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Activating Micro-Digital Communities

With millions of members and hundreds of posts per minute – many social media platforms can feel too vast and fast. How can we make it feel a bit more manageable and intimate? In this season four kick-off episode, Josie shares why and how she created a micro-community on GroupMe to get to the finish line of her book, which happened to fall on the same week as completing a triathlon! You’ll also hear some life and business updates, and plans for the podcast in season four.

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Notes from this Episode

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The Lake Tahoe Triathalon was breathtaking.⁣ ⁣ First because it is absolutely gorgeous here. Second, the elevation is 6300-6800 and the course had a 2300+ total elevation gain!! ⁣ ⁣ I had no time goal, other than finish, take care of my body and enjoy the magical views. I did this and more. Me and my body had a good talk, and I think I finally admitted that I love and appreciate her a lot. ⁣ ⁣ I’m so darn grateful I get to spend a few more days up here to recover and play…at a much slower pace. ⁣ ⁣ I’m also very very thankful my dad made the trip, making every race since college – and of course Lloyd who has supported my crazy training for the last four months.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ #laketahoetri #triathlete #triathlongram #laketahoe #bodypositive #roadbike #runner #racerrcovery #emeraldbay

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This is the status update I’ve been dreaming about for months – no, for years!!! I’ve officially submitted the final book to my publisher! ⁣ ⁣ It has been years in the making, scrolling back to spring 2016. Today I reflected on the book timeline, up till this moment.⁣ ⁣ It’s not like I wasn’t working on it all the time (Airplanes, hours before a friends wedding, between conference sessions, at a recording studio…you get it). ⁣ ⁣ When I first pitched the book I don’t think I realized (or gave myself credit for) what I was meant to create. Something that would take, well – more than I thought I was capable of. Like anything good in my life, I gave it over to God and finally embraced what would be – when it was supposed to be. ⁣ ⁣ Some days it poured out of me onto the page, other times it was not so pretty and all I could do was pray. Each step of the process has been transformational.⁣ ⁣ So here’s are a few of those pivotal status updates and where I’m headed from here:⁣ ⁣ ✓ March 2016: Initial meeting with publisher⁣ ✓ July 2016: Proposal submitted ⁣ ✓ September 2016: Proposal accepted⁣ ✓ December 2016: Book Contract signed!⁣ ✓ 2017-2018 Research. Write. Read. Research. Write. Write. Write. ⁣ ✓ June 2018: First Full Manuscript Submitted⁣ ✓ August 2018 Publisher feedback⁣ ✓ August-November 2018 Re-write. Write. Edit. Re-Write.⁣ ✓ November-December 2018 Send to Reviewer Team ⁣ ✓ January 2019 Feedback from Reviewer Team⁣ ✓ February – August 2019 Edit. Re-writes. More edits. Re-write three chapters, write a new chapter. Edit. Edit. Edit⁣ ✓ August 21st 2019 Submit Final!! ⁣ ⁣ From here everything will go out for copyediting, then into page proofs. We should be on track for pre-sales by the holidays a nd printed by spring 2020. ⁣ ⁣ ⚡️Digital Leadership in Higher Education: A Purpose-Driven Approach⁣⚡️ ⁣ So honestly, this won’t be my final status update about the book to celebrate. We’ve got a few more phases. But this one, this one is very special. ⁣ ⁣ Whether you’ve been an active cheerleader for the entire process, or just now learning and celebrating with me – I am so very thankful for you. 
⁣ With joy,⁣ ⁣ Josie⁣

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Finally getting into the vacation spirit ☀️☀️☀️

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About Josie and The Podcast

In each episode, Dr. Josie Ahlquist – digital leadership author, researcher, and speaker – connects tech and leadership in education. This podcast will bring you leaders on-campus and online.

From Senior Vice Presidents on Snapchat, YouTubers receiving billions of views and new media professionals. All through the lens of social media and leadership. Josie hopes you will not only learn from these digital leaders but also laugh as we all explore how to be our best selves online and off.

Thanks for listening! Please subscribe to receive the latest episodes, share widely and let me know you’d checked it out!

Josie Ahlquist: Y’all, I am beyond excited, relieved, recovering and ready all at once. That is a lot of emotion to introduce season four of Josie And The Podcast. Thank you so much for pushing play and I hope you’ll join me throughout this season mixed with interviews and what I call shorty episodes, which is what you are listening in today, which is just a chat with me. Josie And The Podcast is about navigating technology, especially social media for higher education, all through the lens of leadership. I believe in, am an advocate for, and educate college students up to executives on this thing called digital leadership and I’d like to give a shout out to my podcasting partner in crime, Campus Sonar. This’ll be our third year working together and it has been so neat to watch this business and partnership grow. I would absolutely love it if you were to go and check out Campus Sonar, download their resources, subscribe to their newsletters and honestly, all it starts with beyond those downloads is just about a little listening, social listening that is.

Are you a believer in social listening? At all familiar? You may have never heard of it before. That is okay. Regardless of where you’re at, you can stay on the pulse of the latest in social listening and higher education with Campus Sonar’s Brain Waves newsletter. Campus Sonar is a higher education social listening agency on a mission to help campuses find online conversations that give higher ed pros the insights they need to support their institution’s goals. And with their newsletter, you’ll get access to questions and answers from their teams experts, access to their latest writings and research, and insights into what the team is paying attention to to stay current themselves. You can subscribe today @info.campussonar.com/subscribe.

Related to social listening. With millions of members and hundreds of posts per minute, honestly per second, many social media platforms can feel too vast and fast. How the heck can we make it feel a little bit more manageable and intimate? Today I’m going to share with you one way that I was able to make the internet work for me as I completed my book and that was through activating a micro digital community on GroupMe. But first, since I haven’t released a podcast episode for a minute, I thought it would be a good time to share a few status updates. It’s been since April since I’ve released an episode, so a lot has happened.

The first thing is I started a women in business mastermind. I started to look around and realize there were a lot of other of my peers who were doing the grind of the solo preneur business entrepreneur adventure and I just sent out an email to say, “Hey, do y’all want to just like get together and chat monthly? ” And it’s part therapy, part resource and advocacy and empowerment and we meet monthly and it’s just been really magical and important and I’m really excited about where that’s moving towards for my own development and then for all of these other women that are part of it and their businesses.

In April I also kicked off another adventure of beginning training for a triathlon. I’ve done a couple in the past and I just stumbled onto one that was going to be in Lake Tahoe, which I absolutely love. Lake Tahoe and anything mountains and lakes like take me there immediately. So I began training pretty much two times a week I’d run, twice a week I’d bike and then two times a week I’d get in a pool and my body just really reacts well to that, to have a little bit of balance between all the exercises and I did it. I finished it. It was not for time because it was at 6,800 feet elevation, which I got real, real nervous about right up before it because I realized I pretty much trained the entire time at sea level. But you know what, the body is really an phenomenal and amazing thing and it got me through.

Another piece that I started doing in April pretty much full time was the book. If you follow me on socials, you are very familiar with what that whole process has been like. For those that aren’t, that’s all good. I’ve been working on this small pamphlet turn textbook workbook basically since… Well it started in 2014 with research and then the writing started in 2016, so it’s been quite the journey and I had no intent to have this happen, but my… What turned into be the goal to turn in the final manuscript was the week of the triathlon. I didn’t sign up for the triathlon thinking that’s when that deadline was going to hit. I thought it would be much earlier in the year. But nonetheless I was able to meet it and then the great thing about turning in the book and then getting that triathlon done is my husband Lloyd and I, we went on a little vacation both to Lake Tahoe and Napa which was so needed and amazing.

So my summer was full of sweating for the triathlon and a lot of sitting and coworking spaces and editing and getting lots of feedback and that was basically my full-time job and I was really proud of myself and so appreciative to so many people that have supported me through the process to meet that deadline. This is actually the second time I’ve recorded this shorty episode because my first updates included a different message and I hesitated if I should even rerecord or if I should even share this latest book update because my last episode it was a full out celebration. Like the book is in, we’re in production, we’re good to go and it’s not.

So I’m a little bummed to share that the book is no longer in production. It is going to be printed. However, there now is a little bit of editing that needs to happen in order for it to not reach beyond a certain price point. I want to make sure that the book is accessible, both in digesting the material, but also the cost and when I joked just a little bit ago that it turned into a textbook, it really did. This is not just some thought piece and we need to be able to pull it back just a little bit in order to make some of that all, again, accessible and affordable.

So it’s been a huge lesson learned for me with a lot of emotions. But just as the theme of this episode is about activating community around you, this was just another reminder of why those communities are so darn important for when good and bad things happen because again, this group that I’m going to talk about have seen me through it all.

So the book update is that is going to come out in 2020. I’m very confident about that and I know there’s some silver linings in here that the book’s going to be even better. I wish that update was way more exciting as the first time I recorded it. But I also won’t let myself not celebrate my initial excitement of meeting that August deadline that I had. I wouldn’t have wanted to know that we were going to have these hiccups before my race or before my vacation anyway, so it’s all all good. But what I do know moving forward, this season of the podcast is going to be a whole lot about featuring guests that are in the books. You can get just a little slice about them and then these shorty episodes I also hope to give you a sneak peek and quick takeaways that you can implement before the book is even out.

Other plans that I have going forward. Again, I continue my consulting and speaking work. There is going to be a fresh new look to my website hopefully this fall, not hopefully. It will be this fall. That has been definitely a work in the making for the past year and I am again offering my coaching services, which is called the Connected Exec Program. I offer this at a very limited time because I work so hands on with each future or current executive that I work with and we basically get you all set up to run your social media, not just to get another to do list done, but to actually make an impact and be meaningful to you and to your students. The other thing that I’m continuing of course is my group on Facebook that’s completely free. It’s a connected exec community. I pop in there about once a month to do live trainings. I do resources and then it’s just a really great place to network. So I will add the invite for that in there as well.

Oh, the last thing related to my services and I’m putting out this as a intention and a goal is I’ve really wanted to create a course that… My hope for this course is going to be to make my coaching a on-the-go, on demand virtual experience. So keep your eyes peeled for that to be released later this fall as well.

Okay, so now a bit of this shorty episodes’ substance. All my shorty episodes have some sort of theme to them and this one with the book essentially it felt so fitting to focus on this topic of how to activate micro digital communities and so I’ll share a little bit about what micro digital communities are, why I chose to activate one and the impact that it had on me. And as I share these things, I want you to think about in all kinds of different scenarios how a digital community that is very small could benefit you in all the different types and places and spaces that you exist. From the classroom to the board room, to your home life and hobbies because these can pop up everywhere and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already part of a number of them, but I think there’s opportunities where instead of just creating more platforms on bigger public accounts, what I think a lot of our community members are actually quite hungry for are smaller spaces for more intimate conversations.

The reason why I created a smaller community is I was really trying to practice what I preached through my book writing process. I wanted to document my process, the highs and the lows and the milestones and like I just shared earlier, some of the setbacks. But I found myself resisting and I would set deadlines and not make them and I kind of got in this cycle of frustrations. And I’m not asking for any pity party, but I really had to sit for a minute and if I was honest with myself, just posting these status updates, it wasn’t elevating me and I don’t think it was probably elevating other folks either other than really getting a sneak peek behind what is it really like to write a book because it’s not all bright and shiny.

What, I needed as an author, especially starting in April when I went pretty much full time to finish the book, is I needed a community behind me that were consistent, that already knew me and maybe even knew each other and so that’s where this idea came from. Is what if I could gather some of my favorite people that don’t live in LA and I put them all in a room, in a digital room. I told them what I needed. I could be raw and honest and and they could be understanding and celebratory and give feedback and that’s what I did.

I looked at different platforms that were out there, that could host a group of about 12 of us and I didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Honestly I thought about maybe I just need a group text, but then I also saw the benefits of maybe having a platform that you could limit notifications because I also didn’t want to invite folks into this group that then became overwhelmed with notifications because that in my own life is something that I’m working on and tools to provide other folks about digital wellness.

GroupMe was a really interesting platform to do that. You can modify notifications as a group, you can have it on your desktop as well as mobile and my ask to them was just for their openness and their listening. That I might be posting status updates every single day or once a week and as they think about it, to jump in and say hi or to reply or to post a funny GIF or a video and/or if I ask for advice that if they do have thoughts about it that they would jump in on it. And so every single person that I invited said yes. So that was really neat to see my letter out to them read and God said let there be a GroupMe for Josie. I was honest with them about where I was with the book, my need, what my needs were for a very small digital community that would have my back and even if I was going on a rant or had something negative posting, I didn’t ever have to edit myself like a public platform that you would.

I think there’s a real discussion there. The more I do this work and research around social media and how certain platforms, there’s a performance element to them and then as a business, the negotiation and navigation that I have to be under because those platforms are part of that as well. At the same time I have a very high value of authenticity and being genuine. So I think that’s where I was continually stuck. Needing to take it into a smaller space so that I wasn’t in congruent. I was just being more directed about where I was posting status updates. So again, what I said I was really clear about change your notifications if you have to, jump on once a week if you can and let the fun begin basically.

I had folks in the GroupMe that had never been on the platform, were on it years ago or some that were really familiar with it and that group kind of turned into a mastermind. From me needing to throw out ideas for the book title to asking for resources for a specific section that I needed, like maybe one more reference for, they always… It always felt like they were there with support and advocacy and so I want to give a quick shout out to Team Josie, which was Alex, Amma, Anna, Ann Marie, Ed, James, Kathy, Keith, Kristin, Laura, Liz, Megan and Katie and again, I am so indebted and thankful to you and you’re not off the hook yet because we’re in this new phase of some edits that are going to happen and it’s going to be better for it. So this small GroupMe made me think about how small micro digital communities might be the answer from some strategies and audiences both short and long term that big public platforms, they honestly come with some baggage.

Maybe your strategy is something much more short term with a smaller group that then ends up to be archived and that’s okay too. With any platform or digital strategy, we have to think through the following. In order to minimize busy work, the amount of time and then making sure we’re just on track with our goals and rationale. That we don’t need to go out there and create GroupMe accounts because Josie suggested it because it worked really well for her finishing a book. Think about your why, which is going to be your goal. What is your goal? Are you trying to better engage with second-year transfer students from the East coast? Or from a particular part of the world? That goal is going to lead into your audience, the who. The who is going to start to also answer what platform you should select.

So if it’s those second-year transfer students, let’s say they are from China, you’re going to have to look at platforms that is accessible to that audience. Hint, hint, you’re going to want to look at WhatsApp. Not GroupMe. For me, enough of the people that I was inviting in knew enough about GroupMe and were open to it. So I already had a pulse of what they’d be willing to do. I also could have used platforms that I’ll talk about in a second.

I could have created a Facebook group or a variety of other places, but I was thinking also about my content. What was the what that I needed that platform to be. Now a Facebook group is great because it also gives you lots of other bells and whistles like video folders and I mean Facebook groups you can do a lot more with them. I just really needed status updates, like threaded conversations were completely fine with me and I felt like Facebook were just in a different space when we’re on that platform that you get pulled into other places really easily. So even for me, I didn’t want to have to go into Facebook to post these updates or interact with Team Josie. So it was also part of the goal of mine to have it live elsewhere.

So the platform was accessible, it made sense for my audience and my why and then the last question to answer then is the how. What’s the operations of it? And that’s what I communicated to those I invited. That I was going to be posting daily, at least weekly updates and as they were able to maybe once a week to hop on and to join me. Some other platforms that you might suggest when you think about activating a micro digital community. I mentioned earlier Facebook groups, I’ve got a couple of my own.

LinkedIn also has got groups. Direct messaging is also interesting. On Facebook you can create a group within Facebook messenger. Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn also have direct messaging capabilities but I don’t believe you can do groups. Other platforms you could look at are Slack, Kik, Telegram, WeChat and WhatsApp. A few other to throw out and then a couple to kind of add onto. Twitter was actually the first micro digital community like micro blogging as it used to be so limited in the characters you could use and hashtags were used as a way to activate micro conversations because you had to use those for other folks to find and connect in those conversations. There were Twitter chats that you use that hashtag and those micro digital communities were activated in your feed and you’ve still got some of these today even though you don’t have to use hashtags anymore.

I find some really active hashtags is HESM, higher ed social media, academic Twitter, calm_college and then end CC stigma. GroupMe, again that’s the one that I used. I’ve heard other GroupMe accounts out there for higher ed pros. I think it’s really interesting and we might not see advertisements for these out there. They’re organic and may have some invitations out from time-to-time. For example, one I stumbled into by writing the book was Texas Millennial Essay Pros and then Black Women In Higher Ed. Florida State University, they have also seriously doubled down on GroupMe for their new student orientation program. It’s a very large program and a very large staff and taking the communications out of texts and email, GroupMe really allowed for clear communication. They even have smaller GroupMe accounts based upon student and staff members.

Slack is another one. I’m part of a number of Slack communities for different functions. The one I absolutely love and I go to just about every other day is called Team HESM. Again, higher ed social media. It was started back in 2015. It’s now probably close to a thousand members and the organizer, Jonathan Gabriel, who I write about in the book, he’s the University Of Central Florida Coordinator For Marketing And Communications. He kicked it off because he did see these active conversations on Twitter and even on Facebook, but he was just looking to bring everything under one umbrella that was even out of social media platforms that these professionals are running every single day. So I will include the link to that group in there. There’s also a fantastic Facebook group called Higher Ed Social on Facebook that also is very, very active. I think there’s a Facebook group for just about everything out there from higher ed podcasters called Connect EDU Network, student activity professionals, mothers in student affairs, doctoral students, social media professors, and then I have a couple of Facebook groups that I have helped create and manage as well.

Student affairs, marketing and communications. If that falls under your wheel house, we’ve got a group for you and then of course the connected exec community, which is current and aspiring executives. A new digital community that I’ve been exploring because I’m going to be using it once the book comes out is called Mighty Networks. I actually discovered this platform when I took a tarot card reading class. That’s another podcast, but I really loved it. Not only did it connect me directly to the course, but it was a place for networking and resources and community with everyone around the world taking this course. So Katie Linder I know also uses this platform for her writing groups and a community called Prolific. You can join my networks for free and you can even set up your own network for free. I think for a few more of the bells and whistles there is a monthly fee to it, which is also true for Slack.


Speaker 1:          If you start to add too much stuff to that platform, it’s going to want you to pay for it to stay there. As you’re looking out there for micro digital communities, do pay attention to see well if this thing does grow, if our goal is to have an audience that is on the larger side or are wanting to put a lot of content into it, at some point you have to put some investment into it. There’s not a lot of those out there, but just one question to maybe to look out for.

I would love to know what micro communities that you’re part of and you’re loving. It doesn’t even have to be about higher education. So in order to find out, not only can you tweet at me, but there’s a quick survey in the show notes that you can share with me quickly the groups that you’re part of, especially if you recommend them because there might be some digital communities out there that aren’t so much on the shining side. I’m building out a directory, a number of directories that are going to live on my website related to the book as well.

I shared my story about why I created a GroupMe because I needed more concentrated support around finishing my book. That group was for accountability, was for celebration, support and feedback. I was able to answer the questions of strategy, of things like who, what, where, when, and why to make sure I was just adding another digital tool along with all the other ones that I already had going. So I want you to think about what specifically are your needs right now and are the communication platforms that you’re most active on, are they actually meeting those needs?

Now, some needs cannot be met through social media, okay? But are the reasons why you are logging onto certain platforms may be misaligned with how you could actually fulfill those needs and let’s also apply that to the services that you’re offering on college campuses and making sure that they’re resonating with students. Thinking a little bit more outside the box and not to create a whole bunch of more platforms and accounts that are going to take more time, this process may make you reconsider if you even need to be on Twitter. If you were to spend the time in smaller WhatsApp groups versus your Twitter account, but your WhatsApp groups are so much more interactive and lively and genuine, isn’t that the goal? Than just saying you have your Twitter account, but most people that follow you or interact with you are just other department accounts.

I’m not trying to suggest to you that everyone needs to delete their Twitter account even though that might be a future podcast episode. But I really think we need to pause for a moment to think why are we on certain platforms, what do we actually need them to accomplish and are there other tools that would actually help us get there much quicker in smaller spaces?

As you think about what your needs are, as well as the needs of your community and really sticking to those, I want you to be inspired by the quote by Maya Angelou. “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.”

Yeah, I hope you will be able to tune into the rest of season four coming at you mostly weekly this fall. Thank you so much for clicking play on this episode. Let’s keep the conversation going. Tweeting at me at Josie Ahlquist or the podcast, Twitter, JosieAtPodcast. Remember the show notes can be found at Josieahlquist.com/podcast.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any future episodes and you can find us on your favorite podcasting platform including Spotify. Please pass it along or consider a little iTunes review. These are ways to help others discover the show. If you’re interested in learning more about my services, including speaking, consulting, and coaching, head to my website, Josieahlquist.com. Sending digital hugs, loves and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie And The Podcast.

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Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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