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Friday, April 29, 2011

SchoolE Update: One Week Left of Voting!

We are in the final week of voting for the SchoolE Awards! Voting will end on Thursday, May 5th at 5 PM EST and winners will be announced on Friday the 6th (time TBA). Remember that voting is open to everyone, so they don't have to be a direct part of your district to cheer you on and vote. Talk to your friends and family to help your district's website get the recognition you feel it deserves.

There have been so many close races throughout this year's competition. The top two districts in each category are within 350 votes of each other, making it really anybody's game. Voting this week has been intense, with a ton of lead changes, and the total vote count is now almost 14,500 meaning there were 4,500 votes this week!

Most of the intense voting in the contest has come from the Medium category. Rockingham has been working overtime this week to not only steal the #1 position from Polk County, but also to reach over 3,000 votes! Rockingham called its community to action on Tuesday when it overtook Polk County, casting almost 1,000 votes in one day! Rockingham can't get too comfortable yet, though. York County is right behind them, needing less than 350 votes to tie. The competition in this category doesn't end there. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions are battling it out as well. Although Upper Darby currently leads the pack, Oxnard Union High and Independence are both within 65 votes of the 3rd place position. While they have quite a way to go to catch up with Rockingham's 3,600+ votes, anything is possible in this last week of voting!

In the Large category, Clear Creek and Brownsville have been battling it out, but it seems that this week their voting has really slowed down. Clear Creek hasn't had more than 25 votes this week and Brownsville no more than 30. With these two districts so close in vote counts they need to keep up the voting to fight for 1st place!

The voting in the smaller categories has been a bit stagnant most of the week. Zachary Community has kept a well-maintained lead over Lexington City but just today that's changed. Lexington has been voting all day to come within 30 votes of the category leader. With this new competition and the fact that the overall vote count in the Small category is rather low compared to the other categories, this next week may be full of surprises.

Here are the Top 3 districts in each category based on [unvalidated] vote counts as of Thursday afternoon:

1. Clear Creek
2. Brownsville
3. Polk County

1. Rockingham Co.
2. York Co.
3. Upper Darby

1. Zachary Community
2. Lexington City
3. North Mason

There's only one week left so don't let your districts voting fade out now! Even just one day of voting could knock your district out of it's position. Remember to keep an eye out for the announced winners on Friday, May 6th!

Good luck to all the districts!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Higher Ed Social Media: Help Wanted

It’s no doubt that social media has played a prominent role in higher education within the past few years. As each year passes, institutions have gone from hiking aboard the new “trend” to utilizing social media as a tool for marketing, alumni, and prospective students.

In 2010, a study done by CASE, mStoner, and Slover-Linett Strategies Inc., showcased their findings on if constituents are using their institutions social media, what barriers are keeping institutions from using social media, and most importantly, how is social media success measured?

In March 2011 Slover Linett Strategies Inc., mStoner and CASE conducted the Second Comprehensive Study of Social Media Use by Schools, Colleges and Universities via e-mail to 18,000 representative CASE members, of which 951 replied. The results may not surprise anyone but they do show that universities are realizing the importance of not just using social media but using it in the best way possible to reach their social media goals.

Almost every institution is using it.
Though not too surprising, only 4% of institutions aren’t using it. Almost all institutions have jumped into social media. What arises from all institutions using the same types of social media is a lack of originality and driving competition from each institution to stand out. According to the study, 84% of institutions use social media due to competition from peer institutions. An institution needs to have something different from all the rest of its competitors, they need to be ahead of the curve.

Why they're using it – Alumni & Branding.
While most might think that institutions are using their social media to connect with current students or recruit, the big reasons for using it are Alumni and Branding. The study shows that Alumni ranks first in goals of social media with 30% saying it's “Quite a bit” of their social media goal and a whopping 54% say it's “Extensively” part of it.

Branding falls second to Alumni, 40% quote it as being “Quite a bit” of their goal and 35% say it’s “Extensively" part of it. Branding is also the number one motivator for institutions in using social media. Institutions feel that they need to sustain and protect their brand “Quite a bit” (40%) and “Extensively” (20%).

If sustaining and protecting their brand is so important to institutions, why aren’t they using their social media to its fullest potential? Why get lost in the ordinary, mundane social media sites. By having a centralized hub with all of your social media, branded to an institution's exact site, their brand is not only sustained and protected, but they’re a step above the rest.

Facebook: favored by the majority.
Facebook is the front-runner in social media for institutions. Not only do nearly all institutions use it (96%), but most feel that it’s the best tool to help meet their social media goals (91%) and that it’s the most successful in meeting these goals (87%). Only 43% use Twitter to help meet their goals and only 27% consider it the most successful in meeting these goals. Since Facebook is the most widely-used platform, it would be advantageous to any institution to have all the department’s pages accessible on one main page in some sort of mashup. This would be an easy way for a user to visit a single page to connect, share, and like for every department within an institution.

Main basis for success – number of touches.
The most interesting data from the survey is what institutions are using to measure the success of their social media. Without an easy way to determine an ROI, institutions are using the number of touches (number of friends, click-throughs, participation, etc.) to determine how successful their social media is.

Based on this criteria it’s hard for an institution to be successful if no one is seeing the social media they are putting out there. Many display their main accounts on the main page of their website, but what about different departments? Users often have to search for a social media directory (if there is one) or find the social media themselves.

If all an institution's social media was on one page, users would be engaged, able to see all social media available, and pick which is most useful to them. It would increase the number of click-throughs, likes, and friends, and would engage them to participate in multiple social media accounts by only visiting one page.

Staffing considered barrier to success.
Although many institutions find their social media to be successful, (62%-somewhat successful and 22%-very successful), there are still many barriers that they feel inhibit their overall success. According to the study, the two top barriers institutions encountered were due to staffing. Staffing for day-to-day content management was felt to be the biggest obstacle in being successful with 28% of institutions saying it was “quite a bit” of a barrier and 22% saying it was “extensively” a barrier.

Staffing for site development came in a close second. The same percent of institutions believed it was “quite a bit” of a barrier, but only 16% said it was an “extensive” barrier.

Schools often don’t have the staffing ability to train, create, and manage social media. If an institution does have someone working on social media it’s usually only one person, not a group of people. According to the study 41% of institutions have only one person working on social media at least 25% of the time. Even more disheartening is the fact that 85% have no person whose job is to work on social media 100% of the time. What happens when that one person who works on social media is gone or the person working on social media needs to use 100% of their time on something else, does the social media of the institution stop? In the social media world, nothing ever stops and every day things are changing and moving forward.

What institutions need is a simpler way to manage their social media, something that anyone can learn and use easily.

What social media policy?
Half of all institutions using social media don’t have a social media policy. While not stated in the study it’s easy to assume why. As stated above most institutions don’t have the staffing needed to create a policy. While there are many policies out there that can be borrowed from it’s often difficult to fit it to an institution’s exact needs.

With nearly all institutions using social media, policies need to be enacted to regulate their social media. It is an institution’s voice and it needs to be protected just as much as the institutions brand and image (something nearly all universities have a policy on.)

In Closing
This study shows that institutions are seeing the need for more organized, individualized social media. Not only do they need to use it, but they want to use it to protect and sustain their brand. They want to be successful by the standards they set in their social media goals. They want to be in charge of their social media and not hire out. But they can’t seem to find a way to do all this with limited man-power.

That’s the reason SMASHUP was created. It gives institutions the tools they need to make their social media the best it can be. Institutions have freedom and control over their social media with a little outside help. It creates a place for all an institution's social media, making it easier to interact with and more successful. SMASHUP is easy to use and easy to learn, cutting back on the time and man-power needed to sustain it. It gives an institution a big boost in the right direction, all while protecting their brand.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

SchoolE Update: Week 4 of Voting

It's the end of Week 4 which means there's still about two weeks left to vote for your district, but this week the districts have been acting like they're in the final minutes of the game. We had almost 2,500 votes this week bringing us to over 10,000 total votes.

The Large Districts are still bringing their A-game this week. Though Clear Creek's voting has dwindled a bit compared to the landslide of votes they had last week, they've still managed to maintain their lead over Brownsville for the #1 spot. Polk County and Keller ISD are still a bit behind the two leaders of the category, but have been within 100 votes of each other all week.

The Medium category is where it's at this week. Just today York County upset Rockingham County for the #1 spot! Currently York County is only 60 votes ahead of Rockingham. While York has been very active in voting, it’s the voting in the past two days that have really made a difference for them. This is the second big upset of the competition, just last week Clear Creek took the #1 spot from Brownsville in the Large category. There are no clear front runners anymore in these two categories; it will be interesting to see how it all plays out!

Upper Darby and Oxnard Union High are still battling it out for that 3rd position. All week they’ve been within 10 votes of each other and today Upper Darby has only a 3 vote lead over Oxnard. But both need to watch out for Independence 30. They haven't been much of a competition so far, but since the Thursday they've manage to almost catch up with Upper Darby and Oxnard. Keep watching out for them, they're well on their way to move even farther up in this category.

The small category hasn't been idle either. While the vote counts aren't as high as the other two categories, the districts have slowly started gaining more votes. Competition is fierce in this category as well. Basehor-Linwood and University Academy were tied with an even 100 votes each on Wednesday, but Basehor came out on top at the end of the week - currently they are only 16 votes ahead of University Academy. Although the top two Small category districts, Zachary Community and Lexington City, have a well maintained lead over the other schools, with the vote count so small in this category it's anybody's game.

Here are the Top 3 Districts from each category based on [unvalidated] vote counts:

1. Clear Creek ISD
2. Brownsville ISD
3. Polk County School

1.York County
2. Rockingham County
3. Upper Darby


1. Zachary Community
2. Lexington City
3. North Mason SD

Most of the votes have come from teachers, parents, and staff but remember your community and students can vote too. There are a few students voting, but they can be your district's driving force! Encourage them to show their school pride and vote for their district's website!

There are less than 2 weeks left to vote! Now's the time to rally your community if you want a chance to win!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

SchoolE Update: Week 3 of Voting

The competition in SchoolE has been nuts this week! After last weeks wake-up call the Large districts are getting their heads in the game. On Thursday, Clear Creek ISD surpassed Keller ISD and Polk County. Near the end of the day they knocked Brownsville out of the #1 position for Large districts – a position they’ve held from the start of voting. There’s definitely going to be a lot more competition in the Large districts than we thought.

The Medium districts have two great competitions worth keeping an eye on. Rockingham still remains in the #1 spot, but York County is only a couple of hundred votes behind. York has been very active throughout the competition, but toward the end of this week voting for their district has died down. While Rockingham hasn’t had quite the weekly vote count as before they’re still receiving a good number of votes every day. York is going to have to push themselves if they want a chance at that #1 spot.

But they should look out for the current 3rd and 4th place districts - Oxnard Union High and Upper Darby. These schools have been battling for 3rd place all week, but currently Oxnard has come out ahead. Although still over 400 votes behind the top 2 schools, the close competition between these two schools might just drive up their vote counts.

The total SchoolE vote count is now over 7,600 - almost 3,000 votes this week alone. Three districts have even reached over 1,000 votes– Rockingham, York County, and Clear Creek. Keep it up districts!

The current overall voting standings based on [unvalidated] vote counts are:

1. Rockingham Country Public Schools (Medium)
2. York County Public Schools (Medium)
3. Clear Creek ISD (Large)
4. Brownsville ISD (Large)
5. Oxnard Union High (Medium)

Cheer on your school by commenting on Interact page and also your districts profile page under ‘District Comments’. Fans of the districts have been posting thanks and links to articles about their districts making it into the final round.

Also since we're getting even closer to the end, remember the new prize for this year's SchoolE Award recipients - a video review of the winner's district site by Nick Denardis! Nick will be reviewing the top district in each category. As host of his EDU Checkup video blog he reviews education websites through the eyes of a first time visitor, while critiquing the design, information architecture and code of the sites.

Keep your eyes on the prize and keep voting for your favorite District website!

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Friday, April 8, 2011

SchoolE Update: Week 2 of Voting

It's week 2 of SchoolE Awards voting and things are starting to heat up (along with the weather)! The total vote count is over 4,800. Many districts that had little to no activity really stepped it up this week, especially Oxnard Union High. The district was voting non-stop on Thursday, bringing them to 4th place in the Medium category, very close behind Upper Darby. Voting runs like that make the competition exciting! It's awesome to see a school go from relatively no votes to almost 500 in a day.

So far the Medium category districts are rocking the voting round. They've accounted for more than 3,300 of the 4,800+ votes so far- that's almost 70%! The Large districts still haven't quite gotten their votes up, they've only received 886 total votes - less than some of the Medium districts had alone. I keep expecting the other Large districts to step up their game, but it doesn't look like any of those districts are going to give Keller ISD or Brownsville any trouble. Where's the school spirit in large districts? With so many people in their communities they should be blowing everyone else out of the water!

Right now, the overall voting standings based on [unvalidated] vote counts are:
1. Rockingham Country Public Schools (Medium)
2. York County Public Schools (Medium)
3. Oxnard Union High (Medium)
4. Brownsville ISD (Large)
5. Upper Darby SD (Medium)

Clearly, the medium districts are extremely competitive, so it's going to be exciting to see what happens over the next few weeks.

Remember that this year there are three categories:

Large - Enrollment > 25,000
Medium - Enrollment 7001 -24,999
Small - Enrollment < 7,000
That means this year there will be a total of three winners! One from each of these categories.

Make sure to check out the Interact Page on the SchoolE website. There you can cheer for your district, ask any questions (we always respond!), or give credit to whoever deserves it for making your site the best it can be! Also remember voting is open to everyone, so if you believe that your site has something special such as a feature or design tell everyone about it! Cheer your school on and tell everyone why you believe your district's site is the best.

Good luck to all the school districts!

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Friday, April 1, 2011

SchoolE Update: Week 1 of Voting

It may be April Fool's Day, but there's no joke here (the jokes are here, here and here). Since we opened voting on Monday, the SchoolE Awards has received far more than 3,000 votes. What a great week to kick off voting. No time has been wasted in voting for the 21 finalist school districts. Votes have been coming in at all hours of the day; today's votes started at 3 AM and haven't slowed down since. Methods of voting have also been very diverse. Unlike with nominations where we saw mostly e-mails, more voters are using Facebook and Twitter - which also helps the districts spread the word!

As of now the category leaders are Brownsville ISD, Rockingham County, and Lexington City. Rockingham County has especially stood out this week with over 1,000 votes - that's 1/3 of the votes so far, they're definitely in it to win it! Not too far behind is York County Public Schools. I anticipate that these two schools won't be the only ones competing for the #1 spot. Can't wait to see what next week will bring!

Make sure to visit the SchoolE website to check out the 7 finalists in each category, their district profiles, websites and most importantly to vote! Remember, voting is open to everyone. So even if your district didn't make it into the finals, vote for the district you believe has the best website. Voting will be open till May 5th so spread the word and get to voting.

There will only be one winner, so vote now!

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