Want to Comment on What People Are Writing About You? Google News Can Help

Gossip You know when you read a news story about you or your organization and it looks like they REALLY blew it? Maybe you were misquoted or quoted out of context. Or maybe they didn't tell the whole story. To this point, you've had little recourse other than letters to the Editor, which may not be particularly helpful, especially when they appear at a later date on an entirely different page.

Now, at least, you'll be able to do something about Google News stories. Via Lucy Bernholz, Google has recently announced a new experimental feature (only in the US for now) that may give you and your organization a chance to fight back:

We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report.

Should be interesting to see how it goes. Seems like with a combo of Google Alerts and this feature, you might be getting a little more control over your reputation on the Web.

Photo via ercwttmn on Flickr.


More People Isn't Always the Answer

Just back from a conference where I had an interesting exchange during a session I was conducting on providing services in a global economy.

I was presenting to a state-wide group of government and nonprofit workers who help people access education and find jobs. We were discussing how business has changed the ways in which it operates and how these organizations could utilize some of the new principles for operating in a flat world to run their own organizations. As inevitably occurs, the topic of staffing came up. "We need more people if we're really going to get this job done," one participant informed the group. Nodding heads all around. Yes, of course, throwing people at the problems will take care of everything.

Here's the thing, though. In my experience, these organizations--like many organizations--need to look at how they're operating before they start thinking that they need more people. Hiring more people is like the age-old belief that when you have a performance problem, training is the the answer.

So I challenged the group to first think about a few questions:

  • Are you making the best uses of technology to share information and provide services? Are there processes that could be automated? Are there ways you could use technology to enhance self-service opportunities or to help staff better manage their work?
  • Have you developed an effective customer flow? For example, in many of these organizations, there's a tendency to provide one-on-one, face-to-face services in situations where self-service and/or group processes would work just as well if not better, allowing them to serve more customers, more effectively in less time.
  • Have you identified and eliminated all unnecessary paperwork? Have you looked at how to automate paperwork or how to combine several forms into one?
  • Does the way you've defined job descriptions and activities make sense or are there opportunities to redefine job functions and activities to provide more efficient and effective services?
  • Are you duplicating work being done by another organization or department and would you be better off partnering with them to provide services?

Once you've addressed these issues, then I think you can start talking about the need for more staff. But adding more people to run a creaky, inefficient organization isn't going to cut it.

The other problem with this viewpoint is that it often stops organizations from doing what they should to address inefficiencies. They say "We need more people to really get the job done, but we don't have the funding for it, so we'll just have to settle for how things are now." I roundly reject this kind of thinking and frankly, get REALLY frustrated when I encounter people who operate this way. The way to think about these issues is to say "We're not operating as well as we should and we need to take a look at how we can do better, given our constraints." In fact, it's often the constraints of limited resources that lead to the most creative solutions!

So before we start thinking that if only we had more staff we could do so much better, I think we need to take a look around at our operations and decide if we're doing everything we can to run "lean and mean" with our current resources. Adding more people to a poorly-run organization only means you have more people doing poor work.


From Managing Transactions to Facilitating Transformations

Today I was in a strategic planning meeting with a number of business people. At one point, we were discussing the changing nature of providing healthcare services to aging baby boomers. The VP of HR for one of the local healthcare organizations was explaining to us that they are moving to more of a concierge approach to meeting healthcare needs, with a focus on relationships and amenities, similar to what you would find in hotels. She explained that baby boomers in particular have come to expect a different quality of experience from organizations with which they interact and that is influencing how her organization thinks about its business. Then she said something that I thought was incredibly profound.

"We're trying to move our organization from being transactional to being transformational."

I wrote that down in my notes and thought about it all the way home. Since then, the implications of that idea have been swimming around in my head. Here's what I think it means for nonprofits. (Warning--very ill-formed thoughts ahead)

A transaction occurs when a customer makes a request--for a service, a product, etc. and someone responds to that request. Most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is engage in a series of transactions with various customers, both internal and external. We focus on orders, purchases, changes, additions, transfers and the recordkeeping required to keep track of those transactions. In "well-run" organizations, we are constantly trying to keep these transactions humming along. We try to reduce errors, reduce the amount of time it takes to process a particular transaction, increase the number of transactions we are able to get through in a day and so on.

When we focus on transactions, we are paying attention to particular business processes and activities and how to make them run efficiently. This is a distinctly left-brained, logical approach to the work of an organization. It's not bad to focus on making transactions go smoothly and pleasantly. But the reality is that if we are just about performing various transactions, this is work that could be done by a computer or, eventually, a robot. And it would probably be done better, faster and more accurately. It's also work that is less meaningful to most people. Who wants to do work on a daily basis that could be done just as well by a kiosk?

So what would it mean for us to move from being transactional to being transformational? If we were transformational,

  • We would be more holistic, thinking about the entire customer and their experiences with us over time, rather than their experience with us at a particular point in time.
  • We would pay more attention to emotional issues and their impact on customers experiences. When we structure transactions to emphasize only efficiency or productivity, then we lose the "human touch" that really connects with people. This isn't to say that the human touch can only occur through face-to-face interactions, though. We can be more "human" even in our use of forms, the ways we communicate on our web sites and so forth.
  • We would focus on creating particular experiences for customers, evoking new emotions and helping customers to think differently about themselves.  The VP at our meeting today explained that healthcare to this point has been about moving patients through various transactions--doctor's appointments, medical tests, treatments, etc. But now her organization is putting more of a focus on helping patients feel empowered to navigate their way through a menu of services that feel less like moving through an assembly line of healthcare and more like people taking charge of their lives. This is transformational because it helps people to see themselves differently in relation to their own healthcare and their own sense of agency in their lives.
  • We would think bigger about what we do. To think about our organizations as being in the business of transformation means that we have to re-envision what we do. We have to think about what transformations we can help people achieve and how we can go about doing that. We have to back away from the day-to-day interactions for a while and think about the larger picture of what we hope to achieve (back to mission). Then we can look at how we structure our transactions and interactions with customers to achieve transformation.

This is one of those posts where I feel like I'm writing around something, rather than straight to it. I know in this very visceral way what I'm trying to say, but I'm not sure that I'm expressing it clearly or in ways that make sense. What I know is that the idea of moving from transactions to transformations is something that really appeals to me on a lot of levels. I think it would appeal to workers, too. When we talk about transformation, we're talking about work that has meaning. I don't think that we feel the same connection and sense of impact on the world when we see our work as a series of transactions. I think that both our customers and our employees want to feel that we're doing something that transforms.

I also see this as related to my thinking lately about ROWE. A results-oriented workplace requires us to have thought carefully about the results we are seeking. We need to consider those results, though, in light of whether or not we're going to be an organization that focuses primarily on transactions or one that focuses on transformations. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Best Buy is looking to implement ROWE in their stores is because they are moving to a more customer-centric, transformational view of the results they are seeking. True ROWE may require us to think far more carefully about results in terms of transformation at least as much as we think about transactions.

__________________________________________________________________________
Normally I would save this post in draft and let it marinate for awhile. But this time I'm posting it, raw and unformed, as I think that the only reason I end up saving some of these is because I want to polish them up and make them beautiful before I share them. Kind of stupid, though, when you consider that one of the beauties of working in the blogosphere is that other people will often help you transform that lump of coal into a diamond if you'll only let them.


Empowering the Change Agents--Consciousness & The 10% Solution

It's interesting the difference a day makes.

Yesterday I expressed my frustration over my inability to change people who are meant to be change agents. Writing it down got most of the negative energy I was feeling out of my system. It also left me some space to think a little more about the problem. And another reason to be grateful for blogging--writing about it brought me some good advice from Tom Haskins and encouraging words from Brent MacKinnon, which also helped. So here's where I'm at now.

First, I think that Tom's right when he says that helping people to become conscious of how they've become disempowered is an important step:

Most disempowered professionals I've coached don't consciously realize how they lost their sense of "can-do" and "can-make-a-difference". They are doing the best they can in their own minds. Once they are aware of how they are getting disempowered in their relationships, they can make the necessary changes for themselves. Meanwhile they are caught up in a spiral, going nowhere quickly and becoming more convinced that no change is possible.

One way I make disempowerment conscious is to prescribe it. People realize what they are caught up inside of when I make it clear how to keep it going intentionally.

Tom goes on to list a series of beliefs that disempowered people tend to hold and suggests that to explore our disempowerment, we should consciously try reinforce those beliefs in ourselves to see how they act in our lives. Good stuff.

As I read Tom's post, I realized that I also had some answers to my problem in my own toolkit. Apparently I got so caught up in being negative, I lost sight of my personal resources. Something I think has been going on with my clients, too.

A few years ago I was working with some people to implement a major organizational change. In that process, we examined the issue of the victim mentality, a belief system that many of us have without really knowing it. 

To explore that concept, I asked what kinds of stories people told about themselves--active stories or passive ones?  With active stories, we say things like "I am in charge" or "I am responsible." When we tell ourselves passive stories, we focus on outside forces and external circumstances. Active stories start with "I" and passive stories start with "They." Active stories make us feel empowered. Passive ones suck away our personal sense of control.

Then, stolen from Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, I asked two questions:

  • Do you believe that with respect to this situation, no matter how much power seems to lie in other’s hands, you still have at least 10% that is in your control or power?
  • Can you work on that 10%?
Not everyone got it. Not everyone agreed. But a number of them did and it started to move them forward a little. So it's an exercise I need to try again, along with Tom's suggestion.

********************************************************
In thinking about this problem, I'm realizing something really important that I know, but seem to forget. Sometimes I'm being dragged down into this disempowered thinking too. It's hard to resist, especially if I'm in a room full of people who have already given up. It doesn't help that my natural temperament is to focus on problems, always looking for what needs to be fixed.

But getting dragged down into the negative isn't helping anyone and in a lot of ways, I can't afford to take that role. Someone has to be the dream keeper. Someone has to keep believing that if we all do our 10%, then it will add up and create change. It's like what they tell you in the safety talk on planes--put on your oxygen mask first and then help those around you. I'm the one who has to keep finding ways to get to the mask first. I'm the one who has to keep working on her own 10%. Without that, we'll all be crying into our beers.

I'm hoping that if I can keep doing that, others will join me eventually. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but at some point. In my heart I believe this will happen. But if I'm honest, I have to say that some days it's easier to believe that than others.

Two Interesting Nonprofit Projects

Emerging from an unplanned blogging hiatus . . . A couple of interesting nonprofit projects came my way this morning via my Google Alerts.

The First Nonprofit IPO
In the for-profit world, an IPO is an "initial public offering"--the time the company sells stock to the public. Homeward Bound of Marin (CA) County is taking that idea into the nonprofit sector, launching their own IPO--an "Immediate Public Opportunity--to end homelessness. They've put up 200,000 shares at $32/share for anyone to purchase in support of their Next Key initiative. Warren Buffet bought the first share in what appears to be a carefully-crafted marketing campaign. Of course, the returns on this investment for the stock-buyer are not financial, so this is really a catchy way to fundraise. But a pretty cool idea for the Marin County area outside of San Francisco, which is a major IPO hotbed.

Philanthropy and Grantmaking Course Awards $4,000 to Local Nonprofits
Also from California comes this story about a Fresno State College class on Philanthropy and Grantmaking that participated in a hands-on learning experience in the grant funding process:

The class began the semester investigating needs in the community, identified two focus areas for funding (youth and housing), researched nonprofit organizations meeting those needs, developed a request for proposals and invited six select organizations to apply for funding. Students then evaluated and scored the proposals and oral presentations.

The award money was provided by a local foundation. A great way to learn about the grantmaking process.


Link Love

I'm on my way out the door to a conference and have a bunch of things in my "blog this" file that I wanted to clear out. So today is Link Love Day. I'd suggest a quick scroll through the topics to see if anything catches your fancy as these are really random.

On Management
The Cranky Middle Manager has a new podcast on managing 4 generations at work. Good stuff if you're working with:

  • The Silent Generation--born 1933 through 1945
  • The Baby Boomers--born 1946-1964
  • Generation X born--1965-1976
  • The Millenials--born 1977- 1998

Manager Tools also has a new podcast up--Part One of a two-part series on how to make a job offer.

Can managers learn something from the thinking errors that doctors make? That's the provocative question Harvard Business School Professor James Heskett asks in How Do Managers Think?

A Possible New Source of Funding and Volunteers for Nonprofits?
The NYT has an article on Doing Good on Company Time:

Companies have been using off-site meetings and retreats to foster a sense of camaraderie among employees for decades, but obstacle courses or golf tournaments are becoming as dated as guaranteed frequent-flier upgrades to first class. Today, more corporations are turning to hands-on volunteer projects to get their people motivated and working as a team.

It occurs to me that a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial nonprofit might be able to take advantage of this movement by actively seeking out companies to engage in these kinds of volunteer activities and coordinating them for a fee. Not only would you get volunteers, but you'd also get some unencumbered funding.

On a related note--here's a lifehack article on how to fit volunteerism into your day. A rewrite based on your organization could be a good marketing tool.

"In Class, I Have to Power Down"
Last week I posted about the NYT article chronicling the movement in some schools to get rid of their 1-to-1 laptop programs. Now this article from The Guardian (UK) points to why it's a bad idea. As one student commented:

"At school, you do all this boring stuff, really basic stuff, PowerPoint and spreadsheets and things. It only gets interesting and exciting when you come home and really use your computer. You're free, you're in control, it's your own world."

As if we needed any more reasons for kids to shut down and feel that school is completely irrelevant to their learning.

Also check out David Warlick's post on the NYT article and how it feeds into professional development.

On Being More Creative as a Blogger (or just in general)
Problogger Darren Rouse has run a couple of good articles in the past few days on creativity. First, where do creative ideas come from? And then another on  the 9 Attitudes of Highly Creative People. I'm pleased to note that I possess several, although "optimism" is definitely still a challenge. Lifehack also has a helpful piece--How to Become a Creative Genius.

On Personal Learning and Personal Learning Environments
Without a doubt, the most popular post I've written here was the one on My Personal Learning Environment. The nice thing is that it has led me to a whole bunch of other work that people are doing around the concept. A few I've found recently:

What Are People Doing Online?
A few days ago I blogged about the new Pew "Typology of ICT Users" report. But before that was a post from David Wilcox on how far people engage online. Some interesting stuff on the degree to which people participate in web-based activities. I particularly like the "Ladder of Disclosure."

On Reinventing Yourself and Taking Risks
I thought this TechCrunch article on how HotorNot is ripping apart their business model and taking a huge risk was really interesting. I couldn't help but wonder if nonprofits would consider doing something similar. Yes, they have the capital to take a huge risk, something nonprofits generally can't count on. But it's the mindset I find really intriguing. Without risk there is no reward. I have to believe that there's a lesson in all of that for us.

OK--enough link love for today. Time for me to pack and get out of here.


Making the Most of Netvibes for Learning, Advocacy, Marketing and Customer Service

I've been playing a lot lately with Netvibes. The more I play, the more possibilities I see for learning, advocacy, marketing and customer service. The ability to create and share tabs is what really got me excited. It means that you can essentially put together a customized dashboard of information and materials and then share that with other people.

If you know how Netvibes works, then scroll down to where I start describing some of the ways I think it could be used. If you have no idea what Netvibes is, then read about that first so that the rest of this makes some sense.

What is Netvibes?
Netvibes is a personalized start page. On it, you can include RSS feeds, bookmarks, calendars, to do lists, "sticky notes," email, etc. It's similar to  Yahoo or Google start pages, but to my mind is much more versatile. There are a ton of modules you can put on your pages, you can organize and color-code your materials and most importantly, you can create customized tabs.

This is what a Netvibes start page looks like

  • Netvibes_start_page_2







A few key features I want to highlight.

Tabs
As I've said, Netvibes allows you to create tabs. They're similar to file folders that you might have on your desktop. Like a file folder, you can name each tab anything you want. Which means that depending on your preferences you could have tabs that correspond to:

  • Topic areas that interest you
  • Work vs. personal items
  • Projects that you're working on
  • Different job functions
  • Advocacy areas for your organization
  • Events

Modules and Resources for Each Tab
Within each tab you can include:

  • RSS Feeds--virtually anything is available via RSS. You can subscribe to newspapers and magazines, blogs, Google Alerts, de.licio.us and Technorati tags, updates to wikis, videos, podcasts, Flickr photos, To Do lists (like "Remember the Milk"). Just about any online resource you can imagine is available through RSS.
  • URLs--depending on how you're using your tabs, you can have URLs to project sites, commonly used sites, documents, etc.
  • "Sticky Notes"--With the "Web Notes" feature, you can create a digital Post-It note to stick anywhere in your Netvibes. This means you can "jot down" ideas and reminders and include them in your tabs.
  • Access to email and social networking, including IM, Meebo, MySpace, Facebook
  • Calendars
  • Maps and weather

You also have the ability to color code items within each tab and to add a variety of other modules created by users.

Tab Sharing
What really got me thinking about the possibilities of Netvibes was the fact that they now offer tab sharing. This means that I could create a tab that corresponds to a particular project, event, learning area, advocacy area, etc. Then I can load it up with related RSS feeds, URLs, videos, podcasts, "to do lists," notes, etc. After I've created my customized tab, I can put the code on my blog or website for others to copy. Or I can share it via email or chat.  With tab sharing, I can make life a whole lot easier for a lot of people because I've done the work for them. I've gathered relevant links and resources and put them into a module that they can easily add to their workspace, integrating it into an existing tool.

Right now, there are more than 3,500 tabs developed by other Netvibes users available for sharing, so you could certainly start there. But what interests me is how we could set up tabs customized for our own organizations, learning, etc. and then share them with others.

So some possibilities . . . .

Getting a New Hire Up to Speed
Picture this. You've been hired to start a new job at an environmental advocacy group. Before you start your job,  your manager asks you to set up a Netvibes account (if you don't already have one). You set up your account and check your email where you see that your manager has sent you an Orientation tab. This tab includes links to your organization's wiki where the new hire paperwork has been stored for you to download and complete. There's also a link to the organization's Ning social network that you can visit to set up your profile (including a photo) and then "meet" your co-workers before you start.   It also has a link to a welcome video from the organization's Executive Director, and there's a sticky note embedded in the tab that lists a few things you should bring on your first day, as well as contact information for your manager should you have any questions. Pretty cool, huh?

For Staff Training and Development and Project Management
I see a few of possibilities for this one.

  • Staff could set up tabs based on their interest areas that include links to the best blogs and resources, tools, etc. Staff would be encouraged to make copies of these "learning modules" that they've created. These could then be stored in a central repository (a wiki?) and be available for co-workers to download when they wanted to explore a topic. Staff could start with a sort of "master template" of resources that are particular to their job function, organization, areas of interest, etc. and then customize from there. If they customized the tab, they could add their version to the repository. When they're finished with it, they could delete the tab from Netvibes.
  • Training staff could also set up tabs based on needs identified either by staff or their managers. The tab could include links to training materials, instructional videos, etc. Again, it could be maintained in a central location as its own learning module. It could also be emailed as needed.
  • If we wanted to get really daring, we could share tabs between organizations so that access to the modules would be expanded.
  • Another option--set up a tab for each project you have going on. Include a To-Do list, a calendar, links to resources. Send it to your staff who can then add items to it as they work on the project and be able to update themselves in one location.

For Advocacy/Marketing
A few things that occurred to me:

  • Create a netvibes tab related to particular advocacy topics--global warming, homelessness, whatever. These tabs could include things like feeds to tagged articles, links to research, and a "To Do" list of items the user can do to move advocacy forward. It could also include links to an advocacy guide, to Flickr photos, to a video on a topic related to your advocacy area, to your organization's blog or website--the list is pretty wide open. Then make the tab available on your site for download. Or email it to new people on your mailing list as a free service.
  • Do the same thing for a particular event. Create a tab. Include links to registration materials, Flickr photos you've tagged, your blog, etc. Create a "To Do" list of things the person should do to prepare for the event. Include a map and a weather forecast feed (if it's an outside event). Make it available to people who are interested. Keep updating information and they'll be able to use the tab before the event to get prepared and after the event for you to share follow-up info.

Services to Customers
I think there are a lot of possibilities here, too. You just need to think about what kinds of tools, services and information your target customers might like to access in one location and then create a customized tab with those options. For example:

  • For those organizations that help people find employment, you can set up Netvibes to support job searches in different occupational areas. Create tabs with feeds from various job search sites, links to video on how to interview and to sites on how to write a resume, etc. I wrote previously about this idea here.
  • If you're an association, then create a tab that is useful for association members with links, feeds, etc. not only to your resources, but to other information and resources that association members might find helpful.

I know that there are other ways to provide this information and resources to people. What sparked my imagination here was the ability to customize a tool that other people are already using, rather than doing something that's completely separate from their current processes. Even if a person had to sign up for Netvibes specifically to access your tab, they're still doing so through a tool that they can use for other purposes. To me, it's like giving someone an addition to their Swiss Army knife, rather than expecting them to grab a new tool each time they have a new task.  I think it makes it much more likely they will use the tool.

As always, feedback welcome.

UPDATE--To see how this kind of tab sharing could work, check out my post on nonprofit management resources. I created a Netvibes tab to go with it that you can access at the bottom of the post.


On Customer Service

 Subwaysign




























As usual, Seth Godin hits the customer service nail on the head:

If you're going to be in the service business, you need to accept that or you're going to hate it and be lousy at it, both at the same time.

I hate to say it, but I've been in many a nonprofit/government agency where I've been greeted with just this kind of sign. It's meant to be helpful (I think), but comes across as your organization telling me that I'm an annoying idiot before I even hit the front desk.

In many agencies, this will continue to be communicated to me throughout the building, from the cubes of individual staff members to the conference rooms and public areas. I find that these kinds of signs are notoriously present throughout human service organizations where there seems to be a particular concern about controlling "undesirable behavior." The thing is, it communicates that 1) you expect that there will be undesirable behavior that needs to be controlled and 2) that you don't have a lot of respect for most of your customers.

When I work with clients one of the first things I do is take a look at the signs and other customer communications they have in their buildings. More often than not, I find the approach in Seth's example. It's interesting that when I point this out to clients and offer alternative ways for them to state some of their information, they're taken aback by how they've looked to this point. They just never thought about it.

So here's an idea. With the above sign in mind, walk around your organization and see how many signs like it you can find. If you see them, take them down now and start working on something that's more customer-friendly. If you don't find any, pat yourselves on the back. You're communicating to your customers that you respect them.


Using Facebook in Your Nonprofit

Facebook_logo_2 I spent yesterday with my college freshman daughter who revealed to me the extent to which FaceBook has taken over the social lives of teens and twenty-somethings (with the "older folk" coming on fast). Let's just say that if it's not happening through FaceBook, then it's not happening. By sheer coincidence, I'd used the train ride into NYC to read (among other things)  Fast Company's profile of 22-year old (!) founder, Marc Zuckerberg.Then this morning this post by Rob Cottingham on the Turn It Off! British Columbia campaign he launched on the site slid into my inbox. Clearly I'm being told by the universe to blog a little about FaceBook. So a few resources . . .

What is Facebook?
FaceBook is a social networking site, an Internet site that allows users to post online profiles (including photos, information about themselves, etc.) and then connect to other users who share the same interests, experiences, etc. Zuckerberg threw up FaceBook while he was a student at Harvard to provide an online avenue for students to find one another. It has since morphed into a social network for everyone.

Why Facebook (or any social network, for that matter)?
The first question to ask yourself is why use social networking at all? What can a nonprofit get from the experience? According to this TechSoup article, "What Can Social Networking Do For Your Organization?" the answer is that you can get quite a bit:

"Social networking platforms give nonprofits a forum for meeting like-minded organizations and potential supporters, and provide a medium for spreading their messages beyond the immediate community," says Alan Rosenblatt, Executive Director of the Internet Advocacy Center.

In other words, social networking can expand your reach and help you find volunteers, donors and supporters for your cause inexpensively and relatively easily.

So you've decided to consider social networking. Why Facebook? There are tons of other social networking sites on the Net, including MySpace, Ning, Idealist and Change.org. But as Katrin Verclas of NTEN noted in a March post, Facebook is where it's at right now. It has the most traffic and the biggest reach, and, as she points out, "it's infinitely less annoying than MySpace." (Agreed!) It's your best bet for finding people where they're already congregating online, especially if you're trying to reach the 18-24 year-old set. (Although as this article indicates, the 35-54 year-olds are coming on strong, with about 33% of Facebook users in this age group.) It's much easier than trying to create your own social network (ala Ning), where it can be difficult to attract and maintain users. It also makes sense to go where people are already engaging socially. It's the difference between going to the party and talking to people about what interests you or trying to throw a party that people might not even want to attend.

How Can I Use Facebook?
Besides the TechSoup article above, here are some good resources to check out:

  • Start with Fast Company's slideshow, "Eight Things You Can Do With Facebook". You'll see that you can connect with like-minded users, promote events, start your own groups, etc. You might also want to take a look at this profile of Facebook (scroll down to the features section), which gives a decent overview of the different Facebook elements.
  • Read through Rob's article on how he started his campaign and how he went from 8 supporters to 60 in a few days.

Whatever You Do, Avoid Looking Clueless
The one thing you CAN'T afford on a site like Facebook is looking clueless. No one sniffs out inauthenticity faster than a social network native. As the Chronicle's article reports:

"Any organization interested in leveraging communities on MySpace and Facebook must learn about them firsthand," Mr. Gammel says. "You will come across as clueless and wooden if you try to make a big splash in either place before you really understand their culture of interaction."

He recommends looking at social-networking profiles of other nonprofit organizations, examining how they interact with people online, and reading their blogs to get a sense of the tone and content online.

So your first task if you want to explore using Facebook is to join and observe the culture.Check out Martin Lemeiux's article on getting started with a Facebook profile.  I'd suggest having a staff person join on their own and then do some research for you. You might also consider talking to young people and asking them how they use the site and how they react to various nonprofit messages.

In addition to seeing how other nonprofits are operating, I'd also suggest looking into how your "target population" interacts online. I noticed, for example, that my daughter and her friends (the 18-24 year old set) are drawn into groups that use humor and off-beat group names.  One of her favorite Facebook groups is "You Know You Grew up in the 1890's When . . . " Yes, I typed that correctly--the 1890's. This group puts up hilarious "fake" posts about "Where Were You When McKinley was Shot?" and "What Should We Do With Kaiser Wilhelm?" This isn't the "normal" way that nonprofits would position themselves, but for a culture that really thrives on smart humor, you may need to think differently about how you market your groups and ideas in a setting like Facebook.

Finally, you may want to jump in cautiously at first, rather than going "whole hog." Set up a basic profile for your nonprofit, but then try using it at first to promote a specific event or online activity (signing an online petition, for example). This article on running ads on Facebook has some helpful ideas. Also see the Lemeiux article I mentioned above for some other options.

OK, so there you have my basic primer for using Facebook in nonprofits. If you're going to go the social networking route, this may be your best bet. It will take you less time and is easier than starting your own. It gives you another way to engage your volunteers, supporters and donors. And it's probably where you'll eventually need to be anyway. Online networks are a fact of life now and even if a lot of our constituents aren't using them yet, I think it's only a matter of time. Do you want to be ahead of the curve or behind the 8-ball.


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If a Blog Seems Like Too Much, Try a "Microblog"

Tumblrlogo Via Webware, I found a pretty cool microblogging service called tumblr. that could get more nonprofit staff blogging. Type in your email address and a password, select a name for your "tumblelog" and within seconds your blog is set up.

Tumblr allows you to enter six types of media--word posts, photos, videos, quotes, URLs, and IM conversations, each with its own posting style. You can also add a bookmarklet to your browser toolbar that lets you blog content as you're surfing the web. As you find new content and want to share it, you click on the bookmarklet and a new window will open up with the content already in place. Make any edits you want and then post. It's done immediately. You can also create an RSS feed to automatically post content on your tumblelog that you've created elsewhere, such as video, entries from other blogs you maintain, etc.

What's attractive about the service, I think, is how easy it is to use, especially with the bookmarklet option, and how fast it updates. I could see it being really valuable as a sort of quick personal learning log. I  also think it could be a  nice "down and dirty" knowledge management tool for an organization, with all staff getting their own accounts and then adding content to their blogs as they find it. All staff blogs could then be aggregated into a wiki or organizational web site. Lots of other uses, I'm sure. Take a look at mine and then try it out.