MySpace, “down to our level”

Harcum MySpaceI 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.

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  1. Posted 10/14/2006 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    You are RIGHT on! Great comments. I’m completely baffled how admissions offices are investing in hundred thousand dollar
    email driven CRM programs that students don’t pay any attention to. A year old study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found
    teens spend 5 minutes or less on email. I asked my 17 year old son how much time he spends on email and he said a few minutes
    per day. Admissions offices need to adopt social networking tools to attract prospective students and your idea of a MySpace
    page is a great first start. We’ve held a series of workshop webinars to help introduce the same idea and are currently introducing
    Internet tools that allow students to become part of “prospective student online community” that matches their current Internet
    behaviors. Keep up the passion!

  2. Posted 10/14/2006 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if their response would have been a little more favorable if you’d used the Walmarting Across America site as your example. Maybe some of them would have eventually figured out that there’s not much difference between what Edelman was doing there and what sites like SUNY-NP’s are doing. It feels like this process–company discovers blogs; company fakes blog; embarrassed company takes down blog–has been repeated over and over for the past few years now, and I’m waiting (hoping) for the time when they’ll actually learn from each other’s mistakes, and do it right or not at all.

    Considering the time it takes things to filter down to academia, though, we could still be on the front edge of it. Please tell me that’s not the case…. ;-)


  3. Posted 10/15/2006 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Dumbing down meeting dumbing down, I guess. Can we just crawl into a black hole of bathos? Blog-like sites are handy tools to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of understanding the tech and it’s potential affordances.

    But, when I think back of the most early days of my pre-blogging blogging experience, the first things I saw when I saw blogs was not only what I had for lunch and what my puppy did, but it was sharing information on non-personal topics. I assume we’d agree that there is a place in blogging for more than the cult of individualism, and a blog that represents an org or institution has a place. Though spinblogging like productplacement-blogging should be teased in public, I’d agree.

  4. alex
    Posted 10/15/2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    That last paragraph of mine in mush. I misread the quote in the Chronicle at first, thinking that it was from the folks implementing the MySpace page. Instead, it was a student saying that she was happy the school was coming down to their level.

    It strikes me that many users of–in particular–MySpace and LJ tend to have internalized this lumpen-computeriat identity. A reporter called me recently to ask about the issue of groups on MySpace that were focussed on hating MySpace. It does seem an odd phenomenon. I think a solid argument could be made that social sites are significantly “above” the majority of static non-interactive sites on the web. But I fear that the convoluted sentence structure of that last paragraph did little to convey that.

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