Web Strategy For Campus Pro-Life Clubs

I had the opportunity to address pro-life campus leaders from universities across Canada last week during an NCLN conference call. These are the notes from my address.

The “webmaster” role…

  • term I’ve clung to, but am giving up
  • Andrew MacKinnon: “I don’t think I’d want to work for an organization that has a webmaster position open. Web strategy is a senior role and not for a jobber… [source] In fact I think that the term webmaster should be a red flag that an organization is about ten years behind. Web is part of every role.” [source]
  • Position should be more like “Chief Information/Technology Officer,” someone who helps guide the information strategy (particularly with digital technology, and especially online) for the group, so that other roles can participate
    • it shouldn’t just be “the guy or girl who updates the website,” but the person who guides the strategy for the entire group
    • From Wikipedia: “Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a job title commonly given to the most senior executive in an enterprise responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support enterprise goals… Typically, the CIO in a large enterprise delegates technical decisions to employees more familiar with details… The CIO role is also sometimes used interchangeably with the chief technology officer role, although they may be slightly different. When both positions are present in an organization, the CIO is generally responsible for processes and practices supporting the flow of information, whereas the CTO is generally responsible for technology infrastructure.”
    • The focus of a CTO may be contrasted with that of a CIO in that, whereas a CIO is predisposed to solve problems by acquiring and adapting ready-made technologies, a CTO is predisposed to solve problems by developing new technologies. In practice, each will typically blend both approaches… A CTO is focused on technology needed for products and technology sold to clients where a CIO is an internal facing job focused on technology to run the company and maintaining the platform to run services to sell to clients.
  • so, that’s been in the back of my mind as I’ve prepared for this talk and as we’ve going through this term and preparing for the next at UofT

Social Media for Pro-Lifers

  • I addressed this in more detail in my article in the November NCLN newsletter
  • why social media?
    • broadcast versus communication
    • multi-directional (social)
  • Social Media Tools
    • input tools like Google Reader and Twitter/Identi.ca help you direct streams of information towards you (grow bigger ears, inbox for the web)
    • output tools like a blog, Twitter/Identi.ca help spread
    • collaborative tools, like wikis or Google Wave/Docs, can help a team coordinate…
      • though I’ve found that our team is small enough that straight up email often works best

The “tools” are for the “CIO/CTO”…

  • it’s not enough to just introduce people to the tools
  • you need to teach them how to use them by showing them how they work — showing, not telling
    • someone needs to set an example, invite others to participate, break the ice

What we’ve done with UTSFL…

  • I’ve experimented over the past few years, gone from simply “updating the site” to playing with forums and a blog
  • I find campus groups are usually fairly good at internal communication (e.g. mailing list, Facebook group), but there are real opportunities for an activist club, a club with a message to spread, to go beyond that and extend its voice beyond campus
  • this past spring, we stepped it up a notch, putting the blog at the centre, starting to microblog, and integrating other services like delicious, youtube, ping.fm, friendfeed, facebook pages into the mix
  • the blog is the centre: daily posts — club announcements, news, opinion analysis, focus on what’s happening on other university campuses in Canada
    • impact…
      • when Lakehead lost its club status, our post taking apart Josh Kolic’s open letter to students shot to the top of Google search results and received hundreds of views, sparked debate in comments
      • connections with other bloggers formed (shared links, social media for pro-lifers post was passed around, etc)
      • internal benefits to the group…
        • awareness about Bill C-384, news and happenings, bringing information to members
    • we haven’t yet been burned for anything written on the blog… one word of caution is that things you write can be used against you — so, proofread, have some guidelines (i.e. attack arguments and actions, not people, etc. — i.e. the regular code of behaviour that governs the club)
    • plans moving forward…
      • shared links / writing room
        • trying to use my experience to encourage broader participation, increase contributions from other members
        • work more as a team
      • blogging protocols and tips
        • make it easy for someone to start contributing
        • art of blogging
          • process, not product
          • perspective, not comprehensive (in the scope of a post)
          • it’s about the stream

Suggestions for potential club CIO/CTOs…

  • if you don’t have a blog already, start one at WordPress.com
    • benefits of free (libre) software
    • blog should be primary website engine — that’s how Google sees it anyways
    • what to write about? read other blogs (like ours!)
    • there’s confusion with facebook groups/page, but if you setup a page, you can pull your blog posts in and get some newsfeed love
  • start talking about a general information strategy, rather than getting one member to update an otherwise static website
    • experiment — the cost of failure is low
      • digital creativity cycle (what to say? procrastinate, etc… finally do it! no one cares)
      • new landscape, rapidly changing
    • think about ways to encourage participation from other people in your group
      • talk to other group members about what you’re doing
      • specifically tap members on the shoulder and ask them to contribute specific things to the blog
  • There were a couple great questions too. One question was about comment moderation and whether or not that was a strain on resources. Honestly, we’ve been getting more and more comments, but it’s still only a few each week. It takes a long time to build up enough of a community or a reputation to have to worry about moderating comments. I tend to apply the procrastination principle — get started now, worry about it later if/when it becomes a problem (and if it does, that means you’re doing something right!).

    Another question was about the size of our campus and whether a blog would work for a much smaller university than U of T. I responded that our campus is pretty irrelevant to the blog. Our blog is very much an outward facing component of the group. It’s how we address the world, participate in a broader conversation. If anything, the biggest internal effect are blog posts coming through to our Facebook page and into our members newsfeeds to help keep them better informed, but much of our approach is about people off campus too. We’re talking about the issues, not just U of T specific events or concerns.

    Lastly, I was asked whether the blog help’s people get more involved with the group, or whether it’s people who are already involved with the group who are more likely to get involved with the blog. I think it’s really a mix of both, the cause and effect works both ways.

    Anyways, as outlined in the notes, we hope to kick up our digital strategy a notch in the second semester, so expect (*fingers crossed*) some more varied activity here, and more of my thoughts on our strategy going forwards.

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