Wednesday, September 30, 2009

4 Ways Social Media is Changing Business

I found today's post this morning and, in my opinion, it sums up exactly what we we are trying to accomplish at the CareerTech Testing Center. Many people are still "sitting on the fence" when it comes to social media and they are wondering, "Can it really help my business?" "Can I trust my employees not to abuse it?"

Social media is all about making a connection with your customers and developing a relationship that will help your company in the long run.  I also believe that we shouldn't expect our customers to communicate through our chosen means.  They should communicate through their chosen means, which is what customer service is all about!

I hope you enjoy the following article by Soren Gordhamer that I read on Mashable. Soren writes and consults on ways we can more creatively and effectively use the technologies of our age, including social media. He is the author of “Wisdom 2.0″ (HarperOne, 2009). You can follow him on Twitter at @SorenG.

4 Ways Social Media is Changing Business

Social media is helping to forge a new era in business transparency and engagement, creating both new challenges and opportunities. Gone are the days when companies could rely on carefully crafted press releases or flashy ad campaigns to communicate with their customers, often in an attempt to convince people that their products are the best in the field. In the age of social media, the rules have changed radically, and people today demand a more honest and direct relationship with the companies with which they do business.

Companies now face a clear choice: wall themselves in and become increasingly controlled and hidden, or use social media and other means to reveal their human side, welcome transparency, and forge new relationships with their customers. The old game is undoubtedly over, and the question now is, “what can businesses do to transition and succeed in this new era?”

Below are the top four broad shifts that social media is causing in business. Please feel free to share any others you have observed in the comments.

1. From “Trying to Sell” to “Making Connections”

In order to change the context of customer relationships from trying to sell to seeking to engage and connect with customers, companies need to use various means, including sites like Facebook and Twitter, to socially interact with people. The most popular brands in social media tend to post less about their products or services and more about things that help their customers get to know the people and personality of a company. Their goal is less about “selling” and more “engaging” — and, as a result, through such engagement people feel more comfortable doing business with those companies.

Jeff Swartz, who is the President and CEO of the Timberland Company, is a great example of this. Swartz uses his Twitter account to show his personality by tweeting about his life and the social issues he is passionate about, rather than the shoes his company makes. He also links from his Twitter bio to Timberland’s Earthkeeper project that supports environmental awareness, rather than to the company homepage, in an effort to make a connection with people around something that goes beyond just the products Timberland sells.

Lesson: Release fewer “official statements” and more personal ones that help you make a connection to your customers and audience.

2. From “Large Campaigns” to “Small Acts”
With sites like Facebook and Twitter, we all essentially have our own broadcasting network, and businesses are beginning to see that rather than spending millions of dollars on traditional ad campaigns, small acts can be more valuable because people will inevitably share such experiences through the social web.

In the past, if we had a very bad or very good experience with a company, it could take days or weeks to tell all of our friends and relatives about it. Today, in a matter of minutes, we can let all our friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter know about what happened. When every customer experience can be easily and widely broadcast, small issues become super important.

Loic Le Meur, CEO of startup software company Seesmic, once told me that one of the most important jobs of a CEO today is to hear what people are saying about the company’s product across social media channels, and to respond to them directly. In fact, much of his Twitter stream is @replies to people commenting on his company’s product.

Bigger companies, such as Southwest Airlines and Comcast are using Twitter in the same way, making sure customers’ concerns are addressed. Because bad experiences are broadcast just as fast and just as easily as the good, it pays for companies to pay attention to the one-on-one customer relationships forged via social media.

Lesson: Instead of only relying on big campaigns, make authentic, helpful relationships and communication the new campaign.

3. From “Controlling Our Image” to “Being Ourselves”
Of course companies need to have employee policies, and there is such a thing as bad press, but look at the most popular companies in the era of social media, and you’ll generally find the ones that give their employees freedom to be themselves in online spaces. The goal should no longer be to create a very controlled and polished image that everyone in a company tries to reinforce, but rather to give employees the means necessary to be human beings that can put a friendly face on the corporation.

I am not sure how NBC directs the social media efforts of their employees, but in watching NBC newscaster Ann Curry (@AnnCurry) on Twitter it is clear that she is not simply trying to get people to watch her shows. Curry is someone who speaks out about women’s rights, deeply cares about justice, and likes to quote the Persian poet, Rumi — there is a person there, not a company representative, and as such, I am much more likely to pay attention when and if she does talk about any of her television shows.

John Nack, the Principal Product Manager for Photoshop at Adobe, offers another great example. Adobe is a company that smartly encourages and provides the means for their employees to blog, and anyone who reads Nack’s blog will notice that Adobe doesn’t put many restrictions on what people write about. Nack’s blog is focused almost exclusively on his area of interest — graphic design and photo manipulation — but he doesn’t post solely about Adobe products. Many of the interesting art projects and articles he links to have nothing to do with Adobe and some may even have been created using software from competing companies.

Lesson: Forget the unified company image, give staff the freedom to be themselves, and trust that the relationships that they build will help the company in the long run.

4. From “Hard to Reach” to “Available Everywhere”
To engage with customers, it is no longer enough to have an email address and customer service number on one’s website. Today, people want to interact with and engage businesses via their chosen means of communication, whether that is Twitter, Facebook, discussion forums, or a feedback site like Get Satisfaction().

If I want to communicate with a company, I tend to look them up on Twitter first. Knowing that I can communicate with a company on the networks upon which I am already most active makes me feel more comfortable doing business with them, because I know that if I have an issue, there is someone at the company I can communicate with through those means.

Companies like Dell, for example, have fully embraced multiple channels of support. Their community site lists all the ways customers can connect with them through Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, forums, blogs, email, and more. Dell wants people to be able to connect with them through whatever channel is most comfortable.

Lesson: Rather than expect customers to communicate through your chosen means, allow them to do so through their chosen means.

The New Business Paradigm in the Age of Social Media
In this new era of social media, companies are asked to be increasingly transparent and personal. Of course, traditional advertising and press releases will still have their place, but social sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow a whole new type of communication to take place that has previously been unknown to most businesses. Possibly more important for businesses than getting a large number of followers on social media sites, is following through on the opportunity to forge more genuine and direct connections with their customers.

Businesses who choose not to adapt to the new culture will be at an increasing disadvantage, as their customers slowly build personal relationships with their competitors. We are now in the age of open communication, engaged dialogue, and transparency, and business success may now have less to do with the size of ad budgets, but on the quality of interactions with customers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top 100 Drafting Blogs

The CareerTech Testing Center was recently listed as one of the "Top 100 Drafting Blogs" by maintains informative content for both prospective online drafting students as well as the drafting community at large. They strive to produce top quality articles and site content which will help inform and educate others about online options when it comes to obtaining a degree from a drafting school. In addition they also provide feature articles which appeal to the drafting community at large through their Drafting School Blog.

The Oklahoma Tech Prep Blog is listed as well!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Thrill of Accidental Learning -- and Teaching

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "serendipity" is "The faculty of making fortuitous and unexpected discoveries by accident."

Does anybody else remember the days when you used a set of encyclopedias to conduct your research?  I remember pulling an encyclopedia off the shelf and learning about so many wonderful things that were under that certain letter of the alphabet.  I would eventually get to my research, but I learned so much along the way.

 Before travelling on a vacation, do you research the internet, travel guides, etc. and basically plan every minute of your day?  I do alot of that, but sometimes I enjoy travelling without the research.  Just learn and experience your surroundings without any preconceived notions.  You know...that whole "serendipity" thing.

I just read a very interesting article by Owen Edwards on Edutopia.  I hope you enjoy it, because it does make you stop and think.  All of the new technology and methods for learning is unbelievable and I really enjoy it, but have we hindered or helped our chance to learn and teach by accident?  Let me know what you think and enjoy the article!  J.T.

The Thrill of Accidental Learning -- and Teaching
by Owen Edwards
 An excellent essay by Damon Darlin some Sundays back in the New York Times, "Serendipity: Lost in the Digital Deluge," got me thinking -- not for the first time -- about the joys of accidental learning.

A couple of years ago, I had written an editor's note for Edutopia in praise of focus, hoping it might be a counterweight to the newly perceived "virtue" of multitasking. My point then was that I'd never known anyone to succeed in a career without the ability to focus his or her mind, and that the more students deal with the fragmenting effects of digital technology, the more that ability is weakened.

But the Darlin article brought to mind another approach to the subject, an idea about what might be called soft focus instead of sharp focus. The digital technology that makes me nervous can actually be quite tightly focused -- not a bad thing in a busy world, one would think.

When savvy users go to a search engine, they know that the more specific their entry, the less browsing through results they'll have to do. So they figure out how to sharpen the descriptors before clicking on Search. The better they get at this, the less extraneous information they'll have to deal with.

A similar kind of pre-editing takes place when Amazon recommends books based on what we've ordered previously, or even shown interest in. Ditto with movie suggestions from Netflix, which are based not on the goal of opening up a new areas of interest for us (as, for instance, the omnivore's mix of Turner Classic Movies might), but on giving us what we already like.

Vast stores of digital memory and cookies tirelessly keep track of who we are, where we've been, and what we've done there, so the idea of intellectual accidents is subverted.

Which brings me to serendipity. This is a word coined by Horace Walpole, derived from an old Persian folktale about the three sons of the king of the mythical land of Serendip. Through astute observation of clues that good luck brought their way, these clever fellows were able to describe a lame camel, what it was carrying, and who was leading it, all without ever seeing the creature.

Thus, serendipity is the combination of knowledge gained by a combination of accident and sagacity; it is the peripheral vision of learning.

When I was a teenager, I was determined to assemble an impressive vocabulary. The reason was not so much to build a writer's cache of words -- at the time my ambition was to become a race car driver -- but to impress girls. (Yes, that really was a viable way to impress girls back then.) So I always kept a dictionary handy when reading a book. Sometimes, when the book was by a word-intensive author such as Vladimir Nabokov, I might turn to the dictionary three or four times a page.

In those days, long before online dictionaries, I would find the word I was looking for (some Nabokovian favorite such as tessellated or quotidian) and then, serendipitously, I'd stay around to collect three or four other words that were close by.

This is still a workable approach. For instance, if a student picks up the American Heritage Dictionary to look up, say, serendipity, she or he will find the definition "The faculty of making fortuitous and unexpected discoveries by accident." Similar definitions appear in the Internet dictionaries, but there's a difference: Online, the word appears alone.

In the printed dictionary, it shares the page with dozens of words that happen to start with "ser." So that student looking up serendipity might also stumble on seraph, a celestial being having three sets of wings (kind of an angelic dragonfly), or the far less sublime serf, a slave, especially a member of the lowest feudal class in medieval Europe -- a three-for-one bonus.

What's so important about serendipity is that accidental information can change lives and offer unplanned paths that become highways. A couple of years ago, Edutopia ran a feature called "Learning Curves," in which prominent achievers told what they'd learned when they were supposed to be learning something else. Mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade came to her passion for music while studying French, Smithsonian magazine editor in chief Carey Winfrey related how he'd learned about coping with setbacks while in the U.S. Marine Corps officer candidate school, and Donald Trump said he learned about how to do business by reading biographies (but not those of businesspeople).

The point was that for them, digression was education.

Here's a good example, also from the New York Times, in a review of a book about the empire building era of Athens called Lords of the Sea:

"[Author] John R. Hale was a freshman at Yale in 1969 when an offhand comment from the legendary classics professor Donald Kagan changed the direction of his life. Mr. Hale was taking Mr. Kagan's introduction to Greek History, and when the professor learned his student was rowing for the freshman crew . . . he made a suggestion: 'He told me that I should investigate Athenian history from the vantage point of a rower's bench. It was an assignment, I found, for life.'"

Why should we worry about losing the happenstance delights of serendipity when we now have technology that encourages efficiency? After all, there's never any gain without some loss.

And why should teachers encourage young minds to wander when there's work to be done, curriculum goals to be met, tests to be taken?

Well, I'm not making the case for taking our eyes off the prize (proficiency in the subject, good test scores, high promotion and graduation rates, and so on). But I think there's a case to be made for more occasions to say "but I digress" when giving students a chance to stumble on the unexpected.

For instance, what harm could a little diversion into The Art of the Fugue be for math students? Or a side trip into the hauntingly eloquent letters of Civil War soldiers during a history class? (Who knows what eloquence they might inspire?) Or a brief digression about the technique of actors when reading Romeo and Juliet or Death of a Salesman?

With so many students, so little time, and so much competition from the noisy world beyond the classroom, it's clearly not plausible for teachers to be ever more expansive generalists, weaving a complex tapestry of alluring colors and textures into the fabric of what must be covered in any given course. But a few minutes taken out for what modern marketers call "value-added" material may pay off in all sorts of ways that shape students' lives.

Call it serendipity.

Do you believe in the happy accident in learning? How do you encourage them?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

H1N1 - What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

"Hindsight is 20/20" so this may help those of you that haven't succumbed to the swine flu.  As for me and my family... it's too late.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided the following helpful suggestions:
  • Stay informed. This website will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
  • Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • Take everyday actions to stay healthy.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  •  Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
  • Call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.
Here are a few other sites that you might find useful:
  • Clean Up the Classroom by Clorox. This site offers free lesson plans, worksheets and tips to help keep your classroom cleaner.
  • 10 Videos About Flu Prevention by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These are the finalists from the Department's PSA contest that asked people to create a video that will inform and motivate people to take steps that will help prevent the spread of the flu. The winner will get $2,500.00 and the voting ends on September 16th.
Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for the idea for today's post!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

5 Ways We're Diminishing Learning by Assuming Face-to-Face Instruction Is Best

I just received the following article from June Weis at SREB and I thought it was worth sharing.

According to June, "This article appears in today’s T.H.E. Journal (9/2). The author makes a strong statement about “dangerous” assumptions such as that face-to-face instructional exchanges are always more effective than online. Many teachers struggle with making classes relevant and interesting for students, and, more often than not, students are passive in the process rather than actively learning new knowledge. Most schooling is still based on preset standards and suited to specific testing in that preset area. Worth reading….."

5 Ways We're Diminishing Learning by Assuming Face-to-Face Instruction Is Best

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

Here are the details from MIT Press:

Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg in an abridged version of their book-in-progress, The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (FREE Download), argue that traditional institutions must adapt or risk a growing mismatch between how they teach and how this new generation learns.  Forms and models of learning have evolved quickly and in fundamentally new directions. Yet how we teach, where we teach, who teaches, and who administers and serves have changed only around the edges.  (This report was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grant making initiative on Digital Media and Learning.)

Here is a short summary by Jonathan Tarr in the HASTAC blog:

Key Findings

Young people today are learning in new ways that are both collective and egalitarian.
They are contributing to Wikipedia, commenting on blogs, teaching themselves programming and figuring out work-arounds to online video games. They follow links embedded in articles to build a deeper understanding. They comment on papers and ideas in an interactive and immediate exchange ofideas. All these acts are collaborative and democratic, and all occur amid a worldwide community of voices.

Universities must recognize this new way of learning and adapt or risk becoming obsolete.
The university model of teaching and learning relies on a hierarchy of expertise, disciplinary divides, restricted admission to those considered worthy, and a focused, solitary area of expertise. However, with participatory learning and digital media, these conventional modes of authority break down.

Today's learning is interactive and without walls.
Individuals learn anywhere, anytime, and with greater ease than ever before. Learning today blurs lines of expertise and tears down barriers to admission. While it has never been confined solely to the academy, today?s opportunities for independent learning have never been easier nor more diverse.

Ten Principles for Redesigning Learning Institutions

The authors offer ten principles that can guide universities and other institutions of learning in adapting to learning in a digital age. They focus on college-aged students, although the recommendations also apply generally for all age groups.

Self-learning: Today's learners are self-learners. They browse, scan, follow links in mid-paragraph to related material. They look up information and follow new threads. They create their own paths to understanding.

Horizontal structures: Rather than top-down teaching and standardized curriculum, today?s learning is collaborative; learners multitask and work out solutions together on projects. Learning strategy shifts from a focus on information as such to learning to judge reliable information. It shifts from memorizing information to finding reliable sources. In short, it shifts from learning that to learning how.

From presumed authority to collective credibility: Reliance on the knowledge authorities or certified experts is no longer tenable amid the growing complexities of collaborative and interdisciplinary learning. A key challenge in collaborative environments will be fostering and managing levels of trust.

A de-centered pedagogy: To ban or limit collective knowledge sources such as Wikipedia in classrooms is to miss the importance of collaborative knowledge-making. Learning institutions should instead adopt a more inductive, collective pedagogy based on collective checking, inquisitive skepticism, and group assessment.

Networked learning: Learning has traditionally often assumed a winner-take-all competitive form rather than a cooperative form. One cooperates in a classroom only if it maximizes narrow self-interest. Networked learning, in contrast, is committed to a vision of the social that stresses cooperation, interactivity, mutual benefit, and social engagement. The power of ten working interactively will invariably outstrip the power of one looking to beat out the other nine.

Open source education: Traditional learning environments convey knowledge via overwhelmingly copyright-protected publications. Networked learning, contrastingly, is an ?open source? culture that seeks to share openly and freely in both creating and distributing knowledge and products.

Learning as connectivity and interactivity: Challenges in a networked learning environment are not an individual?s alone. Digital tools and software make working in isolation on a project unnecessary. Networking through file-sharing, data sharing, and seamless, instant communication is now possible.

Lifelong learning: The speed of change in this digital world requires individuals to learn anew, face novel conditions, and adapt at a record pace. Learning never ends. How we know has changed radically.

Learning institutions as mobilizing networks: Rather than thinking of learning institutions as a bundle of rules, regulations, and norms governing the actions within its structure, new institutions must begin to think of themselves as mobilizing networks. These institutions mobilize flexibility, interactivity, and outcomes. Issues of consideration in these institutions are ones of reliability and predictability alongside flexibility and innovation.

Flexible scalability and simulation: Learning institutions must be open to changing scale. Students may work in small groups on a specific topic or together in an open-ended and open-sourced contribution.

These ten principles, the authors argue, are the first steps in redesigning learning institutions to fit the new digital world. By assessing some of the institutional barriers to change, the authors hope to mobilize institutions to envision formal, higher education as part of a continuum of the networked world that students engage in online today.

Besides the free download, you can also order print copies (ISBN: 978-0-262-51359-3 Price: $14.00)
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