Professionalism Matters In All Communications–Even Blogs And Other Web 2.0

Whether you are blogging to promote your organization or your expertise/services or to create an online community about an issue you are passionate about, professionalism matters.  No, I’m not talking about coming across as an uptight, blue-suit, white-shirted exec or posting corporate press releases on your supposed blog. (yes, that’s professional but doesn’t create the 2-way communication that’s desired….here’s an example of a professional but-not-so-appropriate blog from Girl Scouts).  That’s so last week.

Proofing 

 What originally got me to thinking about this was ProBlogger’s post of Top 5 Recommendations for Retireat21.com.   Darren Rowse at ProBlogger runs “community consultations” where his readers critique other blogs.  The commercial content of Retireat21.com is not my focus (outside of what I cover here) but the #2 Recommendation from readers is what caught my attention.   Proofreading needed.  Darren said–

“ProBlogger readers noticed a lot of spelling and grammar errors on the page. While the content can still be easily comprehended, these kinds of errors do make the content seem a little unpolished and unprofessional. My suggestion…..would be that if it’s personally difficult to spot and correct these errors, it’s probably worth hiring a VA to proof-read new blog posts or new copy you want to put on the site.”

Where I’ve made mistakes is in commenting on blogs.  I don’t blog full-time (working on that, though) and often do my commenting late at night, when I’m tired and not focused.

Of course, many bloggers have noted that a few mistakes here and there make you more geniuine…so they don’t mind. 

Your Voice 

Of course the best way to be genuine is to have an authentic voice.   I’ve been blogging part-time for  several months now and have struggled with voice.  How casual?  How “corporate?”  I’m blogging for 2 reasons: 1) to promote best practices that help nonprofits advance their mission (focus on communications in a cyber world, board development and staff cross-training) and 2) to “network” to pick up some consulting gigs.  This is always a balancing act for me.  Off my blog, for example, I would not say “pick up some consulting gigs.”  I can’t imagine writing that in a letter to a prospective nonprofit client, yet it’s okay (my opinion) to write that casually here.  It passes my “test” of what is appropriate.

Your own comfort level of what is appropriate

Ultimately, it’s what you feel is appropriate.  Here’s the test I apply:

  • Realize you can be quoted…not just on another blog but in your professional life.  Are you willing to “live” with what you said?  If a prospective employer, potential donor to your organization, etc. saw what you wrote, how would it reflect on you and your abilities? (If you don’t care, that’s okay too…sometimes we all get passionate about issues).
  • Be accurate
  • Be courteous
  • Have an opinion, then back it up. 
  • Before you hit the “publish” button, walk away and come back later.  How do you come across to those who don’t know you? 

Wiki: great tool for coordinating large projects, group activites

Okay, I apologize–I was offline longer than anticipated (will be off a little while until summer, getting my cyber properties moved around), but I have a great excuse for April.  We just bid “adieu” to a great group of French middle school-age students, part of an exchange with my daughter’s middle school. We hadn’t been part of the group previously (a 14-year program), just stepped in this year to offer a host home.

“Reply All” Headaches

After two weeks of involvement, it became clear the group needed a wiki.  The teacher –a fabulous woman who gives much time for the kids–was accustomed to hitting the “reply all” button to communicate with the parents and their kids (hey, after doing this for 14 years, she was just thankful everyone now had email).  With 20 families, weeks of activities/trips run by volunteers, coordination regarding scheduling etc. — we had a LOT of email.  Families who had been involved in past years commented to me about how they often miss or ignore email for this program.

Screen Shot -- School Exchange WikiSharing Documents

Email overload wasn’t the only problem.  We began to pass around a Word document, intended to gather emergency contact info, parents’ various cell numbers, kids’ bus numbers.  I was perplexed….how would we know where the “latest” version was? 

Wiki Solutions

A wiki offered the solution to our email and document-sharing challenges, as well as the challenge of changing direction and information.  (See “When Wikis Trump Email”).   I took ten minutes to set up a free wiki on www.pbwiki.com.  Since it is educational, we had no ads.  I was fortunate the “mom-in-charge” took to it like a duck to water. 

How it was used

We used the “Sidebar” (automatically at the top right of page) as a navigation page for documents.  We posted Word documents that contained necessary forms, contact information (such as our phone chain) that we could print out and carry with us.  We had a calendar (in the screen shot above) that was a simple table, with links to individual pages for each date. (For others projects I’ve worked on, the Sidebar would have been the navigation to access these pages, but this made more sense given the nature of our project).  The coordinator initially put all this info up on the wiki, to ensure we had a unified format.  But after that, individuals in charge of particular day trips or events would update their page details.  The group was instructed to check the night before each event for changes.  Of course, I subscribed to “changes” so I automatically received an email when any information was changed.

We had some formatting challenges (such as our blank space next to our French/East Coast U.S. time clock—PBwiki makes it easy to drop Google gadgets into your wiki.  You don’t need to be a programmer).  Formatting issues would have been surmountable but it wasn’t worth fussing over.  After all, this was a productivity improvement tool.  We’re now using Shutterfly to share photos (via a free group “collection” album) of the trip confidentially (we don’t like photos of the girls on the web, unprotected). 

Thanks to the wiki, the only tears that were shed were on the departure of the students back to France. 

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Quick Bytes to Notice: New Pew Internet Study on Mobile Access by Adult Americans

Pew just released one of their internet usage studies, which I find helpful in nailing down figures on trends.  This study is “Mobile Access to Data and Information.”   

“People’s growing reliance on their cell phones, together with wireless internet access from laptops, suggests a shift in expectations about cyberspace.  For many people, access to digital information and resources is an ‘always present’ utility for answering questions and documenting what is going on around them through photos or video recording.”

                            John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of the  Pew Internet Project and author of the report

According to the study (December 2007 survey data), 62% of adult Americans have either accessed the internet with a wireless connection away from home or work or used a non-voice data application using their cell phone or PDA.  

Author of the report has commentary here

Webinars: Staff Development Solutions Part 3

As previously discussed, one easy way to promote learning and networking among staff is to use Skype with video (or other similar services).  This works best when someone knowledgeable among the attendees can take the lead–both in setting up the call, helping other “newbies” and perhaps in setting an agenda. 

headset.jpgSometimes, your staff development needs may call for more formal training and development.  How you do this, the cost and mechanism for delivery will vary depending upon your needs.  Among your options are webinars (wikipedia has a good overview of webinars and various capabilities here) and ecourses.  While the term webinar has replaced the term “web conferencing,” don’t think it’s the same thing as the early days, when it was based mostly on voice or one person “lecturing” to a bunch of attendees online.  The methods available offer a rich synchronous experience.  Ecourses generally are asynchronous but they can still be valuable if you choose the right instructor—who may use a variety of technologies to have a “dialog” with the participant(s)–discussion boards, email or even Skype. 

Broad or Basic Topics–Look for existing resources

 If your staff development needs are in line with some basic topics inherent to many industries or fields, you should do a search and see what is available.  For instance, Kivi Leroux Miller is a consultant on nonprofit communications who offers a range of ecourses and webinars related to communications.  Her explanation as to the difference between these modalities is here.  Her offerings include an ecourse on writing a nonprofit annual report and a one-hour webinar on the same subject.

 Many associations offer webinars, such as this recent one by the Foundation Center on nonprofit startups.  What would be great is if they had recorded the webinar for folks to view (even if for purchase), such as what is routinely done by NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) for their webinars.  Their current list of webinars is here and are generally reasonably priced for nonmembers at $50.   A regional chapter of the American Society of Training and Development professionals out in the Portland Oregon area has a recording of their first “live” webinar (topic: Social Learning) on this blog page which will give you a flavor of what they are like. (I could have linked directly to the recorded webinar, but it’s worth reading the host’s blog post first).

Customized Topics

Okay, so you need a customized topic, because you’re thinking about a statewide training on “Key Issues in Running a Hotline” or “Dealing with Children in Crisis.”  Or any number of other nonprofit relevant topics.  One source to use is GoToWebinar.com which has very easy, do-it-yourself tools. There are other companies offering this type of service, often through professional “resellers” who can use these platforms to create (and sometimes deliver) a customized webinar for you.  The services and plans differ, depending upon how long you subscribe, how many participants you anticipate, and whether the service puts a limit on the number of webinars you can do for the time period booked.  (GoToWebinar has a monthly options for $99 that includes unlimited webinars for that month, up to 1,000 participants).  Services usually include a registration page.

If you are going to use a webinar vendor, here are some types of questions to ask/things to let them know: 

  • Platforms–does if matter if participants have PC vs. Mac?  What browsers does it work with?  What do my particpants need (i.e. microphone, telephone, etc.)
  • Sharing–do we have the capability to share documents or desktops (if you need that)
  • Practice–will I have the capability to practice my webinar ahead of time?
  • Consultant or Tech Support–to what extent does the price include help setting up or tech support?
  • Participants–number of participants (any limit)
  • Timing–when’s the latest someone can sign up.
  • Methodology–let them know what you plan.  Are you sharing a PowerPoint? 
  • Saving/Recording–Can you record your webinar?

Other Options

 You might consider developing your material into a screencast–sort of a more media-rich version of a computer screen capture.     

Beth Kanter has a screencasting primer for nonprofits here.    Frankly, I should probably turn this series into a screencast as soon as I have a some spare time……..  LOL.   Beth also has some info about web conferencing on the cheap you might want to check out.

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Staff Development Solutions Part Two–Skype and videoconferencing

After reading part 1–wikis and staff development, we move onto a brief look at other web 2.0 applications and how a nonprofit exec can take advantage of them for staff development (this is not comprehensive, but meant to get your feet wet).   

The Value of Networking Among Peers 

One of the frustrations we had when I ran the small association of family service agencies in PA was getting people to meetings.  We managed to get our executive directors together four times a year.  The favorite agenda item was brainstorming/roundtable, when they just reported to each other on new developments or issues at their agency.  Sometimes it was the challenges of recertification by a national entity.  Other times it was on a decision to self-insure. Yet other times it was how to comply with HIPAA.  Interesting stories were shared, and I was limited in planning ahead to know where the conversation would take us.  The face-to-face peer interaction was invaluable.

 The EDs thought their front-line supervisors from similar programs would benefit from the same sort of networking, but we could never get our act together (mostly due to time-out-of office issues for busy supervisors).  Behold, Skype as a solution.

Skype as One Solution

Skype allows you to make calls from computer to computer, computer to phone, phone to phone–in audio.  Computer to computer (works on Mac and Windows) in audio and video.  Obviously, it’s this last option that best serves staff development or networking. Skype’s software is downloadable for free, and Skype-to-Skype calls are free.   I don’t mean to sound like a Skype salesperson; there are other, developing services, such as Oovoo–that offers similar service, but my impression is they are still working out some bugs…but their website and interface sure are hip. (See Beth Kanter’s photo on flickr).

Equipment is minimal

For audio calls, you either need a headset or you can use your computer’s built in speaker (at our home, we use the built in speaker, which means everyone can chime in–my son loves to talk to his aunt and uncle). To add the bling of video (don’t you want to see your peers as you discuss the pain of managing your program? LOL), you need a webcam.  You don’t have to bust the budget.  There are webcams with headsets that sell for $29.99 (adequate) and up ($50 is going to get you clearer video).  Walmart has partnered with Skype to sell “Skype” certified web cams, but you can go elsewhere, as the software will work with any webcam.  E-how has some advice for those concerned with selecting a webcam for Skype.  As long as you have Windows 2000 or up, a USB port and a decent internet connection, you should be okay to go.

Price is minimal, if not free

The free Skype-to-Skype service includes the ability to put up to 9 additional people in a conference call.  This is great for those smaller groups of program specialists who can’t get out of the office but could benefit from talking to each other.  Here’s how it works.  There are other services you can upgrade to, but for most smaller to medium nonprofits, this would be enough.

Cool Enhancements

Hat tip to an old post by Megan Keane of TechSoup for pointing me to Yugma,  which allows you to share your desktop during your conference call for free. You can also share mouse and keyboard (free feature for 15 days, then requires an upgrade).  Good overview by Voip-News here.

Better news is that Skype is certifying third-party developers (Skype Extra collaboration examples), so there are a growing number of collaboration tools. (Haven’t used it yet, but I like the Whiteboard concept. 

No travel time and cost, networking meetings with a short lead time.  If you aren’t convinced yet, read about how Professor Scott McLeod at Iowa State University uses basic Skype services with graduate students.

Staff Development Part 3 up next: Webinars, etc.

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Wikis, Skype and Webinars, oh my–Staff Development Solutions Part One

http://www.freefoto.com/images/04/31/04_31_1_prev.jpgTo many of those I network with online (either by reading & posting to blogs or via Twitter) –the three words in the title are routine: 

Wikis, Skype and Webinars

But for you nonprofit execs trying to manage agencies on a shoestring, one or more of these may be meaningless.  After all, these terms didn’t even exist a few years ago, and you don’t have time to spare to learn something new. If this describes you, I implore you to sit back for 5 minutes and take a deep breath. 

Challenges to Nonprofit Staff Development

Do these sound familiar?

  • You have minimal resources budgeted to improve skills, yet you know your organizational effectiveness could benefit from training.
  •  You are understaffed, so you have difficulty in letting staff have too much time out of the office to attend conferences that might let them network with peers or gain additional perspective.
  • The specialized training you need is not available online anyway.  You participated in a webinar or two as part of a national association or group, but it’s not always what you require.

Web 2. 0 (all this new-fangled technology on the web) offers some solutions to your challenges.  And the solutions aren’t as hard to construct as you think.

Wiki Wow

Wikis are my favorite tool for working collaboratively with staff.  Think of a wiki as a website where you don’t need to know how to program to make changes.  Where you can post documents, outline thoughts, post links to websites with relevant information.

Collaboration on Training Needs–Let’s say your supervisors have some ideas about what staff needs are for training and development.  Imagine being able to have your key staff collaborate AS they think of ideas, rather than wait for a staff meeting (which may not be conducive to free thinking anyway).  You can set up a free password-protected private wiki in 5 minutes that will allow them to collaborate on ideas.  They have the ability to create any structure they want,  post comments, additions and the most current version is always available. Best yet, the old versions are available as “history” so the group can decide to go back to previous versions.  And, users can automatically get email notices with updates (if they choose) whenever someone edits content.  Cool.

Continuing Education–Pass It On

Ever have staff come back from a conference or training day with materials, powerpoints and ideas?  Wish there was an easy way to pass it on to other staff?  There is.

  • Here’s one school district’s attempt at putting staff development materials online.  They have it as a publicly viewed site, but you can’t edit it if you don’t have their password.  Be sure to click on their right January 14 link to go deeper.  I hope they keep this updated, as it’s a great best practice.  They’ve used pbwiki.
  • Here’s a wiki that promotes best practices for staff training (not all in themselves wikis) in library science.  (Note: this site is laid out like wikipedia)
  • Here’s yet another progressive library group with a wiki with links for staff development (this is in the format I’m used to….from www.pbwiki.com.)  They have mostly text but I have used pbwiki’s WYSIWYG interface to add graphics, video, etc. 
  • And, here’s a great one:  a wiki dedicated to getting staff up-to-speed on and using web2.0 Social Media (including social media guidelines).  This is more from this site, called EduBuzz from East Lothian.  Kudos to them.

My thanks to the organizations that have kept these wikis publicly-viewable. 

Next up:  Staff Development and Skype, Webinars

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Google is Old, Yahoo is Young, but Lifestyle is better determiner of social media usage

http://www.freefoto.com/images/04/19/04_19_23_prev.jpgJoel Cere’s headline, “Poor Young People Use Yahoo; Rich Old People Use Google,” in response to recently released research from Hitwise leads back to an issue I promised Beth Kanter I’d ponder this last weekend: lifestyle versus age when examining how people use social media.   This issue arose after Beth informally polled a group of teens about their social media usage.  Not one of them used Twitter, yet all used text messaging (SMS).  I’ve gotten into the “age” issue before, in my post on email is for old fogies.

Nonprofit Focus: Social media is “place” not “promotion”

As nonprofit marketers, the focus is not how to get people to use certain web 2.0 media.  It’s about creating “customer” loyalty and communicating the value of what you do—to the right people at the right place.  And, in the old lingo of marketing (product, price, promotion, place), the right social media becomes “place”  rather than what we might think of as “promotion.”

Age, Influence Groups

Yes, age is one demographic we can’t overlook when trying to understand where to reach new volunteers, donors and advocates for nonprofits.  But as I noted on Beth’s blog, “influence groups” are an important determiner of consumer behavior: 

“I know my late adoption of Facebook (or MySpace) was influenced by who I saw using it: teens in my classes and how they were using it (for hooking up).

Really, we’re talking consumer behavior, and the myriad of reference groups that influence behavior. Friendship groups, work groups, virtual communities, advocacy groups—they all influence behavior.”

Even though maintaining friends is a fundamental drive for teens, they may still feel more grounded in face-to-face contact for those times when they want validation (although there is also a role for anonymity in expressing yourself). And, there may be an avoidance to Twitter, given the “watchdog” aspect (given the proliferation of “helicopter parents,” how do you say “no” to a parent who wants to “follow” you?).

Bigger Picture: Lifestyle

An individual’s pattern of living might be even more important to nonprofit marketers.  It also explains why some people over 50 seem to be heavy users of new technology when younger folks are not.  A Pearson marketing textbook I use by Armstrong and Kotler references Forrester Research Inc.’s framework for looking at consumer adoption of online technolgoy.  Forrester has a well-developed “Technographics©” series of research data that looks at how to segment consumers in a variety of ways.  In 2005, they developed 10 categories that segmented tech users including (this quote from text) :

  • Fast Forwards (biggest spenders on tech. Time-strapped, driven, top users).
  • New Age Nurturers (big spenders too, but more of a focus on home use, whether for education or entertainment)
  • Mouse Potatoes (those dedicated to interactive entertainment)
  • Techno-strivers (career advancement oriented use of technology)
  • Traditionalists (small-town folks, suspicious of technology beyond the basics)

Looking at the landscape of social media and users in these terms makes a lot of sense.  For nonprofits to build relationships, we need to be in the right place.  But where that is depends upon who we are trying to reach. 

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