Book Face, the popular social networking site (thanks, Jim Halpert)

•November 1, 2009 • 1 Comment

I started a new job this week, making last week and this week a flurry of activity which did not include blogging. So, I’m back, at least infrequently, until I’m settled in a few weeks.

So, are we tired of talking about social networking yet? Perhaps we should be, but I wonder how long it took for people to get tired of talking about the Gutenberg printing press. Years? Maybe. Get prepared to talk/write/think about social media for years, until it is overtaken by the Next Big Thing.

I came across a blog post by Richie Escovedo, a “school communications guy.”

http://nextcommunications.blogspot.com/2009/10/facebook-fan-page-rules-for-school.html

The post is just a repost of the Facebook fan page rules for the school system he works with. Nothing earth-shattering, except for the fact he has social media, an established following, defined rules, and significant engagement with the fans of the page…for a public school system.

Usually, I’m impressed when a school system has just a less-than-static web site. (See http://www.fwcs.k12.in.us/Home/Home.php or http://www.ips.k12.in.us/ for examples of “needs help” and http://dcps.dc.gov/portal/site/DCPS/ as “getting better.”) So to have a public school system actively engaging across various social media platforms is progressive and practical, and great for the school system to improve or maintain its reputation among its public.

In this example, the Mansfield page successfully pairs information and engagement from multiple sources to create an online community that is just an extension of the bricks and mortar community of the school buildings. But an important and meaningful extension. Here, Mansfield ISD brings in news articles from local media about the schools in the school system, the high school marching bands, and the board meetings.

The board meetings are streamed with online video, the facebook page links to the school system’s blog–where the communications team can go into more detail about news stories or issues–and the school system can post information about events like Red Ribbon Week.

And then there is the engagement–so important, and so evident here. People are giving thumbs up to news stories, asking for information about obtaining yearbooks, and proposing events like “school of the week” to be posted to the page. With 735 fans, these people are able to reach out to more of their community than ever before, creating a space to interact and build a following among the school system.

Public school systems are in trouble. Many are losing students, even with population increases, because parents are choosing to send their children to charter schools. Imagine if a school system were to implement a social media campaign, draw those parents into the community, get them informed and connected–and then retain them as school system “customers.”

It can’t be said that parents will keep kids in a troubled school just because it has a facebook page or a twitter feed. But if the opportunity for growing and maintaining a community exists, it should be used to its full potential. While social media is the buzz word, it is the effect of social media that is so important. It is another tool to engage and affect, to draw in and create a feeling of belonging. What better organization to do this than a school? A place where friends are made, mentors are created, lessons are learned, and people come together as a ready made community. Extend the community further, and the bonds become deeper.

Public schools need successful social media interaction to improve their reputations and maintain their communities.

A Grand Old Brand

•October 13, 2009 • 4 Comments

Branding the GOP:

www.gop.com

The big O in “GOP” is a head. A human head. A rotating, human head. Only taking this into account, one would think the GOP is made up of young, multiracial females, a group I am sure the GOP would like to firmly win over and identify with to break with the idea that every republican looks like George W. Bush.

The GOP has unveiled a new website, dedicated to creating a space for young republicans online, giving them an outlet for discussion and donation. It is the creation of a brand, which is incredibly necessary for the party at this moment. With the branding success of Obama and thus, the Democratic party, the Republicans need a dynamic, interesting brand to bring those who are not Democrats together. Enter, a dynamic, social media-centric, crowdsource-using site.

The blogs on the are many and diverse, to bring in a multitude of opinions and ideas to the website and get people, any people reading and contributing. This is the crowdsourcing model—how many people can we bring together to create new ideas. However, some small details bother me. But so much is about the details, even in sites this big and far reaching—maybe especially in sites this large. The blog names are boring. What can I read from a blog called “political” ? And how is the “political” blog different from the “feeding the machine” blog? And what does that even mean? (and I cannot ignore that Michael Steele’s blog is called “what up.” yet, I don’t know what to say about this.)

I think it is great to have different subject platforms, but they need to be more creative, and more specific, and understood immediately or they will not be read. Praise: the share button has almost every outlet, and it is broken down into social networking, blogging platforms, email, bookmarking sites, and IM tools. I find this often lacking on stories or blog posts I want to share. This just makes it even easier to spread the word and message of a particular story. Such a small detail, and yet, I bet it will translate to so many more blog posts shared out in the vast world of the internet.

The learn button is fantastic: breaks down the viewpoints of the GOP on major issues, explains the history of the party and its major accomplishments, which are definite and respectable achievements. It breaks down the leadership and goes into the historical heroes who made the party what it is. I think this is great for the GOP. In the current moment, there are problems with the leadership and image, and being able to introduce people to a rich background and respectable past is important.

Overall, the site is well designed and modern. It is simple, but bold and inviting, eye catching. The GOP logo with the elephant in the O is nicely done. Toward the bottom of the page are some design elements that I would love to see carried throughout the site a little more. The traditional, old-style banners are made flashy and are well-designed. There is a richness to the historical images that are incorporated into the modern design, and it works well, and it pushes the image that the GOP needs to encourage. The Republican party does have a significant and respectable history. But the party needs to come into the 21st century. Blending the past into a possibility of the future is a great way to brand—I just hope the brand of the party can be sustained beyond the web site. It is necessary that this “old meets new, makes now” version of the party be development and integrated into all communication and all behavior of the party’s representatives. The party’s strength is its rich history, but the party needs to be modern and futuristic. There is a way to stay traditional while acknowledging and bending toward the modern needs of the American people. And a social media web site is a great way to begin.

(What’s The Story) Morning Glory

•October 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am a night person. I am—I get all this energy and excitement around twilight, when the sun is setting and everything is golden and beautiful. And I blame my night personhood on college: staying up until 3 a.m. was not an unusual occurrence. Done with class/meetings at 11 p.m.? Wow—so much time to do homework!

But, I keep hearing about all these writers and accomplished authors who say that the best time to write is in the morning. Like, early morning. I brushed off their advice. I love my bed too much. Plus I held the thinking that being a night person and writing at night was better for me. I thought that the only reason I could write at night was because I had all day to think.

Wrong.

I have woken up at 6:30 a.m. the last two days, and I believe I am an absolute convert to early morning writing. I can write in the morning. I can even write well in the morning. And I like it, because I have no worries yet. I have wispy tips of dreams left over in my head from the nighttime, which is so much better than real thoughts so far.

I don’t know if I can keep up this habit. I’m waking up earlier, but staying up just as late. Something will have to change, like my bedtime. I’m much like the author in this Slate piece: http://www.slate.com/id/2193208/

What I really wanted when I started this experiment, I now realize, was to be one of those crazies who functions well on just five hours of sleep. That’s never going to happen.

But while I can keep it up, long live the mornings, my productivity, and hopefully, my mood.

a day late and 7,000 dollars short

•October 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

I’m generally not one who rallies against the establishment, the Man. But in this case, I think the Man has a serious problem.

The Man, being the FCC.

In this morning’s Journal Gazette Kelly Soderlund reported that the FCC is coming down on  local Columbia City High School radio station for letting their license expire. The FCC first reprimanded Columbia City High School in 2007. When CCHS asked for the $7,000 fine to be waived because it was a first offense, the FCC waited a good 31 months to deny the request. The FCC is now asking for the money again; school officials say they will appeal again.

I think the FCC needs to back off and find some bigger fish to fry, like SNL and their s-bombs. This is an educational opportunity for students to learn how to broadcast and run a radio station. I can see where the FCC has all the right to rain down on profitable, large radio stations for operating without a legitimate license. People should play by the rules.

But this little, but successful high school radio station isn’t and should not be a threat to the FCC. They don’t run commericals. They aren’t owned by a media conglomorate. Instead, they are the first high school radio station to broadcast live on the internet. If anything, the FCC should be praising the students and teachers for ensuring learning outside of a textbook.

I understand the reason for the fine. Sure, FCC, you want to make a point that people can’t have unregistered radio stations. I get it. Go ahead and fine the school. But seven thousand dollars? Seven thousand dollars for an expired license? Send them a $100 fine or something. It is a struggling public school corporation that needs every last dollar to feed the students on free and reduced lunch, to provide the students with teachers who know what they are doing, to make sure the bathrooms are useable and they have textbooks that have been written after 1995. The FCC has no reason to deny an appeal against a seven thousand dollar fine for an educational instituion.

Let the kids learn how to be responsible journalists and broadcasters now. It’ll save you later, FCC.

Close but no cigar

•October 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dr. Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett), the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote an editorial that appeared in Wednesday evening’s News-Sentinel.

The link for your reading pleasure: http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090930/EDITORIAL/909300343

I find this editorial to be enlightening: 26 seconds, and another American student is dropping out of school. I knew the problem was near catastrophic, but I didn’t know we were losing so many minds so quickly. Dr. Bennett said that he hopes to change this:

Our vision is to make sure 90 percent of students graduate by 2012, and we’re taking steps to make sure this vision becomes reality. Last week, we held the Indiana Dropout Prevention Summit.

This is an amazing goal–not one that is impossible, but definitely one that will take an inordinate amount of effort, ideas, and change in behavior among students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

I understand that this editorial is a small role in the goal of getting 90 percent of students graduating by 2012. As it should it be. It is a small piece that can be used to raise awareness about the problem. It certainly caught my attention.

But if Dr. Bennett wanted to stretch the newsprint as much as possible, I think there were a few things he could have done differently with this editorial:

  1. Published it before the Indiana Dropout Prevention Summit: he should have used the opportunity to draw attention to the event and hopefully create interest in the summit. (this is the most I can find about the event: http://www.americaspromise.org/Our-Work/Dropout-Prevention/Summits/Indiana.aspx ). Then, maybe reporters could have done more to report on it, giving the issue and the possible solutions more media time.
  2. Used a specific call to action. The only call to action in the entire editorial is this: “Adults can provide the guidance, the attention and the positive example necessary to keep students from dropping out.” If Dr. Bennett wants his editorial to make an impact, he needs to specify what that impact should be. This is a well-written, informative editorial, but it is missing an intentionally and intensity.

I applaud Dr. Bennett for attacking the graduation rate issue. Is is only part of the problem with the education system as it stands. Yet if he is going to continue to call to the public to understand the issue, he must also provide the public with a way to help. I would have loved to see more focus in this piece toward parent involvment and adult volunteers and mentors. These groups of people can do so much good in the fight for graduates.

Rhee/DCPS makes sleek PR move

•September 29, 2009 • 2 Comments

Michelle Rhee—I want to be just like you when I grow up. Seriously. Some little girls may dream of being a nurse or an interior designer, but I would love to be chancellor of the DC public school system, and particularly, Michelle Rhee.

Sure, she comes under fire for many of the controversial moves she makes. And I understand why some teachers really don’t like her management style. But when she pulls stunts like the one today with the Washington Post, it makes me admire her even more. See the transcript here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/09/20/DI2009092001636.html

At 1 p.m., Michelle Rhee signed on to Washington Post for a live Q&A. From a media relations and community relations and a public relations standpoint this is, well, it can be risky, but when it is done so well, it is a golden opportunity for the organization to earn trust with the public and gain solid relationships. Particularly for a spokesperson who is often described by the media as someone who is out for power plays or who is often seen as a tough woman who will let nothing, but nothing, stand in her path to achievement.

So, negative media attention out of the way, Michelle Rhee responds to what seems to be mostly parents in this live Q&A. Coincidentally, her strongest supporters tend to be parents, and so the questions are spattered with:

Is there anything that parents in particular can do to assist your efforts? – Ward 4, Washington DC

Thank you and please keep up the great work. As parents in DC, we like your style and accountability of all of your employees. –Petworth, DC

Thanks for all your hard work. –Washington, DC

along with all of the questions about charter schools and building changes. And Ms. Rhee quickly replied with answers that seemed to satisfy questions. In signing off, she said she only got to a fraction of the questions, which I believe. I can see numerous parents concerned with their children’s education and tax-payers concerned with their taxes delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Ms. Rhee directly.

In reaching out to these publics, and receiving legitimate and positive support for the work she and DCPS is doing, Rhee was able to gain media space that spoke volumes for the organization. No ads with happy children or press releases downplaying the teacher layoffs could ever do this kind of work. This Q&A session was an exercise in successful relationship building. Rhee received praise, answered questions, and made herself available to criticism. As a leader of a large organization, this is risky, but it is certainly can pay off. For Rhee and DCPS, it was worth the risk.

And to make it even more of a relationship building public relations stunt (I use that term endearingly, and positively) Rhee sent out her personal email address! Numerous times! Clearly this shows her willingness to engage in conversations about what needs to be and can be done in the school district. This makes me love her even more. Do you see the leaders of GM sending out their personal email address, asking for questions? I’ve heard Ms. Rhee is a crackberry addict, so I totally believe she’s honest in her request for emails. (it’s michelle.rhee@dc.gov in case you want to send something.) This makes me want to send her my resume…Do you think she would look over it? Maybe I’ll devise a really crafty cover letter.

Michelle Rhee, I admire you and want to be you when I grow up. Do you think that would be a good first sentence?

Project Autumn, on flickr

•September 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

http://www.flickr.com/photos/monifreeman/sets/72157622484376602/

I’ll keep updating project autumn on flickr–but it is easier to post/view in that medium. The weather is certainly changing, but the leaves have yet to make a big shift toward gold, red, brown, yellow and orange. Still waiting.

Project Autumn, day 1

•September 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve stumbled on a little project: collecting images of my backyard, from the first day of autumn to the last. I thought it a fun way to celebrate my favorite season, and, hey, it’ll probably be a pretty colorific slideshow at the end.

Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” -Albert Camus


Remains of the (Summer) Day(s)

•September 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Remains of the Day

“The evening’s the best part of the day” –Stevens, from Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains of the Day is narrated from the voice of an English butler, looking back on his life. And when he says, “The evening’s the best part of the day,” we as readers are bound to agree with him—all that nostalgia and English accent in his voice. It would be a sin to disagree with someone so upstanding and proper.

And as I sit watching the sun fall behind the trees and the houses and finally the pond on one of the final summer days, I too believe that evening’s the best part of the day. The flowers and grass and spiders are all highlighted with flattering sunlight, the world has gotten quiet as construction has ceased next-door, and the neighbors begin their strolls with dogs on leashes or children in wagons. It is peaceful, it is calming, and tomorrow’s worries are still a day away while we’ve already said goodbye to today’s uncertainties.

I know many have already said goodbye to summer—but the calendar has not, and I have not. Without the regular seasonal transition from summer to school, I’ve been left to squeeze out the summer days long past what would have been the first day of school. But tomorrow marks the beginning of my autumn: we’re going apple picking. And so, the remains of the day, the remains of the summer days, are here, and slipping away so quickly beyond those trees, houses, and finally, the pond.

What’s tricky about Stevens’ “The evening’s the best part of the day,” is that he is clouded with nostalgia. As he looks back on his professional career as a butler, he must look back and believe he did good work. He must believe that in his retirement, facing the end of his days, he did enough good work during his life to merit the evening, the final days, as being the best part. Or else, he could not live with himself so easily in these last days.

So can I say that this final summer evening is the best part of the summer? Of what remains of my day, my summer, can I call it the best of times? Only if I believe that what I have done this summer is worthy of this nostalgia; only if I believe that I have lived fully enough to be satisfied with my summer days. One can only let go of the past and face the present if he is satisfied with what his past reads like. I am satisfied with my summer. So, I am okay with letting it go the way of the sun and fade peacefully until next year. I will cherish the sunset this evening, knowing that so many of my summer evenings were spent in beautiful places, with wonderful people, doing incredible things. The evening is the best part of the day.

Ads in the Strangest Places

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I just finished the book Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. Just like the Washington Post review on the front cover said it would, the story kept me going late into the night. I had to know what was going to happen to the narrator, Connie, and her ex-hippie mother, Sibyl–the titular character.

And as soon as I was finished, I wanted a cup of herbal, chamomile tea.

Throughout the story, set in the 1980s, the characters are turning to herbal tea for relaxation–or in some cases, to induce childbirth. It appears over and over again, often referenced to in an almost belittling manner as a tool for hippies. It isn’t something normal, sophisticated, sensible people drink. It is something that creates a soothing, calming sensation for those who are into earthy, sentimental sensations. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the tea became a character within the book (example: the fish in The Tin Drum) but it had a specific presence.

Tea was not being marketed in the book. At least, not that I know of. No where in the story was a particular brand mentioned, but I can only imagine how simple it would be to write Celestial Seasons or Tazo in front of chamomile tea and suddenly, you have an advertisement. You have more money for the author, for the publishing company, for the literary agency. You have income besides consumers.

Product placement in a book could be even more powerful than in a movie, as the book allows for that characterization, that sentimentality and sensation to be brought up again and again. I think it would really work. I think that people would be drawn to the products in books. Advertisers, copywriters specifically, would love it: 1,000s of words to get a message, a feeling, a lifestyle into the minds of consumers.

In no way am I proposing that there should be product placements in books. As an English major, I feel that would be an infringement on the art of the writing and the story. Selling the book’s soul, if you will. However, I can see that would perhaps be able to float a flailing industry. If it happens in movies, and books often turn into movies, couldn’t ithappen in book? If product placement could save books (if the industry flat-lines instead of merely flailing around looking for more profits) I might be all for it. I’d rather read a book that talks about Celestial Seasons tea than not read the book.

For now, I’ll drink whatever chamomile tea I find in the grocery store and I’ll connect with Sibyl and her ex-hippie friends.