What Are We Tweeting For?

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.

6 thoughts on “What Are We Tweeting For?

  1. Ryan K.

    Sarah probably doesn’t need to hear more from me about this but maybe I can help inspire some discussion so others can chime in.

    I think it’s wonderful that social media at Midd is the responsibility of a “ragtag crew.” Having no specific owner can hopefully allow for some experimentation and cross-campus teamwork. From what I remember, this loose collection of people then could all claim success for the Aunt Des videos even if they were produced by Communications. Even with Murmur to a lesser extent, there is a shared sense of “hey, that’s cool” which makes us feel a sense of ownership.

    But notice that in both examples the College is taking a primarily broadcast view of social media. I would argue that there is very little listening going on outside of various Middlebury blogs which are somewhat buried in the Middlebury web. My suggestion would be to really “get” social media, you need to do a lot of listening and then be able to act upon what you hear. And people are already talking at Middlebury — take alumni tweets about reunion this past weekend. That content is gold but no one even sees who @replies to @middlebury. @middalumni hasn’t tweeted in 80 days and neither account makes a point to @reply anyone. Compare @williamscollege which live-tweeted their graduation and consistently engages their community on Twitter.

    Perhaps counterintuitively, students at Midd take their queue from the College’s view of social media. See the Solar Decathlon twitter account (@middsd). That student-led team is not hindered by any formal College rules on social media but they treat their Twitter account, blog, and a little bit of FB as broadcast tools whereas students personally don’t use their own social media like that.

    To be clear, I’m not saying Middlebury should jump all over Twitter, but I am saying that we’re missing something if we’re not listening and actively pursuing two-way social media channels. It’s scary when students, alumni, faculty, staff, townspeople, etc. can “talk back,” but it is worth the investment to build an infrastructure that can convey the warmth and depth of the real-life community online. In fact, the most genuine and authentic way to represent Middlebury online is to bring the personality of the community forward by mirroring the openness and dialogue that already happens across campus.

    1. Sarah Franco

      Thank you for chiming in, Ryan. I think you bring up some excellent points about Middlebury’s use of social media and I hope our “ragtag crew” can discuss them at our next gathering.

      I can’t really say for sure why many of Middlebury’s social media users go for a broadcast rather than interactive approach, but I bet it may have a lot to do with time crunch. It’s no secret that Midd staff are a hardworking lot–with so much to do, are social media easy to keep up with? Perhaps not.

  2. Ian McBride

    A quick note: the new version of the Campus Map includes integration with all of the foursquare locations you’ve set up. Pick one of the locations and view it’s “Address” section to see any foursquare locations associated with that address, their current mayor and the number of checkins.

    We’ll be rolling out a lot more features for the Campus Map shortly, so stay tuned!

    1. Sarah Franco

      That’s pretty slick, Ian. It looks all of the buildings marked with an orange icon have a mayor.

      I noticed each campus location has a Photos tab. Are those photos uploaded by Middlebury, or are they geotagged photos pulled in from other websites? If not, that might be a fun feature to include.

      1. Ian McBride

        Thanks. The orange markers actually indicate places which have stories from the Murmur project. I’m hoping to get a better icon for that soon. There are Mayors for quite a few of the locations.

        The photos that are currently shown were uploaded by Middlebury and are actually quite old (check out the Voter Hall interior for a blast from the past). We’re working on getting those updated. Great suggestion about adding geolocated images! I can add in images using the Flickr API. Any other sources of geolocated photos I should check out?

        edit: The map now includes photos from Flickr. Any photo geotagged within 0.1km of a building and uploaded since January 1, 2008 can be seen on the location’s page under Photos.

      2. Sarah Franco

        Extrapolation fail on my part, Ian!

        I think flickr is sufficient for pulling in geotagged images. I just took a look at the implementation and I think it looks great. Thanks!

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