Tag Archives: blogging

and here’s the play at the plate…

I’ve got very little time to spare these days and for the next little while, as we are fast approaching the date of my organization’s major event on Sunday, August 3, at the same time as we are getting ready to launch our new website (about to launch in beta in about ten days – want to beta test it with us?).

Things are only going to get more hectic over the next few weeks, which has made me think more about my online habits, and specifically, what happens to those habits when I am truly pressed for time.

What happens? I spend much more time sending out short bursts of information, via microblogging like twitter, or audio posts on Utterz.

These are technologies that allow me to broadcast on the fly, and let me just keep folks up to date on what’s going on. Useful, very useful, for when times are so busy all I can do is act, not reflect.

It seems to me that blogging is more for reflection, assimilation and synthesis of information, whereas the tools I mentioned just now — often referred to as lifestreaming tools — are for real-time updates.

If my life were a baseball game, Twitter and Utterz would be the play-by-play announcer, and my blog is where I write the column for the next day’s newspaper.

And Friendfeed? Friendfeed is my wire service.

If you want to watch (and participate in) something really fun and interesting while I am over here going 100 miles an hour, check out the NTEN Be The Media Project (to be renamed soon, we promise). I am participating and contributing to it as I can, but there are bound to be many interesting contributions and discussions over the course of the project (curated by none other than Beth Kanter), so mark it and stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be in the play-by-play booth.

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more blogs about buildings and food

Blahg Blahg Blahg

I gave a presentation on blogging — should you blog? why and how? — at Geek Girl Camp Cape Cod Thursday night. It was a first-time event, this Geek Girl Camp thing, and so it was hard to know quite what to expect.

I knew that it was sold out. There were 100 women and girls crammed into one conference room at the Heritage House Hotel in Hyannis.

Any event that succeeds in drawing over 100 women who are interested in technology, but consider themselves beginners, to an evening of speakers on a variety of wonky topics has to be deemed a success on some level.

The Digital Divide

Now, Cape Cod as a region is admittedly not the most technologically engaged.

As a region, the Cape is:

  • Home to a disproportionate number of seniors and retirees, compared with other parts of the US
  • Geographically cut off from the mainland, which is often more of a psychological barrier than a physical one
  • Composed of many diffuse neighborhoods, and few centralized downtowns
  • Dependent on a heavily seasonal economy, with a large population living at or near the poverty line

So the digital divide here runs wide and deep.

I do a lot of work with local artists in my line of work, helping them use technology, the internet, online communities, etc., to market themselves and their work, to make a greater portion of their income from their art, and to connect with and get support from other artists.

So I’m used to speaking about these issues to individuals and groups who are at least hesitant about technology, if not downright resistant.

That’s why it’s so useful to be tugged in the right direction on a regular basis by folks like Chris Brogan, who once again sounds the call in his newsletter to avoid talking about the technology in favor of talking about what it can do for people:

If you lead into the talk with words like “wiki” and “RSS” and “Twitter,” you might as well turn around and walk out. Business is about doing business, not learning new and amazing things.

It’s your job as the cool hunter to sift through it all, find the stuff that’s a good fit, and talk about how it applies to the way things are being done now.

Free and Easy

Talks about starting a blog (including mine) tend to include a song and dance about how it’s “free” and “easy.”

When of course it’s really neither.

Blogs take time, and your time is worth a lot. We only have a certain amount of hours in a day. If you spend a few hours blogging, that’s a few hours you didn’t spend on other parts of your job, or on your family, or on feeding the hungry, or sleeping or dancing or holding hands.

And writing isn’t “easy” for the majority of the population, either. It happens to be something I’m pretty happy doing, but that’s far from true for everybody.

I know that if someone went around talking about how solving simultaneous equations was free and easy, I’d want to smack them, hard.

So it’s really relative. And to people who remain skeptical, it is anything but self-evident that any of this is worth their time and the grief it might take them to learn it.

But at least ten of those women and girls assembled on Thursday night told me on their way out the door that their minds had been changed about the usefulness of blogs, and that they were going to start blogs that very night.

So we must be doing something right.

And maybe ten other people in that room heard my talk, and decided that nope, writing a blog right now wasn’t right for them.

And that’s a good result, too.

I’m less of an evangelist these days than an educator. Here’s what this thing is, here’s how it might help, and here’s why it might not.

Act accordingly.

What about you? Do you evangelize? Or do you do something else?

the organizational social media policy

More organizations are making the move into social media, either by starting a CEO blog, a customer Facebook group, or just by allowing employees to blog openly about their work lives.

As a result, more organizations are finding it necessary to draft a social media policy, or at least a set of principles, meant to guide employees’ behavior online.

Beth Kanter recently put out a call for examples of social media guidelines from nonprofits, starting with the example of the Easter Seals’ blogging policy.

A few readers chimed in with some good examples from the enterprise sector (for instance, IBM, Opera, and Sun all have blogging policies, which were linked to via Twitter by Christine Kreutz).

In a follow-up post, Beth relates an anonymous tale of a corporate social media policy:

In truth, the policy… is quite vague. It goes on for a while but really just says, “Use common sense and please don’t say stupid stuff. In fact, we’d love it if you told your personal institutional story in a constructive way.

I think that’s what most blogging/social media policies really boil down to.

It seems like executives (and nonprofit boards) are primarily concerned about three things:

  1. Employees will say bad things about the organization (sponsors, vendors, customers, etc.);
  2. Customers/constituents will say bad things about the organization (sponsors, staff, vendors, etc.);
  3. Employees will tell secrets.

It’s been said that companies would do well to remember that they have to trust their employees on these issues every day already — every time they talk to a customer, deal with a member, gab with a vendor, or work with a sponsor, you are trusting them to represent you and your brand responsibly, with discretion and integrity.

If you haven’t hired people you can trust to behave like responsible adults, then there is a deeper problem.

Of course, by “secrets” we can also be talking about “knowledge” — especially if your primary product is ideas and analysis. How much should smart, responsible bloggers share of their smart, responsible (and valuable) thinking?

This line of thought reminded me of this recent post from David Deal of Avenue A|Razorfish, a reaction to George Colony‘s recent talk on corporate blogging.

Colony seems concerned, understandably, about the wisdom of giving away too much of his company‘s bread-and-butter, which is insight, analysis, and forecasting. Do bloggers like Jeremiah Owyang give away the farm by blogging so prolifically on his topics of expertise?

Not hardly, David says:

I think the blogger-as-superstar-brand is good for any company — but especially Forrester, JupiterResearch, Gartner, IDC, and other organizations that rely on ideas as currency. Your employees already are your brand whether you realize it or not.

The problem with this fear of giving away the farm, this anxiety that every bit of our product needs to be paid for, is that it ignores the way that social media works. Social media works around relationships (believe it or not), not transactions.

Yes, most marketers think they have “relationships” with their customers, but they don’t, not really. They are really going right for the sale, and they aren’t really listening at all.

As Brian Oberkirk said today:

They go right for the transaction. It’s like: Hi, there, I’m…hey, is that your hand in my pocket?

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say “Please get your hands out of our pockets. We’ll call you when we need you.”

The economy in most social networks is just different from the more typical, everyday, transactional business model. Online, in social media, you give a little (sometimes a lot) to get more. Sometimes a lot more.

Ignore this at your peril.

hiatus

I took a week off from writing, for several very good reasons, and now I’m back.

Miss me?

Of course you didn’t.

One of the reasons I took a brief sabbatical was my reaction to this post by Chris Brogan on what it felt like to not have a blog for eight days.

In it, he talks about how losing this communications tool made him feel blind, deaf, and mute. He then wonders how this extends to companies who don’t blog — they lack this incredibly effective sounding board/community builder/line of communication, but they don’t know what they’re missing:

Should all companies blog? Not sure. But boy, I sure felt wrapped in gauze by NOT having some kind of sounding board back and forth.

That’s an interesting question, for exploring another time. You can be all bound up in the most pleasant, softest gauze, and not know how trammeled you are. Blah blah blah gilded cage blah. Anyway:

So I wanted to know how it felt to not blog for a week. I’ve been blogging since 2003, and I’ve always either been consistently blogging on my own site, or as a weekly columnist on other sites, so this would be the longest non-blogging spell in five years for me.

How did it feel?

When I was in middle school, I hated school. I was good at it, but I had few friends, I was terribly awkward, and my peer group was, shall we say, less than supportive of me in my struggles to navigate my early teen years.

In middle school, I sometimes skipped school altogether and spent the day in Provincetown. The outsider culture there, especially in the off-season, suited me fine.

I’d buy some Portuguese sweet bread at the Portuguese bakery on Commercial Street, some fudge at the fudge shop near Town Hall (these were the only two stores open during the winter in the mid-eighties), and sit on the wharf and enjoy the solitude.

Things changed dramatically for me in high school. I lost weight, and a lot of my awkwardness. I found friends. I not only did well academically, I thrived socially. I had, in short, a blast.

Suddenly, I hated missing school, because I felt like I was missing out on the unfolding drama of high school life. I felt like a missed day would mean I had missed out on all sorts of things that were happening, and I didn’t want to hear about them second-hand, I wanted to be there. I wanted to contribute.

That’s what it felt like to not blog for a week. Like I was missing out on the unfolding drama.

The worst of it is, life goes on without you.

So last night, as I reflected on my week of self-imposed silence, I wondered what it was that I was doing to actually contribute to this unfolding story. How, exactly, am I adding value? How can I add more?

Here’s what I decided:

One of the greatest strengths of this whole new media/social media world is that we each have a voice. It’s so open and democratic, and so easy to self-publish in so many different ways.

I often advise people to learn the culture of blogging and social networks before jumping in, but it’s also incredibly important to bring your own self, and not to mold yourself into what you think your online persona should be.

But it can be easy to assimilate too much, and to take on too much of the accent and mannerisms of those who came before and found success here.

What I want to do is be authentic first, last, and always. Because that’s how I (and you) can add value.

I’m a very quirky individual, with a meandering and non-linear path that brings me to this moment, at this keyboard.

Rather than try to hide those quirks, to fit into my projection of an idealized version of myself (which is, I believe, one definition of the word avatar), I’m going to embrace them more, expose them more, and explore them more.

It’s really defeating the purpose of this democratic, wide open space out here if I’m trying to be someone I’m not. Why bother? That’s so totally not why we’re here.

I’m not saying that I have been. Just that I’d better not, and that I’m sure I can do better.

I’m guessing that you’re quirky, too.

Nice to meet you.

social media adoption and its discontents

Check this out from Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb: “Ten Common Objections to Social Media Adoption and How You Can Respond

1. I suffer from information overload already.
2. So much of what’s discussed online is meaningless. These forms of communication are shallow and make us dumber. We have real work to do!
3. I don’t have the time to contribute and moderate, it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy.
4. Our customers don’t use this stuff, the learning curve limits its usefulness to geeks.
5. Communicators [bloggers, tweeters] are so fickle, better to stay unengaged than risk random brand damage. We don’t want hostile comments left about us on any forum we’ve legitimized.
6. Traditional media and audiences are still bigger, we’ll do new stuff when they do.
7. Upper management won’t support it/dedicate resources for it.
8. These startups can’t offer meaningful security, they may not even be around in a year – I’ll wait until Google or our enterprise software vendor starts offering this kind of functionality.
9. There are so many tools that are similar, I can’t tell where to invest my time so I don’t use any of it at all.
10. That stuff’s fine for sexy brands, but we sell [insert boring B2B brand] and are known for stability more than chasing the flavor-of-the-month. We’re doing just fine with the tools we’ve got, thanks.

If you haven’t already read the article for some possible answers to these oft-cited concerns and questions, go ahead and do so now.

Interestingly, Marshall then says

Ultimately, I’m not yet convinced myself that persuading anyone is the way to go. If you can make time on the side to use new tools and you can perform – perhaps the benefits can best speak for themselves.

…which is exactly the way I tend to go about things. This method keeps the focus on the results, not the tools, because you are allowing people to see the fruits of social media before they even know it’s social media that is doing the job.

This gets right to the heart of the ROI question. If you start to get results that the organization thinks are worthwhile, this opens the conversation about what tools you used to obtain that result. Yes, ROI has to come first. It’s paradoxical, and maddening, but there’s just no way around it.

I’ve always advocated that nonprofits first start small, and try using social media to address discrete problems that traditional media so far have left unsolved in your organization (like how to raise more donations from a certain demographc, grow audiences, get more press coverage, etc.). These small, segmented tasks can be carved out and used as test cases within an organization.

Provided, of course, that you first define what your objectives are, how you plan to go about achieving them, what success would look like, and how you plan to measure success.

{Thanks to Dan York of Disruptive Conversations for flagging this!}

expert witness

I’ve been hearing a lot from artists and cultural organizations that they’d like to start a blog, but they’re unsure what they should write about. They seem convinced that since a blog is a good marketing tool, it’s really just another place to put press releases and event announcements.

Not so.

Blogs are a particular type of communications tool, different from a press release or a feature story in the local paper. Those things are still GREAT, but now you have this other tool, that can accomplish slightly different goals.

First, let’s brainstorm a bit on what you might want to write about.

If you’re an artist, I might read your blog because I want to know more about you, not because I want to read the same stuff I read about you in the newspapers. Give me the inside scoop! What is it like to be you?

What? It’s not all late mornings and Oscar-Wilde-like witty remarks in the world of an artist? So disillusion us.

Most people are fascinated by the interior life of artists. Many people are turned on by the chance to peek backstage at a theater. Almost everyone I know thinks they can curate an art exhibit. Are they right?

Artists: Write about your favorite kind of paintbrushes. Write about where you go shopping for paintbrushes. Write about how hard it is to find decent studio space. Write about why you ditched that banker job to see if you could make it selling art. Write about your crippling self-doubt and fears of failure. Write the truth. Not the press release.

Cultural Organizations: Write about your insides — what goes on inside a theater, a museum, a historical home? Not the tedious soap opera that will get you fired if you share – the cool stuff we’re all dying to know! Where do your staff come from? What brought them here? How much fun did you have striking the set over the weekend? Can I help next time?

Of course, since you’ve left comments open on your blog, you get to hear back from your community. They will tell you what they want to hear more about, what’s working, what’s not. Like it or not, they are YOUR community, and it’s far better to know what they are thinking about you than to not know.

(You know how you sometimes send out surveys and evaluation forms, trying desperately to get feedback on your programs and show their impact? And then bemoan the fact that nobody responds? Open up comments on your blog.)

Why? What are the objectives you are trying to accomplish by sharing this insider information, reading constituent comments, interviewing your volunteers and donors? All this takes time and effort — how do you justify taking the time to write this stuff down and share it with the world?

Here are a few things you will be doing, without even knowing you are doing them, if you blog like this:

  • Position yourself and your organization as an expert in the field
  • Feature and promote the people most important to your success (sponsors,volunteers, staff, donors)
  • Connect with your peers and your peer organizations
  • Think out loud, learning about yourself and your field as you do (also known as “learning by writing”)
  • Show the human face of your organization
  • Engage your members and donors more deeply, giving them a personal investment in your success
  • Reach potential members/donors you don’t even know about

To paraphrase David at JournaMarketing:

Turn your {blog} into a service, instead of a commercial. When you do that, you get the benefit of reaching more people — and the added benefit of directing them to a place where they might come to trust you, instead of forgetting about you in 30 seconds.

This doesn’t mean oversharing, or giving away proprietary information. It means giving your readers a tantalizing peek behind the curtain — you get to decide how high to raise it, and what corner of scenery to reveal — so that they want to know more.

It means accepting the fact that you are an expert, and that you have knowledge to share. Just by virtue of the fact that you do what you do – create art, build sets, sing and dance, preserve a historical home — makes you an expert.

You are an expert in what it is like to be you. Because you work as a creator, promoter, curator, preserver, or supporter of the arts, you are doing something that most people only dream of doing. Share.

Update: Jeremiah Owyang just resurfaced this post from October 2007, a thoughtful list of challenges presented by CEO blogs, most of which translates perfectly well to cultural organizations and other nonprofits considering starting a blog.  He also rightly refers you to read Shel Israel’s and Robert Scoble’s Naked Conversations, a must-read book on business blogging.

Reflections on America’s Giving Challenge

I was glad to see that the New York Times picked up on the final stages of the America’s Giving Challenge. The contest is over, and the cause I’ve been flogging/blogging appears to have (unofficially) emerged victorious. It’s pretty exciting, no doubt, that the Sharing Foundation is likely to receive a decent sum of money as a result of the contest — both directly from the donations generated, and from the $50,000 prize money for the top four organizations.

What’s also interesting is who did well in this contest and who did not. The New York Times article reported that smaller groups feared that they would be at a disadvatage to larger, international groups with big Facebook presences that already had lots of “friends.”

But Amnesty International had a hell of a time getting their online friends to donate during this contest. And tiny, new, unknown groups — NOT run by hip, trendy young college students –did really well.

Why?

“Everyone is still trying to work out how you organize these things and how you move these people offline into our traditional work,” said Brian Glasscock, a 16-year-old volunteer who is responsible for online organizing at Amnesty International.

It makes you want to speculate about the strength of the ties that exist between a cause and its “friends” when those friends can’t be mobiled to make a bunch of well-timed $10 gifts.

More than that, though, I think it points to the difference between “organizations” trying to mobilize online supporters, and people trying to mobilize other people.

I’d have to look more into how other the campaigns were run, but I know from watching Beth Kanter at work over the last month or so that, when she was mobilizing for donations:

  1. She was asking as Beth Kanter, not as an organization.
  2. She was emailing, twittering, and appealing to people she knew, or at least who knew her — as a person.

Would any of us have blogged this campaign, retweeted, or done much of anything if it had been An Entity, Inc. that had been doing the asking?

I doubt it.

Wasn’t it partly the fact that a person was doing the asking, a person who had already established trust and recognition on a number of vectors was making the appeal.

Wasn’t it also because it wasn’t entirely about the cause, as it was to show the world (or the readers of Parade Magazine, at least) that the social networking shadowlands — about which such astonishing, sensationalistic, fear-mongering, alarmist crap is written — is actually populated by passionate, articulate people who support each other and who work to advance the common good?