The second day of our Study Tour kicked off with an hour’s drive from San Francisco down South to the heart of Silicon Valley. Julia and Florencia swept us up at our hotel at dawn and as we drove down the freeway we went through a few of the many microclimates unique to the Peninsula and South Bay areas. Leaving sunny but cool and windy San Francisco, going through the infamous fog and arriving a few miles further in a warm, bright Palo Alto.
We were warned that the Bay Area weather was variable and unpredictable, but what I hadn’t anticipated was that we were about to measure something very different on the barometer. We were reaching an economic and cultural microclimate – a place where anyone with the right drive and ambition can reinvent themselves, where entrepreneurs have all the right ingredients to flourish and where high-tech innovation with a pinch of cultural diversity can change the way business in done in the rest of the world.
According to Chuck Darrah, Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University, time and place become irrelevant to the rest of the world. Chuck was our first host of the day, and he shared with us that in the Silicon Valley you can do business in ways you simply can’t anywhere else, and that its fast-pace environment in precisely why so many people want to be here. Ready to keep up? If so, the Valley region can offer Venture Capital for startups with winning business models, infinite employment opportunities to the well-connected, and if you play your cards right you can basically become whoever you want to be. If not, then someone will take your place in the overcrowded region of three million people in a heartbeat.
One other element that Chuck made clear to the group was that risk-taking and failing is highly rewarded in the Valley, as well as key to fitting in. If you’ve tried and failed, you are someone edgy, constructed and profiled. If you want to be recognized as someone with potential or with a business that is going places, you need to show you are as ready to take risks and fall flat on your face as the risk you’re asking investors to make in you.
So where does Higher Education fit into all this? Well, just 10 minutes away from the open office space where we met Chuck stands proudly the Stanford University campus – a university that offers an environment as unique as the Valley itself. Stanford is not a standard American university, but a global university that produces the people who will create new companies and revolutionize industry.
I suppose Stanford would agree with this positioning, as their Graduate Business School’s (GBS) statement honorably reads, “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” Our second meeting of the day with GBS social media strategist Karen Lee explained to us that their Communications objective it to voice GBS authentically so influencers can benefit from what they have to offer and drive positive change.
And how can they do this? One way is through social media by sharing and engaging with people around stories that reinforce their brand, for instance by sharing speaker notes on their Linkedin page. Sounds easy right? Well actually getting influencers’ attention isn’t a simple task, but Karen did give us one crucial tip: package up the most essential points, make them short, snappy and engage-worthy, and you might just drive your audience from your tweets, Facebook posts or Linkedin updates to the deeper web content you would like them to read, share, or act upon.
Jumping ahead to the final meeting of the Day with Dan Colman in Continuing Studies at Stanford, I found that the dots all started to connect. The Continuing Studies activities began 25 years ago as an initiative to build more positive dynamics between Stanford and neighboring communities – the goal being to make the campus and its exclusive education more accessible to the people who lived in the area – and it worked.
Over the years the Continuing Studies entity has grown and now professionalized its offering with over 120 different courses per quarter in fields raging from professional development in creative writing to more competency based trainings in business. I was nicely surprised to learn that their main promotional channel remains a good old printed catalog, standard email targeting and traditional media advertising. Much like what we discovered with relief on the first day of our Study Tour, not all top Californian university schools or departments necessarily have efficient social media processes in place. The Continuing Studies’ social media strategy is still in the making, a lot is still based on trial and error, and much added value with social media activity so far has been the result of… daring to take risks!
One great social media tip I’ll take home from Marketing Manager Emma Walker at the Continuing Studies is to forget Facebook ads and concentrate on boosting posts. For them it worked wonders, so I can’t wait to try this for myself back home in Switzerland.