A #strategycar for the people


This week I had the privilege of speaking at the HighEdWeb Annual Conference in Milwaukee, and the even bigger privilege of talking with some of the smartest people in higher ed–or, rather, just about anywhere. As I return to real life and attempt to process what I heard and learned, I keep coming back to a recurring topic of conversation: #strategycar.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I’ve been a broken record about my hopes and dreams for the Little Hashtag That Could. “The #strategycar belongs to everyone in the community,” I say. “The #strategycar works best when everyone takes a turn,” I say. But it wasn’t until I talked through this very thing with a few folks at HighEdWeb that I realized I may not be getting through. For most people, #strategycar is probably just a weekly Twitter chat, not a thing whose future and meaning and potential is contemplated.

What’s the future of #strategycar? I think the question should actually be, “Who is the future of #strategycar?” And the answer is “You.”

You are the future of #strategycar.

When #strategycar grows up, I hope that it will be a tool for the entire community, called on whenever a need for discussion comes up. Maybe an article was published during the week that everyone is riled up about. Maybe someone is having a conflict at work they need help working through. Maybe the group can rally together to offer support, research, statistics, advice, or encouragement.

At its core, #strategycar was always meant to be available for whoever needs it, whenever it’s needed. It was meant to be a place for the community to react in real time to important opportunities or challenges.

I learned this week that some of you are finding value in our Friday get-togethers. Especially now, as I complete my Higher Ed Farewell Tour, I want to make sure the value isn’t lost, for as long as there’s an opportunity there to support this community.

I need your help. I’m looking for a few #strategycar friends to help drive this thing long-term. If you have ideas or effort to lend, let’s talk about how we can do this thing together.

What’s that they say about “one door closing…?”


I find myself in a strange place as I write this. In just two days, my 11-year career in higher education will come to an end. And while I’m excited to start the next chapter with all of its challenges and opportunities to learn and grow, these last two weeks in my position have been… what? I’ve been staring at the end of that sentence and its blinking cursor this entire morning. I can say that I’m glad I’ve had two weeks to say good-bye to this place piece by piece. From here I’m going to have to redefine my relationships with people and with my work, and the way I communicate personally and publicly.

I can’t say enough about the people at the University of Michigan-Flint. I am continuously inspired by the dedication on this campus to serving these students and this great city. I’ve grown up here. I will miss being a part of UM-Flint’s every day. I will miss having an impact on the growth of others who are now students just like I was once. I will miss doing my part to advance the mission of this institution that means so much to so many.

Then there’s the higher ed web community. There aren’t words. Not really. I spent some time lamenting my exit from these ranks, but then decided I’ll never truly leave. The connections I’ve made with some of the smartest people in the communication field–regardless of industry–will continue to be something I rely on very much. You hear that, out there? You know who you are, and you’re stuck with me.

There are some goodbyes to be said, for sure. While I know I’ll always be connected to my UM-Flint family, the gang will never be together again in the same way. And I know that my higher ed colleagues all across this country will remain mentors and sounding boards, but I won’t be a part of the community like I was.

This year, one of my professional goals was to speak at a national higher ed conference. I was honored to have my submission accepted by two conferences, HighEdWeb and Confab Higher Ed. I can’t think of a better way to leave higher ed than with a farewell tour where I’ll be joined by some of my favorite people in the world.

Meanwhile, what happens to #strategycar? While I get settled into a new position, it will likely be a while before I have topics to discuss, or time to discuss them with regularity. I am committed to making sure the #strategycar drives on in some fashion. I’m just going to have to do some thinking. Maybe the next #strategycar topic is “#strategycar.” Surely there are a plethora of puns about road maps and detours and such we could put to good use.

So there’s some sadness. And some uncertainty. But overwhelmingly there’s optimism and possibility and energy and passion. I’m ready to take on a new challenge and see where I go next. I am so very grateful for this new opportunity, and also grateful for the chance I was given once upon a time. If you’re reading this, maybe you’re ready to come along for the ride.

Let’s do this, friends.


Online Web Support Documentation


As more institutions put their web user support materials online, the list of great examples will grow. Here, an ongoing collection of resources.

Web Help Videos
Cornell University, CALS

Drupal Documentation
Cornell University, ILR School

Support for Drupal and Web Content Editing
Dartmouth College

CMS Training
Elizabethtown College

CMS Training and Support
New York University

Web Development Services
Princeton University

Web CMS Services Training
University of California, Davis

CMS Training for Blink
University of California, San Diego

Web Content GuideWeb Guide
University of Michigan-Flint

Content Strategy Self-Help Guide | Web Development Self-Help Guide
University of Minnesota

CMS – Web Communications
University of Oklahoma

Your Social Media Policy Can’t Wait


Social media policies. Oh boy. So many questions.

Who does a policy police? What behavior does it guide? Who is it for? What incentive is there to follow it? Is it possible to spell out every single thing a person should know?

There are more but, in all honesty, just typing out those few made me want to hyperventilate. These questions have been bouncing around in my head for years, and the lack of answers–or at least the lack of easy or enforceable answers–has kept me from putting on paper any sort of formal policy for my university. It just feels so big. How can I possibly write a single document that will instruct campus departments in using their accounts, while also addressing individual behavior, and isn’t a lot of this common sense?


(That’s for me, not for you. But if I’m making you anxious, you’re welcome to breathe with me. Let’s breathe together.)

And now, focus.

While my brain has been running through this paralyzing and endless list of questions, I’ve been missing something important. It wasn’t long ago that a brand new question started keeping me awake at night: What if something goes terribly wrong with a university account, and I can’t do anything about it?

This question puts the importance of a social media policy in an entirely new context. Guiding behavior is important, yes, but so is ensuring reasonable safeguards against the type of behavior that lands an institution in the national media. Think about it. If any given campus department posted something wildly inappropriate online, would you be able to take it down quickly? Would you know who to contact? Would you even know the account existed?

After talking with my university’s legal office, it became clear that setting some parameters around the administration of university social media accounts is extremely important. Further, a defined and enforced inventory of social media accounts and administrators is necessary as part of any campus policy.

Finally, FINALLY, I’ve drafted what I hope will become a social media account policy for my university. It does not attempt to address individual social media conduct, nor does it spell out every best practice for every network on the internet. Those things may come later. First, though, comes the groundwork for the “reasonable precautions” that should protect the university from liability.

These are the questions this draft aims to answer:

  • What is the responsibility of an account administrator?
  • What content is considered inappropriate?
  • What should administrators know about legal liability for social media content?
  • What reasonable precautions should be taken?
  • Who should have access to social media accounts?
  • How will University Relations inventory accounts, access, and behavior?

Bottom line: This policy thing is important. Shame on me for not realizing that sooner. So much about social media conduct is still hazy, but there are some definite, concrete rights and wrongs, too. Does your campus social media policy address these questions? What else might you consider mandatory for laying the foundation for responsible account administration?

Net neutrality is more complicated than you think


Net neutrality is a concept surrounded by much debate, with a storied past and murky future. On the heels of Comcast Corporation’s recent $45 billion bid to purchase Time Warner Cable—a move posing arguable threat to net neutrality as we know it—I was struck with a renewed drive to understand the debate surrounding open access to internet. This thing is huge, and far-reaching, and has much more complicated implications than many of us realize.

To help break down net neutrality and its complexities, I talked with three professors at the University of Michigan-Flint: Marcus Paroske, associate professor and director of Communication & Visual Arts; Sy Banerjee, assistant professor of marketing in the School of Management; and Adam Lutzker, associate professor of economics and director of the Master in Social Science program. Our conversations seemed to boil down to a few essential questions.

Does limiting the use of the internet stifle market competition or innovation?

Does a lack of open and neutral access to internet equate to or lead to censorship?

Is equal opportunity to content through an internet connection a basic human right?

What follows is a series of excerpts from each faculty member. These quotes are not taken from a single conversation, but have been curated to offer varied perspectives on each point.

Does limiting the use of the internet stifle marketing competition or innovation?

From the point of view of an economist, I think the [key] of thinking about the internet is to think of it as communications infrastructure and that it’s then similar to earlier transportation structure like railroads and highways, and also electricity. The key feature of building infrastructure is that they’re very expensive to build… and then very cheap to use. The consequence of that is that it’s very hard to have competitive markets in those things. You tend to have monopolies or oligopolies, so lots of different people build it, lots of different people are relatively small firms, but over time the big firms drive out the small firms and so you have concentration in the industry. And so competition tends not to work that well because of these monopoly tendencies. Historically the government has regulated these industries to ensure that consumers get access to products, to stop them from price gouging, and to keep the firms in the industry from doing unfair practices to potential competitors.
Adam Lutzker

What the carriers are suggesting is that they would like to charge content providers. So if Netflix is streaming movies for me as an end user, they would like to charge more to Netflix to be able to access and address all the maintenance issues required for the huge volume of business they are giving them. Because as of today, there is really no separate charge for access or toll on the infrastructure where the data is being transmitted. [T]his raises a concern about what happens if Netflix is made to pay extra for it because Netflix is, in that case, going to pass on the cost to the consumer.
Sy Banerjee

Firms will want to have right to make profits off what types of resources they have proprietary control over and so traditionally we’ve wanted there to be separate sectors. We’ve wanted the people providing the infrastructure to be different from the people providing the content so that customers get neutrality of access to the content. Over the last five years or so there’ve been mergers in the sector which have let … companies that are providing infrastructure be companies that are also providing content, and they want to give preferential access to their own content.
Adam Lutzker

This is not just about the U.S. Other countries are also going to follow suit and a lot of influence will be derived from the way the U.S. moves its market, as to what extent it gives freedom to the businesses versus freedom to the policy body and other players. …One of the things to think about is if you are small-time business owner, or a person who is doing some business out of home to generate some income, with the implication of net neutrality going away it could mean that your cost for access, your cost for providing services, data transmission will go up. And that could have some impact on grassroot-level innovation from a business perspective. At the same time, if net neutrality were to be imposed, one of the things that would happen because of the lack of ability to differentiate services according to customers, the industry would lose out on a lot of innovation. So that would become a cost to pay for all equal access.
Sy Banerjee

Does a lack of open and neutral access to internet equate to or lead to censorship?

I think the most important aspect of the net neutrality debate is for us as citizens, and our students in particular as the future leaders, to try and determine what kind of good or what kind of service the internet really is. If the internet is sort of the underpinning of democracy 2.0—and we see the movements of this in countries like the Ukraine or Egypt where people are using social media to do major social mobilization and execute social change—that if the internet is something fundamental to what it’s going to mean to be an American in the future to have access to that information, then a principle like net neutrality makes sense. In the same way that we don’t allow telephone companies to restrict who gets access to a phone line or radio stations to restrict who gets access to the radio—we oftentimes make analogies between communication and transportation. It’s the same thing. It’s things moving across, and whether you’re allowed to do that freely or not is one of the underpinnings of what makes a free society.
Marcus Paroske

What we teach the students is [that], for being a marketer, the very foundation of your conscience is to understand the consumers’ needs and it is to understand different needs for different people. So the very foundation of our principles [rely] on a certain extent of differentiation. When does that differentiation become discrimination? We can’t really say. …That’s the source of the controversy, because in order to best understand the needs of your customers and serve those needs, you will have to engage in differentiation. That differentiation is going to drive innovation. The problem is it means that certain sources can get choked. Certain lines can get clogged. Certain parties might be less satisfied than they are now. This is really a debate between regulation and the free market.
Sy Banerjee

Is equal opportunity to content through an internet connection a basic human right?

Is [the internet] something that everyone should have equal access to? Or is it a different kind of commodity? Is it like a book, where everyone has the right to own books but no one has the right to have every book for free? …Right now the United States government treats the internet not as an open access common carrier approach, but as a more commodified thing that companies are allowed to take profits from. That’s the debate we’re having legally, it’s the debate we’re having morally, and that’s the sort of thing that we as citizens, we as students, we as scholars should put some thought into as we move forward and make public policy moving forward.
Marcus Paroske

Essentially net neutrality is the extent of control internet stakeholders have over delivering traffic to their end users. There was a common carrier principle, which applied, which essentially all this stemmed from… [and] what the common carrier principle really talked about was If you were providing service in a certain area which was fundamental to a person’s existence—the definition of fundamental is up in the air there—and if you were using public infrastructure for providing that service, then you would have to provide equal access to everyone.
Sy Banerjee

There are a lot of things that we think about net neutrality or the absence thereof that [are] assumptions. For example, today if I cannot access the internet, do I lose my connection with the outside world? No. I have access to a landline telephone. I have access to a car. There are roads to drive the car on. And there is power to keep my phone running. These four assumptions are very basic for an average person in the U.S., so even if my internet connection goes off, it’s not like I lose my connection to the rest of the world. These assumptions don’t necessarily suffice for a lot of developing countries around the world, so for a lot of populations, the internet may be the only source of connectivity to the outside world. …In such situations—often it has happened in [countries] even like India—there have been special interest groups who are conservative or who benefit from suffocating marginalized communities’ voices of expression, and they have used the absence of net neutrality to kind of choke access, block traffic, from select geographical regions, from selected kinds of users. And they have even used the net selectively to promote ethnic hatred. In a situation like that, our decision making completely changes, and we realize that one of the [ways] that the free market, or the absence of Net Neutrality, can be sustained is if we have a very strong, sophisticated regulatory framework… one that has enough power not to be corrupt, and not subject to influence by special interest groups that could have political or social standings.
Sy Banerjee

As of this week, Comcast’s purchase of Time Warner has not been approved by the Justice Department, and is also being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a group of state attorneys general. Meanwhile, the FCC is still working through net neutrality and open internet rules, data providers are claiming that ending net neutrality will lead to lower consumer costs, and companies like Netflix are being denied free access to internet providers’ networks. This debate is nowhere near resolution.

Net neutrality cannot be categorized as a tech, political, social, economic, or ethics problem. The debate is not merely two-sided, but has so, so many sides. There will never be a clear-cut solution, but what should be clear is this: Net neutrality impacts us all. Want to learn more? Even in the absence of interview-ready faculty, we all (at least for now) have access to an open and informative internet. What considerations would you add to the conversation?

“Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…”


Sometimes, despite what my ENTJ brain wants to believe, a problem doesn’t have a black-and-white, clear-cut solution. There is not always a single right answer.

If this statement causes you pain, you may be your office’s Alaina. Surely, you think to yourself. Surely, with enough thought, deliberation, list-making, research, debating, soul-searching, and question-asking, the best solution can always be identified. I, being my own office’s Alaina, hate to break it to you–sometimes there is more than one correct approach. These are the times that test our ability to truly think objectively (it’s hard, I know, because we are typically so sure we’re right).

And so here I am. Having successfully transitioned our campus to a new content management system, it’s time for my team to start working with departments on real-live content strategy. We’ve given them the tools, and we’ve promised to teach them how to use them.

Yes. Let’s do that. Who’s first?

No, really, I’m asking. Who is first?

For my team, it comes down to this: Do we start with the departments with the energy, staff, and ability to produce results quickly? Use these departments as examples of what is possible? Or do we start with departments in need of the most help, who will likely take the most amount of work and time? There is a case to be made for each.

These are the things I know:

  • We have a lot of departments to work with, roughly 100, and it could take years to make it through the list.
  • The more energy we devote to one department, the less we have to offer others during the same project period.
  • For internal purposes, working with departments who are best-equipped could mean getting through a portion of the list more quickly, affecting improvement across more of the overall university website.
  • Externally, visitors have no knowledge about or interest in staffing or ability of university departments.  They want the information they’re looking for.
  • The departments with staff and aptitude may be able to make great strides toward improved content on their own accord, with some guidance.
  • The departments requiring less individual attention may amount to a higher percentage of the university website, contributing to more of an overall positive user experience.
  • The departments requiring more individual attention, even if there are fewer, might just be the departments holding the information a visitor is looking for.
  • There’s no rule that says we can only work with one department at a time, but we want to be realistic about how much work we take on (especially at the beginning of this effort).

There are more pros and cons to spell out, lists to make, thoughts to think. The answer here isn’t obvious, and may not be one-or-the-other. Can we work with one of each of these departments simultaneously?

How would you proceed? What points would be on your pros-and-cons list?

How do we train people to trust?


A website is only as good as the content it supports, and that content is only as good as the system behind it. I’m not simply talking about a content management system (CMS), although that can certainly play a role in presenting good content. A successful system includes the processes and tools that support the people who need them, and the appropriate training for those people.

This year I helped implement a new CMS on my campus. The transition took place in tandem with a site redesign that was to be top-to-bottom responsive. The CMS, chosen to improve the back-end user experience, could certainly uphold the new responsive design. We knew from the beginning, though, that it would be the CMS users–our content contributors–who would make the project successful (or not). We needed our users to feel confident using the new system, confident in taking ownership of the web as a tool for their departments.

Whether you’re implementing a new CMS on your own campus, or training users to better use your existing system, you’ve likely heard the chorus of:

“I’m not a web person.”

This is how the training process often begins. Content contributors, regardless of (or maybe because of) past experience, are quick to doubt their role in the university website. They assume they don’t have the skills or expertise needed to create good web content. For so long, “web” work was something highly specialized that required programming knowledge or a technical degree.

The beautiful truth is that it can be and is so much more. With the right training and some time to get comfortable in a CMS environment, users will gain the confidence they need to tell their stories with the web. With the right education about best practices, principles, and tools, they’ll start to see how they can use the web to reach their goals.

But as it turns out, it’s not enough to train and educate our CMS users and content contributors. Armed with all the information and knowledge in the world, even the most confident content contributors can be derailed by the second verse of our too-familiar song:

“She’s not a web person.

If we’ve done our jobs well, content contributors campus-wide will gain new perspective and new skills; they’ll be a department’s best asset when it comes to guiding web communication. These people will understand how to use the CMS, what’s possible with and best for their websites, and have direct access to the subject matter experts within their departments. Sadly, this promising combination is wasted if administrators don’t trust it.

How do we train the people who need to learn to trust their own staff? How do we show them the necessity and power of building self-confidence? To be truly effective in their roles as content contributors, CMS users must be empowered to take the lead, offer advice, think creatively, and continue learning.

Some of our users will embrace their roles with the web once they’ve been trained, and will be outspoken advocates for using the web effectively. Some of these users’ supervisors will welcome this. In some cases, however, leadership is going to need our help to see what’s possible. We’ll have to encourage them to support and empower their people, and to trust them.

How do we do that?