Why I No Longer Schedule Meetings with Students Over Email (Case #1 of Putting Systems Thinking to Practice)

In a previous post, I talked about the power of systems to simplify recurring tasks in our jobs as professors.

In that post I mentioned that we can work to remove bottlenecks that unnecessarily slow down the completion of tasks. Here’s one such task that faces major bottlenecks: scheduling appointments.

calendar

A certainty in our lives is the fact that students will need to make appointments with us. In addition to meeting with students about class projects, I’m also an academic advisor and advisor to student capstone projects. Needless to say, students are wanting to schedule meeting with me fairly regularly.

The non-systematic way of scheduling student appointments:

In the old days, I didn’t have an effective system for scheduling appointments.  It went something like this. I put my email address on my syllabus and told students to email me to schedule an appointment. So I’d get a long, detailed email that I’d have to comb through before a student got to the simple fact that they wanted to schedule a meeting with me. Or, I’d get some kind of cryptic email about an appointment. I’d respond by telling them my available office hours and that if they couldn’t come by then,to let me know some times they were available. For those who couldn’t make my office hours, we’d go back and forth until a common time was identified. During all of this, a lot of time was wasted. I had to look over my calendar and think about when I was available and when I wanted to hold a meeting.  Then I had to suggest it to the student. And then read their response email and program the finalized time onto my calendar if a mutual time was found. And then I’d respond to confirm the meeting.. If no mutual time was found, we went back and forth like this until something was settled on.  You know this frustrating dance. Think of how many unnecessary decisions are being made here, how much time is wasted for both you and the student?

A Simple System for Scheduling Appointments

At the start of this school year, I decided to try something new. I found a free online meeting scheduling tool that integrates with my Google Calendar.

The tool I use is YouCanBook.me but there are many other tools that are very similar.

How it works:

After connecting my Google Calendar, I programmed what days and times I am available into YouCanBook.me.  For example, I don’t want to take student appointments before 10am or after 5pm. And I don’t take student appointments on Fridays since that is my research day. Note: My Google Calendar has all of my classes and appointments programmed onto it, so students can’t make appointments during those times.

While the free version of YouCanBook.me gives you less control over your availabilities, I’ve managed just fine by scheduling a recurring event on my calendar for lunch time when I don’t want to be bothered.

When someone makes an appointment, it syncs to my Google Calendar automatically and I get an email reminder (you can turn these off if you like). Thus, that block of time is no longer available on my calendar and it no longer shows up as available on YouCanBook.me.

Here’s a look at my schedule for one week. This is exactly what someone would see if they were trying to book an appointment with me:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

With YouCanBook.me, you get a unique URL that you share with people so they can schedule appointments. So, I put it on my syllabus and course management site. And I tell students at the beginning of the school year that if they want to make an appointment with me, this is the only way. I tell them that if they send me an email trying to book an appointment, I’ll reply with a template email telling with the URL telling them how to book an appointment with me.

How It’s Worked:

I probably spent an hour setting up this tool before the start of the semester during a peaceful Friday afternoon.

I’ve had dozens of students schedule meeting with me this semester using this tool. I estimate I’ve saved a few hours of time that would have been spent going back and forth during a busy work day trying to schedule a meeting. And that is just in about 1/2 of a semester’s time. So I’ve already recouped the time I put in. And I can use this tool for years to come.

In addition to class-related student appointments, we recently had our 2 week advising period  where I had to meet with about 30 students over the course of two weeks to advise them on what classes to take next semester. I used YouCanBookMe for this as well and it was wonderful.

And of course, you can use tools like YouCanBook.me to schedule any type of meeting. I’ve used it to schedule appointments with folks on campus who’ve wanted to schedule a phone or in person meeting.

Considerations:

The number one thing I was concerned about when I switched to an appointment booking tool was losing control over my time. When someone emails you to schedule an appointment, you might be available at a time but simply don’t want to meet. So you don’t offer that time period for the meeting. With a booking scheduling tool, the person can see all the times you are available that aren’t busy with events on your calendar.

I thought I would find that really annoying. But, it’s a compromise I haven’t really been bothered by. Yes, there have been a few times that students have scheduled appointments when I wish they hadn’t. But, no big deal.

If you want to mark off times on your calendar when you don’t have a meeting or aren’t teaching class yet you simply don’t want someone to book an appointment during that time, schedule something on Google Calendar at that time. For example, I schedule a lunch time on my Google Calendar. But you could also schedule private time for grading or for any other reason.

Lastly, sometimes you need to plan a little ahead so someone doesn’t book an appointment at a time when you won’t be on campus.  If I know I have a doctor’s appointment, I’ll mark enough time before and after on my calendar to account for the commute.

In summary, an appointment booking tool is a great example of a simple system to deal with a recurring task: scheduling student appointments. It helps you save time and mental energy and puts you in control.

Use Simplicity and Systems To Have More Time and Energy to Do What You Love

I had an amazing time at the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday on October 22 presenting on tools educators can use to break down the classroom walls.

After our presentation, Ai Zhang, Karen Freberg, and I were asked how we manage to engage with all of these different tools, keep our classes updated, and more.

Honestly, it is a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

Yet, in my answer, I mentioned two things that have helped me tremendously: 1) Simplicity in life and 2) systems.  And I’d like to explain a little more about them.

simplicity-wont-give-you-indegestion-kushin

As professors, we’re constantly trying to balance opportunity and time cost. There may be several opportunities we’d love to engage in (such as trying a new tool like Slack in our classroom), that come with a deal of uncertainty. How much time is this going to take? What potential opportunity am I giving up if I take this opportunity? There just isn’t the time to do it all.

At the same time, there are some aspects of our jobs that are certainties. Students needing to schedule appointments with us is one of those certainties. The fact that we are going to teach class tomorrow is a certainty – with assignments, readings, and more.

Let’s talk about time and energy and how we can have just a little bit more of each in our lives by using two hacks: simplicity and systems.

Thinking Systematically

There are many productivity books, blogs, and gurus advocating the application of systems thinking to increase productivity. But one of my favorite advice books comes from Scott Adams, the creator of the famous Dilbert comic. The book is How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Adams advocates for the value of simplification in life and working to maximize personal energy. Systems are a great way to achieve both.

As Adams says, “Have a system instead of a goal. Systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.”

He defines systems as “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.”

Chances are, you’re already using systems in your life. But you may not be taking this systems thinking and evaluating how you can apply it more broadly.

As professors, if we can create systems (both in our personal and professional lives) that help save time and streamline repeated tasks, we can get what we need to get done with an efficient investment of our most finite resource: Our personal energy.

In the last year or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of systems. What systems am I putting in place in my life to manage repeated tasks and make my life simpler?

Adams advises: “Optimizing is often the strategy of people who have specific goals and feel the need to do everything in their power to achieve them. Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems.”

Simplicity & Systems

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I keep my personal life simple by using systems and rules to manage my time and personal energy. For example, when I was in graduate school the cost-effective grocery store was 8 miles from my house over the state border into Idaho. I was working 7 days a week at grad school life. So, I didn’t think it was time or cost effective to be running to the nearby, more expensive, grocery store every few days when I needed milk. And it certainly  wasn’t effective to be scrambling to figure out what I was going to eat that night. I devised a simple system of grocery shopping every two weeks. I’d plan my meals for a two week period and then drive to Idaho on the weekend every two weeks to buy all of my groceries. By batching my grocery and meal planning and shopping time into 1 big event instead of many little events, I saved countless hours that would have been wasted debating what to have for dinner, driving to the store, wandering around trying to find things, etc. And I saved thousands of dollars by not eating out. Time and money are very valuable commodities when you’re in grad school. And this simple system was so effective that my wife and I still use it today.

Ordering a pizza or hitting up the fast food drive through optimizes your time – it’s efficient. But it isn’t a system. The problem of needing to find dinner tomorrow will exist again tomorrow and you’re back to square one.

Technologies can work as systems too. My wife and I have a wonderful dog, Scout. And, despite what you would think with all that hair, she doesn’t shed. But, her flocks are incredibly effective at collecting leaves, twigs, and other debris that get brought into our home and deposited on our floor. A few months ago, my wife and I invested in a Roomba vacuum. Between my wife and I, we were spending a lot of time sweeping up the floor in a losing battle. What a drain on our personal energy and time! Now, we have a simple system whereby the Roomba runs on certain days of the week. And, we spend about 1 minute in the morning on those days preparing the house for it to run – picking up things, moving a few things to block the Roomba from going into an unwanted area, etc. Then, after the Roomba is done I spend a few minutes cleaning it out. In the few months we’ve owned the Roomba, we’ve probably saved a good 10 hours of time that would have been spent sweeping. There was a repeated, predictable problem: debris from dog. This certainty in life could be better managed with a simple system.

Designing some of the decision-making processes and stresses out of your life is also systems thinking. By choosing to live in a small town, I’ve systematically designed many of the daily frustrations many people face out of my life. Yes, there aren’t a lot of restaurant or entertainment options. My commute is simple and straightforward. But, just think about how many frustrations, stressors, and teeth-grinding decisions I’ve designed out of my life. Yet, living in a small town probably doesn’t appeal to many people. Or, maybe it does but you don’t have control over where you live. No matter. You can design your way out of the agony decision-making process in many aspects of life. For example, you’ve probably noticed that folks like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs always wore essentially the same thing. They designed the “what to wear?” problem out of their life.

A few other basic ways I’ve designed simplicity into my life include these 4 tools:

  1. Frustration gatekeepers – I rely on what I call ‘frustration gatekeepers’ to filter information for me. Rather than staying up on all the latest trends in pop culture, I simply rely on other people who I know are good at doing that. And I take their advice. The same is true for shopping. By not shopping or going to restaurants much, I keep my head clear of stressors and unnecessary decisions. I have a brother who is more knowledgeable about fashion and clothes than me and enjoys shopping. And sometimes he buys things that he decides he doesn’t want but it’s too much of an effort for him to return. So I acquire the stuff directly from him (since we mostly can fit into the same clothes). He’s a perfect example of a frustration gatekeeper. He also knows a lot about cars and can quickly give me advice when I’m having problems with mine or when I’m car shopping. When something has been tested and found true by others across time, I can assume it is worth exploring. Then, by relying on these frustration gatekeepers, I can put my time and effort into the new tech and trends that I’m interested in, and stay up to date on social media, education tech, etc. These are simple examples and this topic could be it’s own blog post… or book.
  2. Yes Scarcity – Say no more often. Indeed, your default answer should be no. Saying no is a frustration gatekeeper. By saying no, you are closing the gate and keeping frustrations at bay. The problem is, it is hard to realize that we control the gate. We have the ability to say no or to say yes. As a professor, you are going to be asked to be on a lot of committees, participate in a lot of extra-curricular events, do public service, etc. If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll never have time to say yes to the things you really want to do. It took me several years of working in academia to learn this even though I’d been advised by others that I needed to learn to say no. I’d always been raised to say yes to opportunity. “You never know what door it might open,” was a common refrain. And that is very true. But, you also don’t know what door you might be closing in the future by saying yes to the present request.  But as you establish yourself in your career, you can begin to be more choosy on what you say yes and no to. By saying no to things that don’t interest you, don’t benefit your career, or help those you are aiming to help, or further your mission (whatever that may be), etc., you are making yourself available for the opportunities that will. Time is finite. You can’t do it all. I finally realized that it is okay to say no and that is actually a good thing because it will leave me energized for the right tasks. And now, when I say yes to a project it is something I’m excited about and dive into and the rewards are greater and so too are the outcomes. Don’t make another person’s mission your own if indeed it is not a mission that you want to be your own. You are either working on your mission, their mission, or a common mission. Pick projects that are common missions. Otherwise, you’ll simply be unhappy, resentful, and won’t do great work. Of course, there are things you simply need to do, or that are polite and generous to do, or that are the right thing to do. That’s not what I’m talking about with the above. I’m talking about the extra projects you take on. When it comes to those, use your yeses wisely. Practice “yes scarcity” as a frustration gatekeeper.
  3. Macro-Level Task Assessment and The Advantages of Non-Competitive Choices – It would be great to find a parking spot just a little closer to the building that I work in, particularly with the cold months approaching. When I enter our parking lot at work, I notice this is what most people are trying to do– find a parking spot very close to the buildings. And this is how most people approach this situation. However, with most people approaching it this way, it means the chances of finding a great parking spot are few. Further, there is a gate and you have to swipe your card in order to get through to get to the closest parking spots. This takes the additional time of stopping, leaning halfway out of your car to swipe your card, and then waiting for the gate to open.  Once you do that, you drive around anxiously trying to find a parking spot. If you do, great. But likely you won’t. Then you have to leave the gated area, backtracking, and go to the less desirable spots you already passed by. We can all relate to this. What I do is take the same spot in the parking lot right when I enter the lot. It, or the one next to it, is always empty. And while it appears to be further away since its the first row when you enter the lot and most assume a closer row means you are closer to the buildings, my spot in the last row is actually closer to the building than going to the closer parking section but having to drive way down to the end of that row of cars. Plus, I have the advantage of 1) I save time because I quickly go to my spot, park, and get walking to my building, 2) reduce uncertainty which causes stress, 3) and remove an unnecessary decision from my life.  And here’s a bonus – I don’t have to try and remember where I parked when I leave work for the day. Said another way, there are many great opportunities most people ignore because they perceive that an option many people want is better. But doing so fails to take the whole picture into account. If you look at the micro, having a closer parking spot gives you the sense that you are saving time because you don’t have to walk as far. But this way of thinking fails to take into consideration all parts of the process (the macro). It doesn’t consider the extra time driving, the resources and stress that go into finding the spot, and the eventual distance you have to walk. Yet, you’ve convinced yourself that this is the optimal way of solving the problem. On the other hand, if you look at the macro picture – all of the steps needed to complete the process – parking a little further away in an always-available spot and walking the brief distance from the further row, actually saves time, energy, stress and removes unnecessary decisions.  Simplify by looking at the macro level. In dealing with crowds or scarcity, you may find that the the non-competitive choice offers many advantages. When everyone is doing things one way, it creates an opportunity to benefit from the resources they’re ignoring
  4. Sequencing – Is the simple process of prioritizing the things that need to be done before other tasks can be done. Seems simple. But a lot of people don’t do this. They simply pick a task and begin. Let’s say you’re making dinner. Why cut the veggies up first if the first task in the recipe is to cook the meat? You should cut the chicken up first, get it cooking, and then start chopping the veggies which will go in later. Instead, many people cut the veggies, cut the chicken, cut everything else, and then start cooking. And the task takes twice as long. Many things in life work this way, and an easy place to start is to re-analyze your routines. What is the first thing you do in the morning? In what order do you work out? Run your errands? But, we don’t often prioritize sequencing and thus we let time go to waste. Many things in life we simply need to start, and they take care of themselves with only a little attention from us – such as the pan heating up or water boiling, the chicken cooking in the pan, coffee dripping, the shower water heating up, the garage door opening, getting students working on one task while you hand back exam grades or take attendance, etc. When tackling a task, always be thinking about sequencing. What is the first thing that needs to get done to set up other steps that will maximize time efficiency?  Which tasks are tasks that you simply need to set up, and they will take care of themselves with little supervision while you can work on something else? For example, when you walk into your office in the morning, the first thing you should do isn’t take off your jacket or put your apple in the drawer to eat later. It is turn on your computer since the computer takes a while to load. Then, take off your jacket, get yourself organized, and, if you’re me, spend a few minutes writing in a bullet journal and then get to work on your computer.

As I like to say:

“Variety may be the the spice of life. But simplicity won’t give you indigestion.”

(If you’d like to learn more about simplicity and systems, here’s a great article from Scott Adams. And, here’s another great article on optimizers versus simplifiers)

But before I make this blog post way too long, let’s return to grocery shopping. Clearly this is a predictable, repeated task. So, I know I’m going to need to come up with meal ideas. Rather than eating the same old handful of meals and growing sick of them, my wife and I have created an evolving Google Doc of meals we really like. They are organized into categories such as ethnicity, what type of meat (or if they’re vegetarian) is in them, or whether they are warm or cold weather meals, or if they tend to produce leftovers and thus will cover two meals. It is simple. We take most of our meals from that list. And, we’ll try a new meal every two weeks or so. If we really like it, we add it to the list. So, we never eat something we don’t love. And we have dozens and dozens of meals to choose from.

Using your memory when you don’t need to unnecessarily uses your energy and time. That’s why lists are great, simple systems that save you time when dealing with repeated tasks. Travel often? Create a packing list for the common things you need to pack with you. Create a list for what you need to do to prepare your home to be left empty, such as set thermostats, security lights, locks, etc. Free apps like Checklist and others let you create reusable task lists.

Systems at Work

For whatever reason, in the past, I’ve had a mixed record of applying systems into my professional life. When it comes to work, I’ve always been a ‘shoulder to the wheel’ sort of person. I didn’t necessarily work smarter. I worked harder. I put in the extra time to do things that should have been done in half the time. I’ve had a tendency to look at this as dedication – showing I care.

But, as Tim Ferriss would say, rather than concerning yourself with showing dedication, focus on demonstrating results.

I’ve taken stock of the systems I have been using at work. And, I’ve started looking for ways to question the way I currently do things and find simple systems.

In the upcoming two blog posts, I’m going to explain two simple systems that I use as a professor to reduce uncertainty and/or save time and energy. One of those systems I’ve been using since I started teaching – my day-to-day class management system, and a second I began using this year – a system for scheduling student appointments.

But before I do that, here are a few quick tips for applying systems thinking into your life.

Systems and Your Work/Life Balance

Is there a consistent (predictably recurring) problem that you are facing in your life or job? If so, it may be a contender for a system. Are there decisions you are making in life that you don’t need to be making? If so, find the system.

I’d encourage you to start small. Create a system for dealing with a simple problem in your life. Dive in by creating a checklist or template for repeated tasks.

Checklist & Template Systems

  • Checklist systems – Write down the steps that you are currently doing to complete the task. If they are simple, repeated steps (like a packing list or things you always need to buy every time you go to a particular store) save your energy and create a checklist that you can repeatedly use.
  • Template systems – There are plenty of instances where you can write a template letter or email that can be tailored to the situation in professional settings. For example, there are certain questions I tend to get from students. One such question is whether I’ll offer an override to a student who wants to get into a class of mine that’s full. I used to individually write an explanation as to why I can’t give them one. So I created an email template citing the policy. When I get such a request, I’ll quickly tailor it to the situation and send it to the student. Not only is time saved, but the students are getting a consistent, accurate answer. Gmail offers the “canned responses” feature for this. But, other email clients offer tools for using email templates.

Next, think about batching tasks or automating your behavior.

  • Batching – If the task is something you are repeatedly doing often (like my grocery shopping example above), is there a way to batch it to save time? Hint: Just as you don’t need to go grocery shopping every few days, you probably don’t need to check your mail everyday.
  • Automating (aka, habits) – You’ve probably heard a lot about automation by way of software. But you can also automate your analog life. When you walk into your house, have a place to put your keys and wallet so you can always find them. This is automation (aka, harnessing the power of habit). You don’t have to think about it. You just do it. And you don’t have to waste mental energy looking for a lost wallet or trying to find your keys. Chances are, you are already doing this. Now, think about how you can create other simple automation techniques. Here’s a tip for doing so. Use a note-taking app on your phone like Google Keep. When you notice a frustration about how your life is organized (for example, you forgot to lock up the computer lab before leaving work for the day), jot it down. If it happens a few more times, set aside some time and find a way to re-organize (or, organize it for the first time). The goal is to not have to think about it. Use a habit-forming app like Habit Bull or others to help make your new procedure a habit. Or, create an evening checklist of things you need to do before leaving work. In a few weeks, every time you leave for the day you’ll leave on the side of the building where the lab is and walk by and check that it’s closed. That’s one more task that you’ve automated, saving valuable personal energy.

Tools such as those described above can help you say no to chaos.

Removing Bottlenecks – For Advanced Users

If you’ve got the above things down, try moving on to bigger fish.

  • If the problem is more complicated, identify what you are doing to complete the task that can be thrown out. What is the ‘middleman’ that is holding up the wheels of progress? How are you allowing the process to be more complicated than necessary?  If you can take decisions out of the process or unnecessary exchanges between people, look for ways to remove these bottlenecks. I’ll talk about this concept more in the upcoming blog post on scheduling meetings with students.

In all of these examples, it’s about designing your life in such a way that can help you focus on what is important to you.

It’s not about complexity. It’s not about finding new, fun technologies and going searching for a problem to solve.

Remember, the best systems are the systems that work. The simpler the system, the more likely you are to implement it. Don’t over-complicate it.

-Cheers
Matt

p.s. I know this post was a bit outside the ordinary focus of this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. If you like posts like this, please Tweet me and let me know. I’m always looking for feedback.

 

3 Ways to Use Slack to Foster Student Team Work in The College Class

I had a great time this past weekend presenting at the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday with Ai Zhang, Karen Freberg and moderator Kirk Hazlett.

If you missed our presentation, we covered how social media tools can be used to break down the classroom walls. #EdWithoutWalls

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You can watch a rebroadcast of the Facebook Live Stream that Karen Freberg did.

I had the opportunity to discuss my experience using Slack in education settings. I’ve used it both in the classroom as well as for student groups that I’ve worked with.

Because of time, I presented a short version of the presentation at Super Saturday. So, I’d I’d like to share with the unabridged slides on using Slack for student teams in class projects.

This presentation goes a little further into depth about chat bots, their rise, and their potential for educators/the classroom.

(See the presentation on SlideShare.net)

I got several questions and compliments  about the GIFs I made and used in the slides (note: The Slideshare version doesn’t show the GIFs. But, if you download the slides you can see them in presenter mode).

I created them using Recordit.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how to use GIFS to enhance your teaching if you’d like to learn more.

It was great to see everyone and make new connections. I learned a ton. I look forward to seeing everyone soon and continuing to learn from everyone as we all work to build and share knowledge in social media education.

-Cheers!
Matt

 

 

 

Three Quick Ways to Help Students find Digital Influencers using Hootsuite

When it comes to teaching social media, one of my goals this academic year is to continue to improve and update my focus on using social media software such as listening, analytics and metrics tools.

One area where tools can help us is the search for identifying digital influencers.

I require my students to research potential digital influencers for the primary audience in our topic focus (our primary audience is current and potential students of our department).

In my Comm 322 Social Media class, I’ve been talking about these concepts for several years. But, unfortunately, many of the tools for identifying influencers that my class has used in the past, such as Topsy, no longer exist.

I recently discovered 2 free add-ons to Hootsuite that I incorporated into the class this year in an effort to help students identify key influencers. I’d like to share them with you.

Because my students all participate in Hootsuite Academy, they all already have Hootsuite accounts and are learning how to use it for social media listening.

Installing these add-ons is easy.

Here are 3 quick things you can do within Hootsuite to identify potential influencers.

  1. Search By Follower Count

But before we talk about those, students can also quickly filter an existing stream in Hootsuite by the # of followers. You used to be able to filter by Klout score. But, that option is no longer available (Not to worry – I’ll show you how to search for influencer score with one of our add-ons).

Simply select a stream in Hootsuite. In the below example, I’ve selected my tab which displays my “academia” Twitter list. I simply click the magnifying lens. Then, from the drop-down menu i select “followers” and use the scroll bar to select the total amount.

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Simply relying on follower count is of course flawed. We know that the total number of followers one has does not correspond to the influence one has nor the engagement that an account receives. So it is a crude metric. But a starting point.

A good read on digital influence is Brian Solis’ 2012 article: “The Pillars of Influence.” I discuss these with my class.

2. Finding Influencers with Right Relevance

Let’s expand beyond those people we’re already following on Twitter and try to find others who might be influencing the conversation about a particular topic.

One tool to do this is the Right Relevance add-on for Hootsuite.

You can find it here: http://appdirectory.hootsuite.com/178/right-relevance

This is the free version. There is also a paid pro version.

With this tool installed in Hootsuite, you can create a new tab for your Right Relevance search. Simply search topics to find influential accounts, profiles, and articles. In class, we searched different music genres, for example. But in the below GIF, I search lacrosse. And it turns out that Inside Lacrosse is a top influencer.

And, I can see their score.  It isn’t a Klout score. It is Right Relevance’s score based on their influence in that particular topic. So, Inside Lacrosse gets a score of 98/100 for their influence on the lacrosse conversation.

Altogether, it is a quick tool for finding accounts and articles related to particular topics.

rightrelevance

 

Note that the above search can also be done directly from the Right Relevance website for free as well. Here’s a lacrosse search on Right Relevance.

3. Assessing a Potential Influencer

The last tool we’ll look at is Riffle. It can be added to Hootsuite here: http://appdirectory.hootsuite.com/88/riffle-twitter-insights

Let’s say you know of a Twitter account that you identified through the means above and you want to do a little research on it.  Maybe you want to see the Klout score. Riffle lets you do this and more.

Let’s use Kim Kardashian as our example – which is the person my students asked me to search when I showed them this tool in class.

You can quickly see Kardashian’s Klout score of 89, her top Tweets, hashtags, accounts mentioned, URLs shared and more. You can see the % of Tweets she sends to RTs (it is hidden in the below image but if you mouse over the green / purple section about 1/2 way down). You can see the # of Tweets per day and how those Tweets are sent – via Buffer, Twitter for iPhone and web client here.

riffle-hootsuite

Here I conduct a search for our department’s social media account, @ShepComm.

riffle

Taken together, our first two tools (sorting by follower count, and Right Relevance) enable you to search for and identify potential influencers in a topic area. Then, you can quickly see info about the potential influencer with Riffle.

While certainly not all encompassing, these tools give you a start. And they are easy and quick tools that you can incorporate into your class to help students begin searching for, identifying, and thinking about what makes someone a potential influencer.

It is important that any conversation about in class isn’t simply focused on showing students tools. You must augment any tool with readings (there are plenty of articles online and in books about digital influence) and an in depth conversation about digital influencers, what makes for influence and what doesn’t (e.g., reach, resonance, relevance) , the pros and cons of working with them, etc. Getting students thinking critically about these concepts is important.

I’d love to hear what tools you are using in your class to teach digital influence and how you are talking about it and/or what readings you are assigning. Please feel free to share them with me via the comments in this blog post or via Tweeting me @mjkushin.

-Cheers!
Matt

Note: If you’d like to know how I made the above GIFs, please see my earlier post on micro-screencasting for educators.

What I’m Reading And How You Can Read It Too

“Always Be Reading” is my motto.

As professionals, we are constantly seeking to stay up to date with news, trends and developments.

So I’m excited to write this quick off-week post between our regularly scheduled program to announce that you can now follow the articles I read and share on Pocket using their “recommendations” feature.

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I’m all about setting up systems to help me complete tasks and stay organized ( hope to talk more about systems-thinking in future posts). Long-time readers of this blog will know that I love to use the Pocket app to collect articles from the web to read later. For me, it has been super helpful in organizing all of the great content I come across on the web.  That way, I’ve always got a list of great content I can read when I have time – not when it goes flying by on Twitter when I’m in the middle of something else. I even have my app use text-to-speech to read me articles while cooking or brushing my teeth.

While many of the articles I recommend on Pocket I also share on Twitter, the benefit of Pocket is the focus specifically on great reads and it doesn’t go flashing by in a stream of noise on Twitter. It’s like a personal reading list cultivated by me. 🙂

Most of what I share surrounds news and insights about education, social media, PR, marketing, advertising, journalism, political communication (not my personal beliefs, but news, analysis, developments of trends) and technology. But I’m also passionate about lifestyle design, productivity and academia.

See you on Pocket. And I look forward to following you.

-Cheers!
Matt

 

 

Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing by Carolyn Mae Kim (Book Review)

As I mentioned in a previous post about my Social Media class, this semester I’ve adopted Carolyn Mae Kim’s new textbook: Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing.

To put it simply: I’m so glad that I finally found a book like this.

social media campaigns kimKim’s book is among the most thorough and clear book I have read in terms of providing an overview of how to research, plan and execute a strategic social media campaign. For me, it is the end-to-end guide to help my students through understanding the process from start to finish.

If you’re familiar with strategic communication campaign planning, you’ll know key elements discussed in this book – from background research and audience analysis to goals, objectives, key messages, strategies, and tactics. And Kim does a wonderful job of explaining them to students in clear,  to-the-point language. Further, she does a wonderful job tying them directly to social media planning.

Because my social media class is situated after the principles of PR course and before our campaigns class, I believe this book is going to provide a strong transition from exposure to these concepts in PR that will help students build towards mastery and execution of these concepts in the campaigns class (In the social media class, I provide background research as well as the class campaign’s goals and objectives – though the students do complete their own social media audit and audience personas).

While there are many gems in this book, here are a few highlights that jump out to me.

  1. From the beginning, the book talks about how social media strategy needs to align who the organization is and why they exist. This should be a point of emphasis in any social media training.
  2. Social Media Listening – The second chapter on listening provides a comprehensive plan for developing and executing a social media listening plan. A strength is that students can complete much of what Kim discusses using free social listening or analytics tools because the concepts can carry across platform. The instructions for analyzing share of voice, for example, can be easily done in a spreadsheet program.  Here, Kim has inspired me to integrate teaching students to calculate SOV into my research class for next semester.
  3. Brand Persona – Chapter 3 gets students thinking about building the social profile of the brand and key considerations such as brand persona and voice (relating back to point #1 above).  We talk about these concepts in my class – and I think the way Kim explains them really rounds that out.
  4.  Content & Engagement – In discussing how to create engaging content that the audience will love, Kim goes beyond case studies as examples into key concepts of credibility, trustworthiness and more to explain to students tactics for achieving desired brand positioning related to these concepts.
  5. Chapters 5 cover implementation of your social strategy. Many tips and tools are discussed from creating an optimal content calendar to using alerts and harnessing social listening dashboards. But the book also covers important considerations such as crises and the inevitable social media fatigue audiences will feel.
  6. Chapter 6 covers evaluation. This chapter provides a great discussion of the intersection of social metrics and key outcomes related back to your campaign’s objectives.
  7. Lastly, I like that this book is concise while packing essential information. It is digestible, tightly written and everything ties together. An someone who puts a lot of emphasis trying to show my students how everything connects between my classes, I love that. And in an age where we are seeing many students who aren’t reading class texts, it’s all about packing a punch in an approachable package.

I’ve been teaching social media campaigns for 3 years, and I’m excited about the important details I picked up from this book. In several cases I found myself jotting notes of things I ways I plan to use things from the book to enhance my class or wishing I had the time and space in my class to integrate key concepts we simply don’t have time to discuss in the course of a semester. I’m very glad that my students will get a chance to read this book and get exposure to those things we don’t get to during class time.

-Cheers!

Matt

 

The Power of the Micro Screencast: How Educators Can create GIFs to Save Time and Enhance Learning

Everyone loves GIFs. As I’m sure you  know, you can now easily search Twitter for GIPHY.com Gifs to share. They seem to be everywhere.

But how can GIFs enhance your job as a professor and help your students learn more all while saving you time?

By creating micro screencast GIFs using Recordit or a similar desktop app.

These micro screencasts are perfect for demonstrating brief tasks (I’ve found 10 seconds or less is ideal). And they can be pasted just about anywhere an image can. No embed code. No video player required.

Recordit is free and works for Mac and Windows.

Example of a micro screencast (click image to see high res):

recordit-app-slack

Here are 3 quick ways you can create these micro screencast GIFs to enhance your teaching:

  1. Lab Guides with GIFS

I’ve written in the past about how I like to create lab guides in Google Docs for my students. I titled that post: “Are Your Classroom Handouts Stuck In the Last Century?

If  you missed that post, here’s a quick run down:

I began creating Lab Guides which are Instructional Handout with Multimedia (IHMs). I tend to create IHMs when  teaching students how to use a piece of software or complete a task online in instances when the steps are clearly defined and need to be followed in a specific order. They contain instructional material, embedded images, icons, links. Examples include: How to use Moviemaker, Blogger, Netlytic, etc.

In the past, these have contained lots of screen grabs demonstrating a process.  Not anymore.

Enter Recordit.

The newer lab guides I’ve been creating contain lots of GIFS of steps in a process, cutting down on need for lots of explanation and multiple still images.

For example, here’s a lab guide I created to get my students started with the basics of Netlytic.com – the free, web-based social network analysis site. The lab guide combines GIFs created in Recordit and screen captures created with Skitch (I’ll talk more about Netlytic in a post I plan to write next semester).

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Using Recordit is easy. You choose the part of the screen you want to record, then record the video. As soon as you’re done, you get a URL to the video or GIF online. Which leads me to…

2. Answer a student question/email with a GIF

Because Recordit automaticaly generates a URL, you can quickly share the video or GIF via email, over social media, you name it.

I often get student emails asking me for clarity on how to do something for a class assignment. Or, there are those emails from students who can’t find where something is on the course webpage.

It is far more time efficient to make a quick video or GIF and email them back the link to it than to type a lengthy description that feels like a technical manual that the receiver may not be able to follow through every step.

Time saved! Yes!

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3. Enhance your presentation slides with GIFs

No matter how hard we try to make a presentation that pops, we can find ourselves limited by Powerpoint. And soon, the audience is… well…

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Want to show how something on screen works to your audience?

In the past, I’ve often relied on screen grabs. But some things are better conveyed through dynamic visuals.

Creating a GIF is great for showing a brief process on screen.

For example, I’m using Recordit to show simple steps one can take in the messaging app Slack in my upcoming presentation on Slack for class teams the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday in Indianapolis this October.  I’ll be on a panel with two of my favorite social media professors, Karen Freberg and Ai Zhang. Hope to see you there!

The clips are 3-5 second loops showing how certain commands work in Slack (see example of micro screencast above and below).

Example micro-screencast (click image to see high res)

slack-for-teaching-screencast

How do you embed GIFs into Powerpoint?

Well, you can’t cut and paste the image from the web like you can a still image. Instead, create it or download it from the web and save the GIF to your computer. In Powerpoint on Mac, go to Powerpoint, click insert->photo->photo from file. It’s that easy. 🙂

I hope these quick tips help you see how GIFs can do more than create a laugh or a sense of nostalgia. They can be quick and easy teaching tools.

-Cheers!

Matt

 

A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.