Moving them along…

May 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Today, one of our APs interviewed a candidate in Germany via Skype.

skype interview

We’re getting there.

Reflections on our district jumping into social media

May 14, 2009 § 1 Comment

Over the last couple of weeks, our district jumped feet first into distributing as much information as we could in as many ways as we could.

I wonder how long it would have taken us if we hadn’t had the H1N1 emergency.

The one thing I love about working in this school district is how progressive and forward thinking we are. I also love that we’re small enough that someone like me can ask a question, and get an answer, get permission to do something the same day.

It helps to have people in key positions who trust their employees and people in key positions who are young enough to get it and old enough to know not to embarrass anyone.

I’ve been quietly collecting information about web 2.0 tools for a long time, and when the opportunity presented itself, I opened up my arsenal and started asking questions.  Can we start a Twitter account?  How do you feel about streaming press briefings live over the Internet?  Podcasts?  Sure, I’d be happy to help edit and post them!

So when I last wrote about it, I mentioned that we had about 30 people watching the Wednesday press briefing. All afternoon and evening Wednesday, I thought about how to improve the quality of audio and video that we provided. When I first tried out UStream, I tested it on a beautiful, 24″ iMac that we have sitting in our office, and one of the things I noticed was that it listed “DV Video” as one of the options.  Thursday morning, I came up to the office early and ran to get one of the DV cams that we used to stream graduation, and hooked it up to the Mac.  It worked beautifully!

I unplugged the Mac and dragged it up to the board room, where the press briefing would take place.  I had been thinking about using a different computer anyway, since the laptop I was on Wednesday was slow and I was having a hard time keeping up with Twitter during the press briefing.  The Mac, with it’s huge screen and 3 GHz processor would allow me to seriously multi-task while the press briefing was going on.

I got it all hooked up, and started streaming just to test it out.  The browser crashed on me a few times, and I started looking at what was different from when I had used it in our office.  The only thing I could see was that I had my mail client open, so I closed it, restarted the browser, and everything started working.  Whew.  Problem averted.

I also embedded the live stream on the district home page every day we did it.  What I didn’t expect was that the number of people watching would grow exponentially every day as word got out, and as people got anxious about whether we would actually open on May 4 as originally planned.

On Wednesday, we had less then 50 people watching.  I think 30 at any given time. Then Thursday, we had over 300 watching simultaneously, and the questions came pouring in from Twitter.  However, I found out later that a lot of the questions were coming from the “social stream” chat on UStream, and some of the people asking questions weren’t even following us on Twitter.  I fixed that on Friday by removing the social stream chat from the UStream page, just leaving the chat room open.

With a larger computer and a better camera setup, I gained a lot of attention from the journalists in the room on Thursday, which I did not expect or really want.  But when the superintendent mentioned what we were doing and how we were doing it, I found three camera pointed at me and reporters asking me questions while the cameras were rolling.  I was glad I had shaved. That evening, I found myself on two of the local new stations, even getting a little sound bite on the Fox affiliate.  I was giddy. Little did I know what a nightmare Friday would be.

Friday, we had the same setup, and the anticipation was that the Superintendent would inform everyone whether we were going to open school Monday, May 4, since all of the other districts in the county had closed through May 11. I knew that we’d have at least as many people watching as Thursday, but I had no idea what I was in store for.

When I fired up the Mac on Friday and tried broadcasting, I couldn’t get the browser to stop crashing.  I didn’t have the mail client open, and I couldn’t understand what was happening.  I searched frantically for a solution before the 1 PM briefing, but couldn’t find anything.  Finally a few minutes before 1, I got it to broadcast and record without crashing for about 5 minutes, and I thought everything was stable.

Less than 5 minutes into the briefing, it crashed again.  We had over 1000 people watching our stream and I knew I had to go to plan B and fast!

I spun the Mac around and started broadcasting using the built in iSight camera, and the built in microphone.  Unfortunately, the superintendent had set up about 5-7 feet away from where the computer was, and the journalists had surrounded her, not leaving a very clear path for the camera.  That, combined with bad acoustics in the room and the distance the mic was from her, made for a very poor presentation that was hard to hear.  On top of all of that, she did not have any information about whether school would reopen on Monday, and I had an angry, albeit virtual, mob on my hands.

Tweets were flying everywhere about how we hadn’t provided the information we’d “promised” or how bad the press briefing looked.  I took a lot of that personally, since I was the one hadling the tech side of things.  However, I also knew that technical difficulties happen and I did my best to rectify the situation. I also knew that we coulnd’t put out information that we didn’t have, and at the time, we just did not have word either way about what to do.

Our web site took a beating.  Our average number of hits per day during a normal week when school is in session is about 2500.  That’s with browsers all over the district pulling up the district home page.  As you can see below, during the first week, the number of hits on our web site were over 10,000 almost every day, and the largest single day total we had was over 31,000 on Friday, May 1.  The web site never went down under all of the stress, and that was great.

monthly stats

We know now that it can handle thousands of simultaneous hits.  We transferred over 200 gigs of information just in that week alone, and if we’d actually been hosting the video feed, I’m sure it would have been in the thousands of gigs.

The other web 2.0 thing we did was podcasting.  The superintendent had done a podcast before, but not on a consistent basis.  But every evening during the “flu-cation,” the superintendent would email me her podcast audio, which I would edit and post to the district home page, then tweet that it was up. She mentioned late in the week how it was interesting that she would say something in her podcast one evening, then hear a response about it from higher-ups in the state the next day.  NPR even asked for an interview with her based on listening to her podcasts!

I learned an awful lot about 24/7 connection during the swine flu outbreak. There were lots of times where I had to bite my tongue and not type some snippy response to someone on Twitter, or in the chat room on UStream when our feed crashed and burned during the Friday press briefing. I knew to have a backup plan, but I had no idea that the backup plan needed to be as good, or better, than plan A. I had no idea that people could be so ungrateful. We did not have to do all of the things we did. Most of the school districts in our area didn’t have a fraction of the information that we put out, and yet, there were people who moaned and groaned when a piece of our information wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear, or didn’t work perfectly.

To be fair, though, there were a great number of people who sent us emails and tweets of encouragement, and told us that we were doing a great job. Those are what kept me going through the week.

I’m hoping that everything we started over these past few weeks will continue.  Streaming events in our district, like board meetings, is something that can help the public gain information even if they can’t attend.  The superintendent podcasting is a great way for her to give information to our community about everything good that’s going on in our schools.  Our twitter account is another way for the public to get information quickly, and I’ve been updating it as we continue to reschedule things.  Next week, I’ll be turning it over to our Public Info Officer, and we’ll split duties on updating it.

I certainly didn’t start this endeavour to gain attention for myself.  I really just wanted to help the district distribute information as quickly and efficiently as possible.  I hope that I can continue to be part of the driving force behind this district being progressive, and using social media tools to spread the word about what we’re doing.

It helps to have people in charge who trust you to make decisions and be competent.  It’s challenging, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to continuing.

Twitter – a follow up

May 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

You’ll recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what marketing execs don’t get about Twitter. Seems I may have jumped the gun a bit.

It’s looking now like Pizza Hut’s foray into the Twitterverse is probably a really good thing for their image. Given what happened with Domino’s video going viral, and Domino’s lack of response online about it, I can understand how a company would want to have an online presence if for nothing more than damage control.

Managing what is said about you online is important whether you’re an individual or a corporation, and maybe I was a little quick to judge just how important it is for a company to have an online presence and use it to not only communicate with customers, but also to bolster the company’s image.

Will Richardson uses a good example in his presentations (and I wish I had links to this, but I don’t…maybe Will can help me out?) of a woman who tweeted about the lack of response she was getting from Allstate. A couple of hours later, she had a response on Twitter from Allstate, and a week later, her issue was resolved.

If only every company was so quick to manage their online image.

I’ve been trying to manage the online image of our district by keeping up with the district’s wikipedia page, and asking about starting the Twitter account during the whole swine flu thing.

Like so many people are saying, managing your digital footprint, or digital identity is how people are going to preceive you these days. By failing to manage your presence online, you are allowing others to say what they will about you, or your company. By refusing to participate in the conversation, you are allowing others to form the public’s opinion of you.

So, I apologize for being quick to jump on Pizza Hut and being skeptical about what they are doing. They’re one of a handful of companies who actually seem to be getting the point. A point that I did not fully understand myself until two weeks ago.

And, as a side note, it’s funny that I was listening in to Will Richardson’s presentation at TEC SIG on Thruday because late Thursday/early Friday, my wife’s car caught fire, and we tried desperately to get it removed from our driveway all weekend without any help from our insurance agency. I tweeted about it, put it on my Facebook, and even wrote on my personal blog about it.

And I never heard a word about it. Never heard anything from the car manufacturer, either, and I thought they were a progressive company.

I wonder how long it will be before the old school companies realize that the new name of the game is participate in the discussion, watch what people are saying about you, or go the way of the dinosaurs.

Accountability has gone right out the window

May 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

The past 10 days or so have been very hectic, and I’ve learned a couple of things about participating in an online discussion that I guess I’ve always known to be true, but it’s all come back home since this H1N1 virus hit.

Some of you, out there in Internet land, are just frickin’ rude.

Mind you, I’m not talking about getting my own feelings hurt.  What I’m talking about here is that the Internet has allowed anyone to have an anonymous voice for saying  whatever they want to say.

I’m all about free speech, but I’m also about taking responsibility for your actions.

I’ve learned (and again, I already knew this, but boy it hit home) that some people just need something to complain about.  If you don’t put info out there for them, they complain.  If you do put info out there for them, the complain about the info that you’ve put out, or the info that you’re not putting out that they need to know right now.

Case and point.  Our district started a Twitter account just as another avenue to get information to the public about what was going on with the closure due to H1N1.  There were people who signed up for Twitter accounts just to follow us, and some of those people, the only posts they had on their Twitter accounts were @ reply complaints to us (dig through some of those…there’s some really nasty ones).  Seriously.  If the only reason you’re signing up for an account is to gripe, don’t sign up.  And by the way, if you’re going to be rude and demanding information, don’t expect an answer.

There was another gentleman who followed us that griped when we tweeted the proceedings of a school board meeting.  If we hadn’t put any info out, he probably would have complained about that, too.

Another problem I have with all of this anonymous griping is that now the news sites are getting in on the game.  They allow anyone to register for an account and comment on their stories.  In the past, people who wrote letters to the editor of a newspaper at least had to have their name verified, and their name and city got published along with their letter, opening them to public ridicule if their comments were stupid.

Now, there isn’t any accountability, and that, combined with people’s lack of tact and a filter, has lead the stupid right out in the open.

Just take a look at any of your local news sites and you’ll see exactly what I mean.  The comments about “the illegals” and the personal sniping that has gone in the comments sections of the local stories about H1N1 just shows how idiotic people can be, and I don’t think it has any place on a news site.

Whatever happened to shame?  Whatever happened to disgracing your family name?  There was a time in America where people had morals, and when the moral code was broken, people were shamed.  That moral code has gotten looser and looser, to the point where nothing is shameful anymore.

Now don’t get me confused with some right-wing nut job.  I think that people ought to be left alone to do their own thing, but when others start trying to tell me that this or that is going to ruin the moral fabric of this country, I just have to look around and laugh.  The moral fabric of this country was tattered and torn long, long ago, and the people screaming the loudest are more than likely the ones who helped rip it to shreds.

So what will the turning point be?  When will poeple STFU and realize that they sound stupid when they spout off?  Will it take a major news site requiring the name and address of anyone who wants to comment, and publishing that information along with their comments?  I don’t know, but something has to give, and soon.  Children are growing up now with a sense that they can say whatever they want, whenever they want, and suffer no consequences.

What happened to the consequences of saying something stupid, or acting like a jerk in public?

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