Friday, July 22, 2011

We Can "Be the Media"

When I went to my first TweetUp a couple of years ago in Westchester County, the speaker was David Mathison, who wrote Be the Media, which details how each of us has the opportunity to communicate directly with audiences known and unknown, without being filtered by traditional forms of radio, television, newspapers and magazines.  I was intrigued by his talk, purchased the book, and have used the phrase "be the media" often in my classes.

When an item is posted on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or other social media, we can directly reach our followers, friends, connections or circles.  When a photo of the completed Route 9 pedestrian walkway was posted on Marist's Facebook page, it made 17,555 impressions and generated 155 likes and 37 comments, nearly all of them positive.  The vast majority of the nearly 8,000 people who "like" the Marist page are current students, alumni, prospective students and their families, elected officials, and the college's faculty and staff.  The page reaches those important constituencies directly to engage conversation, foster reminiscences, inform, and persuade. By now, I hope each person reading this blog understands this is how social media is supposed to function.

Let's see how one individual, a talented, young Marist alumnus, became his own "medium" to successfully raise money for a particular project.  In turn, he gave back to his alma mater in a unique way.

Robert Vijay Gupta, graduated from Marist in 2005 at age 16 with a bachelor's degree in biology.  He went on to get his master's degree in music from Yale in 2007.  That year, he became the youngest violinist (at age 19) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Those in the music industry who do not want to be tied to a particular label fund their own projects through social media. I learned through a tweet from Robert that he was doing this for a CD of recordings, including one of his own compositions, that he will play on a 1716 Stradavarius violin:

guptaviolin87 so many thanks to everyone that's contributed to my @kickstarter album so far - only 5% to go!

Kickstarter calls itself "the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world."

I promoted this on twitter and Marist's Facebook page.  Among those who read the Facebook posting was Marist President Dennis Murray, who later got an email from Robert detailing the project.  President Murray sent a contribution.  Robert went over his $20,000 goal more than a week before his deadline, raising nearly $22,000 from 216 backers.  I am not claiming credit for that and it would be difficult for me to prove any donations came from Marist's social media efforts on Robert's behalf, but I do know that the Facebook posting alone made 6,709 impressions and 11 people "liked" it.  As a community, Marist is very proud of Robert's accomplishments and I was happy to publicize his efforts.  As a thank you to President Murray and Marist, Robert played a selection from the CD at a Marist Welcome Reception for incoming members of the Class of 2015 on July 20, in Santa Monica, California.

Robert had fun with his fundraising.  His incentives to donors ranged from two hi-res mp3s for a $5 donation to this premium for a donation of $10,000 or more: "A live 90-minute recital in Los Angeles or New York, and...I'll cook you dinner! My Mom's recipe for the *best* lamb curry you've ever tasted" (plus all of the items mentioned for lower levels of donations).  While Robert did not get a $10,000 backer, he got two people to donate $2,500.  He is now providing updates on the strenuous recording process, keeping his supporters engaged throughout the process.  Bravissimo, Robert!

THAT is the power of social media.

One last thing...While I would have enjoyed Robert's private concert for incoming Marist freshmen and their families, and alumni who attended the reception in California, I was at another social media event in Boston on July 21.  It was the first Marist Boston TweetUp, organized by 2004 Marist alumna Liz Swenton (@lizswenton on twitter), who is one of three Marist alumnae working at March Communications in Boston. Fifteen alumni and a Marist senior, Marissa DeAngelis (@MSDe526), about whom I've written in the past, attended.  Three drove up from Rhode Island one drove in from Connecticut.  It was a mixer at Back Bay Social Club (@BackBaySocial), with dinner, the exchange of business cards, the renewal of long-standing friendships and the forming of new ones.  These were public relations and journalism majors, most of whom were my students.  It gave me a chance to talk about developments at Marist and get updates on their careers.  One attendee found she was interviewing at the company of another attendee, an opportune contact.  Remember my post on networking?  It works.  We all enjoyed ourselves and I left with a tremendous sense of pride in these Marist grads.  I look forward to similar TweetUps in other cities in the weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tweeting Yourself Toward Employment

I'm grateful to Jenny Zou on twitter) of the Chronicle of Higher Education for her very kind article about my efforts to help my students and other Marist grads find jobs via social media, specifically twitter.  I will not rehash what Jenny wrote. You can read Jenny's post in a popular Chronicle blog called WiredCampus.

What I want to discuss here is how this piece came about because it's a lesson in media relations that in itself made news recently because of the issue of "access."  First, let me tell you how this article appeared, then I'll mention the controversy surrounding a well-known freelancer for the New York Times and offer a few of my own thoughts.  I would appreciate your feedback on this, too, because it is an issue I will discuss with my class next semester.

For 14 of the last 18 years I have attended the College Media Relations Conference, initially started by a gentleman named Art Ciervo, picked up by Keith Moore, and now run by the Council of Independent Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  I've had the privilege of speaking at this conference on social media, and it is a wonderful opportunity to network, learn from my peers, and meet reporters from a wide variety of media who come to talk about their publications, blogs, and TV and radio shows.  My friend Steve Smith (@RedCladLoon), who is the national news editor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, spoke this year on his work in social media and wrote a great blog entry highlighting the various talks at this year's conference.

At one of the sessions, higher ed media reps are given the opportunity to meet with reporters and editors from the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd.  As I was heading into the session featuring about a half dozen Chronicle reporters, I bumped into Chronicle Editor Jeffrey Selingo (@jselingo). I have much respect for Jeff and appreciated his comments on my social media work at a PRSA Counselors to Higher Education conference last April.  I mentioned to Jeff how one of my students, Alyssa Bronander (@ARBro), had sent me a tweet the day before saying she had not yet been hired.  I couldn't understand why because Alyssa is exceedingly bright, knows social media, is an excellent writer, and extremely personable.  So, I tweeted my incredulity with the hashtags #HireThisWoman and #HireArbro.  In less than five minutes, Alyssa got a tweet from another of my former students, Rob Gedarovich (@rgedarov), whom I mentioned in a previous post, asking for a résumé.  Alyssa eventually was hired by Toys R Us and just started this week as te corporation's associate social media manager.

I mentioned this off-the-cuff to Jeff and I honestly did not do it as a pitch.  We were just talking.  However, Jeff heard a good story, introduced me to Jeff Young (@jryoung), a top tech writer at the Chronicle and for the WiredCampus blog.  Jeff assigned the story to Jenny, who spoke with me by phone as I rode Amtrak back to New York.  Alyssa and my outstanding student intern this past year, Jim Urso (@JimUrso) also emailed and spoke to Jenny to round out the story.  An aside...Jim starts soon in the media relations department at Hofstra University.  My thanks to Karla Schuster (@KarlaSchuster) for hiring Jim.  I know it's a cliché but it's true -- my loss truly is Karla's gain.

What's so controversial about this process?  To me, nothing.  However, to the public editor of the New York Times, you would think PR people were like all those corporations that, on their own or via highly-paid lobbyists (many of them former lawmakers) pay for access to politicians in Washington.  I have met Times reporters at the College Media Conference every year, and was able to get a piece in a Times blog last year by pitching a reporter who had just completed his presentation.  

This process of give-and-take between journalist and public relations professional is common practice and ethical.  If you have a good relationship with a reporter -- pitching only those stories that are truly newsworthy, returning phone calls, not limiting yourself to being a "fair weather friend," and maintaining the highest standards of honesty and integrity -- you have a much better chance of getting coverage of your event, product, location, individual, or, in my case, college, than if you do not have a good relationship with that reporter.  That's a PR 101 lesson, not "get(ting) too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage," as the Times' public editor alleges.  A journalist and a media relations pro must understand their roles.  They are not mutually exclusive.  They are similar -- tell a story that is worth people's time, enlightens them, and in some cases, advocates for the common good (though that last point is always open to interpretation).

In the back of my mind I think there must be another reason for the Times to go after David Pogue (@Pogue).  Maybe, someday, the Times' PR person will tell us what it is.

Your thoughts?

One last thing...I'll let you in on a little secret.  The second commenter at the end of the WiredCampus post, "mahoneypoststar," is Mark Mahoney, who was a student in a broadcast journalism class I taught at Dutchess Community College about 30 years ago.  Mark was a gifted student with a great sense of humor and a way with words.  He started out at my old radio stations, WEOK/WPDH in Poughkeepsie.  Today, he is the editorial page editor of the Post Star in Glens Falls, NY.  Two years ago, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.  To say I'm proud of him is a dramatic understatement.  I offer my thanks to him and to so many of my former students for their words of support and gratitude and retweeting Jenny's WiredCampus post.  Their faith, confidence and affection are deeply appreciated.  The sense of fulfillment I receive from working with and mentoring them is one of the wonderful aspects of my job, particularly at a college like Marist that truly is a community, or as some say, a family.