Friday, December 19, 2008

The Party Never Ends

Image by @robynmcintyre

If you're new to social media, you're going to hear a lot from people about "maximizing your return" and using SEO, and lots of other stuff that won't make sense to you for some time. My advice? Ignore it. Ignore all of it for a while. The most important thing about coming to the social media party is to connect with others by building community. Sure, being able to measure your success is important, but without community, you've got nothing to measure. And trying to use a lot of different tools and methodologies you don't yet understand will only make things more
difficult and may even cause some of you to become overwhelmed and throw up your hands and walk away. Those tools and methdologies will still be there when you're ready for them and many new ones will have been invented. When you're more comfortable with social media, you'll be better able to evaluate what will make the most sense for you and your nonprofit.

I saw a great video today that came to me via Twitter and @portentint (Ian Lurie). It was about how electronic text and the changing definitions of electronic form and content have made the internet all about conversation and collaboration. I'm including it here because (even though the content is a little technical) it's a great illustration of one of the reasons why social media has become such a big deal.

Yes, it's important to your mission that your nonprofit should be part of the conversation. But that doesn't mean you should be in the middle of everything all at once or have to try to make sense of dozens of people speaking to you simultaneously in what amounts to a foreign language. Reach out a little and listen a little - gain a little confidence. When you're ready, the party will welcome you.

PS: I won't be back before the 25th, so whatever your celebrations or lack of them, please take care of yourself and I'll talk with you again after Christmas.

Web 2.0 ... The Machine Is Us/ing Us - video powered by Metacafe
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who Comes Next?

Updater Must Update Itself Before Checking for..."The Adobe Updater must update itself before checking for Updates"
by kk+ via Flickr
One of the biggest problems small nonprofits have is a lack of succession.

Each staffer and volunteer has his or her own way of doing things and when that person leaves, there's always a period of adjustment. Sometimes the area under adjustment never quite recovers.

Websites are the Perfect Example

A lot of small nonprofits have domains hosted as an in-kind by a community ISP, but the ISP doesn't generally contribute web design or maintenance, so the NP has to depend on their already over-burdened staff or volunteers. If they're lucky, it's staff. Some staff are better than others with tech and design, but at least the tools are in-house and the site may not be pretty, but at least it's up to date.

Volunteers Come and Go

As with donors, many volunteers move, die, or change their focus over time. This is why volunteer maintenance of your website can be difficult. What software is being used to update the site? Is it proprietary like Dreamweaver or GoLive (which require purchase and knowledge) or is it open source like Drupal or Joomla (but still require knowledge)? Is it readily accessible or on someone's home computer? Is the volunteer able to respond fairly quickly or does it take days or even weeks for changes? What happens if the volunteer is injured or has a family emergency?

If you're a small nonprofit, these are all questions that ought to be addressed, but often aren't because there was never a really adequate way to do so. Until now.

Use Social Media to Stay in Touch

Build a community using Ning. Create a Tumblr presence. Use Friendfeed and Twitter and and Flickr. Create your blog using WordPress or TypePad or Blogger. Using these social media you can keep your message updated and out there, your community informed and involved, without worry since they're all available online. Even though WordPress requires a desktop client, it's free.

Get Rid of Our Website?

Not necessarily. But only keep on it the things that change very infrequently, and add a section with your social networking links (which won't change, even if the volunteers do). Grab a Flickr widget and let it run a slideshow of your most recent event pics.

If you start using Google Docs, you can even add links to documents you want to share.

Save Yourself, Staff, and Community Aggravation

When I started at one nonprofit, the biggest sigh of relief came after I first updated the website. Not just from the staff, but from the board and the community. The lack of current information - a situation that had dragged on for weeks - had been making them all crazy. After I left, I volunteered a few hours for a while to get the new person up to speed so that crazy-making situation wouldn't happen again. Yet it may someday because they got a redesign and the new site was created in Joomla.

Very small nonprofits can't afford this type of turmoil. Avoid it by minimizing the need for updates on the site and maximizing your use of social media.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Are You Taking Advantage?

Chicago Tribune buildingImage via WikipediaTweets were everywhere yesterday and today, publicly mourning the loss of several daily newspapers all over the country and the disappointing, though not entirely unexpected, filing of Chapter 11 for the Chicago-based Tribune newspapers.

Here in Santa Cruz County, California, my marketing director friend at California Greybears was delighted to find the Sentinel had given coverage to the annual seniors' dinner on Sunday, but lamented that it was a struggle lately to get any ink from them.

Papers Are Shrinking and It's Hurting Nonprofits

Even before the economy took a dive off the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, newspapers were suffering financially and staving off oblivion as best they could. It's all gotten worse, though, and as they say - poop rolls downhill. So the news that the local papers used to share about community nonprofits has dwindled along with the size of the local paper and nonprofits now have to compete against one another for it. You think you had to jump through hoops for coverage before?

Sure, people still subscribe to the local paper - but not nearly as many as when it was the go-to place for news about your neighbors and a fountain of the information needed to grease the wheels of workplace conversations. But despite newspaper literacy programs in the elementary schools, those days will probably never return. Younger generations get their news from social media and the internet.

Is Your Small Nonprofit Taking Advantage?

Most social media vehicles don't require anything but registering. They're free. Yes, it takes some time and attention, but so did cultivating the reporters on the features beat, not to mention their editors. You're still building community and asking people to get engaged with what you're doing. You're just approaching them directly.

Will Newspapers Completely Disappear?

Maybe not. But the ones that survive will be doing things a lot differently. And if you want to survive, you're going to have to stop wailing about the lack of ink coverage you get and ramp up the number of Stumbles, Diggs, and page loads.

For those of you of the Luddite persuasion, get over yourself or get someone in who understands social media. Fat times will come again, but so will lean times, and the more avenues you have to get out the word about the good works you do, the more likely the message will be heard.
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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Do You Mean, "We"?

Headless body in swimming poolImage by Ed.ward via FlickrBig companies and big funders are slowly coming around to the idea of social media. Some small nonprofits have jumped on it, but plenty more aren't sure where to start and whether the effort would be worth it.

Right now I'm working with two small nonprofits. One has a Marketing Director who is excited about using social media. The other has a Development Director who hates technology and would avoid it if there were any way to do so.

You might think the Marketing Director would be easier to work with than the Development Director, but it's almost the opposite.

Glub Glub Glub

The Marketing Director is currently in an internal struggle with the person who handles their website and IT support. She wants to jump into the deep end of the social media pool and start swimming. The problem with that is that she hasn't convinced the IT manager that this isn't going to turn into another responsibility for him. Social media isn't his thing and he doesn't want the Marketing Director to make it his thing.

The Development Director at the other nonprofit is almost sure there is some benefit to be had from social networking, she just isn't sure what it is and how to get it. Then too, she's concerned that adding social media might not pay off in a way that would justify the time it would take, especially right now when both donations AND volunteerism has fallen off for her nonprofit.

Us? You got a frog in your pocket?

Other concerns aside, deciding who will be responsible for the online relationships developed is very important.

It can't be stressed too often that social media is a two-way street.

You can't update a blog once a month and consider that you're doing your part in the conversation. It takes effort and patience and interest to develop the trust and commitment hoped for. Which means that someone has to sign on for the duration. Something a small staff with a lot of ground already to cover may roll their eyes at.

But what if you start small? What if you start out with one social media account like Flickr? Most all nonprofits take pictures of events that illustrate the way their programs and services are being used in the community. Instead of tucking them away in an album or a CD library, how about uploading them and making them publicly viewable along with something about the nonprofit's mission? A little more doable and probably not much more work than it takes to file the pictures. And with an added benefit of having the pictures available via the web anywhere so they can be used for presentations or on-the-fly donor cultivation.

If you're having a problem wrapping your head around the concept of social media and how it might benefit your small nonprofit, you might be better off sticking a toe in the water rather than wading into the flood.
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