Beyond Hyphenation

As enrollment in rural schools declines, smaller communities have been left with no viable alternative but to consolidate their schools with neighboring towns.

Typically this leads to a lot of hyphenated names for the resulting school districts, such as (in our part of Minnesota) Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Elgin-Millville, Dover-Eyota and the like. Sometimes the district comes up with a whole new name for the school, as when Rose Creek, Adams and Elkton combined to become Southland.

I believe my wife Lisa’s home district set the hyphenation record when New Richland-Hartland combined with Ellendale-Geneva to become…you guessed it…New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, which the sportscasters abbreviate as NRHEG. Sometimes they’ll pronounce each letter, but if they’re in a hurry they just say NURR-heg.

A similar phenomenon has happened over the last half-century in the newspaper business, as competing newspapers in a community combined because neither could sustain themselves economically. So in Minnesota’s largest city the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune, which I remember as separate papers in the 1980s, became the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Likewise in Milwaukee the Journal and the Sentinel became the Journal Sentinel in 1995.

Hyphenated or not, you can probably think of several combo newspapers like this (e.g. Seattle Post-Intelligencer) – feel free to chime in with your examples in the comments.

But what happens when even the combined papers can’t make it? When even hyphenation can’t make the business model work?

We’re seeing that this week with the announcement that the Times-Picayune of New Orleans will be ceasing daily publication in the fall, moving to three days per week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

If a metropolitan area of 1.2 million people can’t support a daily print newspaper, that’s a significant milestone in the decline of the traditional newspaper business model. Employee layoffs are coming there, too, which is the continuation of a trend being tracked at Paper Cuts.

As Seth Godin and others have said, newspapers aren’t primarily selling news to subscribers; they’re attracting subscribers and renting their attention to advertisers. The new publishing schedule of the Times-Picayune makes this explicit, as Wednesday is the traditional day for advertising inserts.

With so many choices for consumers in how they will get their news and entertainment, the mainstream media oligopoly is much less profitable than it was a generation ago. Those traditional media players have some built-in advantages. but the barriers to entry that formerly protected them (FCC licenses and the huge amounts of capital needed to buy transmitters or printing presses) are now practically non-existent.

That’s why I have often said:

Don’t just pitch the media. Be the media.

Do pitch the media. Work with the existing outlets as a resource and help them serve their audiences.

But be the media too. If you have a story to tell, you can do it through a blog. And you aren’t just limited to text: you can embed video, audio, slide presentations, photos and other resources. It costs you literally nothing to start.

Have you taken the blogging plunge? If not, why not?


From Lab Rat to Social Media Champion

Chancellor’s Note: For his exemplary work in applying SMUG principles to his work, Jason Tetro (a.k.a. The Germ Guy) is today receiving his honorary doctorate (the only kind we have to offer) from Social Media University, Global. This is his doctoral dissertation.

For the better part of the last 30 years, science was my vocation and I was comfortable with life in the lab.  The job was always interesting and results continued to satisfy me.  If I spent the rest of my life as a so-called ‘lab rat’ I would have been content.

That all changed in 1999.

Ironically, it wasn’t science that prompted me to venture out of the comfort of the lab but rather the sad events that occurred in Columbine High School, or to be more specific, the fallout that came as a result.  Back then, I sported long-haired, a goatee and a trench coat.  Up until that day, I had no problem but afterwards, the reactions of people in the streets, on the bus and even at work concerned me.  I had never once shown an iota of violent behavior and yet people looked at me as if I was a villain, an outcast and worse, a potential murderer.  So I wrote an article for the local newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, called “Don’t judge a man by his black trenchcoat.”

The article in the Ottawa Citizen

It was not only accepted, but heralded by the newspaper and earned me a plum position and a photo that perhaps wasn’t the most flattering but did change people’s perspective of me.  Instead of being viewed as a threat to society, I was a bellwether for others to speak their mind.  For months, I interacted with hundreds of people, most of whom I didn’t know.  I listened, learned, appreciated and shared.

In a way, it was my first encounter with what was to become known as social media.

A contributor to society

Shortly afterwards, an editor at the newspaper called me up and asked me if I would be willing to write more.  I had concerns but was not about to decline the offer.  For the next two years, I wrote as a community citizen, never accepting a cent in return.  Over time, I learned how to engage others to give them the ability to act beyond the words on paper to make their own differences in the community.

The response was tremendous and I heard countless stories of the human experience, many of which could not have happened without my contribution (or so they said).  Some people treated me like their friend, even though I had never once met them.  Others asked me to become engaged in their cause (I would normally decline as I was still professionally a ‘lab rat’).  But perhaps the most rewarding (and humbling) experience occurred one evening on a bus when I was surrounded by three individuals who obviously recognized me.  They told me that there was a group of twenty-something individuals in the Ottawa area who not only followed me, but developed their course of action based on my articles.  I asked why they didn’t act out on their own without my example sparking them.

The answer still brings goosebumps: “You said it when no one else would listen.”

I should point out that although one might think these experiences may have convinced me to be a leader; they did something completely different.  I wanted to be a communicator or broker of knowledge.  I had a passion to be a hybrid of the 4Es – Entertainer, Educator, Expresser, and Engager.  I wanted to be someone that made differences.

Was I ever naïve.

Looking for an audience in all the wrong places

I was just starting my thirties and honestly believed that it was time to take the rat out of the lab and into the real world.  However, to follow the metaphor, once I was out, there were more shrieks of discontent than appreciation of the effort.

The next years were hard as I explored various avenues of media to continue my passion for engagement.  I tried filmmaking with little success; writing fiction, while interesting to scientists, went nowhere.  None of my attempts to interact with journalists seemed to work either.  It seemed that what I was selling was just not wanted.  I sadly believed that the world just wasn’t interested in science as a part of their daily lives.  It wasn’t until almost 5 years later that I realized I was working ahead of the curve and that my efforts were quite simply misplaced.

From Fun Guy to Germ Guy

In early 2007, I was asked to help in the development of a news article on “Germs.”  The premise was pretty simple:  Germs are everywhere but don’t panic!  The reporter decided to make it fun but still educational.  The result was a success for us and a hit with the public!

Germs on CTV Ottawa Part 1


Germs on CTV Ottawa Part 2

While this was not the beginning of the “Germ Guy” (I was actually known as the “Fun Guy” (homonymous with fungi), it did create the spark.

Less than a year later, I was asked not only to take part in live segments on “Germs”, but also to take live questions.  I had trepidations but was not about to say no.  And so, following my 4E’s, the segment became a popular addition to the noon show, the feedback was always positive and soon, the “Germ Guy” became a reality.

It wasn’t long before I was asked about the location of my website or blog or Facebook account.  I’ll be honest, I had been using the internet since the late 1980s and thought of myself as fairly savvy but in reality, I was well behind the times.  In all the work that I had done in the traditional media, I had yet to explore the avenues of social media.

I couldn’t have imagined what I was missing!

The 5th E – Explosion

My first experience in social media was twofold.  First, I set up a Facebook account although I wasn’t sure about whom to friend or not friend.  I was indiscriminate and thankfully was amazed at the interaction.  Discussion topics were as wide as the greatest panorama and for the most part, were well-tempered.  The second was the initiation of the placement of my segments on the web (many of which you can still see by visiting my website).  Linking to the videos was easy and I was able to bring all my Facebook friends to the site to view the segments.  Soon, I was gaining friends, many of whom were looking forward to talking with the Germ Guy and in many cases, to gain the opportunity to ask questions just like on TV.

Germ Guy 2009

By the end of the first year, I had been bombarded with comments, messages, and queries; it was almost all too much.  Yet it was only the beginning.  When the station held an open house, I was welcomed as a member of the family and placed in a highly visible zone.  I was amazed at how many people I met, how many hands I shook, how many hugs I received.

Despite all the joy, there was a significant downside.  It was becoming clear that Facebook was not the avenue to follow.  The critiques were growing from those who believed that they were as capable as me and wanted to let me know this usually in private but sometimes in the public foray.  In addition, some of the topics I discussed were controversial and at times I found myself on the wrong end of campaigns.  This was no clearer than when one segment, in which I supported the flu vaccine against the H1N1 virus, ended up being shared with anti-vaccine advocates.  Soon I was embroiled in hundreds of messages and comments from these people who served no higher goal than to belie, berate and besmirch me until I broke down and disappeared.  I quite honestly tried to fight, but had to give up.

I learned a hard lesson that day and have realized that it is now a tenet of social media:  if enough people find you to be their enemy, there will be no cessation until you are defeated.

A Student of Social Media

After that horrible experience, I stayed away from Facebook and within a few months, moved to Twitter.  The learning curve was high but I found myself enjoying this realm.  Tweeting, Re-Tweeting (RT) and commenting on tweets were a joy and each 140 character contribution was an experiment in the 5Es.  Much like a graduate student, I tested various hypotheses and had many lessons to learn.  Sometimes I would make a mistake and have to apologize for the lack of judgment or awareness.  Other times a test would end up with nary a mention; the tact would inevitably end up in File 13 such as the following “Hygiene United” avatar idea.

Hygiene United Shield

But there were times that something worked and with some further experimentation, I realized what would make a success.  And so, for the next half a year, I tested various Tweets to hone in on the successes both in the Twitterverse and its interaction with other existing means of social media including blogs, aggregators, videos and presentations.  The experience was enriching but there was still something missing.

Being a ‘SMUGgle’

The first time I heard of the Social Media University, Global, I was actively searching for sites that would help to take my experiences and put them to action.  The site was impressive while the logo, motto and overall atmosphere of the site reflected an academic focus that many seem to miss:  education isn’t dry – it should be enjoyed.  And, besides, who wouldn’t want to be called a ‘SMUGgle’?

Initially, I was taken aback by the wealth of information available and also the spirit with which the topics were presented.  Chancellor Dr. Lee Aase not only provided a strong and yet easily understandable curriculum for learning, but also gave direction as to how one might use their skills and create social media success.  In addition, the collection of easily accessible and readable theses showed how each SMUGgle has used the true power of social media to their success and tips and tricks as to how others can do the same.  To be honest, I didn’t just learn from SMUG, I absorbed.

Over time, with reading, reasoning and reflecting, I acquired the resilience to continue my journey towards being a true social media champion.  I felt that it was time to step out from the social media background and start becoming a leader.  It was time to share my vision, act on my mission and achieve my social media goal.

Chancellor Aase would call this my capstone.

I simply called it #handhygiene.

Tweets Alone do not a Strategy Make

I started the hashtag on May 5th, 2010, the annual Hand Hygiene Day promoted by the World Health Organization.  As I imagined, it started off slow and it took about a month to get into a groove whereby I was using the tag whenever I could.  At first, I gleaned from other hashtag conversations, such as #ptsafety, #infection, #germs and #hygiene, and RT them with the #handhygiene hashtag.  I also started looking for terms that would be related to #handhygiene such as “handwashing”, “hand hygiene”, “clean hands” and even “dirt” and “grime”.  Each day, I would find between 10 and 20 items to RT along with tweets of my own.

By the third month, a few people were using #handhygiene religiously while others were starting to get a feel for the concept of the hashtag.  Many contributors were companies looking for a marketing tag while others were focused on hand hygiene as a tenet in the  maintenance of health.  But I was getting nowhere with organizations, governments, NPOs and others who I believed would benefit most from the hashtag.  It turned out that none other than James Carville who I met by chance explained what was wrong.  To paraphrase his few minutes of schooling:  no one is going to listen to a tweeting “Germ Guy!”

It was clear I needed a strategy.

Blogging – Back to the Beginning

It was clear that I needed a blog to support the work that I was doing with #handhygiene.  A blog could go further than the 140 characters of a tweet and more importantly, could attract and keep an audience.  Not to mention it would provide more depth to the goals of the “Germ Guy” and provide a direction for the future.

In the summer of 2010, I started “The “Germ Guy” Blog: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist.”  I felt the title had the right amount of curiosity and alliteration to bring people to the site regardless of the content.  And the image, which I found thanks to a great webinar on hand hygiene, was just priceless.

I tried to post at least every two weeks but found myself lost.  At times I was just not sure of what to say.  At others, I was just afraid; I wasn’t sure I could engage people with something as simple as #handhygiene.  I felt that the blog might actually harm my hopes with the hashtag rather than help it.

I spoke with several people in social media but there were no answers.  No one had the magical answer and even if they did, they were not about to share it.  I found myself lagging both in confidence and unfortunately interest.  It wasn’t until I attended a seminar and met up with a colleague I had not seen in years that the answer hit me.

The question was simple enough:  “Are you still writing for the Citizen?”

“No,” I answered hoping to return with a bemusing quip.  “I’m writing for citizens.”

“I thought that’s what you were doing all along.”

Turns out I was the one to be mused and my block melted.

I went back to my roots.  All the strategies that I used in my newspaper posts were now the basis for my blog posts.  The techniques of alliteration, storytelling, metaphor and more importantly, positivity came back to me immediately and the posts improved dramatically – as did the popularity.

By the end of the year, the blog was gaining between 20 and 50 views a day (quite an accomplishment for something as anathema and uninteresting as germs).  But more importantly, the original targets for #handhygiene were now starting to not only read but also use the hashtag.  Municipal, state and provincial governments were using the tag as were major information sharing groups.  The number of #handhygiene tweets grew and over the winter holiday season, when I had little to no interaction with Twitter, the tag was sustained.

I have to say that these successes gave me a true sense of contribution.  But the zenith of my joy came when the World Health Organization (@whonews) itself, the ones who provided the spark for the tag, adopted #handhygiene for its posts on World Hand Hygiene Day 2011.

@whonews It’s 5 May, over 13,000 hospitals aim to improve #handhygiene with WHO SAVE LIVES campaign.

It took a year but the capstone was in essence complete.

From Social Media to Real Action

Since May 5, 2011, I haven’t been using social media much.  It’s not that I feel it’s time to move on but rather the fact that the successes I have achieved are now starting to translate into action in the real world.  I am now talking with a half dozen international countries in the developed and developing world that have approached me to develop strategies to improve their health and hygiene.  I am regularly talking behind the scenes with media and my hand and card are always taken at galas and other events.  It’s an entirely new world for the ‘lab rat’ but I am ready to learn and find ways to use the 5Es to attain success and bring the world closer to better health and hygiene and of course, the benefits of using social media.

As I accept this honorary doctorate from Social Media University Global, I would like to express both my gratitude and my wish to share my experiences with you as your new Associate Professor.  I’ve experienced much over the last decade and I cannot imagine not sharing it with the global social media community.

And so, with the blessing of the Chancellor, Dr. Lee Aase, I will, over the coming months, develop a course to facilitate efforts in the 5Es and to provide opportunities for mentorship.  I hope that everyone reading this will enroll in the course and find the lessons to be useful and easily adoptable.  But more importantly, I look forward to hearing of all the successes that are to come.

I thank you for your time and as this is a social media environment, would love to hear your comments.


Getting Sociable

Until now, I had been using the Tweet This! and Share This! plug-ins to encourage sharing of posts, and I’m working on getting the Facebook “Like” button installed, so I might switch my Facebook Connect plug-in, too.

This morning I stumbled across a sharing plug-in that I like a lot more than the other two, and I think it makes for a nicer look. It’s called Sociable, and while it supposedly hasn’t been tested for the latest version of WordPress, it seems to be working well.

I like that it lets me choose from among 99 different sharing sites and methods (including email) in one toolbar, and that you can customize both the heading (so I could call out Twitter, Facebook and E-Mail among the options) and the order of the icons.

Here’s a screen shot of all 99 services (click to enlarge):

The ability to customize your blog with plug-ins like this is one of the main advantages of a self-hosted WordPress blog, as opposed to using Still, is a great way to get your blog started quickly, and you can use domain mapping on to ensure continuity, so that if you decide later to move to self-hosted (as I did with SMUG), you don’t lose your external links.

If you’re using self-hosted WordPress, you might want to get Sociable too…and use the buttons below to share this post with your friends.

Debbie Weil on Social Media 101

Debbie Weil’s book on corporate blogging was one of the first I read as I was exploring social media and applying it at Mayo Clinic.

I’m honored that our work was featured so prominently in a Social Media 101 presentation she gave yesterday in Washington, D.C. She mentioned it via Twitter today, so I thought it would be good to share here:

Debbie has a lot of solid material the presentation. Her discussion of our Mayo Clinic experience is on slides 12-17, and I particularly like her Twitter tutorial that starts on slide 30. If you want to get her book, the link is below. Or you can get the updated Kindle version of the book here.

Tweet for Proposals (TFP) on WordPress MU Hosting

Picture 1

My good friend Lucien Engelen (@zorg20) tells the story of how he used Twitter to find someone able to develop an iPhone application for him in an extremely short time. He says it would have taken him weeks to do an RFP or ask one of his analysts to identify options, and by using Twitter he had the whole project completed (and the app in the iTunes store) within just a couple of weeks or so.

I’m taking a lesson from him, but in a different application, and doing my first TFP, or “Tweet for Proposals.”

Here’s the background:

Our Mayo Clinic blogs, including our Health Policy Blog, News Blog, Podcast Blog and Sharing Mayo Clinic, among others, have been hosted on until this point.

We started with because it was easy, fast, reliable and didn’t require us to dedicate IT resources and servers, and because it would eventually enable us to move to a self-hosted solution without losing Google juice. The URLs would all remain the same, but would be pointed to a different server.

I believe the time for our migration has come, and I would like to move our blogs from to a WordPress MU installation to create an easier growth path and also to give us more flexibility in plug-ins, widget embedding, etc.

Here’s what I think we need:

  1. Help setting up the WordPress MU platform.
  2. Help in migration from our existing blogs to the new platform, including mapping each of the URLs to the MU platform.
  3. Hosting and support that is rock solid and available 24/7. has been excellent in meeting traffic surges and has enabled us to focus on content instead of technical issues.

In essence, I think our ideal provider would have experience in migrating blogs from to the WordPress MU platform, and would currently be hosting several blogs on a WordPress MU installation. We’re not looking for a provider to do anything with content or comment moderation, but solely hosting and technical assistance, managing plug-ins, and otherwise enabling us to gain extended functionality as well as flexibility and scalability.

We could consider hosting on our own servers, and if you would want to propose that kind of model, we would be open to discussing. I would like to see, though, if we could get the 24/7 support from someone who is in the server business instead of expecting it from our IT staff.

I would appreciate it if you would pass this TFP on to anyone you think would be qualified, and I welcome any recommendations you have for suitable providers. Please leave them in the comments below. If you want more information or to discuss this off-line, send me a note here: aase (dot) lee (at) mayo (dot) edu.