Wednesday, December 17, 2014

There is Always More to Learn

We learn from our mistakes and we can learn from the mistakes - and successes- of others.

You may remember the #Kony2012 hashtag that was used by the NGO, Invisible Children, which had a video go viral and subsequently suffered a backlash from people saying they were deluded "white saviors" and encouraged slacktivism.  Recently, Invisible Children decided to shut down its U.S. operations, and Tasbeeh Herwees at the magazine GOOD interviewed Invisible Children's Ben Keesey to talk about the move and what he and the founders of Invisible Children learned from the #Kony2012 campaign.

I hope you will read it and imagine your own NGO in their place. There is always more to learn.

Invisible Children to Shutter Operations in 2015

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Measurement is Not a Strategy

Yo. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving, U.S. readers. All the rest of you, what is the deal with importing our Black Friday sales idea? Isn't shopping tough enough? LOL.

So, I came across this very interesting piece of writing about measurements - or what biz folk like to call 'metrics' and how they should be collected in an effort to support your social media strategy, not be the strategy itself.

What Does THAT Mean?

First, let's note that Mr. Boggie is talking about journalism, and journalism content is somewhat different from what you - and your small NGO - are offering. But it's not all that different.

What we all want is to produce content that people want to engage with. And we say 'engage' because these days, you don't just read content, you also watch it or listen to it or both. You may even, in the case of a webcast, be a part of producing it through the questions you ask during the presentation.

In order to gauge how your content is doing out there in the world, you need metrics. And there are a whole lot of those to be had. And lots of tools for gathering them. This is where you can run into trouble. You can collect lots of data and present it in new and interesting ways, but you must always ask yourself, "Does this information really support what we're trying to accomplish by using social media?"

Strategy First

The strategy comes first and you collect the data that can tell you how that strategy is doing. For example, it may be useful at some point to know that most of the people who engage with your content are online at a certain time. But if your aim is to get people to stay on your page for any length of time, this data may not help much. Instead, it would be better to be able to measure the length of time any individual viewer spends looking at that specific url. Going further, if your aim is to (as Mr. Boggie says) convince people that your content is worthwhile, then you need a way to measure how well you are doing that, which might involve time spent, whether or not the piece was shared, whether and how many comments were made, etc.

Mr. Boggie's article also addresses the quality of content, and I recommend reading the whole thing, but if you can't, at least take this away: You're competing with a lot more voices to get your stories heard. and in this environment, "analytics and measurement should be used to refine and correct your message, not to decide what to say."

New Tool

In my inbox this week was an invitation to look at a new method for helping you choose a social media tool. It's called socialpiq. Using it is a 3 step process. First you focus you want, then set the size of your organization, then identify the social media platforms you use. It will then come back with information about what tools may help you best. Here's what I entered:

This is what I got back:

Be aware that socialpiq is in beta and may not have as many choices as it will later, so you might actually enter your parameters and get back a "nothing matches" message. If this happens frequently, you may want to make a note to come back and look at it when it's a little more robust.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Explain (Video) Yourself

Looking for a new way to reach out to your community? Consider an explainer video. As Eric Blattberg lays out in this Digiday article, explainer videos are hot. Why?

  • Explainer videos make a subject quickly understandable
  • Video learning is often easier for viewers as well as entertaining
  • Explainer videos are less expensive to produce than other videos
  • Explainer videos have a long shelf life, if not tied to current events
  • Explainer videos travel well across social media platforms

How Would Your Small NGO Use An Explainer Video?

An explainer video can be the perfect vehicle for laying out why your NGO approaches a problem with a specific strategy or can help you get across the complicated reasons why your mission is essential to the community or just how a program works.

Once you have the explainer video you can use it to educate grantors, board members, volunteers, and new staffers. It can be showcased at events, be sent to help provide background on your NGO, used at conferences and become part of a video library of your community work.

How To Make Your Own Explainer Video

There are a number of good articles available that explain what you'll need and how to put it all together. Here are some that I found with a quick Google search:

And a really comprehensive article is:

Is There More Inexpensive Help I Can Get?

There are a number of online companies offering tools to help you put together your explainer video. Here are a few I found:
Know what you need and evaluate any potential service or tool accordingly, That said, the best way to know whether something will work for you or not is to use it. If you are the hands-on type and you can make the time, I recommend taking advantage of free trials. You may even learn enough to have confidence is building your own explainer video from scratch.

Video is an excellent way to get a point across. Entertaining, informative, it could be one of the best tools in your small nonprofit's tool box.

Got your own explainer video story? Tell us about it in the comments.

Other interesting articles this week:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is Your Small NGO Outside of the Donor-Advised Fund Pie?

Image from Blue Mountain Community Foundation

If your small NGO's mission deals with the basic needs of your community, you may already know this economy has left you with less to work with and more to work for as middle-class income has stagnated. But did you know that getting those high-income donors could be more difficult than you thought? And that the reason for that may be donor-advised funds?

An article in the New Yorker lays things out:
"[...] findings showed that in 2005 people with an annual household income of less than a hundred thousand dollars tended to donate mostly to religious organizations and to groups, such as food banks, that help people meet their basic needs. By contrast, those whose household income was a million dollars or more gave disproportionately to health and education organizations, while those dedicated to basic needs received the smallest share. As more income gets concentrated among the rich, Reich said, it stands to reason that their chosen charities will benefit disproportionately."
Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The 7 Deadly Social Media Sins

Digiday, which is one of the places I go for social media wisdom, has a great breakdown of the 7 Deadly Sins of social media that may be committed by commercial brands. As often happens, I think it applies to NGOs just as well. See the whole post here (recommended, otherwise you'll miss the great Brunner animations).

The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media
  1. Speaking with multiple voices
  2. Paying for likes
  3. Liking your own content
  4. Taking too long to respond
  5. Denying negative posts
  6. Taking undue credit
  7. Overselling
Of all the sins, my love-to-hate sin is Overselling. Too many brands - and NGOs - spend their social media time telling everyone how great they are and how much good they're doing. Remind yourself however many times it takes, that it isn't about you, it's about the community. It's about the people whose need you serve, about the volunteers, about the donors. Write your stories about them. Work hard to make the stories good. Share the stories. And share related stories*; stories that make the reader feel good. This is the way to social media success.

* Your NGO rescues cats - you tweet a story about a cat found after 2 years. Not your specific community, your NGO not involved, but it's a happy ending that your supporters will love.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Social Media and News Nonprofits

From PEW Research

PEW Research has come out with a new study that shows refinement of the data coming through about how news is distributed via social media. While Facebook remains a place that a lot of people pick up news from, the new data shows that those people don't look at that news in an in-depth way, so if you're wanting to get people more involved with the news you have to share, you need to get them to leave FB for your site. Take a look at the rest of the information on their site.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Where Your Content Marketing Went Wrong

This slideshow by Rand Fishkin lays out a lot of what I've been trying to say about engagement and using social media to its most beneficial. Give it a look:

Why Content Marketing Fails from Rand Fishkin

Update on Adventures in Customer Service

You may remember I said I couldn't recommend Readymag because their customer service wasn't up to par. Very soon after, I got a couple of emails from one of their founders, Anton Herasymenko. Here's the first part regarding their customer service:
Dear Robyn,
I would like to apologize for the incident you experienced with our support department. We are a young startup company based in Moscow and we don't currently have native English speakers on our team. We are in fact putting together a customer support team right now and will take all the necessary steps to improve on our communication skills.This kind of illustrates a problem with startups where they concentrate on the product (as engineers will) and totally miss the human interaction part.
Anton did address my question, which was "If I already have a web presence in the form of a website and several social media accounts, why would I want to add Readymag to the mix?" Here's his answer.
Let me answer your initial question — you're right, at the moment there is a variety of different platforms for self-expression and ours is one of them. It's not always enough to express your thoughts and experiences within 140 characters or using square photos. We see R/m as the perfect tool for creating big periodical stories as well as online magazines. One of our primary goals is to rethink online publishing tools and interfaces, to simplify them, giving a greater number of independent publishers a possibility for creating their stories. In fact, we are seeing a lot of different content that our publishers create with R/m — from presentation to digital catalogs, posters etc. For a lot of people blogging or publishing of small online magazines is a hobby. And in the future we also want to give these people an opportunity to monetize their content through advertising, or by selling their mags — so they could make a living by doing what they love.
R/m not only works as an independent tool, it can also serve as an addition to any social media platform. You can turn any idea into something special by supporting it with a beautiful presentation, a microsite or a series of rich media publications, using a variety of free templates we provide and embed the story to your website, blog or social media page. There is no need to hire an art department or know how to code. Using R/m for these purposes saves time and resources. And as for the limited budget — the Publisher subscription plan is optimal for small nonprofit organizations, it includes everything to accomplish these tasks and more.
I hope I answered you question and feel free to put my answers in a follow-up on your blog.
If Anton's reasons for using Readymag sound good to you and you try it, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Here's An Interesting Tool For Your Small Nonprofit

If you use Gmail, you might find this extension worth taking a look at. Even if you don't, the idea of creating different footers or signatures to add more context to your email is worth consideration. It's a subtle sort of marketing that might pay dividends.


*Note: it does ask to access your tabs and browsing history and I don't know what it plans to do with that data.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Adventures in Customer Service

Image via Bruce Sallan

There are a lot of new services out there and I looked at one this week called Readymag, which helps users create 'microsites, portfolios, photo stories, magazines, and presentations' using templates. As I browsed through their examples I wondered why a person or NGO with an already significant social media presence would want to use their service. So I sent them an email and asked:
If you already have a blog and a presence on Pinterest or Instagram and maybe even a website, why would you choose to create a microsite or magazine?
The next day I received this answer:
Hi, Robyn!
Are you talking about yourself? Who do you mean by "you"?
Anyway, one great quote I've stumbled upon recently on the internet: 
John P

Customer Assistant 
Then came:
Sorry, for the partial message.
Here is the full copy:
Hi, Robyn!
Are you talking about yourself? Who do you mean by "you"?
Anyway, one great quote I've stumbled upon recently on the internet:
"A magazine, even a digital one, is like going to a movie. It's a designed experience with a beginning, middle and end. A Web site is like going to the library—plenty of information if you know where to look. People pay to go to movies, not libraries."
John P
Customer Assistant 
Note that he had a chance to rethink the message before sending the completed reply, but he didn't take it. The quote did help me, but the rest of the message was a disaster.

The Reasons
  1. Customers don't reach out to Customer Assistants to have their grammar corrected. I did use an unreferenced pronoun, but my meaning was clear. This opening set a tone in which the facile quote would not be received with gratitude.
  2. A customer should not have to infer the meaning from a quotation - back-up text expanding on what is meant and how the customer could benefit should have been included.
  3. At the top of this post I mentioned there are a lot of new services out there; every opportunity to entice a customer to see the value in your own product should be taken seriously.
Clearly, my intent was to see if the service might be something useful for your small nonprofit, but given how things have turned out, I cannot recommend their Customer Service.


News of Note: If you haven't used YouTube as an SM tool, you might be missing a big opportunity to be an NGO star.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Decreased Reach? No, It Has Always Been About Content

A couple of Digiday pieces caught my notice this week. One is on social media measurement and the other on content.

Decreased Reach Means Different Metrics

On social media measurement, the article by John McDermott notes that likes and follows are no longer being seen as important measurements for whether a brand (like your small nonprofit) is reaching its audience. Decreased reach (for example, fewer followers seeing your posts on Facebook) is causing businesses to retreat to measuring sales, brand lift*, purchase intent, clickthrough, and sales.

But as Mark Meyer in his A Need to Redefine Brand Lift says, likes and follows may no longer be adequate measures of social media success, but then clickthroughs and pageviews are - and never really have been - adequate measurements, either.

To me, this all comes back to content. The Digiday article by Ricardo Bilton is about the posts of a data crawling company (Priceonomics), which uses content seemingly unrelated to their business, but isn't. For example, using their data they published a very popular article about how much it costs to book concerts for popular bands. Naturally, they include a pitch at the end of each article, but the article itself focuses on the result of the data, not how they gathered it or made sense of it.

Decreased Reach Means Increased Effort

This seems obvious to me. The more your social media reach declines, the better you should be at content. Even if your SM reach is excellent, you should be supporting it with good content. And like Priceonomics, don't focus on using the content to market your NGO, use it to illustrate why your NGO is worth support. Don't give me the data on how you saved the world, SHOW ME how the world was saved; give me the whole dramatic thing in Technicolor® - make me care about it and I will transfer some of that caring to your NGO for being part of it.

Numbers of Likes and Followers have never really been a measurement of SM success - how engaged your audience is with you and your mission, how they respond to your posts and interact with you, volunteer, donate - those are the real measurements. And good content has always been the way to reach them.

*Brand lift is defined as the percentage increase in the primary marketing objective of a brand advertising campaign - Digiday

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Ideas in NGO Structure - The Participation Nonprofit

Via Flickr

Robert Shiller, who is an economics prof at Yale, recently wrote a NYT article called "How Donors Give More When They Feel a Sense of Belonging."

Within the article he posits a new form of nonprofit, the participation nonprofit. Rather than request donations, it would sell shares in the nonprofit, though how the valuation would be calculated, I don't know.

Shareholders would attend board meetings and vote their shares - I would assume according to the way the bylaws were setup - to influence governance and spending.

In addition, shareholders would acquire dividends, but the dividends would not be paid to the shareholder but go into a restricted account to be used as the shareholder directs, like having your donation go to a particular program rather than to the general fund.

Professor Shiller thinks that the stock shares could be bequeathed to heirs and the shares could even be sold although the proceeds would also go into a restricted account.

Finally, he notes that, in order to meet with success, shareholders would have to receive a tax deduction for their stock purchases, which are really irrevocable contributions to the charity.

Has your small nonprofit ever considered a nontraditional type of setup? Or tried one? If so, how did it work out?


Sparks: How to Get Millennials to Open Their Wallets

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hacks and Tasks for Your Social Media Work

Social Media Outposts
Social Media Outposts
(Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)
Social Media Today often has some really useful information. I ran across two posts that I think go well together. One is for social media platform hacks (strategies or techniques for using something better) and the other is a list of things that will help you improve your social media presence - better content, better outreach. Put them together, and you get things your small nonprofit's SM editor could be doing daily in social media both better and more efficiently. Yay!

First, take a look at the Ten Essential Tasks.

Next, read up on the 12 Free Social Media Hacks.

Third, combine as needed!
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's Funny - But Not On YOUR Account

In past posts, I've warned about the dangers of thinking youth was a prerequisite for handling your small nonprofit's social media accounts.

Here's an object lesson in what can happen when you put an intern in charge of your Twitter account without supervision or - apparently - even occasional oversight.

This case-in-point is brought to you by the Seattle Department of Transportation, whose intern might have gone a little off the track, but at least remained safe for work.

Changing Times

After a lot of thinking, I've decided not to continue posting on a (mostly) weekly basis. I've read a lot of articles lately on how social media is changing (Scott Monty left Ford and Shel Israel thinks it's because marketing has taken over), but I really feel that there isn't anything new I can say about social media and small nonprofits. Once you've said:

  • be real (authentic)
  • start conversations
  • follow-up on what people are saying
  • don't make it about you - make it about them've pretty much said it all in terms of content. Then there is talking about ROI, metrics, how to use a particular tool, or more of the technical end of things, and that isn't what I started this blog to write about.

When this blog started, I wanted to help people involved in helping their communities find and use the freely-available, very long-term, awareness campaign that is social media. Most particularly I was looking to serve those similar in age to myself who found this new technological world rather confusing. Social media was kind of a wild west show, with shoot-outs happening all over the place and it was difficult for many try to get started in social media and then stay on top of the changes while (nearly) single-handedly running an NGO. I wanted to lend a hand by sharing my enthusiasm for this new way to reach the public.

People like Beth Kanter and Pamela Grow do some aspects of NGO much better than I ever could, and once you know how to extract lessons from business-oriented blogs like Social Media Examiner, you can learn from dozens of similar experts, including those from specific industries like recruiting. So I guess I feel like I've written myself out of a job.

Social media isn't the next new thing anymore - late night television makes Twitter jokes and daytime soap characters always seem to have a smartphone in their hands these days. Younger people, for whom social media is a way of life, are already in the workforce and some of them are approaching their 30th year. I think you can probably trust them with your Pinterest account.

This blog won't go away. Some people come across some of the older posts and seem to find them useful. And I will likely find the occasional thing of interest I want to share with you. I just don't want to start repeating myself.

Not that I will be idle - I volunteer for two NGOs and have several books waiting to be written. In addition, I'll be starting a blog focused on Emergency Medical Services in Santa Cruz County, which I hope will help county EMS communicate better with the public they serve.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Vacation This Week - Don't Argue

Image of Calvin and Susie by Bill Watterson
You know you'll get criticism on your blog, about your post or tweet or even pics on Pinterest and we've talked about examples of how corporate brands and big NGOs deal with it. But, how do you respond when you need to GIVE criticism as part of your own argument?

Do you freak out when you have to argue about something? Would you like to be better at it? Wouldn't it be great if you knew what to do to get those who oppose you to be more receptive to your idea? Then go look at this:

4 Steps to Arguing Intelligently

And while you're there, take a look at some of the other articles. I have no affiliation with Brainpickings except to find it an excellent resource. Maybe you will, too.

See you next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Wake-Up Call

Image via Alan Cleaver on Flickr
Have you ever had a serious wake-up call?

I read about a man who would rather be a competent violinist than an important physicist. Playing music was his passion and physics was just what he was good at. At the time I read that, I was shocked. I had always been told that you need only find out what you were good at and do it well to be happy, and here was someone giving up a career as a scientist to play music because he loved it. But he had a wake-up call that happiness in your work isn't completely about doing it well, but about giving it your passion, too.

I got a wake-up call this week.

I volunteer on two boards, both related to emergency medicine. For one of them, I was asked to serve as the board's Development Chair. Though I couldn't quite sort out my feelings, my instinct was telling me to decline. However, this very small nonprofit is in a bad way financially, and I didn't feel I could just say no. Instead, I offered to put together a marketing plan and do some fundraising for the next six months.

And I've done a crummy job of it.

I did put together the marketing plan, but never got a chance to present it because I missed the meetings. I attended the kickoff for a Fun Run and Walkathon and got the paperwork moving to make the NGO a part of it, but squandered my chances to communicate with the board and members in the days leading up to the event. It wasn't even until the week before the race/walkathon that I realized that though I had solicited sponsors, I hadn't remembered to register for the race itself.

Lest you consider me a complete screw-up, there were other things at work here and not all of the bad moves (or actually, lack of moves) are on me, but that doesn't change the outcome. So what was my problem?

Lack of commitment due to inability to see clearly.

I've never been comfortable as a member of this NGO's advisory board and I had already thought seriously of resigning, but got talked into giving it another try. They have smart people on the board, but most of them are medical or emergency services people, not people familiar with NGOs. So when it comes to fundraising, marketing, communicating and all the other outreach an NGO has to do, there was little expertise to be had. They really wanted me to help with that.

Have I tried? Yes. Did I do my best? A resounding NO.

I felt clueless about the mission, it took me too long (their meetings are every other month) to figure out where I could help, and (though I didn't know it) I needed to take time to deal with several years' worth of challenges. I had a closet full of leftover issues that would no longer wait and which would take a lot of my energy. Energy that I then did not have for the NGO.

It's not like they won't survive without me. My lack of ability to fulfill expectations is probably a very small thing when seen in perspective. But it's a big deal for me because I haven't failed in such a large way personally for quite a while.

We'll probably make our financial goal - but we might have exceeded it. And there are other things I could have done that would have helped, but wanting to help and being able to are not the same things.

In retrospect (where vision is 20/20), I should have listened to my intuition when it told me I wasn't up for this challenge. I didn't have the focus or the energy required for it. I answered a call for help when I should not have and I ended up doing a half-ass job. My wake-up call: knowledge of how to do things can be useless if it's not paired with energy and focus.

It's a good learning opportunity for me, but I would rather it had not been at the expense of the NGO.

Resource of the Week: 5 Ways You Can Use FB to Help & Inspire Your Friends

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Are All Donors Major Donors? In Social Medialand, Yes!

Image via Advisor to Superheroes
Over at A Small Change, Jason Dick had an interesting idea: how about treating every donor as a major donor? You're probably already thinking about your response. A lot of other people had responses, too - and they were all thoughtful and well worth reading.

What's the lowest donation amount your small nonprofit has received? In a general way, would you say that person and the number of other persons like that one receive the same acknowledgment as the ones who make the really substantial donations? Do you have tiers? Special events and premiums that donors in one donation bracket get that others don't?

Probably. And at least one of Jason Dick's responders felt that was the way of things and it would be naive to think otherwise. You should definitely read the post and the attending comments.

Social Media as a Leveler

One thing I really love about social media is that it's pretty much the same for everyone. There are no brackets and no set of events that some can attend and others can't. I think it's probably more likely to find your engagement is more often with donors of small amounts than with major donors. So social media is one place where you really can get to know the bread and butter donors, because cultivating donors is all about relationships and that is what social media is all about as well.

Once a year, you throw a party for the major donors and a show-and-tell that is a highlight reel of your accomplishments using their funding. But you have an opportunity every day to communicate with people who may only send you $100 a year or less, but for whom that is a generous slice of their budget.

Newsletters and emails are informative and can be somewhat interactive with links and polls, but on FB or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest, you can not only post about what you are working to accomplish, but get almost immediate feedback on how well you are communicating that effort. Then you can follow-up and keep the conversation going.

Some areas of fund-raising are still stratified and that's probably not going to change. But there are plenty of avenues for cultivating smaller donors as though they were bigger donors, and they're right at your fingertips.

Resource of the Week: Let It Ripple - Mobile films for global change.

These folks have some really nice films they have put together and they're offering your small nonprofit customized branding so you can make use of these wonderful films for to the benefit of your mission. These are the films available for customization:
Here's a sample - A Declaration of Interdependence.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Always Ask - Even When You Don't

ask you
ask you (Photo credit: Victor Bezrukov)
Pamela Grow has two great sites (one focused on grants and fundraising and one focused on one-person development departments) with loads of terrific information. In a 2013 post I recently read, she challenged some assertions made by another nonprofit blogger and finished up by saying:
Remember, too, that every communication from your organization shouldn’t be an “ask.”  You’ve heard it before: your donors aren’t ATM machines.
Very true. But though your donors may not be ATM machines, I still think you should ask - just not always for money.

Other Things to Ask For Besides Money
  • Time (volunteering for the NGO)
  • Expertise (lending experience in a field the NGO has no staffer for)
  • Sharing (spreading the word via social media)
  • Information (completing questionnaires or polls and surveys)
  • Endorsement (signing a petition, writing a letter or email, or making a phone call)

Via Woody's World on Flickr
The nature of engagement implies reciprocity - not tit for tat - but give and take. Even though you are posting or emailing, you are participating in a conversation. Though it takes place on a social media platform in the public eye, it must always be a one-on-one communication.

And even if you do not ask directly for any of the above or for money, your communication must always have the essence of an ask within it; the content should be such that the reader can't help but react. When you tweet a link, the 120 characters you use to preface that link is your ask. When you pin a picture on Pinterest, the board name on which you place that picture and the description that accompanies its posting are your ask.

Ask Yourself First

Via Gary Thompson on Flickr
All of your communications are asks, though you may not be aware of it. But in order for you to get the most out of those asks, you have to ask mindfully. When you put together a communication, ask yourself what action you want the reader to take. If you keep that in mind while crafting the post or writing the description and title, you will find it easier to shape that ask within the content, making it a seamless and logical proposition.

I'm not talking about definite asks - a short email with URGENT to ask for last-minute contributions should be very up-front about what you are asking for. Instead, I'm talking about those interactions you have with your community that are about your mission, that share information, that are touchstones to keep your small nonprofit visible and alive in their minds. Like the birthday card you send a distant friend, they are ways of saying you are thinking about them and, in an unstated way, ask them to remember you as well.

Always ask. Even when you don't.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Six Points for Good Content Leading to Engagement

Engagement comes from content. And the most often given advice about content? Make it good. But what, exactly does that mean? What is good content?
  • Relevancy, Timeliness
  • Informative, Funny, or Touching
  • Presentation
  • Visual/Audial
  • Inviting Comment or Elaboration

Relevancy, Timeliness

Via Media Republic/Global Voices
What you're posting about has to be something meaningful to your audience. If your NGO works with others to stop human trafficking, then it's likely your audience has come to you for information with relevance to that. And if it ties-in to something that is currently in the news or viral, all the better. This doesn't mean you can't post content that has little or nothing to do with your mission - you can come at your subject obliquely or even not mention it, if your content is something you know your community shares an interest in. With the right caption, even an LOL Cat can communicate some of the difficulties of the hopeful, yet often frustrating work you do. Be aware of what memes are and which ones are trending (being shared a lot) and use them when you can do so appropriately.

Informative, Funny, or Touching

Informative could be describing what your NGO buys with donations or how data is being used to find the people who need your help the most. You can switch this up with content that addresses something similar but does it with an emphasis on finding the humor in problematic situations or making the struggles involved more real and therefore able to be empathized with. Keep the mix going so that your community can find something in their stream from you that appeals to them.


Be sparing with your words, even if the platform allows you to use as many as you like. With text, make your first sentence something that will get their attention. Be careful with grammar and punctuation. If you're using a platform that allows hashtags, use them, but keep them separate from the text - a post becomes harder to read when each word in the title or description has # in front of it (e.g., #lonely #dogs #need #homes #now).

Available on Zazzle


If selfies have taught us anything, it's that people love visuals. And platforms like Twitter have made them easier to share than before. Audial pieces are catching on as well, although the preponderance of people are more visual than hearing oriented. Still, an occasional inclusion of something to listen to will provide variety to your content stream. Podcasts, animated gifs, slideshares or graphs with voiceover, and video are all different ways to engage with your community and freshen up your messages. There's even a new service for audial posts:

Inviting Comment or Elaboration

Whenever your posting, design/write your post with the idea of inviting comment, elaboration, or collaboration. Questions such as 'would you do this?' or 'how would you manage it?' have always been good, but you can even use hashtags which can take the shape of an informal comment or even a punchline:

Plus, as the example above indicates, using hashtags to express emotion can lead to engagement because it's our emotions that get us involved and talking.

Good content starts with a good idea - you already have that in your small nonprofit. What you seek to do is translate your mission into easily understood conversation. And just as you wouldn't check your feelings at the door when talking with a friend, you should keep them in your social communications.

The Sixth Point

If you've been counting, you know I've only covered five points. The sixth is not something you can include in content. It's Response. Too often we focus on what we can say instead of listening. To really promote engagement in your social media accounts, pay attention to what is in them. And respond. Even if you don't say anything more profound than "Love that" or "LOL" you are connecting with someone and that will encourage them to re-connect.

Good Information

Nonprofit Tech for Good has some nice info about current trends in nonprofit infographics here.
Data can lie - here's how visual representations of big data can be misused on purpose (article by Ravi Parikh).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Facebook - Stay or Go?

More and more folks appear to be waking up to the change in their reach on Facebook - seeing a lot more posts wondering whether they should stay or go. And since FB hasn't said anything about whether they'd cut the nonprofits any slack, that's a question that's going to remain a while. So what to do?
I think this is a good time to experiment. Patricia Redsicker cites recent research indicating that social media platforms that play to peoples' visual senses do better than other platforms. Facebook is number one on that list, but that may be partially due to it's being around the longest. And one study at Princeton has them losing 80% of their base within the next three years. Also in the running are Tumblr and Pinterest.


So why spend some time on Tumbler or Pinterest, depending on where you think your audience is. Tumblr is where a lot of the younger people are these days; good if you've been wanting to engage with a larger number of young volunteers or donors. Here's what turned up when I did a search for 'nonprofit' on Tumblr:

There are several nonprofits on Tumblr and if you do a search, you'll probably find several groups who can inspire your own Tumblr page. 

I found Tumblr pretty easy to use, but if you'd like some coaching, there are a number of tutorials, including this one on Digital Trend. For more tutorials, just Google how to use Tumblr.


Pinterest is another visual platform. Rather than blogging, you pin pictures to various boards - think of each board as a picture album. Each picture can be associated with a specific link and has a description. Here's a bit of what I got when I searched for 'nonprofit organizations':

You could set up different boards for different programs and the pictures could direct the viewer to a blog, an article, an invitation, a web page - anyplace where the picture is available to be pinned from. Write a good description and add a comment and you can start a conversation.

The audience, according to many social media consultants, is mostly women.

What About Facebook?

No need to give up on it just yet; keep up with posting and engaging. Just make that you don't go on autopilot. Making your content worth looking at is always a goal to write towards and the best way to help make sure it reaches your intended audience. Strive to be fresh and interesting rather than boastful or boring. Include images because they really do help.

Tip: It used to be that people would frown on you for liking your own post, but these days, that like might help get your post seen in the first place instead of seen by less than 6% of your followers and falling quickly off the page soon after.

Finally, make sure you track what kind of engagement you're getting and how much. You will need this information to help you decide whether or not you want to stay or go.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Facebook Blocks the Stream

Via Schenectandy on Panoramio

I touched on this subject in last week's post, but now it's time to look at it from the perspective of what it means to you. To recap: Facebook is continuing its monetizing strategy by restricting what you see in your timeline. While you'll continue to see posts from your friends and family with no problem, you might miss notifications and news from Pages that you've liked, like that of your favorite band or film or your local museum.

You'll still be able to go to Oreo's Page on FB and interact with them there, but the chances of one of their posts just showing up in your news feed as it used to are very slim and Slim is saddling up to ride out of town altogether. Business brands who want to keep the great communities they've built on FB will now have to invest in supporting those communities through paid reach.*

How This Will Affect Your Small Nonprofit

At the moment, you can consider your small nonprofit to be Oreo. Unless you already have a devoted fan base whose members continue to look for, like, and share your posts, your organic reach* is going to suffer a catastrophic fall.

What Are Your Options
  • You can pay to play. Thirty dollars a month in advertising could get your post in front of 4,000 people. But even $30 a month ($360 a year) may be too much for a tiny nonprofit that hasn't budgeted for it.
  • Move to another platform - you can post pictures with light text on Instagram or Pinterest with links back to your website.
  • Continue on FB but work harder at building community by getting people to like and share your posts with their friends and family. Jason Falls (see 2, below) says Share is the new Like. Whenever someone shares your post, it shows up on their timeline as though they had posted it themselves, which means it sidesteps the pay for play FB now has in place for brand pages.
  • Create your own community - you could set up your own community with forums and every community bell and whistle you can afford. This could be the most expensive option of all and many a brand has tried to create community and failed.
It's Not The End of The World

Not by any means. What it does mean is that the social media landscape will continue to change as 'free' platforms seek to return the investments made in them during their start-up phases. Even if you move to another social media platform, the same problem could come up again. This is why it's a good thing to not only stay on top of what is happening on these sites, but to stay on top of your own social media strategy and whether or not you're getting results that truly benefit you and the mission you serve.

* Definitions from FB
  • Organic reach: The number of unique people who saw your post in News Feed or on your Page, including people who saw it from a story shared by a friend when they liked, commented on or shared your post, answered a question or responded to an event
  • Paid reach: The number of unique people who saw your post through an ad
Note: Viral reach is now counted as part of organic reach.

Related Articles

1. Facebook Organic Reach Plummeting by Tara Urso at Social Media Today
2. The Great Facebook Scam by Jason Falls

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Corners Cut in Social Media

Image via Digital Inspiration

Let's talk about Facebook this week. Something is always going on with that social platform and it makes the news almost every day.  They're always trying something new and breaking something in the process, which drives some of their users crazy, but as long as their profits come from advertisers and they're not charging their users to be there, it's not likely they're going to become a kinder, gentler Facebook anytime soon.

What You See and What You Don't

If you've been staying current on FB news, you  know that there's been a lot of talk about the FB algorithms for determining what you see. If you don't change your preferences, your newsfeed will show you what it determines are the "Top" stories, rather than the most recent. If a page you like hasn't got enough interest, you may not see their posts unless you choose specifically to include their notifications after you Like them. If you rate your social media outreach by engagement, your statistics will be dismaying: engagement levels will fall significantly.

However, Pages - like those managed by small nonprofits - are always welcome to upgrade their posts to 'sponsored' by paying FB to post them more prominently so that they have a greater chance of being seen. This strategy, which has allegedly recently been increased, is meant to start getting the bigger brands like Oreo to pay for more reach. If they don't want to lose the community they've built up, they'll need to pay the piper.

Unfortunately, this means that small businesses and small nonprofits, which have also established presence on FB will be hurt. Without the budget to promote their posts, they may lose engagement. This means that they'll have to work extra hard to get their posts Liked and Shared so that they don't quickly fall off of the newsfeed. (There's a more in-depth article about it, which does contain salty language. Read it here at ValleyWag.)

Facebook and Big/Small Data

Businesses are pretty consumed with Big Data these days. Not something that small nonprofits have had on their radar, although it's useful to know about it, because a lot of the bigger corporations and foundations are using Big Data to figure out where to spend their money.  Usually, though, where the money is for small nonprofits is in Small Data: reaching out with the "best possible content, one piece at a time." If the theory in this article turns out to be correct, it's likely that card swiping (cards on your tablet or smartphone as opposed to credit card swiping) may be something that Facebook hasn't anticipated and an engagement platform that lets you make use of this technology (like Tinder) may be the wave of the future for small nonprofits.

Meanwhile, it's not enough to know about some things on the periphery. I know you've got a ton of work to do, but as we move on in time, social media isn't going to get less important. To survive and thrive here, don't look for the quick 10 easy steps to making it work for your mission. It may seem like you're learning when you go through those lists and bullet points, but the thing that teaches best is learning followed by experimentation and experience.

Bonus Data:

Happiness is Contagious (Psyblog) - emotions expressed online are contagious.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Learning and How

NYC - UES - MCNY: The Glory Days - 1955 World ...
The Glory Days - 1955 World Series Scorecard (Photo credit: wallyg)
For those of you less older than the hills, 'And how!' was a catchphrase of my mother's generation - the equivalent of 'word'. Last week, I put up a post about writing, and I used a new tool - one that analyzes headlines to see how appealing they are. The headline I used had a very good rating. I thought the content of the post was useful as well.

But the post got less than half the readers the blog normally gets. It bombed and how.

Do you not like posts about writing? Was the content not as interesting to you as to me? Was the headline the opposite of what I thought - less inviting rather than more? I'm still working out the answers. If you'd like to weigh in, please drop me a comment.

In the meantime, I found what I think is some useful information, but the different posts don't share much other than being interesting, so let's just consider this a roundup:


Are you using it? And if you are, how are you using it? MakeUseOf's Joel Lee has some tips on what not to do.


I frequent two Twitter Chats. Have you ever considered having your small nonprofit host one? Nonprofit Tech for Good tells you how.


I'm a proponent of getting awareness of your mission through any social media means (ethical and legal) possible. But do the 'likes' and the retweets really help? One of my favorite reads, The Monkey Cage addresses this issue using data in an article by Laura Seay.

Rewards System

MakeUseOf is using software and tee shirts together with a point system as an incentive to get more people recommending or forwarding their articles. Would this be something you'd try? Or maybe you've already tried it. If you did, did you consider it worthwhile?  I'm really on the fence about this. On the face of it, it seems like a useful program, but I have to wonder what the objective is? Are they buying endorsements? Will this result in more readers or is this purely a bid for higher interaction numbers in the short term without regard future loyalty? What do you think?

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Be A Writefully Happy Blogger

English: Illustration of the final chase of Mo...
English: Illustration of the final chase of Moby-Dick.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last post was about titles for your blog posts or email subjects. Now let's talk about what goes in those posts and emails - not the content, but how you write about it.

Marketing Content is Not About Selling

This can never be repeated too often for my taste. As a recent Buffer blog post by Belle Beth Cooper* put it, Marketing Content exists to:
  • build familiarity
  • build likability
  • build trust
I know for many people, marketing is a unsavory term, but really you put your small nonprofit and its mission on the market every time you communicate socially. You're saying, "out of all the stuff coming at you through the fire hose that is social media, please pay attention to me."

So you put together a great title or subject line and you know your subject is the bee's knees, but you've got to support them both with your writing. Please note that this is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive look at the mechanics of good writing - after all, you work for a small nonprofit, so you're already busy. But there are some traps that most people fall into fairly easily when it comes to crafting a story.

The Basics
  • Brevity and Flow
  • Voice
  • Vocabulary

Brevity and Flow

This doesn't mean short and sharp, this means don't string something out if you can avoid it. Doing away with passive voice (see Voice, below) will go a long way to sorting this out, but you should keep in mind that most people don't like to read long blocks of text. Nor do they like the kinds of long, long sentences that Melville (Moby Dick) liked. Keep the sentence length reasonable and pay attention to how one sentence flows into another and so on. Tip: read your writing out loud to yourself. If something stops you, chances are you need to smooth the flow at that spot.


Passive voice is the bane of most writing. (If you need a brush-up on this subject, go here.) Be ruthless in stamping it out of your own writing. Fresh verbs and adjectives will lend your sentences vigor and make them more interesting. Besides the grammatical construction of voice, there's also such a thing as your voice, or style, which is made up of a writer's choices (long and complex sentences were Melville's style). For most social communications I recommend a social or conversational style - as though you were having an exchange of ideas with someone in person.


Because I started out professionally as a technical writer, my prose tends to be written at about a 4th or 5th grade level. This makes reading through a lot easier. If you stick with a conversational tone, you will probably be able to avoid tiring your readers.

Extra Help

Because I'm a techie, I like techie tools. I recently was alerted to two that you might also find useful. One is Writeful. You paste in a writing sample and Writeful compares it to the 5+ million books Google has on the web. For example, if you entered "Today there are less people becoming astronauts," Writeful would tell you that although some people have used that sentence construction, most people use the construction "fewer people." It's lightweight, but it can add a little to your confidence if you're not quite sure about something.

The other tool, which is not lightweight is Expresso, which is in open beta. You paste in up to 5,000 words and it returns an analysis of such things as weak verbs and passive voice. You can also use it to find synonyms for words you use frequently so you don't repeat them too often. And if you are more than a casual writer, or want to be, it covers other good metrics like noun clustering (bad, in case you wondered).

So much to keep track of when you're writing a simple email, right? Tell an interesting story, title it invitingly, write it so that people won't be bored reading it. But the payoff - ahhh - getting their attention and keeping it long enough to get your message across... isn't that worth a little extra of your attention?

*On the subject of creating content, this is a great post. Do read it.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is That Your Best Line?

Because I'm a writer, I often click on links to writing productivity ideas and tools and insights for making my writing better. While clicking on a few of these links, I found some good information on subject lines and lead-ins.

Defining the Term

By better writing, I mean writing social media posts. We can all use tips on writing better blog posts, better appeal letters, better grants, but that's not the focus here. Social media gives you a better opportunity to reach a larger audience, but the price it comes with is the description or the tweet, or the words containing the link. Also, for the purpose of this blog post, I consider an email subject line and the text you use to get someone to click a tweeted link or a Pinterest picture to be the same.

If you were going to use one of these as your subject line in an email or to lead in to a link on a Twitter post, which would you choose?
Help make a child's dream come true
This child needs you
Well, according to SurveyMonkey, if you chose the first one, you'd already be under a handicap because it contains the word 'help'.

Leaving aside such icky terms as 'best practices', what kinds of things are clickable?

Telling is Clickable

As SurveyMonkey points out, in their post takeaway, 'don't sell what's inside, tell what's inside'. I'll second that. I get what looks like an endless parade of subject lines for newsletters in my inbox and I don't bother to open most of them. Use the subject line to tell me why I should. Don't tease me. And while we're at it, keep that subject line fairly short (SurveyMonkey says 50 characters or less is good to aim for). My Gmail screen won't give me much more than that in the preview, so if you haven't got me by then, you probably won't.

Emotion is Clickable

You want me to do something - make a donation, volunteer, spread the word. But you need to engage me, first. Get me to care and I will open your newsletter or click your link. Once I've done that, I am one step nearer to making that donation or signing up to volunteer. And I will certainly retweet or share or post on Tumblr. MobLab says you should go for a reaction, and I'll say that it applies as much to subject lines and link descriptions as it does to video. And note that they also say that though a strong, positive emotion is 30% more likely to result in sharing, the most important thing is the strength of the emotion. I don't believe this applies as much to descriptions and link lead-ins as it does video because you have a lot less time to make an impression using text versus pictures. But keep it in mind as you're developing that text - the stronger you can make it emotionally, the better.

Self-Interest is Clickable

Even though people want to help, helping is not as much of a driver as you might think (witness SurveyMonkey's data on low click-through for the word 'Help'). You will be more likely to get the shares you want if sharing the item will reflect nicely on the person sharing it. MobLab says that data shows that getting people to watch a video is all about emotion, getting them to share it is all about their own personality - the "viewer's desire to achieve personal gain from sharing the video." I interpret this as making the content different or interesting or compelling enough that the sharer will feel happy about having 'discovered' it and want to share it with friends and family. And here's the thing: your content can be all that, but if you haven't gotten them to view it, it's wasted.

Telling, emotion, self-interest - that's a lot to keep in mind when putting together a very short lead-in to a Tweet or even a slightly longer Pinterest image description or G+ or FB description. Don't force it, but definitely try to keep these things in mind as you're sending your small nonprofit's communications out into the social world. In an environment where you are competing against really big nonprofit players for a share of quicksilver attention spans in a fast moving stream, every word can count.

PS: Interested in what Adestra has to say about subject line keywords? Go here.

Related Article: Foolproof Formula to Incredibly Catchy Blog Titles

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