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Does tagging content make it easier to find with search? No.

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

I’ve received this question from several people now. Below are two videos from Matt Cutts who works on Google’s Webspam team explaining how tagging content mostly does not affect their search results. This also means that tagging largely will not affect how results appear on Middlebury’s site, since we use Google to provide our search results.

Tags

Tag Clouds

This does not mean that you shouldn’t tag content at all. Tags can still be useful for humans who want to find other posts and pages on a topic. However, if you want your page to be easier to find, your time is better invested in making sure that the content is well written, structured and relevant to a particular topic.

MiddLIS on Facebook

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It’s not a popularity contest, but…  We’re liked! Since we got ourselves on Facebook last spring, nearly 100 students, faculty, staff, organizations and colleagues have ‘liked’ our page. (More are always welcome! Find us at Middlebury College LIS.)

If you’ve ‘liked’ us all along, you’ve noticed that we’ve been posting a little more frequently lately. Our goal is to share pertinent news and tips, and the fall semester always brings lots of change. It’s helpful to hear from our readers, so please ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on posts that strike your fancy.

We’ve been asked by a few LIS staff members how to get info posted to the page. The easiest way is to send an email to our current social media community managers: Steve Bertolino, Jess Isler, and Carrie Macfarlane. They’ll either post the info right away, or decide whether/when to post later. (We have a calendar; as we mentioned last spring, we’re trying not to over-post!) Other liaisons know that they can add their suggestions to our calendar directly.

What Are We Tweeting For?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Since late last summer, a group of intrepid wanna-be social media mavens from various offices at the College have gathered periodically to discuss the in’s, out’s, up’s, down’s, do’s, and don’t's of Web 2.0. It’s equal parts brainstorming, salivating, and group therapy. We’ve covered the usual suspects, like Facebook and Twitter, but we’ve also touched on some platforms and technologies you may have never heard of, such as foursquare, Photosynth, Murmur, Quick Response (QR) codes, Gowalla, scvngr, and mobile web. We share what our respective areas are currently working on; bemoan the demise of long-standing, well-used features (we’re looking at you, Facebook Groups!); and philosophize about what social media tools Middlebury should pursue further (like foursquare) and what we should pass on for now (like a three-dimensional image of President Liebowitz via Photosynth).

It was in one of these meetings that the seed for using social media to address the Great Dish Crisis of Forever was planted. Mind you, Communications did all of the heavy lifting and thinking: creating and developing Aunt Des, filming and editing the Godfather-esque videos, designing posters with fancy-schmancy QR codes, and finding just the right shade of red nail polish.

Earlier this year, our ring leader, Pam Fogg, introduced us to Murmur. Dial up 802.443.2600 and enter a three-digit code to hear a story related to a building on campus. Punch in 127 to listen to Hugh Marlow tell of hearing Robert Frost say his poems to packed crowds in Mead Chapel, or 118 to hear Sarah Franco (oh, hey, that’s me) tell the gripping tale of meeting my husband in Coltrane Lounge way back in September 2004. Middlebury’s repository of Murmur stories is a great way to show prospective students how they can build unique experiences and lives on our campus or to help alumni reconnect with the College and classmates they parted with years ago.

Slowly, but surely, we’ve been working on building Middlebury’s presence on foursquare, “a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore.” All of Middlebury’s buildings have been added to foursquare, including 51 Main and the Museum of Art, both of which offer special deals to users who check in. In the coming months, we plan to add downtown venues and outdoor areas of interest (like the footbridge over the Otter Creek and the Robert Frost trails in Ripton), all in an effort to introduce first-years and other newcomers to our community and to encourage upperclassmen, staff, and faculty to try new things. Be sure to check out Middlebury’s page on foursquare and add us as a friend.

I could blog on and on about social media at Middlebury. Is it worth the investment? Is the message getting out? Should institutions be early adopters of new technologies and media platforms? These are just some of the questions we have been asking ourselves this year. But we’d love to hear from you: How have you been using social media as part of your work at Middlebury? Are there things the College could do differently or better when it comes to such tools? Hit up the comments and stay tuned for more from this ragtag crew.

Introducing the Middlebury College LIS Facebook Page!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

We invite you to visit the new LIS Facebook Page, and if you have a Facebook account, please “Like” the Page!:

For the past few weeks the Reference & Instruction workgroup has taken the lead on posting content to this Page. Today we write to invite Fans and feedback from all of LIS (and beyond), and explain how you may help us make this page a vibrant and vital part of our online presence.

Who is this for/What is going to appear on the Page?:

We hope to focus the Page primarily toward students, but we also think the content and information shared there will be of interest to Staff and Faculty. We received feedback from SLAC (Student LIS Advisory Committee) that content postings to the Page should not be too frequent.

How will things be added?/I’d like to share something!:

If you have content you’d like to have featured on the LIS Facebook Page,  get in touch with the social media community managers, Jess Isler and Joy Pile.

Please let us know if you have questions or feedback to share about the Page. Thanks! Oh, and “Liking” the Page counts as feedback, too!

An Overview of Internal Communications: Tips and Challenges

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As I suggested in my October 15th post, internal communication can be a challenge. In an effort to improve communications on this front, the President introduced the topic at a meeting with Senior Managers this morning, with the promise that we will return to the issue in subsequent meetings.

To frame the discussion, Deans, Directors and Vice Presidents asked Managers to explain how they communicate within their areas, to identify the challenges they face, and to offer suggestions for improving communications at the College.  Here is a summary of their responses.

Meetings

  • Weekly meetings for management teams and groups with a “report out” model
  • Regular all staff meetings (monthly), mostly report out with some question & answer
  • One-on-one with direct reports at some interval (weekly, quarterly)
  • Quarterly meetings on topic of interest or importance
  • Annual retreat to set agenda and discuss strategy (full staff)
  • “Just in time” meetings, immediate and brief as needed
  • Meeting by subject, project, or topic, group follows the subject rather than hierarchy
  • Weekly teleconference to set agenda

Tools

  • Minutes and agendas should be shared broadly, within department and across
  • Departments should develop an annual communications plan
  • Outlook calendar as preferred way to manage meeting invitations and schedules
  • Regular email updates, weekly or less frequently, to serve as a complement to meetings
  • Email bullets from direct reports to managers on a weekly basis
  • “Just in time” or urgent email with timely information
  • Informally float and “visit” with staff
  • Vary the medium to reach different audiences, blogs not for everyone, and not everyone has convenient access to a computer
  • Shared web-based project chart or management tool

Style

  • Communications often mirrors the hierarchy in terms of how information gets out
  • Important to hear from the top with clear direction and priorities
  • Important for leadership to be open to questions and model openness
  • More “before the fact” communication with key stakeholders

Challenges and Suggestions

  • Lateral or “department to department” communication is frequently noted as concern
  • Changes in organizational structure don’t really tell you how to get things done
  • Impact of decision not always thought through in terms of all stakeholders
  • Need to be more clear in setting expectations for those who are communicating out
  • Should be considering who needs to know what by when and state clearly
  • Must balance amount of time with benefit, more communication requires more time
  • Invite people from other departments to attend meetings from time to time
  • Create a community email digest with important updates to minimize amount of email
  • Pick up the phone, don’t use email when a phone call or a “face to face” can work

Closing the Loop

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To shed some light on the ins and outs of internal communication, I asked the directors of two of the biggest operations on campus to explain how their departments manage the communication process.  This is what they had to say.

From Norm Cushman, Director of Facilities Services

At Facilities Services, the pursuit of exemplary customer service is a continual goal. With many details to keep track of in our business, there is always the chance that we will fail or disappoint a customer.  Over time, we’ve come to subscribe to the philosophy that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.  Consequently, we believe that taking care of the little things is what matters most.  And in order to take care of the little things, we try to “close the communication loop” in our interactions with others.  Simply stated, if I know something that you don’t know, the communication loop is open.  For email, a response of “thanks,” “I agree,” “let’s discuss,” or “understood” lets the other party know that you have read their message and that they have been acknowledged. Similarly, returning phone messages lets the caller know that you take their call seriously. Closing the loop requires little effort and even when the news does not satisfy the other party, it helps avoid the “they never get back to me,” black-hole of communication.  People almost always wish to know that their message has been received and understood, even if they don’t like the reply.  By the way, this philosophy applies to communications within Facilities Services as well communications with the rest of the campus.

From Mike Roy, Dean of Library and Information Services

People frequently contact LIS when something is wrong, something is broken, or they need something quickly in order to get their work done. And because many of our services require coordination among the various parts of LIS, we often need to communicate internally before we can respond with a complete answer and follow up on a request.  This communication loop can be a challenge to manage. We receive requests through multiple channels—email, web forms, phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, paper forms—and we respond in variety of ways.  We strive to blend the friendliness of a hotel concierge and the efficiency of FedEX.com, and avoid the soulless bureaucracy of governmental agencies.  Over the years, we’ve found that the use of queues (like sending email to helpdesk@middlebury.edu) and allowing patrons to track their requests via the web is the most robust way to manage requests, with the caveat that the best forum for handling a more complicated request is a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or a series of email.  But the problem with email is that it is fragile. It is usually a one-on-one transaction, and if the thread gets lost, or the person on the other end happens to be on vacation, your request can be forgotten or delayed. More robust systems that allow requests to be routed, managed by multiple people, and allow the requester to check on the status of things are, in principle, far superior to email. That said, such systems are more cumbersome for all involved, and feel much less personal than the phone, face-to-face conversation, and even email.

Across This Campus

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

We want better communication. We hear that refrain all the time. And when I say “we,” I mean students, faculty, and staff. I mean everyone on this campus, and external constituents as well, though I realize we often come to this desire from different perspectives, with different needs.

We also want more transparency, which may well be the catchword of our times.  The push for transparency comes from a desire to know how important decisions are made, a wish sometimes tinged with distrust in how those decisions are made and who makes them. On college campuses, where the tradition of consultation, consensus-building, and community activism is deeply rooted, the desire for transparency can have a special urgency–never more so than in the last two years, as the recession has put additional pressure on the need to make thoughtful and timely decisions.  Of course, the politics of transparency can be messy since the sharing of information up and down an institution like Middlebury should not be a selective process; we all should feel the light.

This blog is an effort to open the lines of communication, and create a forum where people can ask questions or post comments–anonymously, if they like–about administrative decision-making and current initiatives. In my role as Vice President for Administration and chair of the Staff Resources Committee, I also plan to use the space to update readers on issues related to staffing at the College and other projects that pass through my office.

We are, as the wallpaper adorning this site makes clear, a small liberal arts college in rural Vermont.  But our landscape is more complicated than the map suggests, and we can and should do a better job at explaining how and why things happen across this campus.