The secret sauce

Much has changed in the last few years. Gone are the days when you needed a techie to assign a new email address. We can do that with little assistance. And every ten-year old can get on Facebook, everybody with something to say has a blog, and gets leads and ideas from Twitter. The business community has embraced LinkedIn and new networking sites emerge every day.

Technology and technology tools are dissolving into the background, and I am grateful. It is no longer necessary to key in your password, your PC assumes you are still the same user as last night. As our search engines get to ‘know’ us, they are contextualizing our searches and making them faster. Semantic engines are guessing at what we’re trying to say and pointing us faster. Applications are sharing information about users and reducing the number of keystrokes we need to get our work done.

Technology can bring us only so much. The secret sauce that makes social media attractive and effective is because we can share ideas and contacts, which hopefully allows us to share more ideas and contacts.

It promises to be a long journey because we are learning to engage with people. Many are still tweaking how to improve their reach using PPC or SEO, which means focusing on keywords and message. The new frontier is learning what matters to our audience and responding to it. This is sometimes obvious: “Comcast hasn’t repaired my cable and I am still out.” Not so obvious when your audience responds to a situation the organization is not equipped to handle:

• US members of YMCA discussing how they might help fellow members caught up Egypt.
• Boys and Girls Club members trying to help children affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

One way is to raise donations, but what if the discussion evolves to offering empty seats on chartered airplanes or adopting orphaned children. That’s real magic.

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Going rogue

Social Media is free, which means that every Tom, Dick and Harry can set up a page to talk about his/her favorite cause, and they do. In “The Networked Nonprofit,” Kanter et. al., describe ‘free agents’ as a powerful force that could be channeled to advance the cause of the nonprofit.

Many organizations are not so sure. They feel these free agents corrupt the message, despoil the brand, divert attention, dilute resources, distract attention, and I could go on…

The lost opportunity is that these free agents could, in fact, serve a valuable function to highlight the cause or mission, identify constituents and move them through the ladder of engagement. Leveraging that vast resource may not be easy but it can be done.

Generally, organizations have no appetite for open-ended outcomes. Outlying events are so difficult to explain up and down the organizational hierarchy they become punitive and undesirable.

This is not true with individuals. Social media is appealing because it creates serendipitous connections between people and events. And those that standout from the norm attract both interest and attention.

How can organizations, with a top down structure, integrate their message from the bottom up, and also incorporate free agents, volunteers, staff and other constituents. It is more than asking or telling contributors to broadcast the national message, because it won’t get done. It requires creating a community where contributors can access the energy and know-how of fellow members. They require a place to learn, a place to practice and a place to share.

This applies to both volunteers and staff. The advantage is that free agents are motivated by their contribution, not compensation. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can help support your cause if given the means and opportunity.

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Leading without power

Community managers for nonprofits are facing many challenges. The first is their role is new and relatively undefined; a case of authority without power. The second is that work and organizations have changed — globalization, changing demographics, virtualization, and competition. One result is that today’s organizations are flat and matrixed. No one works for anyone and everyone reports to everyone; or leadership without power.

To get things done requires exercising influence across boundaries: organizational, departmental and geographic. Power is shifting from the head honcho to the informal network of resources and information that community managers must tap. Indeed, that informal network can make or break a project. To access that network community managers become ‘influencers’.

Influencers are team-oriented. They understand that everyone sees the world differently and recognize that aligning priorities requires addressing the needs and goals of all their contributors.

Sometimes the leadership fails to appreciate how difficult it is to get things done in this brave new flat world. After all, when they want to get somebody to do something, they pick up the phone. If it doesn’t get done, heads role. And if it’s a peer who doesn’t buy in, then he’s the obstruction.

We should still make a distinction between influence and manipulation. Influencers are honest and sincere about objectives, flexible in approach, and aware that others have their own goals and priorities. Influencers improve understanding and build relationships. Manipulators, on the other hand, uses the relationship to accomplish a goal without consideration of the other person. It can destroy friendships.

Staff and constituents thrive by getting involved, by contributing and getting recognition. Influencers know that leading without power is the art of addressing and recognizing the needs and goals of all their constituents.

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Mind your passwords

Paul Mah from IT Business Edge describes 5 rules for protecting your passwords at, summarized below:

  1. Longer passwords are tougher to crack
  2. Different channels should have different passwords
  3. IT never request your Password
  4. Change your passwords frequently and
  5. Periodically
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New Medium / Old message

JFK looked better than Nixon during their TV debates, but Nixon sounded better on radio. Different media affect us differently. It is therefore natural to assume that the newsocial media creates the opportunity to deliver a new message.

Not so sure.

Social media has a huge upside:  you can connect easily to many different friends, fans, followers, contacts, …  And we have heard that the way to stay connected is to be conversational, sincere, relevant, pertinent, casual, funny, up to date, … But, social media has a downside. It is permission based.

I attended a Tennis Camp for several years, and always welcomed promotional emails.  Recently they have been promoting a cause with a sequence of emails.  I ignored the first few queries — others may have responded, great!  I already support my chosen charities. But, I viewed the 5th email as spam: permission denied. I may miss a promotion next year, but I am glad NOT to get future solicitations.  Same goes with my other channels.

Rule number one is to stay true to your mission.  Testing new messages is always good, but recognize that your friends and fans retain ultimate control.

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Stay alert

Anecdotes abound:

  • A nonprofit raises thousands on Facebook
  • A cause coordinated social media channels to move members up the engagement ladder
  • A volunteer organized a successful fundraising with his blog
  • An organization communicated with constituents using Twitter

While these stories inspire, setting up social media channels to accomplish any one specific goal is difficult. Constituents respond differently to each cause.  Cookie cutter solutions are a mirage; they are visible but never within reach.  Learning what resonates with your constituents is a process. Active listening (restating, reframing, interpreting, reflecting) is helping organizations discover how to engage with their constituents.

Also segmenting your constituents might help fine-tune your ability to both hear and respond. Volunteers, donors, leaders, staff and members have different interests and goals and addressing all of them at the same time, makes it difficult to distinguish between noise and information.

Recognize, that it takes time to build a following and engaging with your constituents. When the CFO asks what’s the ROI, paraphrase Einstein: Sometimes what you can count doesn’t matter, and what matters can’t be counted. (1)

(1) The exact quote was: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that matters cannot necessarily be counted.“
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Some random thoughts

Good manners are essential to getting along. Now we also learn that saying thanks is healthy. Studies at University of Illinois, University of California at Davis, Hofstra University, indicated that those who express gratitude suffered less stress, depression, headaches and chest pains., an ad rich Disney website, had a column on “How To Teach Kids to Say Thanks.” by Scott Reeves. Some ideas: teach them by example, show them how, tell them why, let them practice, remind them to say thanks in private, and compliment them on how well they handled it. On a lighter note Reeves also suggests that giving children a gift as a reward for saying thanks “is a mistake.”

John Paul @JohnAguiar thanks his new Twitter followers by recommending them to his 74 thousand followers. But John is especially gracious with those who retweet his tweets: he thanks them, #ff, retweets them back, and follows them.

If you google “Thank you notes to donors” you’ll see close to 2 million suggestions. Many sites mention a study that a thank you letter to a donor can generate 39% more donations.

Happy Thanksgiving

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