I've been toying with the idea of office hours for a while (a long while, actually), in an effort to better communicate with folks on campus. Our new-to-us location about a block from the center of campus life has me feeling a bit removed from what's going on daily with many of the people we are trying to reach most.
Before the end of the semester, a time where I'm in idea-collection mode before we get into the planning of summer, I decided to park myself in Azariah's Cafe — in the academic commons of Mudd library, with a pile of candy (to quote a student who visited me today: "Who doesn't love candy?! I'd sit down to talk to you if you gave me food even if I have nothing to talk about."), a library laptop for examples/downtime, and a sign that said #talktome: Social Media Office Hours — to see what would happen.
I posted this photo on my personal accounts and the college Tumblr on Wednesday morning.
Followup photo of my table (note the candy!) and the sign when I got to Mudd in the afternoon.
The first fifteen minutes were quiet, so I plugged into the turntable.fm app for iPad. Turntable.fm is one of my favorite things I've been a part of discovering in the past year: it's a way to socialize while DJing music with friends. It's an exercise in music free-association and excellent for people with varied music tastes with an urge to discover more — so, in many ways, perfect for Oberlin students.
Immediately after powering into a room of Coding Frenzy music, someone sat down with me to talk quickly before running off to class. I had one of those ridiculous moments where I was caught off guard, then got tangled in my headphones while I was trying to start a conversation... So to cover it up, I introduced turntable.fm to my office hour attendee. Ten seconds of explanation later, she was sold and started proposing ideas on how she was going to start using this new thing. This exchange set the tone for the rest of the afternoon: an interest in a basic concept that led to enthusiastic conversation and ideas galore.
Over the next four hours, the following things took place:
learned about a new livestream initiative that's getting off the ground
two conversations surrounding the upcoming election (both in using social media to get students more involved and to better inform the campus about voter registration)
an extended conversation on how to sell yourself using self-created media (specifically, audio and podcasts)
a crash course in how to effectively use an about.me page as a social calling card (especially awesome for aggregating all your social things in one place)
a how-to in all things publicity both on and offline related to the communications office and beyond (our office guide is here, in case you're wondering)
a discussion of social media integration on a new website (a big project, but not impossible)
debating the finer points of getting folks to come to a meeting (it was a debate of homemade pretzels vs. cookies, which was completely relavent to social media office hours because food is a social enabler)
two "So... What's your job mean?" conversations sparked by the very enticing candies on my table (see, it got people to talk with me even if they didn't know what to talk about :D)
taking social offline to enhance relationships (META!)
Oh, and I managed to write 2/3 of a guide for some of the social media endeavors we're undertaking for commencement. And half the candy disappeared. So I would deem yesterday afternoon to be a moderate success.
With office hours reaching a close, I headed home to bake cookies for my photography ExCo showcase. At the showcase, I accidentally ended up in an amazing conversation with four students about their personal uses of social media (prompted by a discussion of inevitable Facebook friend purges after graduation and deactivating accounts during finals to eliminate distraction). At some point, one of the folks involved with the conversation apologized to me for bringing work into my non-work hours, to which I responded that when sitting at a computer all day, you're doing more basic things than you're discussing or thinking, and in many ways, we get stuck in ruts talking with other people like us (for me, it's other social media in higher ed folks from #casesmc and beyond) and we end up talking about the same things constantly. An example: one of the main buzzwords from the most recent conference I went to — engagement — is now an in-joke that means nothing to the outside world.
I quickly went on to explain that this word has so much unknown importance to us currently working in social media, but it's a near impossible word for us to define. The conversation we were currently involved in was one of the most engaging experiences of my week, and while that's significant, I don't know how to quantify that. It kept me thinking hours beyond our discussion — that's what pushed me to write the bulk of this blog post before I went to bed last night. How do you place a number on that? An hour, four people, a few things to think about, and a bit of action, at least on my part, by writing this. That means something, but I don't actually know what it does mean. I know that I feel awesome inside, that 12 more folks more contemplated social media today than they usually do (or not! Perhaps everyone is a closet social media nerd like I used to be!), and to paraphrase an old commercial... two bags of candy: $6.38, laptop: free checkout with OCID, talking about social media all day: priceless.
Perhaps my thinking about yesterday's office hours is because hindsight is 20/20, or because we all place different worth on what we believe is most important to us. Engagement is finicky, just like friendship, which is why I continue to return to thinking about the first word in my job title: social first. And in many (possibly counterintuitive) ways, the more I head out to talk to people and the less I sit behind my computer, the more I learn about social media.