Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Numbers Racket and Your Small Nonprofit

Art by Andrew Tosiello
Last week I mentioned I'd be attending a meetup on SEO and that if the info was good, I'd share. It was, so I will.

Search Engine Optimization is a fancy way of asking, "What can I do to make sure that when someone is doing a Google search* for my kind of stuff, that my stuff shows up on the first page of results?" Note that showing up on the first page of results is extra-special good because most people click on links there and don't bother with pages two through whatever.

Kevin Bates is an SEO expert, practicing from his website, We've Created a Monster. His job is to make your content (blog, store, company, etc.) more findable. Imagine the Las Vegas Strip, with its innumerable neon signs blasting away into the night. Kevin tweaks your sign to make sure that it stands out more than most of the others - if possible, more than all of the others. He's apparently pretty dang good at it, since he's in demand for talks to groups that don't understand SEO, except to know that they need it.

Two Rs and an A

The thing I liked about Kevin's presentation was that he didn't do the numbers thing - you know, 63 Things You Need to Know About Needing To Know.  About half of the blog posts I read have lately had those kinds of titles and I'm pretty sick of them. I hear numbered lists are popular with readers, but if I liked numbers I would have done better in algebra. Instead, Kevin presented these topics for focusing your SEO efforts:

  • Research - know what keywords (i.e., search terms) your audience is looking for

  • Relevance - ensure your content targets (uses) the high-opportunity keywords you identified in your research and make sure the writing is original (Google hates duplicate content)

  • Authority - quantity of visitors (numbers again) is nice, but quality is better. If high quality (which seems to equal numbers again) sites such as YouTube like you, your authority rises to match and so does your search ranking

Since he's the expert, you should get the details from him. He's got a blog with posts about SEO and he's sorta kinda planning a e-book. Those who subscribe will get the word first, if he does write one. Learn more about Research, Relevance, and Authority.

*Bing notwithstanding, Google remains the non plus ultra of search engines.

And Now For the Rant

It's possible that you understand search engine ranking or at least the need for it. It's likely that your small nonprofit's website and/or blog could benefit. SEO, like social media, can be great for improving your find-ability. But only you can determine how much effort to put into the numbers racket and how important those numbers are to you and what you're working to accomplish.

Among the numerous (get it?) blog posts sent to me this week were several focused on metrics - measurements that tell how many people are looking at/interacting with your page or site or Twitter account, etc. For large companies looking for conversion (converting visits to sales) or even large nonprofits (converting visits to donations or volunteers), using the array of tools for collecting bits of information and transmuting them through analysis to numbers in order to pinpoint trends and learn what sorts of content trigger conversions is a necessity. Business thrives on numbers.

But with a small nonprofit, metrics can be less strict in the sense that they can be less traditionally defined than in businesses. A rescue organization, for example, might define a program as successful if just one wild animal's life has been saved by it.

As I've said, numbers are not my thing, and I'm sure others will say I ignore them at my peril. But I don't ignore them. I recognize they have a place, it's just that in my system, their ranking is lower.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Seriously? The Future of Social Media Birdbrain

My analytics say that several people a day visit this blog. Yet, no one completed my survey. Hmmm. I guess no vote is a vote just the same, and I'll take this information into account as I consider the future of this blog.

Tomorrow I'll be attending a presentation on SEO - a subject that is about as near and dear to my heart as indigestion - and if I learn anything I think might be of use to small nonprofits, I'll share.

In the meantime... I read a post by a very passionate person about how social media (particularly Twitter) seems to be mostly about patting each other on the back and giving encouragement and sympathy, rather than asking the tough questions. I suppose that there may be a prepondonerance of niceness in my stream, but I also see requests for clarification, help thinking something through, and even arguments here and there. I don't get why a tool has to be this way or that way, anyway. The user decides how to employ a tool and how effective the tool is for the purpose. If you like to ask hard questions on Twitter, then ask them. But expecting everyone else to understand that they should be using Twitter the way you think it ought to be used is just asking for disappointment. Personally, I use Twitter to share/find information, have a laugh, and connect with others (I spend the majority of my time alone). I particularly like encouraging people or sympathizing with them when things aren't going so well, since - even in a crowded office - one can still be alone. And here I will border on the salacious by saying, "It's your tool; play with it how you want."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can You See It? Social Media Wins and Your Small Nonprofit

Picture via Children's Vision Coalition
When I walked into my friend Ann's house last week, her daughter was on her laptop. Laura, knowing my interests, was quick to tell me about a thread that had shown up on the Pringles brand FB fanpage. A customer had asked why the Pringles can had a reusable lid, since - as their advertisements pointed out - no one could stop eating until all the chips were gone. Pringles had responded that many customers liked to use the empty can for other things and found the lid useful. They thanked the customer for the comment and said they'd pass it along to the rest of their team.

My friend said basically, how nice. I responded, "Are you kidding? That's social media gold." "It is?" Ann asked, doubtfully. Laura then confirmed my opinion by telling me that the thread had been posted on Reddit and gathered thousands of comments (not unusual for Pringles, which has a gajillion devoted fans).

My Point

I realized it might not be that easy for people who aren't as enthusiastic about social media to recognize when something important has happened... and you might be one of them. You've got a lot of things to do for your small nonprofit and keeping track of trends and memes in SM might not be one of them - at least not on a regular basis.

But then you might miss an opportunity for your organization to capitalize on an opportunity.

The Short Answer

Train yourself to recognize lessons and opportunities. Twitter has a list of "What's Trending" hashtags and there's always You might even want to give a friendly social media enthusiast permission to tell you all about what's happening in the SM world, or you could start watching late night television again, since Jimmy Fallon and lots of other folk regularly reference social media memes these days.

Sorry this means extracurricular activity, but social networking is only gaining larger and larger pieces of territory; it only makes sense to understand the landscape. Then if someone hands you a social media gold nugget, you'll be able to tell what it is and use it to do good.


A Little Help, Here

There's very little interaction on this blog, and I'd be lying if I said this doesn't bother me. I sometimes wonder if I'm shouting into the wind or if the 600 or so people who subscribe or check in to the site every week just don't find it engaging. Maybe I don't have enough gravitas (credentials, authority) to be taken seriously, I don't know. But I need to find out, so I can decide whether to keep working here or turn my attentions somewhere else. So here's a little survey - four questions - answer them and help me decide.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Experimenting With Your Small Nonprofit

In the world of social media, very often what we hear about new tools or platforms is like a politician's version of science: here's the conclusion, what facts can we find to support it?

As a small nonprofit, you probably read about these debuts and their numbers (Google+ with 10-18 million subscribers) and you wonder if you should exert the effort to get an invitation and set up an account. But here's the thing: you have no idea whether your effort will return much of use to you. After all, a tool or platform is only as good as its results and like mileage, your results may vary. So, what to do?

Design a Small Experiment

Pick a tool for your experiment. For the purposes of this post, I'll recommend two that deal with smartphones:

The first tool is kind of an easy pic if you don't already have a mobile version of your website. If you do, you could choose qurify! and generate a QR code that simply resolves to your website, but I'd suggest you stretch a little more and figure out something to do with the QR code. Perhaps you have a campaign or an event or even a meeting coming up. If you're sending out an email about it, why not include a QR code with the details of location, time, etc.?

From Science Buddies
Or pick another tool that you've been interested in and haven't tried yet. Now apply the Scientific Method:

The Scientific Method*

The question is, will this tool work for my small nonprofit (and define work as measurable good results)?

For the purpose of this post, we'll assume you've done the background research by coming up with the tool you want to try.

In constructing the hypothesis, you could go lots of ways, but I'm sticking with a simple it does (or doesn't) work for my small nonprofit.

Design Your Experiment

Decide how long or how much to use the social media tool and what data you will gather to be analyzed later. DO NOT design the experiment with a particular result in mind, but rather with the object of gathering the most information possible. Once you're satisfied with the design, perform the experiment.

Analyze the Results

Look at all of the data you've gathered and see in which direction it leads you. Does it support your original idea that, for example, your small nonprofit's base are not smartphone owners? Maybe the results are inconclusive or turn out to be partially supportive of your hypothesis.

Document the Conclusion

And form a new (and hopefully better) hypothesis to experiment with.

In these small steps you can try something new without fully committing your limited resources. Plus, you'll have hard data that you can use with future experiments with other tools. And when you finally go to the Board with a strategy, you won't be guessing at all.

So, experiment with your small nonprofit, you'll learn what works and you won't be jumping to anyone else's conclusions.

*Definition of the steps for the Scientific Method can vary (try Googling it in images), but this one seemed most appropriate for this post.

Tool of the Week:

The favicon is the tiny picture next to the site name on a browser tab (mine is a red robin head). A lot of sites don't take advantage of this opportunity for branding, even when the platform they're using (like Blogger or WP) allow them to and provide instructions for how to do it. But first you've got to have the picture and it has to be in the .ico format - you can't just rename a .jpg or .png., which doesn't require registration, lets you turn a picture into a favicon and save it in the .ico format. Tip: the simpler the pic, the better.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What I Wish More People Knew About Me

I've mentioned that I like Amber Naslund's ideas over at Brass Tack Thinking. A while back she wrote a post about what she wished more people knew about her and I was so impressed by it and the follow-up posts that I committed to writing one. So if you're thinking this post has nothing to do with your small nonprofit, you're right.

Many times since I said I would write this post, I've thought about not writing it. I'm sure I've worried and wondered over it much more than it deserves, since there's a likelihood that fewer than my three regular readers will ever see it and judging by the number of comments I usually get, this post will probably go largely unremarked. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. So, here goes.

What I Wish More People Knew About Me

I'm an introvert - expending energy in social situations, rather than acquiring it. In real world terms this means I usually have to be dragged to parties involving people I don't know and I always feel like I have three heads at networking events.

Katherine Hepburn gave me poise. I admired her strength, so when I got into confusing social situations as a girl, I would ask myself what I thought she'd do, and I'd do that.

I'm not as fearless as my friends and family think - or as transparent. Most of the time if I'm doing something that seems to take courage, it's only because I don't see any other alternative. If I'm transparent, it's because I believe it saves time and sanity to not have multiple faces. But this doesn't mean that I don't get anxious or that I don't withhold things. Sometimes I'm withholding the fact that I'm anxious.

I'd rather not be the leader. Some people like that role, but I'm not one of them. I prefer to work as part of a team in a collaborative style. If the team I'm on can't collaborate their way out of a paper bag, I'd rather work alone. If working alone isn't possible, and there's a leadership vacuum, I'll lead and I won't complain. Out loud, anyway.

I hate being singled out, having my picture taken, or thanked in public. Praise the team, please. I very much enjoy having someone tell me I did a good job - but in private.

Geeks and nerds are my people. I love, love, love technology and computers. I think this is funny, because when I was in college, computers were programmed using punch cards and I couldn't care less about them. Then I tried my first word processing program, and I was a goner. I'm also a history buff, a political scientist, a typography junkie, a foodie, and a captive of the Oxford English Dictionary and Chicago Manual of Style. I love space and science fiction, like to watch operations and had lots of fun diagnosing cause of death on the U of Edinburgh's online autopsy site. I collect slang and word origins, adore Japanese anime and rock music and think puns in Latin are funny. If I could go back in time to see one thing, it would probably be the moment that our species began its evolutionary path.

I'd always rather know the truth, even if it hurts. If I know the truth, I can take an action to deal with it and move on. I hate finding I've expended a lot of useless effort because of a lie.

I use personal anecdotes as illustrations. If I tell you a dark story from my past, it's not to get sympathy or because I think we've become best buds, it's because it's relevant to a point I'm trying to make, that's all. It's something I've dealt with and it's become an abstract for me. What's still painful to me, you will never hear about, unless you are a very, very, very good friend.

Animals and small children are important to me and for the same reasons. They are helpless for the most part and don't know how to ask for what they need. To me, all pets and children should have loving homes. People who can't give them one, shouldn't have them. Period.

I contradict myself. I love other peoples' vacation pictures, but I won't look at pictures of your kids unless I know them. I have gone out of my way to comfort a stranger, but fired people for poor performance and been unmoved by their pleas. I dislike artifice and snobbery, yet will set the table by the book. I love people, it's humanity I can't stand.

Finally, if I could do anything in the world and be anyone in the world, I'd do exactly what I'm doing and be exactly who I am. Only I'd make a little more money.

Tool of the Week: 25 Ways to Use Twitter to Improve The World