers to ”check out my new blog post!” … without any description about what the blog post is about. This sends a clear signal that you don’t have much interest in using Twitter to engage and add value to your online social network — you’re just using it as a drive-by promotional tool to drum up traffic and pageviews in hopes of lining your pockets. It’s doubly ignorable if you can’t even muster a link to the page to which you’re trying to drive traffic.

2.  Proclaim yourself a social media guru or maven. Hey, I love Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a wonderful writer and one of the most provocative and innovative thinkers of our day. But he is responsible for the introduction of the word “maven” into the modern vernacular, a black mark on an otherwise spectacular resume. Though I’m sure if he knew how every other attention-hunting busybody / cheerleader / marketer with a smartphone or a laptop would grab ahold of his term in their ongoing heroic efforts to enhance their personal brand, he might’ve come up with something a little less flattering. Thing is, no one really knows what these self-styled social media mavens and gurus really do … well, except market themselves as social media mavens and gurus, that is. Having the audacity to call yourself a “maven” or “guru” when dealing with such a dynamic, diffuse, ever-evolving environment such as social media is, in itself, worthy of being ignored. These pariahs tend to poach others’ tweets, ideas, and phrases and pass them off as their own, too, so I block them immediately if I ever run across them. Too harsh? Maybe. But experience tells me very little good comes out of letting a guru or a maven into your Twitter world.

3. Post to public hashes where you, or you and a few of your buddies are going for lunch / dinner / drinks / snacks / entertainment. The biggest knock on Twitter I hear from those who don’t use it is that they don’t have the time to read what someone’s having to eat. This example is almost always the first one out of the chute to illustrate the meaninglessness of tweeting. My first instinct is to defend Twitter —  that the “what I’m having for lunch” jab is just a variant of the cynical gripes about everyone blogging about the weather or updating their Facebook statuses about how great it is that today is Friday. But constant tweeting and hashing about what you and a couple of other Twitter friends are doing — even if it’s in an effort to show how nifty it is that Twitter can help connect people in “real life” — does tend to reinforce the stereotype that the platform is full of self-involved people with extremely dull lives. More importantly, it also makes for a feed that is easy to ignore for the 95 percent of tweeters reading the public hash who aren’t in of your close group of friends.

4. Link up your Twitter account with Foursquare, so you can constantly inform the public where on Earth you are at any given moment. This might sound like a good idea in theory. But sending automated Foursquare updates through Twitter gives off the impression that you’re either (A) too lazy to manage your account manually; (B) too busy to be bothered with; or (C) too impersonal to engage, but of the opinion that you’re important enough that others would care about where you are and what you’re doing all the time. Besides, getting that 20 percent off coupon by being the mayor of the local coffee house isn’t much of a tradeoff if your home gets burglarized while you’re out.

5. Affix hashtags to your tweets when they’re not relevant to that hashtag. Tweeters who struggle to produce interesting content tend to struggle to gain followers, so they often add unrelated hashtags to their tweets. This, they surmise, increases their visibility and, in turn, helps them gain followers. Problem is, this really doesn’t work — at least not long-term. Pretty quickly, your tweets are just seen by hashtag followers as feed-clogging, easily-ignorable chunks of off-topic spam. You get extra lightning-quick unfollowed if you try to use a popular hashtag as a way to sell something, or get people to vote in online polls. Most people who over-hash their tweets often hide behind the notion that hashtag etiquette is “still emerging.” That’s bunk. Treat hashtags like public online message boards, and act accordingly.

6. Implore others to follow a friend’s new (yet empty) Twitter feed. I can hear you now: “You’re actually saying that we shouldn’t suggest to others who to follow?” Of course that’s not what I’m saying. This is what I’m saying: It’s all a matter of timing. If you direct me to someone’s freshly-minted, barren Twitter feed before they’ve had a chance to post anything of substance, you’re wasting my time and I’m going to resent you for that and question your judgment in the future. If you wait until they consistently tweet something of quality and then direct me there, I’m going to like you for that and trust your judgment in the future. See how that works?

7.  Drink and tweet. Reading Twitter after midnight is like trying to crawl through a mile of barbed-wire fence. All the hallmarks of tweeting under the influence are on full display — duplicates, incompletes, run-ons, one-word tweets, the increased potential for profanity or sexual innuendo, and so on. If the No. 1 rule of Twitter is “You never look as cool or funny as you think your tweets make you look,” then imagine what that’s like when you add booze to the equation. It’s just a bad idea.

8. Have a lengthy private conversation with one of your followers, in full view of your other followers. This is where Twitter’s “one-to-many” communication model differs from the “one-to-one” discussion model of Facebook, and therefore unfortunately invites all sorts of abuse when it comes to lengthy conversations. If you have 500 followers and your feed is full of esoteric, pointed, or inside-joke responses to one person in steady succession, think about how the other 499 followers must be feeling as they experience your tweets. They might put up with it for a while, especially if they know and like the both of you, and maybe if you’re gorgeous or famous. But it’s mostly inconsiderate. If you have trouble with this one, maybe invent a rule of thumb that if a running conversation with someone goes more than three or four responses, suggest the conversation go to Direct Message. Then feel free to chat away in the private, one-to-one mode. Your other followers will be thankful.

9. Maintain numerous accounts with the purpose of promoting your product / business / club and regularly cross-Retweet with them. This is just a form of Astroturfing. As such, it’s shady, desperate and, 99 percent of the time, an irritating combination of the two. This practice is similar to No. 6 in that it wastes other Tweeters’ time, yes, but it also erodes one’s credibility very quickly.

10. Overshare, constantly. Like No. 3, you can help reinforce the suspicion that your Twitter feed is worth ignoring by supplying a constant stream of micro-updates about the ennui that is your life. Double-bonus Unfollow Points if you drift well into TMI terrain. I know, I know — Twitter is inherently narcissistic, so some of these tweets are to be expected. But unless you’re mixing some news, insight and value in there with your updates about your used bandage collection or what kind of smell your laundry basket seems to take on at the end of the week, don’t expect to be relevant or gaining legions of new followers.

A lot of these deal with trust, which is the one true currency in online social platforms. If followers can trust you to consistently post quality, stay on topic, practice moderation, and not share every last drop of personal minutiae in your tired attempt at irony, then they will most likely accept you as a legitimate Tweeter. That means they’ll perpetuate your tweets and your links and help you expand your brand — corporate, institutional or personal, it doesn’t matter. If they can’t, expect to see your followers stagnate or drop. Or be filled with spambots, natch.

How ‘the press’ talks about higher education

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Here’s a very interesting paper by Kalev Leetaru, at the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois. According to the paper:

“More than 18 million documents comprising the entire run of the New York Times from 1945 to 2005 were examined for all references to United States research universities … to examine how coverage has changed over this period and the characteristics most commonly associated with the elevated national press visibility. One of the most surprising findings is the transition of the research university from a newsmaker to a news commentator.

In 1946, 53 percent of articles mentioning a research university were about that university, focusing on its research and activities. Today, just 15 percent of articles mentioning a university are about that university: the remaining 85 percent simply city high-stature faculty for soundbite commentary on current events.”

This is not surprising, actually. Easily, half of the job of the National News Editor in UNL’s office of University Communications is to place university faculty experts into the news of the day at a national level, whether that means the Gulf Oil Spill, droughts in Texas, the economy, bullying in Massachusetts, the tone of political discourse during midterm elections, back to school topics, or the latest zeitgeist-grabbing motion picture release. These are, in many ways, the drip-drip-drip that keeps UNL in the national discussion. Using a baseball metaphor, they’re like hitting singles to drive in runs one by one and accumulate a fat score on the scoreboard. And believe me, there’s nothing wrong with hitting for average. It’s how guys like Paul Molitor hung around the game for so long. Also, the increased emphasis on source placement helps explain why services like ProfNet and Help A Reporter Out have become must-sees among higher-ed communicators.

In the university PR biz, we’re hoping for a few home runs, too. In the last few years, we’ve had our share of those. But while we work hard to get such singular featuresthose kinds of stories require a great deal of uniqueness and novelty to be considered for national consideration. Pitches that result in a splash and a story about the university or one of its programs are increasingly worthy of high-fives and celebratory donuts on the conference-room table.

The study had a few other interesting findings, including:

– Since 1945, the NYT has shrunk in half, but the number of news articles referencing research universities has stayed constant, meaning as a percentage of the stories in the paper, they’ve jumped from 13 percent of all articles and 21 percent of all front page articles today.

Private universities have 63 percent greater total news mentions and 57 percent greater front page appearances than public institutions. But when limiting the analysis to just news about institutions — and leaving out soundbites — about 24 percent of public institution coverage and 29 percent of private institution coverage is about the university itself.

– Distance from New York City or other major metro areas doesn’t matter a whole lot. This is good news for us here in the Great Plains, representing a state with a population roughly the size of greater Columbus, Ohio.

– Strong graduate enrollments help. The study found a strong correlation between graduate enrollment and news volume.

– Surprise, surprise: Schools with bigger research budgets attract greater media coverage. However, the proportion of a university’s budget devoted to research doesn’t have a measurable impact on news volume.

– Most schools do a bad job of aggregating news release content from across their institution into a single place. This has been a concerted effort here at UNL, but we still have a few exceptions.

– Most discussion around research universities today happens not in the print news media, but online. Predictably, schools with large enrollments, big budgets and lots of grants and research output tend to be more visible online.

The study’s recommendations include:

– Universities must recognize that faculty also have a “media brand” that should be developed and promoted. At UNL, folks like Tim Gay, Julia McQuillan, Marvin Ammori, Mike Wagner and Wheeler Winston Dixon come to mind. These are all faculty who have snapped into current events at a moment’s notice, many times in the past at our urging.

– Instead of pouring out a constant stream of news releases on a preset schedule, universities should look for tie-ins with current events and more strongly promote these stories. Here’s one on wartime greenhouse gases and ethanol that hits on that theme.

– Universities should prepare media guides that list faculty in each topic area, available on short notice to respond to media requests. Good suggestion. UNL’s experts database is a good start. So is N The Know, which is designed for a number of different media platforms.

Lots of data, lots of food for thought. In general, I think we do a consistently solid job of following most of the best practices outlined in the study, though as with anything we do in the communications business, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Study: Teasing about weight can have big effects on tweens

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

A study by UNL assistant psychology professor Timothy Nelson examining just how tweens are affected by weight-related taunting is starting to get some buzz.

The research, recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, suggests that weight-based criticism in particular can have significant effects on how pre-teens perceive their own bodies. The research is among the first to specifically examine the impact of weight-based criticism on pre-adolescents and also hints that the practice can cause other health and emotional issues for its victims.

The study is novel in a few ways. Most psych studies examine adolescents’ self-views in the face of criticism from their peers; this research isolates pre-teens and teases out weight-based taunting’s effects in specific. The findings are very stark: Criticism of weight, in particular, can contribute to issues that go beyond general problems with self-esteem. Overweight pre-teens who endured weight-based criticism tended to judge their bodies more harshly and were less satisfied with their body sizes than students who weren’t teased about their weight. That’s a problem, Nelson and his co-researchers said, because children who develop such negative views of their bodies are at higher risk for internalizing problems, developing irregular eating behaviors and ongoing victimization.

The Detroit News is the first out of the blocks with some coverage, posting about it on its Health & Fitness weblog. The study also has drawn interest from a few other national outlets, such as LiveScience.com (and its partners, such as MSNBC), so we expect to see it hang around for a while.