Posted by: ihrigmr | April 29, 2008

Social Networking is Risky Business

“Publish with caution,” should be the tag line of any social networking site and for good reason. There appears to be a feeling of security or invincibility when a user publishes something online. This belief, that there aren’t any consequences, is what could, and has gotten people into trouble. I believe it to be more prevalent with teens and college aged young adults, but anyone who uses a social networking service should be cautious. The reason I bring this up is because of a recent article in the Canton Repository that discusses possible risks associated with social networking, specifically with Facebook and MySpace.

Working at a college I see firsthand the popularity and importance of these services to students. I have students that work for me that check their Facebook account before they check their emails. Where do students go if they want to find out about a person or an event that happened – Facebook! Anyone who has an account puts themselves out there for anyone to see. Our profiles tell more about us than we realize. I admit that I have a Facebook account because I use it to keep in touch with my students and friends. I’m also careful not to post anything that I feel to be private. But, the scary thing is you can have your security settings set to high and be as cautious as anyone, and still be at risk.

According to the article, every time a Facebook user downloads a third-party program for games, sports teams, trivia quizzes and virtual gifts, they are “freely handing over personal information to perfect strangers.” That information is used to connect users with similar interests. Sounds like an innovative idea – connect to users with similar tastes. What we don’t realize is our information is being used by those third party organizations. “Users have little understanding where their information goes and how it’s used – and as a result, have a false sense of security.” For all we know our information could be sold or stolen, which could lead to more serious matters such as identity theft.

When something is online and open to the outside, what is to keep people from using that information? I have always been under the assumption as long as someone doesn’t post something that could have negative ramifications, they’re ok. But in reality, the way the sites are used could be just as damaging.

We just need to be careful and pay better attention to what we download and whom we allow access to these services.

So publish with caution!

Posted by: ihrigmr | April 20, 2008

Simply Jott a Message

I just came across a site that offers a fascinating free service. You may have heard of it because the company just celebrated its second birthday. It’s jott.com. Jott is a service that transcribes voice messages into text messages, reminders, lists, appointments and even blog posts.

James Martin from PC World wrote an article in the Washington Post about Jott stating “it is a fantastic productivity tool that every busy mobile professional should try.” In the world of public relations anything that saves time is worth investigating.

Although I haven’t signed up yet, I’m definitely going to check it out because this can be a very powerful and time saving tool. According to the site you can register any email account, cell phone provider and online calendar service such as Google Calendar. Jott has also partnered with other online services such as, WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Jaiku and even Amazon.

How incredible is that! As long as you have your cell phone in hand you can be connected with any number of services from email, work calendars and schedules, to even creating a blog post.

Once you call in, you’re asked, “Who do you want to Jott?” You simply state the service, such as Google Calendar, then speak up to 30 seconds worth of changes, appointments or updates to your calendar. Jott then takes the message and within minutes it updates your calendar.

Another interesting fact that I read in Martin’s article was Jott had flawlessly transcribed Martin’s voice message, posted it to his Twitter page and even had the commas in the proper places.

In addition, Jott allows users to import contacts from email clients such as Microsoft’s Outlook. So whether you are driving or away from the computer, as long as you have your cell phone you can email anyone of your contacts.

I imagine many PR folks will put Jott to use in the future.

Posted by: ihrigmr | April 12, 2008

Distance Learning a Growing Trend in Higher Education

University of Phoenix LogoDo you ever get annoyed by flashy banner advertisements on popular Web sites such as Yahoo! or MSN? Recently I have noticed a lot of ads for distance learning programs or my favorite, how to earn a master’s degree in as little as one year. Currently as a graduate student at Kent State University, I’m always intrigued by these online ads. However, with the advent of new social media technologies and the increase in the popularity of social networking sites, distance learning programs don’t appear to be a bad idea.

Since the University of Phoenix is the largest player in the distance learning market, I thought I would see what I could find. I found this post by John Chaplin in which he discusses the direction of higher education. I agree with his statements that the Internet has helped shrink our planet. With Web 2.0 and other social media, we have been able to connect in so many different ways than ever thought possible. When you think of distance learning and what the Internet can do, you really aren’t that far away.

“To put it in its most simple form: distance learning means participation in academic activities (coursework) even when one is not located near the college campus. In fact, in distance learning the location of the school is irrelevant to the enrolled student. What matters is receiving the course content – whether one lives down the street or in another continent.”

For an adult who has a family and busy work load, distance learning is probably their best option. With today’s economy and the struggling job market there is a trend among adults looking for a new career path to go back to school. Most adults can’t just give up the job and go back to school fulltime like traditional students. Online programs are usually the best route to take. Everything is handled online in the comfort of the students’ homes. Students participate in online discussions or chats, but for the most part the assignments are done on their own time.

How affective are these programs? According to Chaplin distance learning programs put a premium on ‘learning by doing.’ Online programs place an emphasis on research and projects. There aren’t lectures and exams that traditional students have to endure. “These types of activities actually force the student to take what they have learned and put it to good use – completing their research and course projects.”

College and universities should not ignore this trend. There is a large demographic of adult students looking for a career change or to further their education. As mentioned earlier the technology is there. Whether there are opportunities to offer associates, bachelors or even master’s degrees, it would be wise to investigate further.

Posted by: ihrigmr | March 30, 2008

Social Networks at work in Higher Education

There are endless discussions about Colleges and Universities reaching out to prospective students through existing social networks, but I haven’t found much on Colleges and Universities that create their own social networks for students that are already accepted. Sure it’s one thing to create a college MySpace page and hope students find you, but what if you create a network where students can create an account to see who else is coming, get more insights on the institution, join discussions and share experiences?

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is doing just that with a network called ClubRed. I found this post by Seth Meranda of Nebraska-Lincoln that talks about ClubRed, which recently launched and is already showing the benefits.

According to Meranda, within the first 48 hours of the site going live over 450 students registered. Today there are nearly 1,300 registered students. What else was important to note is the fact that nearly 200 students login each day. That implicates that not only are they attracting students to register, but they are keeping them enthused with fresh content and discussions.

What a positive experience this is for newly accepted students. You could throw out those silly preview or orientation ice-breakers because the students will already have met up with new friends and have an idea of what to expect.

I’m sure this is a powerful recruiting tool for admissions representatives at Nebraska-Lincoln. Instead of handing out countless brochures and publications about the college, they can simply direct them to the site to find out for themselves. Today’s students are already more interested in the online experience versus printed material. Once students are online they don’t need much direction either.

It will be interesting to see how fast this catches on at other institutions. For most it will be the dollar $ that holds up the idea.

Posted by: ihrigmr | March 22, 2008

Gossip Sites Can Spread Fear Across College Campuses

If your college or university is thinking about making their mark in the blogosphere then you better read what’s been buzzing around some college campuses. I found an article this past week in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussing how to “combat gossip sites” such as Juicy Campus. Here’s a site that’s not afraid to allow users to open up and be heard. Unfortunately, this is the type of uncensored openness that institutions are fearful about.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a typical thread on Juicy Campus lists the women at Baylor University as the “biggest sluts” and says the “biggest cocaine users” are at Southern Methodist University. This can be very damaging to an institution. What is to keep prospective students and parents from searching through the site to read about a college or university that interests them? The biggest issue college administrators have about campus blogging is the fear of negative comments or posts.

Blogging is a great method to allow students and faculty members to express themselves. It gives prospective students great insights and another way to experience campus life without even having to step foot on campus. The question becomes how much freedom should the bloggers have and what policies should be in place regarding content?

Well, what if the college or university has no control over what is said? Some may argue that as long as lawyers don’t contact them then they shouldn’t be filtered at all. I would agree if a college picks the right students to blog and they are trained properly.

On Juicy Campus there are no restrictions – anything goes. All posts are anonymous which gives even more incentive for individuals to speak their mind.

Luckily, I did a search for Mount Union College and didn’t find anything.

Checkout the following YouTube video for a student’s take on Juicy Campus.

Posted by: ihrigmr | March 9, 2008

MIT Waives Tuition

MIT LogoThe Boston Globe announced today that The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s board of trustees agreed to waive tuition for students whose family income is less than $75,000 a year. This waiver will benefit 30 percent of MIT’s undergraduates. Tuition and fees at MIT is approximately $36,000 a year.

However MIT didn’t stop there, according to The Boston Globe, the College also announced that it is increasing its financial aid budget by more than $7 million, to $74 million, making it one of the highest financial aid budgets in the country. Also, MIT will no longer consider home equity when calculating assets for families earning less than $100,000. This could reduce payments up to $1,600 a year for eligible families.

This is obviously big news for the nation’s top rated engineering school, but I wouldn’t rush off to send my child there because chances are he or she wouldn’t get accepted. With a 12.7 percent admission rate for freshman and less than 22 percent acceptance for graduate school admissions, MIT is ranked the toughest school to get into by MSN and CampusGrotto.

So how does this really benefit the institution?

Kirk Kolenbrander, vice president for institute affairs, said “this is part of a long-standing commitment to financial aid. We’re trying to do the right thing for our students, and the very best students come from all economic classes.”

I think it’s great PR to demonstrate good will towards its students, and don’t get me wrong, I feel college tuition is extremely overpriced and is only going to get worse, but how do the students feel whose family income is slightly higher than $75,000 a year?

I also realize that MIT’s endowment is around $10 billion, but how will the institution make up for the lost revenues? The 2007-08 undergraduate enrollment at MIT was 4,172. If you factor in 30 percent of that is tuition free, that’s roughly $40 million a year. That’s a lot to make up each year and even though the endowment is high, it won’t last forever. And will there be a day when the new policy is reversed? I would hate to be that family.

Second Life logoWell, if you thought the speed of the online evolution was moving extremely fast, it just got even faster. Just the other day it was all about Web 2.0 and now we are thinking about 3.0. And, of all places, education may become an early adopter.

According to eWeek.com, Scott McNealy, of Sun Microsystems, announced at the recent Worldwide Education and Research Conference the latest technology for the classroom – “Education 3.0.”

It appears “Education 3.0” is reminiscent of “Second Life,” an Internet based virtual world. In Second Life, users create avatars to interact with other online avatars in an advanced social network. Users create profiles and build their own virtual person to explore, meet other users, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items.

So, how does the virtual world work inside the classroom?

McNealy describes Education 3.0 as “immersive education,” an environment where students are actively searching for their own answers. Topics and subject matter can be created within a 3-Dimensional virtual world using a variety of media including audio, video, online maps, wiki pages and still pictures.

Students dive in just like any other online video game and seek out their own educational adventure. I could see my old high school history class recreating the Battle of Gettysburg in a virtual world. Students could get a 3-D glimpse of the setting and explore for themselves what took place in America’s history. If there are questions, users could communicate with others who are logged in, including the teacher, and they could pick up objects and view descriptions. How cool would it be to watch and listen to a 3-D rendition of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? I’m sure students would much rather explore history in their own creative online environment instead of reading it in a textbook.

Search Engine LogosA great discussion topic in a public relations master’s class I’m taking at Kent State University is about search engine optimization (SEO). So what is it and how important is it for a college or university?

Simply put, SEO is maximizing the use of keywords and phrases in order to boost rankings on search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

It was only a few years ago that prospective students, including myself, barely scouted colleges online. Now it’s becoming an important stop along the road of a college selection process.

However, just because a college builds a fantastic Web site, doesn’t mean students will come. Future students have to be able to find you. Even for a small institution like Mount Union College (2,200 enrollment) in Ohio that has a solid local base, it’s very important to have a strong web presence, but it is equally important to have the “Google juice” to compete with the other 46 liberal arts colleges and 13 state institutions in Ohio alone.

To prove my point, research shows that future college students are beginning their search online. In fact, a recent STAMATS study of current high school students found:

  • 74% conducted general college research on the Web;
  • 92% have discussed specific schools with their parents;
  • 54% used a search engine for their college search; and
  • 67% visited a specific college Web site.

 

Another important fact was 65 percent use a search engine to search for colleges. With search engines coming to the forefront of the overall college search process for prospective students, colleges have to think long and hard if they are using the best online strategies.

So where should a college begin? One of the first steps is selecting the right keywords. As with all promotional materials, colleges need to find a language that is specific to them. Also, conduct a test by searching for some of the popular terms on Google and see where the institution ranks.

Google Analytics LogoAnother good step is setting up an analytics tool such as Google Analytics or Web Trends. This will help measure traffic. Colleges will be able to see where visitors are coming from and what the most popular areas are. This can help pinpoint the strengths of the site and the areas that need work.

Start with a keyword analysis and find a way to measure traffic, and then colleges will be on their way to optimizing their Web site.

YouTubeWhen Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, it was clear to all of us that the video social network was more than a passing fad.

I tried to find the latest statistics on YouTube, but according to Wikipedia, few statistics are publicly available regarding the number of videos on YouTube. It did state…

“… in July 2006, the company revealed that more than 100 million videos were being watched every day, and 2.5 billion videos were watched in June 2006. 50,000 videos were being added per day in May 2006, and this increased to 65,000 by July.”

I can’t image the number of videos or the volume of traffic on YouTube today.

Another eye opening statistic I found was that roughly 50 percent of YouTube’s users are under the age of 20. Again, this dates back to 2006, but how would these statistics sound to an admissions representative from a college or university?

UC BerkeleyWhen I investigated further to see if there are institutions of higher education taking advantage of YouTube’s services, I came across UC Berkeley who was the first university to launch a YouTube channel.

By utilizing YouTube, UC Berkeley has created an interactive learning environment. Berkeley’s channel allows visitors to peer into campus life and its students. Visitors can also watch full length class sessions, including bioengineering, chemistry, physics and others.

This is a tremendous recruiting tool. Prospective students can get a glimpse of what the university is all about without even stepping foot on campus. And at what cost is this to Berkeley? Zero! YouTube is free. Not only that, it saves server space because YouTube stores the video on its own servers.

In addition, Berkeley is able to tap into a new market, increasing the university’s exposure. With the ability to create hyperlinks, Berkeley can catapult traffic back and forth from its YouTube channel to its main college Web site. YouTube is providing another means to drive traffic and increase visibility for UC Berkeley.

If it is all about an online experience, then Berkeley appears ahead of the game.

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