I try not to post too much about personal failings here. I don’t post about how my sometimes badly behaved dog just pulled me down during our walk today making me look silly and banging up my knee. I don’t post about my poor research output–at least in terms of quantity–perhaps because it is obvious. And I didn’t post about the plenary talk I gave at the SUNY CUAD meeting last summer. CUAD is an association of SUNY “university advancement” folk: alumni relations, public relations, press, and the like. They asked me to come and talk about blogging and the university.
I told them what I tell everyone: you must let go. Use the force, do not try to control it. The message that you should nurture a public image rather than attempt to control the discourse tends not to sit well with PR folks. Along with a number of problems (bad speech, bad room, tech difficulties, time issues), all but a small handful of the people in the room dismissed my talk out of hand. It didn’t help that I criticized an effort at play currently at SUNY New Paltz and elsewhere to create what might uncharitably be called “fake blogs.” The effort to create “blog-like” sites that do not take on the ethos of blogging is, in my opinion, doomed to fail. Or, to put it in the words of a group of students I talked to about a similar “official” university student blog, if there aren’t pictures of people drunk or complaints about parking, it’s not really a student blog.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed is running a story about another approach. Realizing that students no longer pay much attention to broadcast email (nor do some faculty, I should admit), some are experimenting with other means of communication. Harcum College, for example, has established a MySpace page as a sort of official/unofficial channel of communication. As hard as I pushed, UB was not willing to offer RSS feeds of their information, and Quinnipiac seems even more interested in controlling the public message. As a result, it’s not possible to have an official Quinnipiac site that, for example, demonstrates what interactive communication really is. It’s great to see an institution willing to take the chance of engaging this new medium.
An article in the Wall Street Journal likewise looks at a congressman’s attempts at using MySpace and Facebook to promote his campaign.
What is a little odd about these is the idea that email and official sites are fine, but that there is a very important place for informal communication online, and if an organization is missing that, they are missing a lot. The failure of many has been the mistaken view that one’s image will be sullied by communicating informally with customers, clients, employees, constituents, voters, and students. On the contrary, those who are literate users of the new social technologies expect you to communicate through these informal networked technologies. If you don’t someone else will. While you cannot control the message in these channels, you certainly can influence it–it shouldn’t be all or nothing.