Auburn Plainsman: Editorial Board’s Strategy and Tactics Questioned by Alumni and Fans

Danger, Will Robinson. This is probably longer than you would like. I’m trying to give the story some background, as little exists in the editorial (and ensuing comments) this crisis has spawned. I’m sure I don’t have all the details, but this may help to better put the controversy into perspective.

I love Auburn. I think you know that, if you’ve read this site even a few times. The background is at the top of this post, so if you don’t want that (although I think it is important) go to the event.

Some background. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of The Auburn Plainsman staff. I am also not (thank goodness) involved in this controversy in any way. I’m a spectator.

Full disclosure: I have had many dealings with the Plainsman over the years, ranging from stories to purchasing advertising. The vast majority of those dealings were very positive and productive, but sure … there were a few bad ones. I can only think of two or three bad experiences, out of hundreds. Still, that being said, I care about, and respect, the Plainsman and wish for it and the journalism program to prosper.

In the past, I have advised the Auburn Glomerata, the campus yearbook. I was also the station manager for WEGL, Auburn’s student radio station and I founded Eagle Eye TV, the Auburn student television program. I offer those bits to illustrate that I do have some familiarity with student media on Auburn’s campus. Finally, the journalism program resides within the department where I teach, Auburn University’s Department of Communication and Journalism.

That introduction offered, I tend to look at controversies from a public relations perspective, so this recent kerfluffle has caught my attention.

I’m writing about this, at the risk of being beaten senseless by my colleagues, because it serves as a good case study for crisis management. I know my students will be talking about this, as it has happened in our own front yard. What follows are only representations of my observations. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of anyone at Auburn University.

Auburn people love their institutions. I’m one of them. The Auburn Plainsman is a time honored institution, too. For the record, “The Plainsman (is) the second most honored collegiate newspaper in the nation” and has 23 college Pacemaker Awards to prove it. You’ll note that their last award was in 2005. That may well play into the frustration exhibited by the current Plainsman staff.

This latest controversy shows that The Plainsman deserves better than they are getting, in many ways.

The Event: On Thursday, a very unhappy experience transpired. The Auburn Plainsman student editorial board chose to post an editorial on the front page. It is unhappy for the Plainsman staff and for the targets of their editorial. It is unhappy for everyone.

To say that they ran it on the front page, however, does not do this incident justice. A front page editorial is intended to draw attention to something the editorial board deems important to the community. To place it above the fold, gives the editorial greater significance. But, to run it above the flag/nameplate is really the same as a declaration of war, or peace (see images). Well, that’s what they’ve done … but on a local (mostly internal) battlefield.  Hey, even headlines of some of the biggest events in history didn’t make it above the flag.  Two below did, two didn’t.

US Declares WarBE001129victory_japan_surrenderspeace-headline

al_bn-smallNow, to place this in current day perspective, more and more newspapers are playing with their front page layout and design. Many will now run news boxes above the flag, even wrapped around the flag/nameplate. Here’s a perfect example from The Birmingham News.

In defense of the students, information above the flag is no longer so rare or to be unexpected in other papers. It may be that the tone of this editorial – combined with its banner screaming placement – is what helped set people off.  But, since it was such an unexpected event and really deals with internal fights, was this strategy wise?  Yes, there are implications for the community, but perhaps the students over-estimated their worth in the eyes of many readers.  Hey, it’s possible.

Looking at many front page examples you’ll see that generally most news goes below the flag/nameplate and rarely (I’m still looking for examples) does an editorial go there. If you can think of an editorial above the flag on a newspaper throughout history, please share it with me.

This is pretty much unprecedented for the Plainsman. Most all of their issues (that I can remember) have flags at the top of the page. I’m sure they have run front page editorials before, but none like this (that I can remember). For context, front page editorials are not unprecedented for newspapers. (See here and here.) In fact, they seem to happen quite often lately, especially with the wars and economic turmoil we’re experiencing.

Why so much attention to the flag/nameplate and the editorial’s placement? Well, in journalism circles that placement is considered pretty important. Some might even call it sacred space. “Sometimes editors have really rigid ideas about what can go on the front page,” said Eric Deggans, TV and media critic at the St. Petersburg Times, in an American Journalism Review story (unrelated to this story).

I’m a film buff, so the Plainsman’s editorial initially struck me like something out of Citizen Kane. If you’ve seen the movie, Kane publishes a statement of principles on the front page of his newspaper. The Auburn Plainsman’s motto is “A spirit that is not afraid.” Well, they certainly weren’t afraid to publish this editorial. Now, in the movie, Kane goes on to violate his stated principles repeatedly throughout his newspaper empire’s life. This action by the Auburn Plainsman’s Editorial Board certainly doesn’t equal the fictional Kane’s transgressions, of course, but it does raise questions about fairness and the judgment of youth.

Many Plainsman alumni have voiced their concerns in comments on the Web and the majority are not happy with the current editorial board’s decision, or tactics.

The setup. The Auburn Plainsman published a front page editorial, above the fold … in fact, above the flag/nameplate, in the Thursday, February 12 edition. Download the front page PDF.

The main focus of their attack is on the paper’s general manager, a university employee. Now, I’m referring to this as an “attack” because the story came out of nowhere. There had been no coverage in the paper that I know of, and there had been no previous editorials inside the paper. I hadn’t even heard of all this internal fighting – and I teach here. Of course, that’s not too uncommon. ;o) I’m usually the last to know anything.

Here is part of what the nine member editorial board had to say:

We have lost confidence in the current management of the business side to reverse this dangerous trend (declining pages & ad revenue). While these are hard economic times, we believe new management of our business operations is needed now. It is because of this belief, we feel our general manager should be replaced by those who hired her.

2.12.2009-A1

In campus backstory talk (combined with listserv posts by Auburn Plainsman alumni, staff and advisors – present and past), we learn that this is a problem that has been brewing (if not boiling over) for years. It is not a new controversy and reports from those involved say that negotiations through traditional administration channels have been repeatedly pursued by both students and faculty. Advisors and students have had discussions with the Auburn Dean of Students and the Auburn President. The feeling is that their concerns have not been acted upon. Frustration has set in. Big time.

Again, to remind you of the passion people feel for this student newspaper, let’s remember that The Auburn Plainsman is not just any student newspaper. Aside from the paper’s many awards, alumni of the newspaper have gone on to illustrious careers in local community newspapers, as well as state, regional and national newspapers and magazines. Of late, Cynthia Tucker (a 1976 grad) has received a Pulitzer Prize for her work as editor of the Atlanta Journal’s editorial page. Serena Roberts recently broke the story about the use of steroids by the New York Yankee’s Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez. Roberts writes for Sports Illustrated magazine. Those two are just a sampling, I assure you.

The list goes on. So many local newspapers in the south (and around the nation) have Auburn alumni on their staff and, in some instances, leading their paper as editor or publisher. Again, this is not a story about just any college newspaper. In some, perhaps many instances, the Plainsman’s alumni have a stronger connection to the paper than they have to the university. This is one tight, protective family. They love the institution they work(ed) for and want it to uphold/retain the proud reputation and traditions they experienced.

Critique

Although I’ve shared some opinions above, I’ve tried to remain fair in my observations.   I’ll continue to do so and share my main critique and observations of the editorial here.

The editorial begins with the statement, “This is not about us, the current Plainsman staff.”  (Emphasis mine.)   The editorial then goes on to contain 25 instances of the word “we” throughout the copy. One instance is in the headline and another is repeated in a pullquote.

Um, you don’t claim this is about the institution and then talk about yourselves repeatedly throughout your editorial. I believe this is a big reason why so many have had such a negative reaction to the editorial. Many of the comments in response to the editorial have stated, essentially, that the editorial board should wake up and grow up … as in, welcome to the real world of newspapers in the 21st century.  Also, seasoned journalists say, hey – you’re not going to like the decisions or work quality of your bosses all the time.  It goes on…

Next, no one is really speaking publicly about this. That silence raises natural questions. Had the following questions, for example, been addressed in the editorial – this negative backlash may well not have happened.

Some questions:

  • Did the current or former advisers know about the impending publication of this editorial?
  • Did the advisers (both formal and informal) offer counsel to the students? Did the students seek their counsel?
  • Do you know that in this particular dynamic relationship, the Plainsman’s advisor may really only advise. They cannot tell the students what to do. Such is the way the relationships are setup.
      This is important. The ultimate decision, as I understand it, is in the hands of the student editor’s hands with regard to what get’s published. I believe that the editorial board would vote as to their support for adding their name to any editorial. I do not know what their process is, however. It appears that all of the student editorial management names are on this editorial.
  • Did the students consult a lawyer before proceeding with this editorial? Some have suggested that their editorial is an unfair attack on one person, the general manager. They did not name her, but they did identify the job title and there is only one person in that job. She may buy ink by the barrel, but she has no control over how the ink is used – the students do. And, they’ve just spilled a whole barrel on her. So, was this editorial fair to her?
  • Did the students do any pre-screening of influential Plainsman alumni to gauge support for such an act?
  • Did the students consult with the Journalism Advisory Board, a group of journalists (mostly, if not all, alumni) that serve to advise the academic program?
  • Why didn’t the students do a better job writing the editorial? Why didn’t they first identify questions that would likely arise and then answer them as best they could. Associated stories, sidebars and more could have filled the voids.  They certainly had room in print and online to do all of that.  It just doesn’t make much sense.

I really don’t know the answers to those questions. It just seems that had those issues been addressed, those things been done, this may not have played out the way it has.

Also, you should know, The Plainsman has (and has had) an online presence for some time. However, they have never really embraced it. Look at many of the comments and you’ll see that is a repeated theme. Now, had the students stated that they actually have a new online (much more involved) newspaper coming within the year (which they do indeed have coming) … this may have helped to deter some of those comments.  Had they illustrated their own attempts at innovation and attempts to rectify the differences, that too would have helped.  But, look at the editorial.  Not much there.

Back channel talk says the Plainsman’s new online strategy is something they have been working on and it will be launched soon. Again, there is too little background information shared by the editorial board and too little context provided to bolster their claims. The absence of this rather compelling information only served to hurt the editorial board’s reception by their readers. It is almost as if the editorial board is their own worst enemy. Perhaps they could not sufficiently step back and fully analyze their strategy and tactics before moving forward. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

In the comments section on the editorial’s Web page, the sentiment currently runs strongly against the editorial board’s decision to run the front page editorial. On the alumni listserv, the sentiment also seems to be mostly against the decision. However, the tone on the listserv has several instances of much wiser counsel and somewhat calmer evaluation of all that has transpired over the last few days.

The comments on the editorial’s Web page have even turned ugly. The discussion has spilled over to blogs (here, too), and Twitter. Again, the response there is largely negative toward the editorial board. There are some (as WordPress calls them) “anonymous cowards” taking sides with the editorial board, and some are quite nasty. I don’t know that I’ve seen an attributable positive comment outside of the listserv conversations.  This kind of snarky nastiness cannot serve a positive purpose.  Did the editorial board even think about the online spread of this story?  They have not been responding, at least not in their own names.  Are some of the anonymous comments from the editorial board?

Update: The Birmingham News posted an article (that link is was a MSN cache of the page, it too has been removed) but the article was inexplicably pulled down. A Bama student has published this LiveJournal post. A re-blog of the last post by Charlie with notes. This week, with the Plainsman’s own follow-up editorial sharing greater detail, we also see two Letters to the Editor in the Plainsman, one of which also appears in the O-A News, and this blog post by Charles Apple. Finally, and perhaps the most devastating bit of information to come out, Niki Doyle (a past Plainsman editor) confirms, from the Dean of Students, that the GM had “turned in her retirement paperwork on Dec. 11, 2008. In other words, she had been planning to retire long before this low blow dealt by the editorial board.” That makes the initial editorial seem quite uncalled for and petty.

The comments are all over the place. There are suggestions that these students have damaged some future job options, as the people doing the hiring have seen this and are not pleased. There are anonymous former Plainsman staffers lashing out with their own personal vendettas over perceived unfairness and firings. It is quite ugly.

My point here is that the actions by the editorial board are perceived, so far, by the majority of people interested in the story as a bad decision. Further, the controversy has led to some rather heated and unsavory comments to be exchanged. Even worse, many of these comments have been anonymous, making the environment even more questionable. Had the editorial board done some advance work, speaking with alumni and influentials, before publishing their editorial … some of this could have been avoided. Further, had they not gone from in-house bickering and background discussions with administrators to a front page above the flag editorial, they might have been better received, too.

Look, the editorial may have been justified.  It may bring about positive change.  But, there isn’t sufficient information out there to justify it in the eyes of the majority of alumni and readers who have taken the time to respond, so far.

There is a phrase. “You can’t unring the bell.” The Plainsman has now rung the biggest bell they have. Had they taken their first shot across the bow with a more reasoned, focused editorial inside the paper, then – later on – they might have been able to go to the front page if things didn’t work out as they wished. As it stands now, they have launched all battleships. The first skimish is a failure, IMO, so far. Who knows what this week will bring as people begin to learn about it. With the overwhelming external public feedback being so negative, so far, the Plainsman editorial board is quite sunk without a big turn around in the week to come.

To have run this not only on the font page, but above the fold … even above the flag, well … the Plainsman now has no other recourse. To hit the front page with another editorial on the same topic will seem kinda sad. Again, they cannot un-ring this bell.

I feel like they launched a massive (unexpected, at least publicly) attack on one person when an inside the paper, better written and reasoned, editorial might have been a wiser path. The lack of background information, for those just now learning of the internal squabbles, has also fed the backlash, in my opinion. That, too, could have been avoided with a wiser strategy and tactics.

Some feel that, despite the backlash, these students may have awakened many people to the problems. Well, sure. You drop a very public big ‘ol unexpected bomb in the front yard, people will notice. The general manager has apparently announced that she will retire in about a month. So, the students get their way on that one count, but what about the backlash? We’ll see this week. I really doubt this one is over. The Thursday edition of The Plainsman will likely be quite interesting.

Finally, some wonder how the Student Communication Board will react.

The official student newspaper, the Auburn Plainsman, is under the direct supervision of the Assistant Vice President for Student Life and has a faculty adviser from the Department of Communication and Journalism. Other major student publications (Auburn Circle, Tiger Cub) are under the supervision of the Director of the Foy Student Union. The SGA Code of Laws established a Communication Board, with representatives from Student Affairs, the Department of Communication and Journalism, and the student body.

Something tells me that there will be a meeting about this soon. Ya’ think?

This post certainly doesn’t address all of the issues at hand here, but I do hope it at least helps to put the controversy in a bit more perspective than has existed over the weekend. I hope the discussion proceeds in a much more calm and constructive manner in public, too.  The Plainsman is too important to lose.

The story is now only four days old. Who knows what will happen this week.

Recruiting & Promotion: What Colleges & Universities Should Be Doing Online

Today, I responded to a CASE listserv request about recruiting blogs being launched by colleges. I have a lot of ideas about this kind of campaign. I’m sharing here in hopes you’ll offer some feedback, too. Thanks.

Here’s what I shared on the list…

You’ve likely already thought of these, but FWIW – here goes …

Short story? Video. RSS. Re-purpose the content in other sites – off-campus. Build a team of student influentials.

Ideas? Use video … video is the most popular draw and it can serve to tell the story in a way that really “shows your school” to the potential students. Keep ’em short – under 2 minutes. Video is fun. Video is real people (peers) sharing the school’s identity. They own it (the identity) and create it / morph it every day. Not the school. Allow them to put your view of the identity into their words. (Caveat: set guidelines for your students … what can and cannot be shown.)

Students at campus and off-campus events showing it happening and also interviewing students & others. For the off-campus life stories, see the caveat above. Students interviewing students and faculty about classes / campus environment …. staff interviewing each other, various student services people on campus and more.

Again, keep the videos short. It really is important.

Examples of research? Just days old, Generations online:
http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1093/generations-online

A year old, but good:
http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Social_Media_Final.pdf

Invest in Flip cams or whatever kind of inexpensive, yet good quality, video camera and “give them” to a select group of students. Seven students? Ask them for one video a week. Stagger them out. Get students that are truly bought into the school and program. Even better? Pay them.

For the videos, don’t just put them in the blogs … use TubeMogul.com to post them to 15 or more video sharing networks at once. Maximize the possibilities of organic search to help people find your blogs & videos. Upload the videos to Facebook & MySpace, too. Place links back to your blog landing page in every description of every video on every site … along with your key terms & phrases as tags. Be consistent.

Create a landing page with RSS headlines of all the blogs. Editorial can create a top link set of the best blogs.

Setup a Facebook fan page and MySpace page and any use other useful social networks … RSS the posts into those pages. Re-purpose the content so that it is seen elsewhere, too.

Set a key string of keywords/phrases that get posted in each and every article. (WordPress Tags)

Give the site a prominent front page placement on your school’s gateway … a 150x150px icon, for instance. Yes, I know how difficult that can be to gain acceptance for, but without that buy-in, do any of us really expect success? That’s where many of your potentials will first land in most instances.

Bring the key students together periodically with soda & pizza to get them thinking as a team. Create a team of ambassadors. Give them t-shirts. Build a tight community of believers.

Why more schools don’t do this, I just really don’t understand. Colleges have built in influentials … your students. Is it risky? Sure. Can you monitor and guide it along? Yes, but with a light hand.

Honestly, I don’t understand why all colleges/schools/departments within a university don’t do this in coordination with Admissions. Think of the search possibilities all of that combined constantly new content can drive toward your Web site.

I share all the above at the risk of sounding too “online slap happy.” Still, I really do believe that these tactics can help your strategy of attracting viewers. I’m not drunk on social media koolaid. I recognize the risks. But, with a good relationship with the students you choose, and giving them freedom (feeling empowered to help the school), I believe you can be successful.

On top of all that, this really is an inexpensive way to boost your recruiting program. It isn’t a panacea, but it is the way to go, IMO.

OK, that’s what I shared. There is so much more to it, but I’m truly sold on the possibilities of these types of programs. The one thing that is still missing today? Buy-in from the higher ups. One of the greatest frustrations.

One would think, in a time requiring inexpensive yet worthwhile initiatives, this would be adopted with glee. Still waiting.

Twitter’s Popularity :: Has it Jumped the Shark? I don’t think so

I really don’t like to post something that I fear will cause an unhappy disagreement, but what I read this evening on Social Media Today, Twitter losing its cool, just leaves me scratching my head. It is a post by Niall Cook, the worldwide director of marketing technology at Hill & Knowlton.

Please forgive me for being the one to question Niall’s premise.  I am not trying to be impolite.  After reading the post, I went out for a look.  I found these examples and would like to hear how Niall balances action/practice with his post. You’ll have to go read Twitter losing its cool first, to make sense of my comments and questions here.

Essentially, Niall’s premise is that celebrities using Twitter, and not returning their fans’ (followers) kindness by following back, is just wrong. Niall suggests Twitter has become a place for “audience interaction” – as if it wasn’t before? Hello? I think Niall is suggesting that Twitter is being used inappropriately by these celeb invaders on this heretofore land of the early adopters in an asymmetrical manner, not the two-way symmetrical model we in PR & marketing want the world to follow.

Niall poses a “Twitter Reciprocity” standard. Here’s what I found…

Niall Cook on Twitter:  Following 59;  Followers  328;  Updates  717 – Just under 18% Twitter Reciprocity

SocialMedia2Day on Twitter:  Following 1,734;  Followers 1,995;  Updates  752 – Just under 87% Twitter Reciprocity

SocialMedia2Day is pretty much just a feed of links.  It is certainly not an example of a conversation (or connection).

I suggest that neither Niall or SocialMedia2Day are practicing what Niall’s preaching: “A way to ‘connect’ with the ordinary man and woman on the street.”  Sure, SocialMediaToday does follow back. But, let’s be real folks. No one is likely reading the account, so why not follow back.  It is effectively a bot.

And, while we’re at it, does anyone really think Twitter (still the venue of mostly early adopters – thinking global here) is a place to reach that “ordinary man and woman on the street”?  As if such a person or demographic exists, of course.

Niall seem’s to be practicing his own version of selective contact on Twitter.  That’s fine, and it is Niall’s right – and all of our’s, too, of course.  Anyone might well be seeking to do that.  It isn’t as if the practice weren’t the way our marketing world has worked for decades (if not centuries). If that’s the way you want your Twitter account to work, more power to you.  Isn’t social media supposed to serve the individuals desires, not fit some standards? Wait, I’ll have to recheck my Cluetrain awareness and sensitivity.

But, Niall is still practicing more of an asymmetrical form of communication – one to many (or broadcast).  Where is the two-way symmetrical communication model present in Niall’s own practice on Twitter?  Further, given his critique of celebs with thousands & thousands of users, can one person (without a staff to help) really accomplish the two-way conversation feat on Twitter with a large following (and keep a day job)?

SocialMedia2Day is most definitely using Twitter for the same purpose Niall seems to indict the celebrities for doing.  Some celebs and brands are merely dumping an RSS feed into the stream, just like Social Media Today.  That, again, is perfectly alright.  Still, it does not meet Niall’s standard of connecting with anyone.

One of those celebs, Stephen Fry, is practicing a better connection – Twitter Reciprocity – ratio than Niall and many commercial Twitter users.

Following:  32,053;  Followers:  109,155;  Updates:  1,114  –  A little over 29% Twitter Reciprocity

All that being said, let’s not forget that every user gets to choose who they wish to follow, right?  So, does any of this really have any manner of effect upon how useful or cool the application/site is for all users, Niall? I don’t much notice the celeb users. Here’s a clue. I don’t follow them. Out of site. Out of mind.

Lastly, I’m very curious about Niall’s “10% seems like a reasonable average (to follow back) for the normal person” declaration.  Why 10%?  If you only have say 20 followers, couldn’t a mere mortal pull of reading all their posts – 100%? So, 10% of what, Niall?  Can one person follow and connect with 10% of 100,000 followers and still accomplish anything else in a day?  Really? I don’t know that anyone can follow and engage with 10,000 individuals on Twitter (if they have 100,000 followers). Also, while we’re at it, what is a “normal person” and how did you come to that conclusion?

So many questions. So few answers.

New York Times :: Win a Trip To Africa with Nick Kristof

Win A Trip to Africa

Do Online Reporting / Videos for the NYTimes

This is an exciting opportunity. It would be wonderful if an Auburn student or a student member of PROpenMic won, wouldn’t it?

Phil Gomes, Senior Vice President of Edelman Digital, posted this to PROpenMic. I’m sort of reposting it here in blogs, too, in an attempt to get your attention. This is a great opportunity!

I’m pleased to invite you to apply for the 2009 Win-a-Trip contest. As I wrote in my column, I will take a university student with me on a reporting trip to Africa, giving the student a chance to blog for nytimes.com and to file videos to The Times and Youtube. — excerpt from Nicholas Kristof

See the story in the New York Times, Win a Trip!

Get the complete details here: Contest Rules, How to Enter, and more…

Visit the New York Times video channel on YouTube to see the Nicholas Kristof video.

I don’t guess I need to tell you how this opportunity would likely lead to a wonderful job opportunity in the future. Read the article and read the contest rules. Please consider applying. It is a once in a lifetime challenging adventure! Go for it!

I would love to see a student we’re involved with win this!

Update of PROpenMic’s Activity and Membership

PROpenMic will have been in existence for nine months at the end of January. We launched on, of all days, April 1, 2008.

Previously, I’ve shared two updates on PROpenMic’s activity. The first was after six months, PROpenMic celebrates six months online :: How are we doing compared to other sites? More recently, I posted a mini-update Update of PROpenMic’s Activity and Membership.

Today I’m sharing the latest news.

First, I want to offer up some caveats. If you don’t want the caveats, then go ahead to the numbers.

These stats come from the available online resources Alexa.com and Compete.com. Both sites are used by advertisers to determine site popularity and traffic with regard to ad buys. That said, the sites do not collect exact information. They even recognize this and provide good explanations of the positives and negatives related to their reports. Further, both sites tend to focus on their paid clients and those sites that are in the top 100,000 rankings for their best statistics.

So, the information offered below is food for thought. It does show some compelling evidence that, at the very least, our free community driven social network is engaging our audience as well as, if not better than, other sites are engaging their audiences.

There really isn’t any other site / social network like PROpenMic. The sites I’ve selected to compare us with are similar in that they are (for the most part) focused on communication and public relations. They are (with the exception of ODwyerPR.com & HolmesReport.com) social networks.

Some require a subscription to participate. Others use the site to promote their other fee-based offerings. All of the other sites have a business model that includes either a subscription price or promotions/ads and offers for their paid conferences, seminars and other resources.

PROpenMic, on the other hand, is all free and does not carry ads. Finally, all but HigherEdExperts.com, have paid staffs and paid promotional activities or resources (in varying degrees). PROpenMic essentially relies upon word of mouth.

HigherEdExperts.com, by the way, is focused on much more than just PR. They have a great deal of information on Web design and other aspects of university communication practice. Karine Joly does a great job with that site and she also participates here from time to time.

I offer all of that to both explain the difficulty of fairly comparing the sites, yet still making an argument that PROpenMic performs quite well for an unfunded community based social network.

With that, I offer the latest numbers.

The first set of traffic ranks and pageviews below are the three month averages for each site. This is the standard statistic reported for each site by Alexa.com.

Alexa Traffic Ranks and Pageview Per Visit

Note: For Traffic Rank, the lower the number, the better the performance.

Propenmic.org has a traffic rank of: 275,773 (Source)

Page Views per user for Propenmic.org: 11.8

Myragan.com has a traffic rank of: 491,984 (Source)

Page Views per user for Myragan.com: 2.5

Communitelligence.com has a traffic rank of: 704,022 (Source)

Page Views per user for Communitelligence.com: 2.2

Higheredexperts.com has a traffic rank of: 952,463 (Source)

Page Views per user for Higheredexperts.com: 2.5

Holmesreport.com has a traffic rank of: 1,007,734 (Source)

Page Views per user for Holmesreport.com: 2

Odwyerpr.com has a traffic rank of: 258,697 (Source) (A PR news site.)

Page Views per user for Odwyerpr.com: 2.3

Unique Visitors (stats from Compete.com):

Note: For Unique Visitors, the higher the number, the better the performance.

“The Unique Visitors metric only counts a person once no matter how many times they visit a site in a given month. Unique Visitors are typically used to determine how popular a site is. Recommendation: To best understand the popularity of a site, you should consider additional metrics beyond Unique Visitors.” (Source)

propenmic.org – 4,028

myragan.com – 2,616

communitelligence.com – 2,620

higheredexperts.com – 2,187

holmesreport.com – 2,769

odwyerpr.com – 6,505 (A PR news site.)

Monthly Rank (stats from Compete.com): Compete ranks the top one million websites in the U.S. based on the number of People the domain attracts each month. Note: For Monthly Rank, the lower the number, the better the performance.

propenmic.org – 320,921

holmesreport.com – 433,734

communitelligence.com – 453,272

myragan.com – 453,862

higheredexperts.com – 522,866

odwyerpr.com – 217,845 (A PR news site.)

Monthly Visits (stats from Compete.com): The number of visits made to a site. A person can only be counted as one person in a month, but can make multiple site visits. Note: For Monthly Visits, the higher the number, the better the performance.

propenmic.org – 21,434

myragan.com – 13,704

holmesreport.com – 2,933

communitelligence.com – 2,909

higheredexperts.com – 2,547

odwyerpr.com – 9,503

Page Visits Monthly (stats from Compete.com): The number of pages an average person views on each visit to a domain. Note: For Page Visits Monthly, the higher the number, the better the performance.

propenmic.org – 9.7

myragan.com – 15.0

communitelligence.com – 3.5

higheredexperts.com – 1.6

holmesreport.com 8.1

odwyerpr.com 7.9

As you can see below, all sites fluctuate in their traffic over time. PROpenMic’s seems to follow academic terms, to some degree.

There are other statistics. PROpenMic’s average time on site for the 30 day period of Dec. 30 through Jan. 29: 5:05 Avg. Time on Site (Google Analytics) I reported the other stats from Google Analytics in the previous post.

What I take from these findings are that a social network targeted to the right audience, even without significant funding, can be a viable community organizing force. Further, despite all of the additional resources one might have to focus on their social network, some audiences may be engaged by the simplest of means.

Of the above sites I’ve compared PROpenMic to, some of them have remarkable resources and staffs devoted to their online endeavors. Some are million dollar businesses. Some survive quite well with advertising on their sites and subscriptions – enough so as to support those staff writers and IT professionals.

My point is that you, the PROpenMic community, have built something quite remarkable. You make it all happen, after all. I, and the volunteer administrators, just try to welcome you and make you feel comfortable in what is really your site. Sure, there is some management involved, but without your contributions … the site wouldn’t exist and thrive the way it has.

No, PROpenMic isn’t blowing the doors of site rankings and traffic compared to others …. but, that’s not the point, is it. The site is doing what it is supposed to for you the community. And, you’re the ones making it all happen.

I believe this is a good time for a case study. I’m particularly speaking to students here. You know, we’ve been told along the way that PR agencies have built such social networks / sites for clients and billed them out for significant fees. If PROpenMic can succeed for the right audience, imagine what you could do for a client in the future if you have the right audience targeted and the right offering. Could you start a social network like this? I think maybe you could. ;o)

Numbers aren’t really all that important, are they? We have 3,400+ members now and our traffic is equal to or exceeding those that are really reaching out to audiences of 100,000 or 200,000 people. I just find that interesting.

Thank you for all you do to make PROpenMic successful.

Spring 2009 Student Twitter and Blog URLs

We’re going to begin our Twitter exercises this week, or next. Students have already begun blogging, too.

This semester, we’re blogging about Groundswell, the book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The book is proving to be a good text for a student primer. Students are already noting in their blog posts that the book has helped them.

Charlene Li has agreed to speak with both of my classes later in February. I’ll be recording those Skype chats and posting them here. Many thanks to Charlene!

Here are my students and their blog & Twitter URLs. Feel free to visit their blogs and follow them on Twitter. Note: I have them protecting their Tweets as we want their blogs to get the most attention in Google search, not their Twitter conversations.

Update:  decided to put the addresses of all their online profiles/accounts here, too.  See what they are doing.

Laura “Kelly” Cargill – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Kenneth “Jacob” Wilder – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Karen Lindsey Jones – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Caroline Inman – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Carey Beth Elder – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Merry Parker Whidby – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Lauren Jill Bledsoe – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Lianne Lopez-Cepero – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Ragan Gibson – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Kelly Jean Adams (“special K”) – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Maria Prysock – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Emily Gale Horne – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Ansley Black – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Alison Christenberry – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

William Jordan Woo – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Mallory Kaye Middleton – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Whitney Prothro – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Evie Maddox – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Emily Petree – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Elizabeth Reynolds – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Mikey Mahone – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Kimberly Meyers – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Emily Frances Canan – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Kelly Coffed – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Merry Parker Whidby – BlogTwitterLoveliest VillagePROpenMic

Publicists Who Capitalize on Calamity :: They Reflect Badly Upon PR … They Are Not PR

PRMindshare offered up this query today.

Publicists that take on this type of work have never struck me as particularly worthwhile. Further, the tendency for much of the general public to regard this type of publicity work as PR / public relations practice does nothing for the discipline. Publicity is, after all, only a small part of the larger practice of public relations today.

You watch. TV and print reporters won’t refer to the practitioner or the firm as a publicity agent or publicity firm. They will mostly call it PR. That irks me beyond anything you can imagine. It is an underserved guilt by association.

What would you do?

Would you really want to respresent the clients this firm takes on?

What does it do to you’re credibility?

Question: What would you do if you were Glenn Selig — Blago’s new
publicist, who says he specializes in crisis management?
http://www.thepublicityagency.com/crisis_management_pr.htm
and
http://www.thepublicityagency.com/

Answer choices:

(A) Follow Blago’s lawyer’s lead and resign.
(B) I’d advise the following strategy . . . (insert your answer here)
(C) Part of Glenn’s answer is a media blitz to include Larry King Live on
Monday — http://tinyurl.com/bwk64f Do you agree with that?

I’m posting my initial response here.

Considering that this is the same person that is representing Drew Peterson, are these questions even necessary?

(A) Follow Blago’s lawyer’s lead and resign.

Heh, well — I wouldn’t even take the client. Would you? Considering that Selig took the client, he doesn’t seem to care. I bet he got a retainer up front, too.

Would you touch those clients – Blagojevich and Peterson? What does representation of those clients do to your own firm’s reputation? If you’re Selig, it puts you in line for the next ‘story to ridicule’ of the moment — not much else.

(B) I’d advise the following strategy . . .

Stay away from this client and case. Better to address the overall issues of political corruption.

This case is essentially over except for the drama. The Governor isn’t going to win his fight with the legislature re: impeachment. That seems a done deal except – again – for the drama of the hearings.

The Governor should keep quiet. With each press conference, he makes himself an even greater target for ridicule in the press. The Governor is his own worst enemy. Best advice is likely – plea bargain.

His lawyer (if he can keep one) should make all public statements. He’s the Governor, for crying out loud. Try to retain at least a wee bit of dignity. Albeit – at this point – it seems to be a lost cause.

(C) Part of Glenn Selig’s answer is a media blitz to include Larry King Live on Monday.

There really isn’t any positive way to respond to the wiretap transcripts released by the U.S. Attorney. Larry King has become the king of these “rubber necking” “gawking” tabloid fodder stories. If Blagojevich wants to further fit himself into that category, hey … let him dig his own hole.

Come on, a publicity agency that puts out a news release – http://is.gd/hbG8 – to promote their Twitter page … Hello?

This firm is just one more pseudo-Hollywood agent specializing in drawing more attention to train wrecks. Call it publicity, if you want. Don’t call it PR and please, goodness, don’t call it reputation management. This is more like taking advantage of a situation for a fee … or promotion strategy … than reputation management, if that at all.