Tag Archives: blogs

why I am a blogger

I’m off to the Simmons Leadership Conference tomorrow, and I’m excited to meet some of the faculty in the Simmons MBA program, which hosts this annual conference. I’m particularly hoping that new faculty member Jill Avery will be around, since her teaching and research interests sound eerily similar to mine.

But before diving into bed to get some decent sleep before my 4:30 am wake-up call and 2-hour drive to Boston, I wanted to take a quick stab at answering Chris Brogan’s questions about my first steps in social media.

What were your first steps into social media?

Who were your early people you admired and followed?

How did you get started?

I started blogging in 2003, because I was working exclusively from home as a freelance book editor and had limited if any human contact on a daily basis.

I was lonely and desperately craved interaction.

I was reading the blogs of a few excellent people I had known in grad school, and those blogs led me to other blogs, and eventually I was reading and complaining to myself that those bloggers just weren’t posting nearly often enough, and I found myself writing long responses to their posts in the comments and one day somebody said why don’t you write your own posts and stop writing novels in my comments and I said OK.

Then one or two people found MY blog, and they started commenting, and became loyal readers, and this encouraged me tremendously. I kept writing, and reading, and commenting, and my circle grew ever wider.

I stopped editing books, and started helping others — especially artists and cultural organizations — learn how to get involved online, through blogs and social networks and other online forums. It’s work that I find more rewarding every single day. It’s a little embarrassing, almost, how much I love what I do.

I’m going to have to put off responding to the last two questions for tomorrow, after the conference, if I have any juice left, or Sunday, if I don’t.

Here are the questions:

If you were going to give advice to someone starting out, what would you tell them?

What will you do in the next few months with social media?

Of course I answer that question frequently on this blog, as that’s really the main question I am concerned with, how the beginner can get started, depending on their goals, needs, objectives, personality, time, skills, hair color, etc.

But what will I do in the next few months with social media?

THAT is a very interesting question indeed.

top, drop, and role

Top

The new multi-disciplinary blog aggregrator from Guy Kawasaki, Alltop.com, officially went live today. As noted here last week, the Nonprofit Alltop page looks to be a good at-a-glance resource for all the latest blog posts in the nonprofit world (primarily those in the United States, from the look of it, for now at least).

Small Dots is there, and so are almost 80 other sources of nonprofit news and ideas. Should be a good place to visit when you want to take a snapshot of the zeitgeist of the bloggers in the nonprofit sector at any given time. If you’re a nonprofit tech evangelist, trying to increase nptech literacy within your organization, the Nonprofit Alltop page would be a good place to get people started.

alltop.com

Drop

drop.ioOne of the most useful things to come across my radar recently is Drop.io – a free, private file-sharing site that doesn’t require any registration or account creation. Anybody still struggling with an outdated, hosted, proprietary ftp site will be very excited about this. Many non-technical folks are put off by ftp sites, and the friendly, easy-to-understand, non-threatening interface offered by Drop.io looks like an excellent alternative.

Just upload the file from your computer, name it, set a password, and share the name and password with whomever you chose. (More insanely useful info here.)

Take a look:

drop.io interface

Role

Some of the nonprofit blogging world’s best and brightest made a splash yesterday at SXSWi on the Pimp My Nonprofit Panel. Beth Kanter, Rachel Weidinger, Ed Schipul, Erin Denny, and Michaela Hackner injected some extra fun into their session on nonprofits and social media campaigns by engaging in a little role playing. Looks like it was a blast — wish I could have been there. Read all about it, including links to slides, notes, and commentary, on Beth’s Blog.

Pimp, yo.

Photo from Ed Schipul, taken by Eloy Zuniga

say it loud

We can’t promise you good things will happen when you put yourself out there. But we can guarantee that nothing will happen if you do nothing.”
-Oren Sherman, Artist and Marketing Consultant

Beth Kanter asks:

What is your feeling about the value of comments to blogging?”

I responded in her comments, and felt moved to expand on the theme here, on my own time and bandwidth.

The short answer is yes, of course bloggers should keep comments open. It’s what makes a blog a blog. Sure, other distinguishing features include reverse chronological posting, and a combination of text, links, and other media. But comments are what qualifies blogs as social media. Comments distinguish blogs from other websites.

Certainly, there are excellent blogs that don’t, or rarely, open up comments. This seems mostly to be a matter of scale; some blog writers with very large readerships don’t want to respond to, deal with, or lend bandwidth to hundreds of comments on every post.

But this is hardly a concern for bloggers who are just starting out — their problem is often too few readers, not too many. Instead, it’s usually the fear of negative comments that impels novice bloggers to keep comments closed.

This fear is multiplied when it’s a CEO or Executive Director blog, or a corporate blog at any level that faces the public.

What you don’t know until you try is that:

  1. Most comments are supportive, especially when you are just starting out;
  2. Supportive comments are excellent motivation to keep writing;
  3. Motivation to keep writing cools rapidly without that positive feedback.

Without comments, it’s hard not to feel like nobody is listening. It’s also nearly impossible to know what’s working, and what’s not.

Rachel Happe wrote a very clear and useful post today about how to assess if your company is ready for social media. She encourages organizations to ask themselves what their internal “political” climate is regarding social media (how do most people in the organization view blogs? social networks? forums?); what resources do they have available for social media (staff time, money, and planning tools); and process (what is the process for responding to feedback? how will feedback be processed, internalized, and used?), among other highly relevant questions.

If a new blogger isn’t ready to open up comments, for whatever reason, it may be that they are simply not ready to blog. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And if they do want to test the waters, and just try getting into the rhythm of writing every day without the added element of comments, then they should be able to do that, too.

I don’t think it’s particularly useful to take a purist stand on this issue. What’s right for one person won’t be right for another. What’s scary to a person one day might very soon become less frightening as time goes on. Fortunately, it’s a very big internet out there. There’s room for lots of different variations on the theme.

half the billboards

Tim Davies wrote this post about the ROI of social media versus the ROI of printed materials, which Beth Kanter pointed to here.  It’s an interesting poke into the idea of establishing the ROI of social media, and asks what is the return on printed pamphlets or brochures?

Of course, many brochures, leaflets, postcards, etc, go unread and unresponded to.  A return rate of perhaps 5-7% is, I think, considered decent for direct mail campaigns, depending on the quality of your list.

This got me thinking about something a mentor of mine likes to say, which is that

We know that 50% of our billboards work.  The problem is, we don’t know which 50%.

This is, of course, true for all advertising.  And the 50% part is pretty optimistic, honestly.

A great point that Tim makes is that, unlike a blog post, a brochure can’t tell you if it was read or not.  A brochure hardly ever gets sent back to you with comments on it.  People can’t find your brochure by googling your organization’s keywords. Even if you do have most of your brochure’s content on your “corporate” website, Google is likely going to ignore it unless you update your website’s content daily, like a blog.

Do you want people to be able to find you when they are searching for something like you, whether or not they know you exist?  Google prizes fresh content, and nothing serves up fresh content like a blog.

A blog, of course, is only one form of social media.  But it’s one that most mainstream folks have at least heard of, and have some sort of handle on how it works.  It’s a good first dip into social media, mostly, I think, because the traffic measurements are built right into most blogs.

Some say that you should get social media neophytes started with an RSS feed, for instance by setting up an “ego-search” on the person or organization in question.  This is a good idea, as long as you know that people are, in fact, talking about the person or organization in question.  If not, that might be a less than rewarding experiment that proves the opposite of what you are trying to prove.

And what are we trying to prove?

That there is a conversation going on out here, whether you know it or not.  If you’re not a part of it, you are going to become more marginalized, not less.

The evidence clearly shows that traditional methods of marketing — especially in the nonprofit sector — are fading in effectiveness, and fading fast.  As donors and members slowly, inevitably change their habits, doesn’t it make sense to be ready for those changes?

The best way to get started is to start eavesdropping.  Start listening in.  Choose some blogs to read and read them every day, whether in a newsfeed or not.  Comment once in a while.  As I’ve said before, the time to start learning a new language is not the day you get your passport stamped.

blogging to advance your core mission

Do you think your organization needs a blog? Or is it just a “someday” thing — a back-burner item that you feel just has to wait until you can get more on track with fulfilling your mission, becoming better known and better respected, building your donor base, getting the press to cover you, and driving attendance to your events?

And what, exactly, is it that you think blogs do?

Many organizations that would benefit from establishing and maintaining a blog are “putting it off” because they think of blogging as an “extra,” an additional, unnecessary piece of PR fluff that will take staff time away from the real, serious matters that are central to their mission.

A blog isn’t a bell or a whistle. A blog is a powerful, easily hefted tool that can achieve several goals at once. They are also cheap, easy, and incredibly low-tech.
This recent article in NPTech News (that’s nonprofit technology news for the uninitiated) spells out very clearly what the benefits of organizational blogging are.

My favorites:

1. Search engine optimization

Hosting a blog on your site can rapidly and vastly improve your search engine results. Why? Because Google (and other search engines) prize fresh content. Updating a blog takes almost zero technical skill and merely a basic business-writing level competency. For that, and ten minutes a day, you can greatly improve your page rank.

2. Expert in the Field

Don’t just be a children’s theater. Be an expert on children’s theater. Don’t just be an art gallery. Be a resource for the artist community. Don’t just sell your art online. Teach others about the process of creating art, about color theory, about outsider art. It’s not marketing – it’s sharing. The marketing is secondary, accidental — and far more effective because of that.

3. Awareness

    Be your own media source. Cover yourself, your mission, your services — relentlessly. Feature your volunteers, your sponsors, your staff, your members as much as humanly possible. Do all this in your own distinctive, human voice.

    4. Events

    Spend less on postage. Annoy your newsletter subscribers less. Maintain an interesting blog, with fresh content regularly served, and people will willingly visit and read your news and information. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

    5. Fundraising

      Online donation is rising every year, and not by a little. Nonprofits of all sizes, missions, and demographics have successfully used “charity badges” to make it as easy as one or two clicks for supporters to donate online. Each blog post gives your readers a compelling reason to hit that Donate Now! button, and hit it hard.

      …and that’s only five out of the ten cited in the article.

      Do I think it’s a bit of headline-crafting hyperbole to say that “Every organization MUST have a blog?” Sure.

      But I also think that organizations would be harder pressed to make the case for not having a blog than for having one.

      For every core objective you have in your communications plan, there is a way that blogging can advance that objective.

      perpetual motion machine

      At the end of the day today I spoke for a long time with Rebecca Krause-Hardie, an Arts/Technology blogger with whom I appear to have a great deal in common. It was a free-wheeling conversation, not least, I suspect, because I had ingested very little besides several vats of coffee throughout the course of the day, a circumstance that I fear might have led to some rambling and incoherency on my part.

      I might have implied that I am against hugging. And certain southern cities. I’d like to state for the record that this is not the case.

      In any case, I look forward to her summary of our conversation, which I gather will be posted on her blog in due time. I plan to return the favor next week, after switching to chamomile tea for a few days.

      In the meantime, I am very intrigued by her desire to build a sort of resource/clearing house/online community for arts organizations using web 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and social networking sites. We tossed around a few ideas about how this might be done, what would be useful, relevant, and interesting, and how such a thing might be constructed for the greater good.

      In fact, we’ve got an idea that I’m going to spend some hours on this weekend, see if we can rig up some pulleys and weights and mirrors and buckets to make something interesting happen.

      video snacking for cultural organizations

      The New York Times published an article by Brian Stelter on Saturday about the growing trend of workers watching short videos online during their lunch breaks, either on YouTube, CNN.com, or elsewhere.

      “The trend — part of a broader phenomenon known as video snacking — is turning into a growth business for news and media companies, which are feeding the lunch crowd more fresh content.”

      True story! There are thousands of young, mobile, professional internet users out there who are looking for fresh video content every day. In his article, Stelter mentions that there is a wide variety of tastes, too, citing workers who enjoy watching archives clips from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, daily political commentary podcasts, and wire stories from CNN.

      Stelter also mentions some of the benefits the viewers see in using a little lunch-at-the-desk time to enjoy some fresh, brief bursts of entertainment:

      1. It keeps your hands free to eat, as opposed to clicking through text content
      2. It can be a communal activity, with workers in nearby cubicles sending each other links throughout the day, which they all then watch simultaneously at midday
      3. Staying at your desk keeps the momentum of the day going, and avoids the interruptions presented by traffic, lines, and crowds.

      How can cultural organizations use this information?

      If your organization is a performing arts group, and you are already in the habit of recording some or all of your performances, why not consider creating brief (3- to 5-minutes) clips of those performances for lunchtime broadcast?

      Here are ten tips for cultural organizations (theaters, opera companies, symphonies, chorales, author readings, museums) thinking about trying to reach lunchtime media snackers:

      1. Record a dress rehearsal of your next production. Break the recording up into brief segments and post them on YouTube.
      2. Tag your videos prodigiously, so that people can find them with a variety of different keywords.
      3. Link from your website to the videos.
      4. Link from the videos to your website.
      5. Link directly to the page that promotes that production, so that viewers can learn more about what they watched with just one click.
      6. Post your links to an aggregator site, like StumbleUpon or Reddit (find more here) to further help people find them.
      7. Blog about them on your organization’s blog (you do have one, right?)
      8. Get creative about your recordings, if you have the time and resources. Interview performers, interview the lights guy, interview the popcorn sellers. Interview the crowd before the show starts.
      9. Be consistent about the length of your segments. Snackers are mostly looking for clips of no more than 5 minutes in length.
      10. Be consistent about posting new content. Fresh Content Daily is the mantra of choice.

      What would you add? Is there an organization you know that is doing this well?