Thursday, April 28, 2011

The K(no)w Post

From Oak Creek Printworks
I didn't have a post planned for this week. When life wasn't so chaotic, I used to line up post ideas with notes and links so I could get right at one when I needed to. But I find that I prefer not having a lot of prepared stuff. I like looking around (I am a digital flaneuse, after all) and finding something in an article that makes me think and wonder and ponder and then sharing what I come up with. But I feel guilty about that sometimes, because I have been trained and my experience has been in preparation. Yet I also have a history of taking advantage of serendipity. (I believe preparation and serendipity are sympathetic tools.) So I was more pleased than surprised to find this post from Havi Brooks (The Big Duck) over at the Fluent Self.

Do you ever give yourself permission to do or not do things?

I do. I've gotten pretty good at it, too over the years. It started with giving myself permission to dabble, when everyone around me was specializing. Definitely this has proved to be the road less traveled and it has lately been a rocky path. But I'm in the camp of "do what brings joy into your life" even if it means you won't get rich (and I believe that unless you're really lucky, you can't do both. See this article by Jeff Haden at BNet), so I've never been sorry. I've experienced a lot of emotions related to my path, but regret isn't one of them.

So, if you don't like social media, don't force yourself. Find help in someone who likes social media and is already part of your staff or can support your nonprofit in social media with a little supervision. Please note that I'm not saying that it's okay to ignore social media or not give it a try. A lot of people who thought they wouldn't do well with it have turned out to do just fine. And ignoring it would be a mistake. It remains to be seen what it will become, but it's not going away.

Same goes for writing. Become as good a writer as you can, but if it's not your thing, get help when you can.

It's okay to not want to do things; you've got permission.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Groupon Coupons - What *Is* The Deal?

Via Small Biz Trends (read the article)

Gawker came up with an article about a Groupon “backlash” –Groupon writers saying that it’s a terrible place to work for and merchants saying they were pressured into offering coupons with one business owner claiming he lost his business over Groupon coupons. This is certainly scary talk and a possible social media damage project for Groupon, but what’s it got to do with you and your small nonprofit?

Groupon is Social Media

They offer deals to the public and those deals show up in your email box. I get them, and the reason I get them is that friends of mine talked about the deals they got. They talked about them on Facebook and Twitter. And they didn’t just talk about them when they got the coupon, they spread the word about coupons they might be using, coupons they had used, and the experience they had at the place or with the service/product they got with the coupon. All using social media. In my local area I heard about restaurants, massages and hot tubs, printer supplies and even ice cream. It felt like I was missing out on something. So I signed up. And so have thousands of others.

This Could Be You

What if your small nonprofit  offered a discount coupon through Groupon – for a lowered price of admission, a two-for-one in the online store, something else related to your mission and the people that mission serves. Could it bring in new faces, add new names to the email list, help you with your branding? Yes. Definitely. And there are probably more than a few nonprofits that have realized this and taken the leap. Should you?

I’m not going to get into whether or not Groupon is an angel or a devil in disguise. The Gawker article seemed to come down squarely on the devil side, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a writer took a viewpoint and ran with it. (I suggest giving the comments a thorough read as well.) But as with Foursquare and other location-based applications, the ability to bring in “new business” is attractive, and Groupon clones are probably already taking up residence in your locality. So here’s what you want to consider when pondering whether or not to hoist your small nonprofit onto the coupon or geo-location, or any other trendy tool bandwagon:
  • What am I using the coupon to do?
  • What metrics do I plan to use to determine whether or not it was a success?
  • What are the consequences if it fails/succeeds?
  • Have I done the math (so I know what the real cost is)?
  • How will I train staff in how to respond?

Using a tool like Groupon is definitely a look-before-you-leap value proposition.  Like any other incentive, it has potential for both good and bad, depending on how and why it’s used. One thing it definitely is not, and that’s a quick-fix tool for small businesses – or nonprofits – in trouble.

For more professional opinions on the Gawker article, see this Linked-In thread (note: requires a Linked In account, membership in LinkedIn Santa Cruz).

Social Media Tool of the Week – Brass Tack Thinking

This isn’t really a Social Media tool, but I tend to view it as that because the thinking is so good. I love the way Amber Naslund and Tamsen McMahon think and write. I get their posts via email so I’ve never commented on-site. Most times I don’t feel the need to (which doesn’t happen often to me), because I find myself nodding in agreement while reading. The best part for me is that I’m usually still thinking about the post after I’ve moved on to other mail in my inbox.  And the post this week seems to echo that thought for me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking - Improve Your Writing

David Brooks @NY Times
Just dashing in here to drop off a quick note on improving your writing. Whether short or long, email or grant report, making your writing more engaging is a worthwhile enterprise. To improve your understanding and use of metaphor, check out this great lesson by the excellent NY Times columnist David Brooks: How Metaphors Make Meaning.

And if you're wondering how you might use metaphors in your content and communication, check out this post by Geoff Livingston of Zoetica.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Questioning Your Communications x Five

Figure 5 in Gold by Charles Demuth
All of your communications are persuasive or should be. Regardless of whether they come from your small nonprofit as an email, a printed memo or as part of your social media effort, each one of them should have a goal in mind and a call to action. In the previous two posts, we looked at how you can integrate education, persuasion and a call to action in your communications. In this post, we talk about how to make your communications more effective by asking yourself five questions before you mail it off or hit the SEND button - I would argue that you should ask yourself these questions long before you even reach either of those points.

Where Do These Questions Come From?

They come from Julia Classen at the Nonprofit Quarterly, from the middle of an article on the cyclical nature of nonprofit boards. It's a great article - I had never taken the opportunity to consider how boards, like everything else, have their ups and downs, or even phases, in how they interact with the nonprofits they serve, and this article breaks down those phases into the behaviors to be expected or recognized.

The five questions are from the "Corporate" phase and they are:

1.     What does the board need to know?
2.     What does the board want to know?
3.     What is my purpose in communicating this information to the board?
4.     How can I get the board’s best thinking to assist the organization?
5.     What board decision, action, or outcome do I wish to achieve?

Personally, I feel you could substitute "donors" or "partners" for the word "board" or any other groups you may work with and by answering these questions, give yourself a good outline to follow for any communication you're putting together. Obviously, some SM platforms (Tweet, Tweet) aren't going to give you a lot of room to maneuver in, but consider those an opportunity to practice being more concise and flexing your creativity muscle to see how much oomph you get can out of a few words (that's a technical term, in case you were wondering). 

And, as a last word, I would suggest that questions 4 and 5 might end up at cross-purposes to each other if you are heavily invested in the outcome you want to see.

Social Media Tool of the Week: Supporter Wall

This site (in beta) is like a Facebook fan pic collection, except that the fans pay money to have their faces (or logos) on the wall. When I first looked at this, I thought, "Not another site to send supporters to." But then, I could see tying your Supporter Wall to your Facebook Page and that might work out quite nicely. The donors get to select the place they want their picture to appear, which  can lead to some creative and eye-catching positioning. If you've been looking for a slightly different and social way of encouraging donations, this is an idea you might consider, especially if you don't have the online space or the software developers to do it on your own.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Persuasion in Three Questions - A Closer Look

As you know, this is a blog about social media and writing for small nonprofits. Right now we're taking a look at writing. 

Last week we talked about persuasive writing and how to improve both flow and persuasiveness by keeping in mind three goals:
  • How the writing helps the reader understand the situation/problem
  • How the writing helps the reader believe in the action we’re proposing
  • How the writing asks the reader to take the action
Or, as Ross Guberman (see the previous post) asks, “What three things do I want the reader to do, believe, or understand by the end of this letter or document?”

For our example, I’ll be using an email I received this week from Care2Causes and I want to make it clear that my picking it apart should in no way be taken as a criticism. 

Note that from the beginning, the headers makes it clear what the letter is and where it comes from: next to the Care2 logo is “petitionsite” and at the far right “action ALERT”.

Communicating the Problem

Right away we can see that they’ve used a combination of a picture with two strong captions and a first paragraph that provides more detail. From the caption above the picture of the little boy with an inhaler we get that “Polluters” are “Watering Down Our Clean Air Laws”. From the caption below the picture we understand that we need to “Take Action!” In the first paragraph of the letter we learn that the “big polluters […] clearly have no regard for public health” because they want to “water down the Environmental Protection Agency in the name of profits.”

What Action Is Being Proposed

The next paragraph serves three functions. Besides telling us that the way the EPA will be “watered down” is that the standards for clean air and water will be lowered, we are also asked to add our voices to the “stop pollution campaign” which will be communicating with President Obama on the issue. This paragraph is also a link, so that if we are already inclined to take an action, we are invited to do so without having to look for an opportunity.

The paragraphs serves these three functions:
  • Makes a good transition from the problem to the proposed solution
  • Makes a transition from the proposed solution to the call for action
  • Makes it possible for the reader to take action immediately if so inclined
Note that the captions above and below the picture do the same thing as the first three paragraphs. If you wanted to, you could look at the picture, understand the problem as Care2 is presenting it and take action without ever reading the body of the letter.
Believe in the Proposed Action

If, as a reader, you are not yet sold on the proposed action of signing the petition, the next paragraph tells you that your name will be one of 100,000 signatures that will be presented by the “Sierra Club and their partners” to the President. The Sierra Club is a well-known environmental organization, so the reader knows this is not a shoestring operation and “partners” implies there are other environmental groups involved. That your name will be one of 100,000 makes it clear that a goal has been set and that it is not a small one. In other words, your name will be in good company and it will have the strength of numbers behind it.

The paragraph following this underscores the benefit that a strong EPA provides: stricter regulations have reduced illness and the costs associated with them. The numbers of asthma attacks avoided and healthcare costs saved in one particular year provides both additional support for the proposed action and the kind of data that appeals to those who want to know specifically how their participation can help the situation.

Take the Action

The last four paragraphs are all about encouraging us to take the action. It would be a “disgrace” for the “polluters to win” which is an emotional appeal to punish those who would put people’s health at risk for the sake of money and emphasizes that the action is “critical” and that it involves our “health.”

The sign-off with a picture puts a human face to the organization asking us to take the action. We are thanked for doing so, though we may not have yet clicked on the link. If we get all the way to the bottom of the letter, we are presented with another link to the petition, but this one looks like a web address. This is for those who may not be quite web-savvy and need to see an address link that looks like a link instead of blue underlined text.

One of the things I really like about this letter is the way the Facebook and Email links are positioned underneath the “Take Action” button on the bottom of the picture. Everything in the e-letter is distilled into this one rectangle –
  • The problem (told through text, story of a little boy who can’t breathe well because of pollution)
  • An action to take
  • Further action to take – tell your friends and family to take the action, too.
It Does the Job Well

This letter uses punchy writing, statistics, a story and has visual appeal. It does all three things that it should do:
  • Explain the problem
  • Propose a solution
  • Ask you to support the solution
And it has an emphasis on action and sharing.

The design makes it easy to skip reading the letter and still understand what we are being asked to do. It’s clean, it’s short and it’s easily understood.

Do your communications measure up? Do you think this is a good example of a call to action or not? What does it say to you about the Care2 petition site? What, if anything, would you change?