Archive for the ‘internet’ Category
One of the things that social media offers EVERYONE is the chance to present important work to the world in engaging ways. Proof? Just look at a map from the James McGregor Stewart society in Nova Scotia. I think if you read this post, you’ll see that even the most underresourced organization can use online tools to do good work and spread it.
The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.
It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.
So, the back story:
The James McGregor Stewart Society’s prime mover, a guy named Gus Reed, got a question from his intern. She wanted to find out how easy is it for people with disabilities to meet with their elected representatives? So, simplicity itself. She phoned each of the 52 MLAs’ constitutency offices and asked them some very simple questions about accessibility. Here’s what they asked:
- Does your office have parking? If so, is it paved? Does it have designated accessible spots?
- Is there a power door button?
- Is your entrance accessible (level, ramped, and / or elevator?)? Does it have a portable or other questionable ramp? Does it have a step or stairs?
- Is the washroom large enough for a wheelchair? Are there grab bars and/or a wheel-under sink?
- Is your office on an accessible transit route?
With this, they assigned points so that MLAs could score between -1 and 6.
Here are the results:
The mean score was 3. Keep in mind, you could get a 3 by having a disabled parking space at your office and having a door at street level. If you had an accessible washroom you’d get a 5. So a mean score of 3 is not exactly inspiring.
I spent a little time trying to get a handle on the Nova Scotia government’s accessibility policy. As best as I can understand it, buildings constructed since the 1990s, or buildings that have changed their purpose (from a house to a retail store, for example) are required to conform to the provincial building code, which mandates a number of measures to ensure disabled people can get access. (The building code regulations are here, and the province’s 1986 Building Access act is here.) Unfortunately, calls and emails to the province’s Human Rights Commission and Disabled Persons Commission resulted in little useful information. However, a cheerful fellow at the provincial department of Labour and Advanced Education (which is responsible for the building code) walked me through the regulations so that I got a cursory understanding of them.
The shameful level of accessibility is one thing. But I’m not an accessibility blogger – I’m a PR and social media blogger. So I’m gonna take on that aspect of this.
What really caught my eye in Parker Donham’s post was that nobody else had done this sort of survey before. Certainly, it’s not a technical challenge; simply pick up the phone 52 times and you’re done.
But what social media now offers is the opportunity to disseminate these findings in a graphically-rich way quickly, easily, and widely. No wire service needed, no fancy-dan graphic designers. Just Google Maps, Blogger, and email.
I spoke with Gus Reed on Skype on June 6, and he told me they weren’t sure what would happen with this survey. With no staff, the James McGregor Stewart Society has no “machine” to churn out a mass of followup documents. And this story may not make a dent in the media or in Nova Scotia government policy.
I want to draw out some public relations and social media lessons for both activist groups and for those who are their likely targets — large corporations, organizations, or government.
- Do solid work — like calling all 52 constituency offices, and tell your story well. Don’t focus only on media attention. A well-told story, like “people in wheelchairs can’t participate in basic democracy” is going to make people stop and read. If your work is shoddy or bloggers or media get burned, though, good luck getting someone to listen a second time.
- Use the resources you have at your disposal. In this case, the society has a blog on Blogger. Sure, they could get more fancy. But they haven’t. They used Google Maps to visualize and annotate their data. Gus Reed used Skype to give me more information.
- Have a plan. Even if you’re not going to push hard on the media front, doing the work requires followup. What will your next steps be? Once you do them, what’s next? Even for voluntary organizations with no staff, this stuff isn’t a closed circle, it’s lather, rinse, repeat. (Hint: there are lots of municipalities in Nova Scotia to look at, Mr Reed. Hint 2: There are 12 other legislatures that groups could survey in exactly the same way.)
- Do not look at this as a threat. Look at it as an opportunity. Even if it’s critical. And especially if, deep down, you know the criticism is well-founded.
- Do not ignore small organizations as powerless. The “amplification effect” may leave you chasing down a forest fire.
- Respond. Promptly and substantively.
Not so long ago, my friend Dennis posted an infographic about the misuse (accidential or wilful) of data in infographics. In a handy infographic format. I’m going to take the opportunity to embed it below. It’s worth keeping.
But Dennis’s nifty graphic only tells us about one place where we can be led into temptation — the infographic.
I happened upon a newsletter today that made me think of how easy it is to make marketing and communication decisions or take action based on information that should be questioned.
Mobile Commerce Daily reported on May 29 that “44pc of shoppers will never return to sites that are not mobile friendly: report.” The story is based entirely on a survey carried out by US software company Kentico, which makes content management systems. Kentico issued a news release about the survey on May 28, but it could be that the newsletter had an embargoed copy of the release.
The information is interesting. For example, it says that nearly 9 in 10 people with smartphones use them to compare products to competitors. And 45% do it right in the store, underlining the practice of “showrooming.”
But… in the newsletter story, there’s no information at all about the survey data. Even more frustrating is the lack of a link to the source data. I tracked down Kentico, then hit their press centre, where the news release about the survey sits. If you go to the Kentico site, you discover that the data-gathering part of this survey consisted of “More than 300 US residents 18 years old and over participated in the Kentico Mobile Experience Survey, conducted online during the month of April, 2013.”
Now, a survey sample is neither good nor bad. The point is to understand that sample. Was it a random sample? Did the participants selfselect? I couldn’t tell anything more than what I just said, because Kentico didn’t link to the survey itself or a more detailed report of its findings.
I contacted Kentico’s PR company, and Chris Blake of MSR Communications was prompt, open and detailed in his responses to my questions. He gave me demographic information that SurveyMonkey, the tool they used to do the research, provided, and a copy of the questionnaire. After a brief perusal of some USA census data, I learned that their sample of 300 people skewed only slightly more male, somewhat older, and way more educated than the US general population, for one thing. And the data provided on their sample gives me a sense of the potential sampling error rate (while Chris Blake suggests a ±5% margin of error, I’m thinking more like ±10%).
I don’t think there’s ANYTHING bogus about the survey results here. But I needed to take a fair amount of time to convince myself of that. And there are many occasions on which I find the data or survey results so problematic that I forget about using them.
There’s a flood of survey results and other materials that get published by the originators of the information, by newsletters, and by people like me every minute of every day. It’s easy to take everything at face value. But think twice. As a teacher of social media, I’m constantly looking for good data to share with students. As a consultant, I’m looking for information that I can use to help clients make sound decisions. But it is dangerous to see a newsletter article and use it to tell students or clients to base their actions on the data it contains.
Back in the days when ink and paper cost money, I understand the need for brevity and concision. But these newsletters are electronic. Pixels don’t cost anything but the time to write. And if you’re not going to disclose proprietary or competitive information, why not make as much information as you can readily available?
The more easily people like me can peruse your research, the more likely we’ll be to accept its conclusions. The more difficulty we have understanding the process behind the numbers, the more skeptical we become (or at least the more skeptical we SHOULD become).
And if you’re in business and trying to grapple with the challenges of communicating using social media, either desktop-style or mobile, make sure to ask questions EVERY time you see statistics and survey results. You don’t want to have to explain to your boss why you made a bad marketing or sales decision based on data you found in a press release and didn’t vet.
It’s too generous to assume that just because someone writes a newsletter, they’re doing your due diligence for you.
Here’s Dennis’s great graphic:
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
Here in Canada, yesterday was budget day. This is a major event on the political scene in Ottawa. The leadup lasts for days. The Finance Minister goes to get new shoes for each budget speech (it’s a tradition with unknown origins), and that’s always a media event.
Leaks and trial balloons abound in the media as speculation mixes with officials sliding out ideas to gauge the public’s reception.
And on budget day, dozens of journalists, stakeholders, analysts and generally big-headed people are locked in hotel ballrooms, sans Blackberries and iPhones, getting sneak previews and briefings so they can sound intelligent when the Minister of Finance rises in the House of Commons at 4 pm to deliver the budget.
One of the big storylines this year is that the Department of Finance is using social media as never before. They’ll stream the speech. They’ll have an “enhanced” buget speech with extra features. And they’ll be tweeting the budget.
All of this is great. Except… It’s more than likely just a stunt to “get the budget messages out.”
The leader of Canada’s Green Party, Elizabeth May, told CBC Radio that she felt federal budgets were becoming “PR documents rather than financial projections.” While I am used to people using “PR” in this pejorative way, I understand what she’s saying.
And the plain and simple truth of things is, that our federal government is lagging badly behind when it comes to truly exploiting the potential of social media.
Why? There are a number of reasons.
The first is a structural fact. In Canada, there is a tradition that governments speak primarily through the elected cabinet ministers. Public servants report up to a Deputy Minister (a professional public servant), and he or she interacts with the Minister and his or her staff.
Sometimes, public servants become well known. David Philips is a meteorologist with Environment Canada who does hundreds of interviews, puts out a calendar each year that sells thousands of copies, etc. A woman named Colette Gentes-Hawn was a longtime spokesperson for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and did countless call-in shows each year to answer questions about income tax. But those are exceptions. Most of the time, public servants work in relative anonymity. That’s a historic challenge that needs to be overcome.
The second is an unfortunate truth — Canada’s federal politicians have for the most part done a poor job with social media and those in positions of power have done an even worse job empowering the public servants who work in their ministries.
There are people at the highest levels of power — most prominently Industry Minister Tony Clement — who have mastered one or more social media tools and used them dextrously to achieve their own ends. And my friend Mark Blevis has made a bit of a splash for himself evaluating the digital performance of Canada’s Members of Parliament.
But Canada lacks a true governmental champion to lead efforts to use social media as it truly can be used. So what you’ll see if you explore social media use of Canadian federal government websites is… a lot of using social media as an add-on to the traditional pushing out of “key messages” that most professional communicators would be familiar with: news releases, Q&A documents, backgrounders…
It would appear that the Prime Minister, as well as his cabinet, are happy with this state of affairs. So that’s what is happening with the 2013 federal budget (or, as the government is calling it, “Economic Action Plan 2013”).
There’s not much more leadership at the top levels of the public service. Here’s a quote from a speech by Daniel Caron, the Chief Archivist of Canada, given in November 2012.
“The Government of Canada now uses social media and websites to conduct its business. It is fair to say that it is taking a measured and sensible approach to adopting these new platforms as part of its communication practices.
Why? Because of the unpredictable nature of technological innovation.
Government of Canada institutions have to provide Canadians with timely, accurate, and complete information about federal programs and services.
This is necessary in our democratic process.
It is also the key to safeguard Canadians’ trust in public institutions.
We must therefore be prudent in the use of new communication platforms to assure continued confidence in these public institutions.
Charged with the responsibility of spending taxpayer dollars wisely, those of us who oversee budgetary expenditures cannot trade off fiscal responsibility for the desire to embrace the latest trend in communications technology just to appear “cool.”
How are these communication technologies, such as social media and interactive websites, changing how public institutions conduct their business? Is the change profound or are we just replicating the use of traditional media on new platforms?
The impact and consequences of this shift are probably profound, but these communication technologies still rely on platforms that enable us as public institutions to exchange information with Canadians.”
Not exactly a passionate advocate. Another of Caron’s speeches, at the Canadian Library Association conference in May 2012 was the subject of a firestorm of negative reaction from conference delegates on Twitter. One of the things they found most outrageous?
“Back in 2008, LAC launched its Flickr account. It provides thematic image sets about the institution and from the collection, and to date has had approximately 400,000 views.
Our Twitter account was launched at the end of February and now has over 600 followers. It provides information to stakeholders and citizens, allows the organization to reach new audiences, and facilitates access to LAC’s services and collection.
This week has also seen new forays into YouTube and Facebook.
We have integrated the content from our four YouTube channels into a singular departmental channel, organized by themes in order to raise awareness about LAC’s holdings and activities.
And our official Facebook account has just been launched. In addition to institutional messaging and news about launches of events and new products, LAC will initiate original features to engage with Canadians, such as “Today in History” and “What do We Have Here”?
Finally, our LAC podcasts highlight significant collection items, share expertise and specialized knowledge that will facilitate discovery, access, and engagement between Canadian users and LAC’s collection.
This will be done through a variety of technical podcasting models, including audio, audio with images, and video.
Each podcast episode will feature different content and, will maintain a common focus on engagement with the collection, accessibility and client autonomy.
LAC has launched two podcasts so far, Project Naming and Canada’s North and The Lest We Forget Project. Upcoming podcasts include the War of 1812 and the Double Take travelling exhibition.”
They’ve gotten up to seven podcast episodes since they started, in February 2012. Their follower counts for their bilingual accounts total about 3200 now. I can’t verify their claims about the Flickr stream. But when it comes to updates, there’s nothing since January.
The third thing is related to the second. Over the last couple of years, I’ve taught a fair number of public servants while doing social media courses at Algonquin College or at Eliquo Training & Development. Those two organizations are far from the only ones — there’s even social media programming at the Canada School of the Public Service. The people taking these courses are not stupid, they don’t lack motivation, and they show up on time. But they feel that there’s no room for them to really “do social media”: to engage with the citizens who pay their salaries, to get problems solved in the ways that you’d expect someone at Dell or Zappos to, and as a teacher, I sense their frustration.
The hard part for people like me is to find ways to teach them about social media that they can actually put into practice and use.
So what would make it a LOT easier for both public servants learning about social media, as well as those who teach them? Some real leadership from those at the top of the federal government.
I think it goes without saying that government organizations tend to be cautious. Most of the time, that’s not a bad thing. One legendary example of incautiousness was John Manley proudly announcing that he, as Minister of Industry, now had an e-mail account, and that he would answer his emails PERSONALLY! That lasted less than a week.
What has become more common is federal internet thinking that lags the “real world” by months or years. One particularly glaring example was the November 2012 ceremony in which Canada’s Governor-General (the Queen’s representative here in Canada — we are a constitutional monarchy) welcomed a number of Canadians into the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honours. The GG’s office webcast the ceremony — great! But it was only accessible via Internet Explorer, a browser used by less than one in five people, and one that the German government had recommended the public stop using due to security issues two months earlier.
To this rather depressing state of affairs, take a look at the Government Digital Service in the UK.
Where we have tons of policies and guidelines written in impenetrable prose, they have plain language, witty writing, and accessible policies. (NOBODY in Canada’s government would write a blog post and title it “Widgets, badges and blog bling.” Trust me.)
Their Foreign Office has hundreds of bloggers (literally, hundreds) of bloggers. Many departments have effective and well-written blogs that are tied to people. Sometimes the head of the agency, sometimes not.
There are people and organizations trying their best within the Canadian government. There’s a site called “GCPedia” — an internal wiki for public servants. Organizations that have a level of independence from the government, such as the Privacy Commissioner, have done some innovative and well-received work. And individuals like Nick Charney with his CPSRenewal blog are tireless activists.
But the sad truth for Canadians is that we don’t have a champion either at the political or public service level who is willing to carry the torch for the EFFECTIVE use of social media. And until we do, we will have government social media that reflects the PR strategies of the 1950s.
That is simply too big.
800 megs of images? Really?
Whatever your role within an organization, you need to be a tireless advocate for websites that balance features, design, and SPEED. Don’t bog your users down in endless (well, perceptually endless) waits for content to load. The chances of those users going somewhere else are just too high.
If you’re feeling confused by this post, perhaps a visit to Now Make it Mobile, a site by Vancouver shop Mobify will help. They have tons of tips on making great mobile web sites.
I spent the weekend at a conference. No big deal there. We all do.
But this was the final PAB conference, and like most things related to this event, it turned out to be a big deal.
The back story:
Seven years ago, Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche were fledgling podcasters, and with inspiration provided by Tod Maffin, among others, they created “Podcasters Across Borders“, a conference that took place in Kingston, ON. It was a great success. It eventually went from its original title to PAB, and moved from Kingston to Ottawa, where Mark (and I, for that matter) live.
I first attended in 2008, and I have been to four PABs. And this last weekend, they closed out their run with PAB 2012 at the wonderful National Arts Centre.
Why should you care about this? After all, you weren’t there. And the conference is gone. Who cares, right?
You should care because PAB was a wonderful case study of the power of community to form, grow, and thrive thanks to social media.
PABsters are a diverse lot. Paramedics, hardware guys, musicians, academics, entrepreneurs, public servants, car dealers, photographers, lawyers, editors, students, teachers… On the surface, there’s no commonality. So what’s to tie them together? How could the bonds formed there become so deep that copious tears are shed at each departure?
In a word, geekery. Everybody who attended a PAB was some kind of a geek. I’m a communications geek (and a guitar geek). Alexa is a food geek. Dude is a beatnik geek. I could go on through the list of people who have attended or presented, and point out the precise geekiness exhibited by everyone there. And for all of them, all of us, the geeking becamse the way of bonding — that I could talk to one person about vintage film cameras and another about the subtleties of Japanese culture and another about which hot restaurants were must-visits before they left Ottawa and another about the future of education as affected by social media turned me on. It indulged my terminal curiosity.
And PAB offers each and every one of its members a safe space to let their geek flag fly. The Saturday night open-mic allowed one branding consultant to let his Axl Rose-esque vocal style out to play. Anthony Marco brought the room to a standstill with his version of Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl.” And while the musicianship and vocals were far from world-class, the enthusiasm and love in the room were evident.
The shared understanding that brought the PAB community together also led to some tremendous presentations over the years, either full-length or the five-minute “Jolts” that Mark and Bob introduced a few years in. I presented this year, and found myself bedevilled by nerves that I rarely feel. Why? Because I knew just how high the standard was, and how much I wanted to meet it. Later, people like Sue Murphy shared that they felt the same way.
These social media tools we all use to either create or consume content are empty tools if they don’t facilitate some sort of human contact — either human contact online, or human contact face to face.
While Mark and Bob have chosen to fold up the PAB tent, I suspect that the strong, loving community they’ve created and that I’m so proud to be part of will refuse to let the event be forgotten. Remember, if you hear about a PAB 2013, I predicted it.
And to Mark and Bob: thanks, and congratulations. You have done a great thing.
PAB2012 on Flickr
Audio of the infamous 2012 open mic, courtesy Shane Birley.
It’s not hard to find evidence that video is a huge part of social media life, and that it can have massive impact on businesses. There are tons of case studies, from Caine’s Arcade to “Will it Blend?” to Dynomighty to “The man your man could smell like.”
All this buzz may have you thinking you need to use video for your small business. I don’t want to tell you NOT to, but video is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. So before you go and buy a camera or hire the local Cecil B. deMille, think about the following. First, before you start a video initiative:
- Where does this fit into your overall marketing and communications strategy? (If you have one. You DO have one, right?)
- Sure, everything in the world has a camera in it that can be used to shoot video, and computers come with free video editing programs. But that doesn’t mean that your smartphone and off-the-shelf computer will make quality images and videos.
- Whether you’re hiring someone to do production or going full DIY, ALLOW FOR TIME. Yes, it takes only a few minutes to upload a video to Youtube. But it’s all the steps BEFORE the upload that take time.
- The tools don’t help you tell stories. Telling stories via video is not always easy, and it takes a particular kind of thinking. If you can’t afford someone to help you with the process of prepping for a video production, then practice on your own time. Turn your vacation videos into development opportunities before you do a business video.
Once you’ve made a video, your work is done? NO WAY. You still have lots of work left to do.
- Tag and categorize your videos on YouTube or on whatever video host you use.
- Track your stats. See that little icon next to the view count? If you click on that for any Youtube video, you’ll see lots of statistical information. USE IT.
- Share your videos and integrate them into your other marketing and communications work. See that Share button in the screenshot? USE IT to embed your video on your website, and encourage others to do the same. Have a promotional strategy in place for your video BEFORE you upload it.
(This is post number six in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)
From Google Analytics to SocialMention to Bitly to Facebook Page Insights and onward, there are a host of great tools out there that let you do everything from finetune your online ad copy and images to make the search engine bots happy and welcome on your page to understand who’s coming to your site and how they get there.
Of course, the next step in understanding how people are coming to your site is to start thinking about whether you can fine-tune the content you’re producing — whether that’s blog posts, videos, images, infographics, or whatever — to attract more of the people you want and increase the spreadability of your stuff.
However… don’t get so focused on the mechanics of what you’re doing that you forget the humanity.
Some people hire search engine optimization (SEO) consultants or SEO companies that do some questionable things. Some companies hide links back to their own companies in the websites they work on, they use link farms, they will fill a sub-page on a website with links back to the home page… all of these things are bad.
But sometimes the temptation to use what we can learn from the Google Keyword Tool, Compete, Google Insights, and the like can overpower the basic truth. What is that basic truth? Brace yourself. It’s going to ROCK YOUR WORLD:
If you do the basic stuff (metatags, add title text, use categories and tags on blog posts, put alt text on images) right, if you engage with the community you want to be part of, if you are generous in sharing links, praising, discussing, and advancing discussions, and you write or produce great content… that’s easily as important as feverishly reading every SEO book, blog, and white paper out there.
Keep it simple. Build a strong foundation, then do good work. Good things will happen.
(This is post number four in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)
I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.
One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.
Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.
And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.
I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).
But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.
The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:
- Twestival‘s remarkable success (nearly $2M raised in three years) comes to mind (and I feel justifiably proud in pointing to Ottawa’s superbly done Twestival event last year, organized by Stéphanie Montreuil and a gang of other smart people).
- The recent example of Caine’s Arcade is another heartwarming story, especially now that in addition to providing Caine with the world’s first crowdsourced scholarship (I’m guessing), a foundation has paired up to match those funds and help other kids like Caine.
- Hélène Campbell, a young woman from Ottawa, took her diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and turned it into a campaign for organ donation that took the province of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network by surprise — when she got celebrities such as Jann Arden, Justin Bieber, and Ellen Degeneres involved in urging organ donation, their registrations went from about 50 per day up to hundreds per day. She bumped the whole province’s registration number by two percent — nearly 250,000!
- 12for12K was a campaign organized by Danny Brown back in 2008, which raised more than $100,000 for a number of charities.
- And a couple of years ago, this was brought home to me when I found myself raising money and collecting goods for a local women’s shelter that had suffered a terrible fire.
So what makes all this different? A few things:
- People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of.
I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.
- Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way
Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.
- Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire.
The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.
- Use this new energy to leverage your organization.
In the media relations game, ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.
- Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives.
Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.
As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.
Some great resources for not-for-profits:
NOTE: This is post #1 in a weekly series I’m calling SMB101. SMB can stand for a few things: Social Media in Business, Small and Medium Business… it’s up to you. Whatever the acronym, when you see it and the 101 logo at right, you’ll know it’s a short, (hopefully) pithy and useful post designed to help smaller organizations get a handle on social media.
The rollout of new social media tools seems neverending. And it pretty much is.Even a relatively short time ago, social media options seemed limited. Do a blog. Maybe a podcast.
Then social networks like Facebook became ubiquitous, the cost of creating video decreased, smartphones flooded the Western world, Twitter was everywhere, and the hits just kept on coming. If you don’t feel overwhelmed yet, check out this listing of over 400 networks and sites.
It’s natural to want to jump on board. Everybody talks about the advantages of being the first adopter, of being ahead of the curve. And there are advantages.
If you’re working for or own a business that has a communications, public relations, or social media team, you have the relative luxury of relying on them to lead the adoption of new media tools. Alternatively, larger businesses or not-for-profits might have a PR, advertising, or social media agency on retainer to be the leader. Even having a community manager or dedicated social media person is great.
But if you’re a small business with limited time to “do” social media, it might be wise for you to resist the temptation to jump on every bandwagon you see someone else riding on. Why? I’ll give you a number of reasons:
- Tools aren’t strategies. If you jump from tool to tool, you increase the risk of forgetting WHY you’re doing social media in the first place. Social media should be like every other part of your business — informed by a solid strategy. It’s a powerful form of communications and public relations. And that power can translate into greatness, or awfulness.
- If you’re a small business, you need to budget your time carefully. And each tool has a learning curve. Better to do three things well than 10 things poorly.
- There’s no guarantee that the latest new gadget, site, utility, etc. will be around for long. Remember Google Wave? Exactly.
- There’s no guarantee your audience is looking for you on a given tool, or that they’re even there. A furniture store near me prominently displays a LinkedIn logo. Why?
If you’re the sort of person who loves to know about new things, that’s great. Play with shiny toys on your own time and in your own spaces. But don’t experiment with them for your business on your business’s site and on your business’s time. Your time is too precious to be spent on efforts that aren’t well-thought-out and supportive of your business goals.
If your small business needs some help choosing from the nearly infinite set of social media options, get in touch. I’d be happy to help. I love finding ways of helping small business that are affordable and effective for you and profitable and rewarding for me.