Rebranding This Blog

When I started this blog, I labeled it Lines from Lee. That was all about alliteration. In beginning to blog, I was looking to learn about neat, new tools of the trade.

I also had read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and found it immensely helpful, and thought the personal productivity theme would provide some good material. And it did. I’ve done a bunch of GTD posts. I may still write one more “off topic” post about the GTD Outlook plug-in. It’s really helpful.

And given my work in media relations, I had Public Relations as one of my major blog topics, too. I expect I will continue to do some posts related to PR and news media, even with the change I’m making.

As I’ve “found my voice” a la Hillary Clinton, the social media topic seems to be what makes my vocal chords vibrate. When I attend and speak at conferences and workshops, it’s the practical “how-tos” that seem to be most helpful to people I meet (many of whom work in PR or marketing.) I’ve wanted to find a way to provide an orderly, systematic introduction to social media, so I can tell anyone I meet where to go to find a step-by-step means of learning about these tools and how to practically use them.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea for a special blog section that would take a university theme to provide this structured learning. Late last week, I launched the SMUG section. But as I considered it further, I decided this shouldn’t just be a section; it should be the whole blog.

But as a brand that tells readers what to expect, Lines from Lee is lame (one more alliteration for old times’ sake.)

So from this moment, the diffuse blog title:

PR, New Media and GTD – Lines from Lee

Thoughts on New Media, News Media and Productivity

has become

Social Media University, Global

Hands-on social media training and practical applications for lifelong learners

We still need a good logo, though. I’m eager to have someone with artistic abilities develop a visual representation for this virtual university.

And I say “We” because the other major benefit of this no longer being “Lines from Lee” is it opens us to adding SMUG faculty members, visiting professors and guest lecturers. I can play my role as Chancellor (I love making up these official-sounding titles!), but hopefully can draw some other contributors, too.

I’ll still have occasional posts of a personal nature (although my Facebook page will be the better spot for most of those), and I hope to liveblog the conferences I attend, so some of those post might not exactly fit the SMUG sweet spot. I’ll continue the sporadic book reviews and social media news analysis, too. But for the most part, “Hands-on social media training and practical applications” is what you can expect here.

SMUG Attendance Policies and Grading

All courses at Social Media University, Global are on a pass/fail basis, graded strictly on class participation.

The only way to fail is to not participate.

The participation required will vary for each course. For some, simply reading the material will be sufficient. For others, you’ll need to add a comment in this blog or engage in a discussion in the SMUG Facebook group. In still others, you’ll be asked to complete a social media project and post a link to what you produce.

Every test is a “take-home” test. Unlike traditional classrooms, it’s impossible to cheat. You can peek at your neighbor’s answers; in fact, it’s expected. And Twitter is the best way to get help fast.

You can tweet with your questions about posts using the #SmugU hashtag. That way your fellow SMUGgles can help. You can ask for clarification through replies to @SMUG_U or @LeeAase

If that last paragraph makes absolutely no sense to you, you might want to start with the Twitter curriculum.

SMUG: Auditing Classes and Applying for Admission

Auditing Courses

If you want to begin your education at Social Media University, Global without committing to the full coursework, please be our guest. Feel free to audit a few classes. You might want to start with Social Media 101 (formerly called the 12-Step Social Media Program for PR Pros) and Social Media 102 (Intro to RSS), followed by Facebook 101.

Applying for Admission

But once you’re ready to get with the program, enrolling is easy. Just go to the SMUG group in Facebook and join. You don’t need to submit any transcripts, or ACT scores or even letters of recommendation. As the ads promoting overpriced life insurance say, “You can’t be turned down for any reason.” (Of course the reason for that is because the prices are so high, with limited short-term benefits, that they’d be crazy to deny anyone “coverage.”)

At SMUG, you’re eligible for full benefits right away. And we can hardly overcharge you for a free service.

There’s no application deadline, either. SMUG is a 24/7/365 school, and you can begin studies at any time.

How about right now?

Social Media 102: Intro to RSS

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is at the core of social media, which is why this course is among the first in the Social Media University, Global curriculum.

In essence, RSS is a way you can subscribe to get updates (RSS feeds or “Web feeds”) from Web sites that interest you. All you need is an RSS aggregator or feed reader (and you may have one built into your Web browser already!) If you’re using Firefox or IE7 for Windows, you have the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds “baked in.” Likewise on Safari for Mac OS.

Conversely, when you are producing content on the web as you become a more advanced SMUG student, RSS will be the way interested people can subscribe to your updates.

Among the best advantages is that RSS doesn’t get caught in spam filters. You don’t have to maintain a list of subscribers. They are self-selected.

Another neat thing about RSS with news sites is you can subscribe to just the sections that interest you, if the site owner has made those specialized feeds available. For instance, the Washington Post site has more than 150 separate feeds (see them in a new window) so you can tailor what news you receive. Look for the logo at the top of this post, or the XML graphic (see below).

And if you appreciate being able to fine-tune the information you receive by RSS, think of those who are reading  or listening to your material (if you have a podcast). You may want to provide multiple feeds, so people can choose.

You can read all about RSS here on Wikipedia, or better yet go to the Common Craft site to see the RSS in Plain English video (opens in a new window). I can’t recommend this video highly enough. Lee and Sachi LeFever may well be among the first candidates for Honorary Doctorates from SMUG.

Homework Assignments:

  1. Get an RSS reader/aggregator. If you aren’t getting RSS through your advanced browser, Google Reader is a great free online RSS aggregator. The Attensa products are free, too. If you have a laptop and would like to be able to read your feeds when you’re not connected to the Net (like when you’re on the bus or a plane), you might want to get a standalone reader like these from NewsGator for Mac or Windows.  There also are some plug-ins for Outlook that let you get RSS feeds in a folder that’s part of your email client. Here’s one of those from Attensa.
  2. Subscribe to the RSS feed from SMUG by clicking here. Pick one or more of the Washington Post feeds, too.
  3. Share your experience with your classmates. If you already have a way of reading RSS feeds, leave a comment below telling which reader or browser-based solution you use, and why. If you’re having any difficulty getting started with RSS, leave a note about that, too. It’s really important to get this step right. Understanding RSS, at least at the “Plain English” level, is an essential prerequisite for further study.

Remember, at Social Media University, Global your tuition is free, and we will never require anything in our homework assignments that would force you to spend any money.

A Message from the Chancellor

Social Media University, Global (SMUG) is a natural extension of my family’s interest in education and the development of the Internet, as well as my experiences in speaking to conferences of professional communicators who are interested in exploring how social media relate to their jobs.

My Dad was an elementary school teacher before becoming a principal, and upon his retirement served a term on the local school board. I graduated from college the traditional way in 1986.

But since then, we’ve taken a decidedly non-traditional approach to education.

In fact, SMUG’s headquarters facility, Old Main (pictured above), doubles as the headquarters for Aase Academy, a primary and secondary school that has seen its first two graduates go on to complete their four-year degrees at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. I am the Superintendent of Aase Academy, and my wife Lisa is the Principal and Master Teacher.

Unlike SMUG, Aase Academy is an exclusive institution: you need to be born into it.

Accredited, certified, standardized degrees obviously have a place. My brother, Mark, graduated from college last year through a cohort degree-completion program that involved substantial on-line interaction and distance learning. He got a management job largely because of it, and was chosen to give the commencement address, which you can see here.

But while a degree (maybe even an MBA) may be a requirement for a particular job, it’s generally just a minimum price of admission to be considered. What matters even more is demonstrating what you can do and the results you can deliver, and how you continue to learn and grow and develop new marketable skills.

This leads to discussion of another type of learning that I view as necessary and beneficial, but not quite sufficient. Many professionals attend conferences and seminars for a quick immersion in social media. I enjoy attending and speaking at these because they give opportunities for face-to-face interaction, and I highly recommend them. But if you spend a couple of days and hundreds or even thousands of dollars at a social media seminar, but then don’t apply what you’ve learned personally and professionally, you have developed familiarity with social media but haven’t really experienced it.

That’s where Social Media University, Global comes in; it provides an ongoing framework for structured learning about a field that will become increasingly important for professionals, particularly in communications, sales, marketing and management.

SMUG uses social media to help you learn social media. So you aren’t learning alone; you’ll be part of a group that is learning together. And it’s not a theoretical, ivory-tower curriculum. It’s real-world stuff.

SMUG is not accredited by any higher educational body, so therefore the credits you earn don’t transfer. The learning does transfer, however. You can apply it immediately in a hands-on environment to your personal or organizational projects.

So how do you get started?

While SMUG’s headquarters facility, Old Main, was completed over a century ago, our curriculum is definitely under construction. Please join us in building it out. Associate professors are welcome to join the faculty. Compensation is the same as tuition.