Rob’s blog

Job posting: site animator for

One of our favourite projects has been The Big Wild, a site where people who love Canada’s wilderness can share stories, connect with each other and take action to protect our big wild spaces.

We worked with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Mountain Equipment Coop, the site’s founders, to make it more engaging and easier to use, and for the past four months, our own Aaron Pettigrew has served as the site’s animator – encouraging contributions, promoting the site and ramping up participation.

Now The Big Wild has reached the stage where it’s ready to hire an animator on their own. And for a conservation-minded social media type – someone who feels just as at home wrangling blog posts and Flickr photos as they do sleeping under the stars a day’s hike from the nearest human settlement – this just might be your dream job.

But you have to act now: the posting closes on Wednesday, July 22. That’s just five days from now. So set down your pack, drop your oars, toss the pitons to one side and head to the CPAWS website, where you’ll find this:

Social media genius wanted

Location: Vancouver, BC, MEC Head Office
Reporting to: CPAWS National
Type: Contract, part time, 20 hours/week
Start date: Mid-end August, 2009
Length: 1 Year with possibility of extension
Application Deadline: July 22, 2009
Salary: Hourly

Are you the next site animator for We are looking for someone with social media savvy and a love of Canada’s wild places.

You’ll be the face of the Big Wild ( The Big Wild celebrates Canada’s outdoor culture and large wild expanses: our forests, lakes, free-flowing rivers and stunning coasts. It’s an open and fun online community of people who are passionate about outdoor activity. And it’s people working together to keep at least half of Canada’s public land and water wild forever. You’ll be the site’s moderator and animator, posting news, encouraging more people to add their voice on The Big Wild, supporting Big Wild Challenge takers, and keeping the Big Wild social network pages hopping.

About you:

You have three great obsessions: the outdoors, building community and online technology. Chances are you’re involved with a volunteer or advocacy organization. And you probably have your own blog, a personal web site or an online community you call home.

You’re web-savvy, confident, ecologically aware and funny as all get out. You’re just as comfortable talking to bloggers as you are squeezing out Twitter updates, ideally in both English and French. And you understand the demands – and potential – of an intensive public outreach campaign.

What you’ll be doing:

  • Encouraging traffic to and supporters of
  • Animating our online community. You’ll kick off discussions, moderate comments, and defuse conflict
  • Creating regular content for our blog (Blog Wild)
  • Maintaining and grooming the site, helping great user-generated content to rise to the surface
  • Creating and maintaining profiles for the campaigns on leading social networks
  • Responding quickly to queries from the public, and networking with likeminded bloggers
  • Conducting ongoing social media and web monitoring and providing reports
  • Participating in promotions and engagement strategy
  • Carrying out additional project(s) when agreed upon by all parties (e.g. training)

What you’ll need to do it well:

  • Be proficient and comfortable with social media “Web 2.0”. You’re at least as obsessed with what makes an active community as you are with online technology.
  • Ideally, you’re familiar with Drupal.
  • Be confident and articulate, in English and preferably in French too, in public and online. You write quickly and well, with a distinctive style that works on the printed page, a static site or a blog post.
  • Be an organizer who can engage and motivate supporters. You’re a friendly face and diplomat who quickly responds to queries from the public, and networks with likeminded bloggers.

About us:

The Big Wild was founded by CPAWS and Mountain Equipment Co-op:

CPAWS is Canada’s pre-eminent, national community-based voice for public wilderness protection. Since 1963 CPAWS has taken a lead role in establishing two-thirds of Canada’s protected wild spaces — an area over seven times the size of Nova

Mountain Equipment Co-op is Canada’s leading outdoor retailer and largest co-operative. MEC is nearly 3 million members strong and counting.

How To Apply:

Please submit resume with cover letter (can be a combination of written and other media), quoting posting BIG WILD SITE ANIMATOR by July 22, 2009 to:

Mountain Equipment Co-op
Human Resources, MEC Head Office
149 West 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC, V5Y 4A6
Fax 604.731.3826

We thank all applicants for their interest, but we will only contact selected candidates.

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Make the most of your conference sponsorship

Hey, you’ve sponsored a conference – good for you!

Chances are good you wanted to help these folks out, and support some productive conversation, learning and networking. Chances are also pretty good you want to get some benefit out of the sponsorship yourself with goodwill and exposure.

And when they said you’d have an opportunity to speak to the participants, you jumped at it. And you have a great 15-minute pitch carefully crafted by the folks in marketing, including a PowerPoint video that hits all the key selling points.

So why do you have this nagging feeling of impending disaster?

Maybe because you’re about to turn that goodwill into impatience, even hostility.

Because those selling points are about to bounce off a wall of indifference and distraction. And because you’re about to lose a great opportunity.

But I have two pieces of good news.

The first is, everyone’s expecting you to do just that. It’s what sponsors usually do at conferences. They deliver a pitch to an audience anxious to get on with the actual business of the conference: people who are painfully aware of the bill for conference fees, hotel, food and travel, not to mention time away from work, and who don’t want to waste a minute on someone else’s self-serving agenda. And then the sponsor walks offstage to tepid applause, silently wondering if maybe it would have gone over better with more animation in the PowerPoint deck.

So at least you have plenty of company.

And second, it’s not too late to turn things around.

From someone who’s attended and spoken at a lot of conferences, and who’s written those speeches for other people, here are some ways you can do yourself and your audience a lot of good at your next sponsored event:

  • Lose the sales pitch. Whatever else you do, please don’t pitch the audience. If all that means is you throw out the PowerPoint, and all you’re left with is a quick “Hi, we here at Social Signal are thrilled to support this conference. I’ll be here for the whole thing, and I hope you’ll grab me to say hi. Have a great four days!”… well, you’re now miles ahead of where you were.
  • Make it fast. Thank the audience and organizers for the opportunity to support the event, say briefly why it’s important to you, add a personal note, and wrap up inside of three minutes. Rehearse it to make sure you’re under that limit; if possible, record yourself and then listen to it from the standpoint of an audience member. Does anything sound false, self-serving, trite or dull? Cut it.
  • Introduce someone else. Instead of delivering the keynote, arrange with the organizers to introduce one of the conference’s featured speakers – someone people are really anxious to hear. Keep your introduction short; you can indicate why the speaker’s background or subject matter are so interesting to your company in a sentence or two, but the main thing is to get a little credit for helping to make an engaging presentation possible – and that means getting to that presentation quickly. (An added possibility: see if the organizers would be willing to name the keynote after your organization.)
  • Hyperlink. Prepare a longer message about your organization and why you’re participating – on your own web site, or on a site like YouTube. Let your audience know they can see it there if they’re interested, and that they can get more information about your products and services there as well. You’ll be helping the people who are genuinely curious about you, without alienating the folks who aren’t.
  • Announce something. Give your audience some genuinely exciting news… something that’s exciting to them, and not just to your organization. And it should actually be news, not something you’ve announced already.
  • Razzle-dazzle ’em. If you can be genuinely entertaining, then go for it. Sometimes it works best to set something up in advance – for instance, by preparing a (genuinely) funny video.
  • Deliver a public service announcement. Talking about something you and your audience care deeply about, a cause your organization is supporting, can identify vital common ground. Be sure to have a call to action: a way interested audience members can learn more and add their support.
  • Pull an Oprah. Give your audience members something then and there. Chances are your budget doesn’t allow you to give away cars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer something of real value. Have people on hand to hand out copies of a book, announce there are keychain drives with an ebook on them, or put up a claim code onscreen to download something free and valuable.
  • Deliver the keynote – really, really well. If and only if you have great content to share, then deliver a keynote. Lose every single one of your selling points; instead, deliver high-value information. Tell stories, and make them part of a compelling overarching narrative that speaks to your audience’s hopes, dreams, ambitions and passions. Make it the best, most memorable speech of the event… and if you don’t think you can clear that bar, then reconsider.

(Now, if you’re the kind of discerning person who’s reading our blog, chances are good you already know that it’s better to engage your audience than to bore them. But maybe there’s someone in your organization who hasn’t quite figured that out yet… or figured out how to act on it. I’m not saying you should slip this under their door… but I’m not saying you shouldn’t.)

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“Chicks Who Click” this Saturday in Vancouver

Here’s an event that looks terrific: a one-day conference in downtown Vancouver for women in social media.

The details:

Chicks Who Click, a conference and networking event for women engaging in social media, is expanding internationally and will host its next conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Chicks Who Click is a community of like-minded women using social media to further collaborate, listen, learn and experiment with new media tools that will enhance their careers and personal networks. Conferences have sold out in Kansas City and Boulder, Colo., and are also planned for Dallas, Raleigh, N.C., and San Jose later in 2009.

The one-day conference will take place Saturday, June 26, at Listel Hotel, 1300 Robson Street. In addition, conference registration will also include a Friday night networking session, Chicks Who Mix, at the Alibi Room (157 Alexander Street) and a Saturday cocktail party.

“Chicks Who Click creates an opportunity for women to learn and collaborate in social media whether you’re just getting your toes in the water or run your own startup,” said Denise Smith, Chicks Who Click conference director.

Vancouver’s keynote speaker is Monica Guzman, the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s first online reporter and the main contributor to The Big Blog. In addition to Guzman, Chicks Who Click has 10 speakers including Rebecca Bollwitt, a renowned blogger and co-founder of sixty4media; Megan Cole and Victoria Revay, Co-Founders SPLRG; and Gillian Shaw, a journalist with The Vancouver Sun and Canwest. One of the goals of each of these conferences is to highlight local speakers along with national speakers.

Event sponsors include WalMart, Metzger Associates and Crocs.

The price for the entire conference weekend including all networking events and the Saturday evening cocktail party is $220. Attendees who may need an introduction may attend the 101 track on Friday afternoon for $59. Registration information may be found at or by calling 720.833.5923.

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When it comes to engagement, social media is the art of the possible

I can’t believe it!! Your organization isn’t on Twitter? You don’t have a Facebook page with discussion groups and a wall? You’re not on MySpace, Bebo and FriendFeed?! OMFG, that’s so weak! What are you thinking?!

Well, maybe you’re thinking, “We don’t have a large organization, and we have very few resources.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Some platforms make it easier to manage conversations than others.” And maybe you’re thinking, “I’m going to put our limited resources and finite attention where they’ll do the most good.”

You know what? Good for you.

I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago. He works with a public-facing organization that gets plenty of attention, both favourable and overtly hostile – and there are a lot of demands on the time of their tiny staff complement. They want to be sure they can respond to the inquiries they receive. And because they operate in an adversarial arena, their organization has to be constantly on the lookout for inappropriate content that their opponents and media critics would pounce on.

My friend wanted to know why he shouldn’t dial back his organization’s Facebook presence. It was all his team could do to check their page’s last 20 posts for comments; keeping tabs on the hundreds that had preceded it was out of the question. And Facebook does nothing to help: no RSS feeds or notification stream for new comments, no back-end tools for monitoring engagement.

It’s a dilemma facing a lot of organizations – government, for-profit and non-profit alike. Participation and conversation are the lifeblood of the social web, but they come at a real cost in terms of time and, often, money. And when a service like Facebook has deficiencies that amplify those costs many times over… well, then comes the time to make some hard choices.

If this sounds familiar, you’re probably hearing constantly from people a lot like me who are gobsmacked that you aren’t throwing your organization into the latest, coolest online spaces. But while the digerati might roll their eyes, they aren’t the ones who have to live with the consequences of your decisions. And one-liners cribbed from The Cluetrain Manifesto aren’t much help when you’re dealing with a media feeding frenzy or an alienated supporter. (“I’m sorry we missed your anguished comment asking for ‘a response, any response,’ but what you have to understand is markets are conversations.”)

So when you’re thinking about where to direct your social media efforts, how do you handle the tension between limited resources and limitless demand for conversation?

Understand the space and what you’re trying to accomplish there. I’m convinced the number one reason for organizations that fail in a new space is a lack of clear intention: they didn’t know why they had to be on Twitter; they were just told they did. Understanding what you want to achieve – even if it’s just to experiment and learn more about the platform and what you can do there – doesn’t just help you shape your initiative at the outset; it’s the only way of gauging whether you’re succeeding.

Inventory the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms you’re considering. Get a clear idea of the limits of the social network or web application you’re looking at – both from a user’s perspective and an administrator’s, and looking at both the technology and the community. (For example, you may find that Digg has features you love, but a toxic commenting culture.)

Hang out. Nothing gives you an intuitive appreciation for a new space, online or offline, quite like spending time there. Play anthropologist and observe the rituals, the unspoken rules and the way people participate.

Understand the table stakes. What’s the minimum level of engagement required to have a credible presence on that platform? If you aren’t able to deliver that over the long haul, you probably want to call things off now until that changes. That said, you can always…

Constrain your presence. Your first foray onto a new social network doesn’t have to be your organization’s definitive, all-encompassing presence there. Instead, consider creating an outpost with a focused, limited purpose: for example, around a particular event or campaign. If that purpose has a built-in expiry date (say, when an event ends), so much the better; it gives you a graceful exit should you decide this isn’t the platform for you. (An added advantage: focus often means a more compelling reason for users to participate.)

Identify the best bang for your buck (or your hour). Get to know the platform well enough to know where you get the highest-value engagement. Is it through comments on your own posts? Intervening in discussion boards on someone else’s page? What kind of content attracts the best participation from your community?

Assess your needs realistically. Recognize that reaching out to people and responding to queries takes time. Make sure you have the resources to cover your engagement plans… or scale those plans down accordingly.

Get creative about staffing. You may not have enough time to monitor everything happening on a particular platform… but maybe your supporters can help you out. Consider asking them to help you identify comments that need replies, contributions that deserve to be recognized, offensive content, and content elsewhere on the network you should know about. Be upfront about what you’re asking for and why – you don’t want to look like you’re trying to astroturf – and you may be able to magnify your impact online.

Start small and build out. One thing Facebook gets right is letting you switch engagement features on or off. You can launch a Page with only the Wall enabled, and begin calibrating your ambitions according to the level of conversation that emerges. Then, as time goes on, you can start switching more features on. (Or not.)

Manage expectations. Be upfront with your visitors about your intentions and goals, how you’d like them to participate, and what they can (and can’t) expect from you. You might be surprised how willing most people will be to operate within those constraints… and how tolerant they’ll be when you have to deal with people who aren’t.

Assess how it’s working for you. Look at the benefits and costs of your presence. Are you and your audience getting real value from your conversations? Are you freeing up resources you might have had to spend elsewhere (for instance, in customer support)?

Not the place for you? Plant a flag, move on… and monitor. It may well be that you decide right out of the gate that – hot new thing or not – a particular platform isn’t a fit for you. Or maybe you’ve given it a shot, and the value just isn’t there. Now may be the time to scale your presence there back to a bare maintenance level.

Wind down most of the conversational features of your profile (don’t just shut them off without explanation; if there’s been any kind of discussion there, the participants won’t be happy) by explaining what you’re doing and why. Include your contact information and links to platforms where you’re focussing your community efforts. And then continue to provide the baseline level of attention you identified before you launched as the platform’s engagement table stakes.

A minimum presence does three things: it ensures your organization’s identity isn’t being claimed by someone else on that platform; it provides a rallying point for your supporters on that platform to connect with you; and when the need or opportunity for more in-depth engagement arises, you have a great starting point.

Yes, there are people who will still call your presence weak. Let ’em. It’s a lot better to keep a modest promise of engagement than to break an ambitious one. The lessons you learn from engaging in a small way will lay the foundation for larger-scale efforts in the future.

And nothing can shut a critic up quite like success.

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Five social media lessons for avoiding disaster

I like to think there are lessons to be had from even the oddest event.

Take today’s “holy-crap!” story currently making the rounds of the digital watercoolers: that poor guy in Georgia whose house was torn down by mistake. Reports say the demolition crew went to the wrong location, reducing a half-century-old brick house to rubble. There’s also been some suggestion that overreliance on GPS coordinates may have played a role in the error.

What can those of us in the online world take away from this event (other than “never, ever leave your house”, which is probably wrong) (although come to think of it, many of us seem to abide by that advice)? How can we avoid our own inadvertent piles of smouldering debris? Here’s my list of five lessons… some of them, admittedly, a stretch.

  • Clear communications are critical. We like to pride ourselves on the clear instructions we give to our design and development partners: exactly what workflow we’d like, where a particular hierarchy is important, and where there’s space for them to improvise or suggest improvements. Being as clear as possible about the things that matter – and as clear as possible about the boundaries of any wiggle room – has saved us countless headaches, and saved our clients a lot of money.
  • The longer the workflow, the more likely it is to break down. In this case, the people actually wielding the backhoe were apparently subcontractors to the subcontractor hired by the contractor. Similarly, if you’re requiring your community members to jump through multiple hoops – page after page of registration forms, or several copy-this-url-then-paste-it-in-this-box steps – not all of them are going to make it.
  • What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone. I’m not suggesting that you should be pitching your documentation and interface to the kind of people who’d knock down a perfectly good house without double-checking. But bear in mind that, if you’ve been developing an application or a web site, you’ve been down in the weeds for a while. Your prospective users haven’t. So you may need to guide them a lot more thoroughly than you might think. One way to get a handle on that: usability testing.
  • Confirmation screens can be life-savers. Would that the bulldozer and backhoe on that Carroll County property had been equipped with “Are you sure you want to knock this house down? y/n” dialog boxes. Before you let your users do something life-alteringly destructive, give them a chance or two to rethink things: “Do you really want to delete all your photos?” “Really remove your profile? You will be unable to restore it if you do.” “Are you sure you want to send this sex video to all 12,493 people in your address book?” And use unambiguous explanations on the buttons: “YES, I’m really quite impressive in it.” “NO! This was a private, beautiful moment between me and the cast of The West Wing, and I don’t want to cheapen it.”
  • People trump technology. It’s so tempting to put all your eggs in the tech basket, spending your entire budget on beautiful design and rich features. But a community relies on talented, dedicated animators. So just as relying unquestionably on GPS coordinators may have steered the contractors in Georgia wrong (the news reports are unclear at the moment), relying on technology alone to get your community off the ground won’t do you much good, either. In each case, what you need are good, smart people… with solid, sound judgement.

By the way, if you’re still worried that your house could be vulnerable to misdirected sledgehammers – or if you’d just like a handy reminder that crap happens – here’s the PDF for our “Please don’t demolish my house” sticker. It’ll look great just above your “Firefighters, please save my Drobo” sticker.


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Getting to know a tool before pigeonholing it

A few days ago I got a super-special birthday present (xoxo, Alex!): a new 12″ Cintiq, Wacom‘s combination graphic tablet and display.

I don’t doubt that it’s going to revolutionize the way that I draw Noise to Signal. It integrates the retouching phase and does away with that whole scanning phase, not to mention the chasing-the-three-year-old-who-grabbed-the-pen-and-ink phase and the scrubbing-the-ink-off-the-three-year-old phase.

But it’s not exactly portable. The tablet comes with an external power supply, a converter box and a slew of cables – and now, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, its own carrying case (h/t Kate Trgovac).

My intention was to park it somewhere instead of hauling it from place to place, but Alex had wise advice: take it around with me, use it in several circumstances and see how it could be useful. Because while I think right now that I know how I’ll use it, I actually don’t.

This is a tool with unknown possibilities. Maybe it’ll turn out to be great for taking notes, for mocking up ideas or for sketchblogging. Maybe I’ll cartoon with it, but it will change the way I do that in some way.

Most really powerful tools are the same way. That’s especially true for the tools of the social web: even the oldest ones are still new by most standards, and it seems every week brings another innovative way of applying them.

A way for geeks to log their daily web surfing highlights becomes a way for someone to share their cancer battle with a circle of loved ones; a way to keep tabs on blog updates becomes the engine behind podcasting; a way to share videos of cute animal tricks becomes a tremendously effective political communications vehicle affecting the outcome of a presidential election.

Which is a good cautionary note for any of us working in the field. It’s tempting to pigeonhole tools: Twitter works for this, Facebook is for that, mobile is for the other.

But if you can count on one thing in Web 2.0, it’s that no category is permanent. Somewhere out there, someone who hasn’t pigeonholed those tools is going to find an amazing new use for them, a way to reach people in a way they haven’t been reached before.

Hey – why shouldn’t that person be you?

Cintiq photo: Tobias Rütten. Used under a Creative Commons license.

(me on the sofa using my Cintiq, while the hand of God points to it) I think the Cintiq's going to work out.

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10 ways to maximize your blog’s ROI: Part 9, Embracing openness

There’s a convergence going on: some big social and business trends that have one thing in common – the word open.

Whether it’s open-source software, or enormous information repositories that are open to be accessed and sometimes even edited by anyone, or the growing requirements for transparency on the part of organizations and governments, your customers, supporters and audience are expecting you to be open to them.

Not just in the sense of open-minded… or having a contact form on your web site. But open in the sense that they know what you’re doing, how it affects them, and why. That your organization’s leadership is available and accountable. That they can engage with you and your brand as peers.

Books like Wikinomics and Tactical Transparency explain not only the forces driving the trend toward openness, but the real value that businesses and other organizations can gain when they let in some sunshine. Freeing some of your intellectual property, for instance, can allow your users to run with it – sometimes as brand ambassadors, other times as analysts who generate new and unexpected insights for you. And opening up internally, by creating a place for conversation that cuts across departmental walls, can give your organization new opportunities to collaborate.

Even the more intimidating aspects of openness, like the increased accountability it imposes, can be positive when it keeps organizations true to their mission and their brand values – and aligned with the communities they serve.

There’s more – a lot more – to openness than blogging, of course. But a blog can be the way your organization opens the windows a crack, sniffs the air outside and decides whether to go further.

Here’s how to start opening up:

  • Nobody’s expecting you to run naked through the digital streets – and certainly not right off the bat. Get buy-in from your organization, start small, and open up gradually… validating what you’ve done at every step.
  • Your first step can be a modest one: bringing in a manager as a guest blogger, for example, available to respond to reader comments and questions about their area of responsibility. A successful outing there can lead to more ambitious efforts later on.
  • Focus your efforts on relevant openness – things that actually matter to your readers. And aim at first for the areas with the least controversy and risk, while you build up your organization’s comfort level (and your own knowledge of your community of readers and commenters.)
  • Openness is as much about getting to know people as it is about hard facts and controversial issues. Introduce your readers to the behind-the-scenes folks who make things happen. If those people are willing, give your readers access to them with a Q & A or live chat on your blog.
  • Let your readers in on what goes on backstage. Take them through the process of making that hot new product you’re selling, or walk them through the processing of a donation all the way to where it makes a difference out in the world.
  • Share your challenges. Is the economic downturn causing breaks or bottlenecks in your supply chain that are causing delivery delays? Has heightened interest in your organization meant a slow web server or site outages? Be the first to tell that story to your readers, before they hear it from others or experience it themselves; they’ll appreciate the candor, and respond well to your lack of defensiveness.
  • Anticipate the risks of openness: backlash, criticism and tough questions. Plan in advance for how you can deal with them, so a brief spark doesn’t have the time to flare into something more destructive.
  • “Open” doesn’t mean “floodgates”. You probably have reams of data you could share on your blog, from the cafeteria’s daily specials to the new guidelines for office allocation. Be judicious, and choose the information that will mean the most to the people you want to reach.
  • If you have an especially thorny problem, consider throwing it open to your readers. Be very clear about the kind of help you’d like, so you can focus their contributions and ideas where they’ll actually be useful.
  • When the time comes to make a decision that affects your readers, use your blog as consult them
  • See if you can make your organization’s logo and wordmark available for reuse (perhaps under a Creative Commons license), and post them to your blog. Invite your readers to use them, even to remix them, when they’re talking about your organization. Do the same with photos of your organization’s leadership, audio and video clips of products or services in action, and other digital assets that your readers can run with.
  • Do at least as much listening as talking, and build the reflex of responding with access. If you’re seeing a lot of blog chatter or reading a lot of comments about a particular issue, find ways to open up around it – by exposing some of your internal conversations about the issue, for example, or inviting a conversation between your readers and some of your organization’s key people.
  • Look for ways to bring people inside – not just virtually, but in the physical world. Hold a real-world meetup in your offices, for example, or a townhall with your organization’s key leaders. And complete the circle by linking it back to the online world – for instance, via a Twitter feed or liveblog of the conversation.

You’ll know that openness is starting to pay off when:

  • Your research and monitoring show an increase in public perception and description of your organization as open, accessible and accountable.
  • Ideas from your blog’s readers start getting discussed in your organization, and taken seriously.
  • Your organization steps back from the brink of a bad decision because of concern over how it will be received in the community. And your organization takes a courageous good decision for exactly the same reason.
  • Internal collaboration starts to cut across silos, as the culture of openness soaks in.
  • People in your organization start to approach you with things they’d like to ask or share with your readers.


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NTEN panel explores social media metrics

I’d been looking forward to catching the session on metrics that Beth Kanter was going to facilitate at NTEN/NTC, and it didn’t disappoint.

Participants Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Federation, Qui Diaz of Livingston Communications, Sarah Granger from PublicEdge and Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross tackled the tricky question of just how you measure social media (or, more to the point, participation in and impact of social media).

Beth started by quoting David Armano‘s prescription for using social media metrics: “Listen, learn, adapt.” From there, the wide-ranging conversation touched on sentiment analysis, the resources you should put into social media monitoring, tools and how best to apply them, and some practical stories from the field.

I’m working on my routine for tonight’s after show, so I won’t try to capture it all. Instead, for whatever they’re worth, my notes from the panel:

Notes from metrics panel, #1

Notes from metrics panel, #2

Notes from metrics panel, #3

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Clay Shirky on crowds, the web and success through failure at NTEN

Here Comes Everybody author Clay Shirky manages to jam in more ideas, pithy quotes and gripping stories in one half-hour keynote than some speakers could manage in a week… but still ties it all together in a compelling narrative.

His presentation this morning at the NTEN Non-profit Technology Conference looked at how the web has broken the monopoly that organizations used to have on organized activity… and how profound the resulting change can be.

One particularly memorable bit came when he explained how moving to New York City from the midwest changed his perspective, because of the idea of a population large enough that you could sell pizza by the slice… which meant pizzas were being made before knowing who they were for.

I can’t do it justice in a single blog post. But maybe my notes can give you just a bit of the flavour of his presentation. (That one doodle doesn’t look a thing like him, by the way.)

notes and doodles from Clay Shirky's talk

More Clay Shirky notes

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Don’t let your blog’s comments turn into an arena for bashing your organization

Asked on LinkedIn: “Blogs are a very good tool for consumers to evaluate prospective product or service providers. However, how can a business use blogs to its commercial advantage (i.e. gain valuable insight into customer behavior and satisfaction levels) while minimizing the risk of being unduly smeared by a minority of disgruntled customers or even competitor attacks?”

First, draw a line in your own mind between smears and legitimate criticism – and err on the side of generosity. A big part of the power of blogging comes from conversations and the relationships that flow from them… and those conversations can’t happen if your readers don’t feel they can be honest about you, warts and all.

In that vein, recognize that the commercial advantage of blogging isn’t exclusively, or even primarily, the window it gives you into your customers’ heads. It’s your ability to engage with your audience. Blogging’s ROI comes in many other forms: as a crisis communications channel, a way to tell stories that don’t work in other media, a training platform and more. (I’m up to part 8 of a series on blogging ROI you might find useful.)

All of that said, how do you reduce the risk of actual smears? Here are a few ways:

  • First, set out your expectations clearly and explicitly in an introductory blog post, and on your blog’s About page. Explain your intentions (and motives – transparency counts), and let people know how they can contribute. And make it clear what is and isn’t in-bounds, and why (that is, because you want to have an open and productive conversation).
  • Second, solicit the kind of contributions you want to see. Ask questions in blog posts that focus the conversation. Join relevant conversations on other blogs – either in their comment fields, or via trackback – to encourage more participation on yours.
  • Third, respond to the comments people leave. Most of your conversation should be with the folks leaving productive comments. If you do get comments that verge on flames, remind the commenters of the purpose of the blog – but address whatever good-faith points they’ve made.
  • Fourth, welcome your supporters… but also your critics. The fact that your blog includes voices that clash with yours lends the ring of authenticity to the conversation – especially when your supporters jump into the fray, as they will. You may find that your biggest challenge isn’t to deal with critics, but to moderate the vehemence of your allies.
  • Fifth, know when to cut and run from a bad conversation. It doesn’t serve you or your readers for you to be getting into a slanging match with someone who doesn’t want to hear you. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree (even if the “agreement” is purely unilateral).
  • And sixth, remember that what you think of as smearing, a disgruntled customer – and *their* audience – may well think of as a legitimate point. There are ways of engaging even harsh critics in ways that defuse conflict and dampen down the flames. David Eaves has some superb advice on dealing with conflict in blogging, and it’s well worth checking out.
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10 ways to maximize your blog’s ROI: Part 8, skills development

Social media should be a no-brainer. After all, it’s all about conversation and relationships – and in fact our conversational instincts can serve us well in blogging, podcasting, social networking and other social media channels.

Instinct alone, however, won’t suffice. You need skills, knowledge and experience to succeed in social media – from tech chops, to the unique demands of various social media venues, to the social nuances of dealing with conflict between online antagonists.

You can develop those social media muscles with training (self-directed or with a teacher), by watching others and – most important – through practice.

And “practice” in more than one sense: learning involves making mistakes, sometimes big ones. Those can be hard enough to swallow if you’re communicating as an individual, although you’ll find a lot of people willing to cut some slack for teh n00bs.

But when you’re out there on behalf of your organization, there may be more at stake. People are less forgiving of institutions than individuals, and depending on your organization’s profile, the damage to its reputation could be significant.

That’s where your blog comes in. Smaller in scale, more manageable in scope and simpler in concept than more ambitious social media projects, your blog can be the perfect place to build your skills and experience – and those of your embryonic social media team.

Here are some of the ways you can make your blog serve as a training platform as well as a conversational communications channel:

  • Go in prepared. Yes, it’s a training ground – but it’s also happening in the full light of day. So before you begin, give yourself a grounding in blogging by reading other blogs, commenting on them, and seeing what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Consider blogging behind closed doors for a little while before going public, and you’ll not only start settling into a consistent voice, but you’ll have a solid body of posts to show the world.
  • The same applies to team members. They don’t have to be seasoned hands, but be sure they know some of the basics before you give them the keys. (And by “the basics”, I mean about blogging generally … but also about your blog’s goals, tone, policies and culture.)
  • Assemble your blogging team with some thought to the future. Choose folks you’d like to develop as potential social media team members, and let them try on different roles – from writers to community animators to editorial managers – and discover their strengths. And if you’d like to try someone on for size and see how they adapt, bring them on as a guest blogger for a little while.
  • Set learning goals and milestones for yourself and your team, and take them seriously. Plan a curriculum that includes self-guided study, practical experience and – if you have the budget – formal training. And think strategically. What skills do you need not just as a blogger, but as a manager and strategist? Learn about analytics, conversions and calls to action.
  • Look to the future: what kind of social media initiative will your organization likely want to pursue? Draft your blog’s roadmap in a way that will take you in helpful directions, anticipating and honing the skills that will serve you well when the time comes – by adding the odd video or audio clip if a podcast is in your future, for instance.
  • Look for overlap. Think about your organization’s training needs; where do they map onto some of the skills you and your team members can develop through the blog?
  • Build a peer social network on Twitter, LinkedIn or other services, and ask questions. There’s a strong sense of community among social media types, and asking for help with a technical issue or a pointer to a resource will almost always get you – if not the definitive answer – a solid starting point.
  • Share what you learn among your team, and broaden it to your organization. Holding lunch and learns, lightning sessions or monthly seminars can help spread the knowledge about tools and strategies. Alternatively, social bookmarking, a wiki or an internal blog can let you organize your collective expertise and share that blog or podcast you just discovered.
  • Offer training opportunities to the rest of your organization. An internal internship on your blog could help a customer care rep learn more about engagement, a marketing manager get a handle on social media culture, or your ED’s speechwriter brush up her conversational chops.

Here’s how you’ll know you’re creating a high-value training platform:

  • You have a clear picture in your head of exactly what skills and knowledge your team has, where you need to improve, and where individual members’ strengths lie.
  • Blogging, blog monitoring and other social media activities are faster and easier, because they’re becoming second nature.
  • Team members’ performance assessments show improvements in areas related to their social media activities, such as facilitation, collaboration and communication.
  • You and your team members start trying out new skills, because you’ve mastered the old ones.
  • You’ve developed a network of people – peers, mentors, prospective new hires – you can count on for sharing ideas, knowledge and support.
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Catch Rob at two of the leading nptech conferences in April and May

Spring’s starting to look better and better, with two great events landing on my calendar.

  • First up is NTEN’s Non-Profit Technology Conference next week in San Francisco. Thousands of non-profit tech types will converge on the Hilton from April 26-28. The programme looks amazing, and I’ll be helping to kick off the now-legendary NTC after-party with a set of standup comedy.
  • Then, a month later, it’s back to the Bay Area for the annual NetSquared conference from May 26-27, where I’ll be one of the featured speakers. This year’s focus is squarely on mobile, and promises to be the most exciting conference yet. It’s a sort of homecoming, because Social Signal has been proud to be involved with NetSquared from the beginning – one of our very first engagements was building the online community that supported the conference (and then became one of the premiere hubs for non-profit organizations aiming to make the most of online tools).

I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, making new ones and seeing the amazing work being done by some of the most innovative organizations and individuals on the web today. See you there!

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