9 Lessons I Learned From Running My First Webinar

Cat_at_computer On Tuesday, I ran my first webinar--an hour-long session on time management. Not my topic of choice, but this was a long-time client so sometimes you do what you have to do.

After the webinar experience I liveblogged a few months ago, the one thing I KNEW couldn't happen with this thing was death by Powerpoint. You might be able to get away with a bad PPT presentation if you're an engaging speaker in a face-to-face situation, but not when the PowerPoint is all they see. There's a level of pressure here to make the visuals engaging that really forces you to step up your game.

Compounding my problem is that the audience I was presenting to is not, shall we say, the most technologically savvy crew, so I was also worried about the challenges of getting people online and participating.

Since this was my first time, I wanted to capture what I learned from the experience. I figured I should share, especially since others were so generous with their advice back when I asked for it in October.


1. The time you usually take to prepare for a training session? Take that and quadruple it--at least. Part of my issue here may have been that I was doing a webinar on a topic that isn't second nature to me, so a larger than usual amount of prep time was devoted to figuring out content issues. But beyond that, the killer was thinking through how to make the presentation engaging when all people are doing is listening to my voice on the phone and watching me advance through slides. I cannot begin to communicate the agonizing over photos and slide transitions, etc. that I went through. Unbelievably time-consuming. Anyone who tells you that preparing for a webinar takes less time is either lying or isn't doing a very good job.

2. Err on the side of more slides. One thing I figured out relatively early on (thank God) was that I needed to be OK with having close to 100 slides. I've been moving in that direction anyway, thanks to Beyond Bullet Points, but I found this to be particularly important in this case because it gave a sense of movement and progress through the presentation that's necessary when there are no humans in front of you.

3. Write a script. My training style is generally facilitative and interactive--I've never been comfortable with the whole "sage on the stage" thing. One big downside of a webinar for 75 people, though, is that facilitation just isn't possible. You're forced into the position of "presenting"--the sort of digital equivalent of standing behind the podium and giving a speech. Because there was little interaction and no graceful way for me to jump around if I had to the way you can in face-to-face, I ended up writing a script for each slide--more like doing a screencast, really.

4. Practice, practice, practice. We used GotoWebinar, which for us worked pretty well, although we had a couple of glitches along the way. I wanted to be sure that I knew how to do everything, so I did a few practice sessions with some colleagues, including running through the two polls I included, so I could get comfortable with how everything worked. This wasn't just about flipping through slides. There was audience participation to monitor, questions to respond to (we used chat) and polls to conduct and review. It was a lot of stuff and I needed a lot of practice.

5. Be prepared for lots of technology confusion. When we sent out the invitations, we thought that we'd been clear about how to sign up for the webinar and made things pretty easy. We even had some less tech savvy people follow the instructions to make sure that we weren't being too complicated. Even so, we still had calls and emails from people who couldn't figure it out, so tech support was definitely an issue.

The Big Day

6. See Number 5. Yes, we had additional technology confusion on the day of the webinar--most notably, people not realizing that they needed to call for the audio and be online for the visual stuff, even though we emailed about this several times. But I had my own issues that I need to confess as well. Like forgetting to hit *1 to start the conference call. And forgetting to hide the poll results so that the audience could see the next slides. And advancing past the last slide so that people could be greeted with "end of slide show" and a black screen. You know. Stuff like that.

7. You need at least 2 people to answer the tech questions, neither of them being you, especially at the beginning. We thought that with the excellent (in our opinion) instructions we sent out about the call, we'd have minimal technology questions during the call. We had a couple of people standing by to answer them, but they were on the phone and had people on hold for 20 minutes into the webinar, so that wasn't enough. The biggest question was "Why can't I hear audio"? so we decided that for the next time, we're going to do a quick video demonstrating how you have to log into the webinar AND call the conference call number. Hopefully that will help alleviate some of the confusion. We'll also have a few more people to help out in the beginning.

8. Deviate from the script--and don't be afraid to make a few jokes. I had my script that I'd rehearsed with several times, but in the end, I used it as more of a guide, rather than as a strict script. I got more conversational and even made a few jokes, which is frankly kind of weird since it's like you're talking to yourself. But apparently they liked it, so I'm thinking that it worked.

9. Answering chat questions through audio is kind of strange. I broke a few times for questions that we encouraged people to submit though chat. I had to scroll through the questions to see what I had, while also not leaving a lot of dead air. So I'm scrolling, reading, chatting and trying to figure out the answers to the questions all at the same time. Not terribly difficult, but somehow I felt like a radio announcer on a call-in show. Strange.

Overall, the webinar went well. I got a lot of excellent feedback about the quality and the pace, so that was good. I think it helped that expectations were minimal--most hadn't done a webinar before and those who had had experienced government-run versions, which I don't need to tell you are the deadliest. I have to do another one on February 6, so I'm hoping it runs as smoothly. Of course, I haven't even started putting it together yet, so I guess I know what I'll be obsessing about for the next few weeks.

Photo via Sage

The Social Media Helix and Learning

Note--I wrote this post on Sunday, right after I wrote my original social media spiral post. It further explains where I'm trying to go in regard to social media use and learning and thinking through how to help people use social media tools for their own professional development. After the post I just wrote on early adopters and the early majority, I think it may add more food for thought.

My use of the term "Turtle Learning" may not be the best, but I'm trying to convey a sense of the difference in learning that I think occurs once you move into more actively engaging with social media. I'm open to any suggestions for changing that. This is clearly a work in progress.

The other day I started sharing some thoughts that I've been formulating on a spiral of social media interaction that digital immigrants go through in learning how to use new media tools. What I was trying to get at was how people who are learning new technologies have to go through some different levels of learning that relate what they already know to new kinds of tools.  I'm particularly interested in exploring how we use these tools for learning and development, so as I contemplated my (admittedly lame) little schematic, it occurred to me that that you could divide the spiral into two levels of learning, as I'm indicating in my revised drawing below:

The Turtle Level
I'm calling this the "turtle" level, because I think this is where new knowledge and information comes to you more slowly. I see this happening for a few reasons:

  • For the most part, when you treat the web as something that you go visit when you need it (as with searches and isolated visits to blogs and websites), then new information is automatically going to come to you at a slower, more measured pace. You're only going to get new information when you go looking for it.
  • Even if you belong to email lists and get subscriptions to email newsletters, the pace of information is still slower. You probably don't have subscriptions to 100 newsletters (something you will easily have once you start using RSS) and even the most active lists can be managed by limiting the number of emails you get per day or setting your emails to off so you go visit the listserv site when you want information.

Essentially at the lower levels of the spiral, the web is something you go to when you have a question or need information.

The other major difference at the "Turtle" level is that you are generally having less interaction with the information that comes your way. Most of what you do is passive--reading an email or blog or watching a video. You aren't actively engaging with the content to reflect on what you're learning or to create something new.

I think at the "Turtle Level" you see the web as mostly a huge and more accessible library that you go to when you need to do some research. It might also be a mall or a bank, but it's a place that you go visit, not an integrated tool that stays with you to help you manage your day.

Turbo-Charged Learning
The "Turbo-Charged" level is when you start to get into what we usually mean when we talk about Web 2.0 tools. You're using RSS to pull information to you. You're using social bookmarking to not only bookmark your own information, but to find new information through your network of contacts. You're commenting on blogs and participating in social networks and you may even be Twittering or writing your own blog as well.

At these points in the spiral, information is coming at you much more quickly because you're operating in a "pull" environment, getting media and data from a variety of sources. If you're like most people, once you start using RSS, your biggest problem becomes stopping yourself from adding more feeds and doing what you can to manage and weed things out.

Not only are you getting more information than before, but you're also processing it differently than you did. Instead of just reading and mentally filing things away (often to be promptly forgotten), you will usually find yourself actively engaging with what you're seeing and reading, having online conversations through blog comments and social networks and sometimes reflecting on your own blog.

At this point, the Web is no longer a place you visit. It has become a tool that is integral to your learning and functioning. It is no longer where you go, but how you do things. As they say in training, it is no longer your "sage on the stage," but your "guide on the side."

I think that to make the shift between Turtle Learning and Turbo-charged Learning, you have to fundamentally see yourself as a learner. Part of what keeps us stuck in the Turtle Learning stage is a more passive approach to knowledge and information that waits for someone to tell us we need it before we'll go get it. We're also passive in the sense that we don't actively engage with new material. We're content to read it or watch it and say "that was interesting" and then continue doing things as we did before.

Once you move  to the Turbo-charged level, though, it's impossible to be content with that approach. You are constantly seeing and engaging with new ideas and information and learning takes place even when you aren't conscious of it. To fully engage in the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels is to BE a learner. You can't NOT learn if you operate in these environments.

For me, this adds some greater clarity to my thinking about why Web 2.0 is so powerful as a learning tool and how there's a need for a fundamental shift in perceptions and paradigms to move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. What you could argue about is which has to come first--the change in perceptions or the new behaviors? To some extent, you might be able to "fake it till you make it," encouraging people to practice with the new tools and skills of the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels to actually create a new perception of themselves as learners. Certainly it will be easier, though, to move people to those next levels if you can appeal to the learner in them.

What continues to be unclear to me is what it takes to move people from Turtle to Turbo-charged. That, to me, seems to be where the big adoption chasm exists and I'm not sure what to do about it. In some ways, I think that part of the problem is because the media talks about the tools of Web 2.0 in terms of their influence on marketing and/or young people. It hasn't occurred to a lot of people that these are the tools of learning and empowerment, so this may change with time. Still lots to think about in here. . . 

The Social Media Spiral Revisited

Socialmediaarray On Sunday, I asked for feedback on the social media spiral I drew to represent my current thinking about how people transition from "old" media to new social media. This is a follow-up post to tease out some of the comments I received and integrate them further into my thinking. I will warn you that it's 6 a.m. and this is a little stream of consciousness.

First, a few people pointed out to me that what I'd drawn was not a spiral, but a helix, so the first thing I need to do is start referring to this thing as the "social media helix."

The visual here shows the progression I went through with Christine Martell in getting to my helix. I sent her the pyramid and then we did a long call. The result for me was the helix, while the result for her was the spiral. (Check out Christine's post on how these visualizations are showing us where we had differences in our thinking that need further discussion).

The helix construction is important, because as many people pointed out, it creates an implied hierarchy that a lot of people disagree with. As Alan Levine said:

The helix, spiral, levels suggest there is some sort of linear progression, or more worrisome, that one level is desirable over another. We can skip levels, operate at multiple levels, the whole nature of it defies 2D or 3D structuring. The phases people are at are not the levels per se, but some sort of overlay that might be a bubble that intersects the phases vertically. But again, I think the concept that it is a linear path is misleading.

This thought was echoed by many people, so I had to go back and ask myself why I'd seen this as a helix, with its implied progression. What I've realized is that I'm not really talking about how people tend to play around with and experiment with social media, which is generally not linear at all. Instead, what I'm trying to depict here is a way to introduce people to these tools so they see a progression and connection between what they already know and the new tools they don't understand. I'm seeing this as more of a training kind of a progression, I think, which is also why I was asking about the skills we think are associated with each of the different levels or phases.

Now of course with any training model, everyone is going to come to it with different entry-level skills. So this is far too simplistic to represent that. For example, some people may jump right into commenting on blogs long before they set up RSS feeds. That's how I was. In fact, I was blogging for two years before I set up RSS, so as a model for looking at how people actually use tools, my helix is clearly not the answer.

Another piece that got thrown into the mix was from Mark Aberdour, who reminded me of the 1% rule--that 1% of people will create/participate on a regular basis, another 10% will do so sporadically and the rest will lurk.

Part of what I think is going on right now is that we're still in the early adopter phase of social media use, looking at how to leap over the chasm between the early adopters and the majority of users--how to get more than 1% of people actively using the web. My interest in social media is primarily in how it can be used for learning, so I want to see as many people as possible using these tools for their personal and professional development. Part of what I'm trying to understand is how to help people build on their previous knowledge of the web and how to do use it so that they can progress into the more active learning that I think occurs when you move into the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation phases.

I think that how the early adopters are learning to use these tools is substantially different from what will need to happen for the early and late majorities. Remember email and learning to surf the web? The early adopters didn't need to be "taught" how to do those things. They generally figured it out on their own. But once we got into the early and late majorities, that's when we started to need training classes and "Email for Dummies" books, etc. We weren't able to fully scale up until more deliberate training occurred with the largest groups of people.

I think that there's a fundamental difference between the people who are using social media tools now and those that we're trying to help "see the light" for the future. I think that by their very nature, early adopters are self-directed learners, so to try to use our experiences to help the next phase of adopters may be a mistake. The early and late majorities are people who are more deliberate and pragmatic. They tend to want to be "taught" rather than to want to learn these things on their own. They feel more comfortable if someone shows them why they need a new tool and helps them learn it. They have lots of questions and worry more about "rules."

So where I'm going with this isn't so much about understanding how we early adopters are learning and using these tools. It's more about trying to find a more deliberate way to introduce these tools and concepts to people who aren't as self-directed or comfortable with exploration learning as the early adopters. I'm trying to understand the progression of skills and knowledge that people need to develop to full understand and engage with the learning opportunities provided by social media. Ideally I'd prefer it if they didn't have to be "taught"--I wish everyone was self-directed. But I'm a pragmatist, too, and I understand that we may need to think differently about how to help this next wave of people experience what we have.

With that in mind, does the helix make more sense? And am I on track in thinking that we may need to be thinking differently about helping this next phase of learners get the full benefits of social media to construct their own personal learning environments?

The Social Media Spiral

One of the first things you learn as a trainer is that you have to anchor new knowledge in previous knowledge. That is, for people to understand new concepts and develop new skills, you have to start with what they already know.

I've been doing some thinking about how to help staff make connections between new media and the older tools they already know how to use.  In a long phone conversation with Christine Martell, I came up with the following schematic. Note that putting it in a spiral was Christine's idea, while drawing it on paper was my own lame attempt.

Socialmediaspiral3_3 Now let me explain where I'm going with this, because I'm also looking for your feedback.

First, what I'm trying to do is show how the tools and activities at the bottom build up to the top. So starting at the bottom, most people know how to do searches and use email and are at least familiar with the concepts of Chat or IM, even if they haven't used them before.

Then comes email subscriptions to listservs and to newsletters, something a lot of people are comfortable with as well.

As we move up the spiral, people start to "consume" blogs, podcasts and videos in isolation--usually because someone sent them a link to an item or they clicked through to a blog or podcast from a website. They generally aren't interacting with these items by commenting, rating, etc. They are usually just passively consuming them

Then comes Aggregation, when people start to learn about things like RSS and Google Alerts where they can "pull" information to themselves and about social bookmarking where they can aggregate their bookmarks online. This is a level where the web moves from being "push" to "pull" and where they begin to see more active networks being built.

I think that many people hang out in the Aggregation phase indefinitely. They've started pulling info to themselves, but for the most part they are still passive consumers of information--the most they may do is share bookmarks with other people.

Moving into the Interaction phase means starting to create online (beyond sending emails), but not in the same full-blown way as the final level. This is where people may begin commenting on other blogs or creating profiles and participating in social networks. There's a level of interaction and content creation here, but it hasn't fully evolved.

The top level is Creation and this is where microb-blogging, blogging, Twitter, podcasting, etc. occur. You might conceivably divide this into Creation A and Creation B, with Twitter and micro-blogging at level A and Blogging, podcasting, video creation, etc. at Creation B. For me the distinction comes from the amount of work involved, but maybe that's a false distinction because God knows it seems to take a ton of work to keep up with Twitter!

A few additional thoughts on this:

  • I started this as a sort of pyramid, that implied building blocks that go up to the top, but Christine pointed out that it's really more of a spiral, where we're constantly building on and using all of the different "levels."
  • Looking at this spiral, it seems that we go from more familiar activities to less familiar and from more "passive" activities to more active content creation. You can argue that emails and IM are certainly "active," but they don't carry with them the same content creation demands that blogging, podcasting and video do, so I see them operating at distinctly different levels.
  • I would argue that there are different skills and knowledge that are required to fully function within the spiral and trying to leap over the different parts of the spiral is where people can get into trouble. For example, Christine pointed out that often people will make the leap from "email newsletter" to "blog,"  so that they see having a blog as essentially a one-way communication device that broadcasts their message. When they do this, though, they miss the levels that occur in between, such as understanding the importance of the Aggregation and Interaction levels in being able to fully realize the benefits of blogging. Not that there needs to be a slow plodding through the different levels, but time spent operating in the different environments is time well-spent before moving to the Content Creation level. If you don't understand how Aggregation (particularly RSS) and Interaction work, then you won't be as effective at the content creation level.
  • There's nothing that says that people need to use all of the tools of each level. So I don't have to be blogging, Twittering, podcasting and videocasting to be fully functional at the Creation level. But particularly when it comes to developing a personal learning environment, there is benefit to integrating selected tools and knowledge from each of these levels into my overall PLE if I want to fully realize the benefits. In particular, Aggregation, Interaction and Creation seem critical to me as they are the ways in which we can continually get and manage content and interact with it to continue learning. We need to learn how to use tools at each of those levels to be the most effective.
  • The Creation level is fundamentally about taking all of this data and interaction and using it to tell a variety of different stories. When you're new to social media, you tend to be working your way through the spiral, mastering the skills and knowledge of the different levels. When you reach the Creation level, then you're looking at how to aggregate information and conversations to tell different stories that serve different purposes. There is essentially an infinite number of stories to be told--this level is about how we apply our human ingenuity and creativity to massaging those stories. I would go so far as to say that using a tool like Yahoo Pipes, for example, is a form of creation and story-telling, because you're essentially trying to create custom feeds that will manipulate data and information to come from a particular perspective.
  • This is a schematic that I see working primarily for digital immigrants--those who did not grow up with these technologies. I suspect that the "levels" I'm describing here would seem kind of irrelevant to digital natives because to them, it's all part and parcel of using the Web. But for those who are trying to learn new technologies, it seems like this might be a useful way to look at things as it shows a natural progression and evolution that tends to build on what people already know.

So I'm throwing this out into the world for your thoughts and comments. Some of what I'm wondering:

  • Is this a useful way to think about these different tools and skills when it comes to training staff?
  • Do these "levels" make sense? What changes would you suggest?
  • What skills do you see associated with the different levels? Do you think that there are different skills entirely or is it in how we use the skills?

What do you think? Am I off base? Does this even matter?


Getting Productive in 2008 with Jott

Jott_screen_3 This week I'm sharing some of the tools and tips I've been using in my ongoing quest to achieve productivity nirvana. One tool that I'm really enjoying using is Jott. Here's how it works.

  • Sign up for your free account. You'll be prompted through getting your account and phone set up.
  • Once you're signed up, use your cell phone to call the Jott toll free number.
  • Leave a message for yourself.
  • Receive an email within about 5 minutes with the transcript of your message.

Yes, that's right--you can call Jott and leave verbal reminders for yourself that will then be sent to your email inbox for later action. I'm LOVING this thing!

Now, when I'm driving, I can call Jott (which I've programmed into my cell phone) and babble all those follow-up items into my Jott account so that when I get home, my "To Do" list is in my inbox, waiting for action. This is especially helpful if you've been using your email inbox as the collection point for all of your "To Do's," something else I've started doing and which I find extremely helpful.

You can also use Jott to leave reminders or updates for other individuals or even for groups. Again, you leave a voice message, they get an email--or even a text message to their cell. And of course, they can do the same with you.  It's all extremely convenient.

I told one of my colleagues about this and her first question was "But aren't your email messages all garbled?" Actually, no. So far Jott has done an excellent job of accurately transcribing my voice messages into emails. But even if there was a problem, when I get my email, there's a link to the voice mail so that I could go listen to it just to make sure I got the info right.

This has been my best tech find to date to support my "getting productive in 2008" plans--definitely worth checking out.

What's your favorite tech tool to improve your productivity?

Getting Productive in 2008, Starting with GTD

Gtd_cover It's the New Year and one of my resolutions is to try to get a better handle on my time. I'm also in the middle of planning for a time management webinar, so I guess I have productivity on the brain.

This week I wanted to share some tools and tips I've been trying out as I suspect that I'm not alone in the desire to get more done in less time. Some of these strategies are working well for me. Others are more of a challenge. My theory, though, is that just because it doesn't work for me, doesn't mean that you might not get something out of it.

Most of what I've been doing is based on David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD), a time management and organizational system that for many devotees approaches cult-like status. It's a system that succeeds because it helps you get all the amorphous "stuff" that's clogging up your thinking and planning out of your brain and into a coherent system where you can do something actionable about it. As this 43 Folders article on getting started with GTD points out:

Stuff is bouncing around in our heads and causing untold stress and anxiety. Evaluation meetings, bar mitzvahs, empty rolls of toilet paper, broken lawn mowers, college applications, your big gut, tooth decay, dirty underwear and imminent jury duty all compete for prime attention in our poor, addled brains. Stuff has no “home” and, consequently, no place to go, so it just keeps rattling around.

Yep--that about sums it up for me.

So what GTD does is give you a system for collecting and organizing all of your "stuff." From the same article:

This is a really summarized version, but here it is, PowerPoint-style:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and re-factor mercilessly

So, basically, you make your stuff into real, actionable items or things you can just get rid of. Everything you keep has a clear reason for being in your life at any given moment—both now and well into the future. This gives you an amazing kind of confidence that a) nothing gets lost and b) you always understand what’s on or off your plate.

As someone who has a LOT of "stuff" cluttering up my psychic space, you can imagine why this system appeals.

Now serious GTD enthusiasts can apparently spend hours talking about the merits of technology vs. non-technology-based systems and the tiny variations and adaptations you can make for yourself. For me, that's a little much, so I've been acting as more of a dabbler, trying out some of the key principles of GTD, as well as playing around with some nifty tools to help me keep track of and act on all my "stuff." These are the things I'm going to share the rest of this week.

If you want to get all hardcore on me, though, there's plenty to get you going with GTD. Here are the best resources that I found:

  • Beginner's Guide to GTD--there are links to many different sites for getting started. Take a look around to find the one that suits you best. This is a pretty long list.

That's more than enough to get you started. Tomorrow I'm going to talk about one of the key principles of GTD that's been working well for me--The Two Minute Rule.

I'm Touched

Ipodtouch450111 It was an electronics Christmas here at the Martin house. I sucked it up and bought my husband a new laptop, which he desperately needed after several years of using my own 7-year old refurbished cast-off. And he got me the new i-Pod Touch--basically an iPhone without the phone part, which is just fine with me. It's replacing my Nano and also giving me more memory that I sorely needed.

I have to say that the thing is gorgeous. I mean seriously a thing of beauty that is actually almost sensual to use. That touch screen is just so amazing--it's beyond me how I can use my fingers to surf the web! And the video is really amazing--incredible quality.

This, of course, sent me back to check out possible options for my viewing/listening pleasure. I mean I doubled my storage and can now watch video, so gotta see what that can do for me, right? Of course, I could have stuck with downloading Lost or Grey's Anatomy, but I also found some great options for learning.  Some of what I found:

  • Over at the i-Tunes store, you can download TED Talks--15-20 minute videos on an incredibly diverse range of topics. Now I can have the most inspiring talks, like this one on leadership or this one on compassion with me all the time. I can also download lectures and video from i-Tunes University.
  • For management skills, I have Manager Tools (one I've already enjoyed online) and the Cranky Middle Manager. I'd love to find some video versions of these things as I think that it would be great to have the associated facial and body language tips for a lot of these interactions.

What's also really cool about the Touch is that I can surf the web where ever I have wireless access. That means that I need to start identifying locations with free wifi before I head out the door. I also found that I can  use mobile versions of Facebook, Gmail, Google Calendar and Google documents (read only, unfortunately), and I can even IM using meebo. My only problem was prying the Touch from my daughters' hands so I could play around with all these features.

Overall, a very cool tool that's a lot of fun to use. It almost makes me wish I commuted further than to my home office. Almost. 

More on Blog Commenting From Bamboo Readers

Leave_a_comment_3 Yesterday's post on the six reasons people aren't commenting on your blog was one of those things that takes you by surprise. One second I'm dashing off a quick post between calls and the next I'm watching my stats and comments go off the charts after Chris Brogan tweets about it. Of course the real beauty is that with all those comments, I got some great info and questions from readers for a follow-up post.

Blog Comments or Email?
Anji Bee pointed out that one of the things she's noticed is that many of her readers will email her rather than leaving something in comments. She suggests that this might be the nature of her readership--as a musician people may want more of a one-on-one with her as an artist. It could also be that people are used to email as the way to connect with other people online and that they don't see comments as the way to do that. As a blogger, I'd be on the fence in terms of whether or not I saw this as a problem. If I was hearing from people, even if it was just through email, I might be OK with that. But if you're trying to create a sense of community among your readers, then obviously the email route won't work.

Responding to Comments on Your Blog and Commenting on Other Blogs
Joanna Young and Sue Waters suggested that how we respond to comments on our own blogs and the commenting we do on other blogs can make a big difference in the quality and quantity of comments we receive. Joanna wrote:

". . . you were asking for more, I'd add two, (1) how do you respond to comments on your site, is it encouraging and welcoming, this is part the tone and environment that you describe (2) how much do you invest in commenting elsewhere - all my early doors commenters came from blogs that I'd visited and joined in the conversation, with people who were generous enough to come back and do the same with me"

And Sue followed up with:

"A lot of bloggers fail to realise that they need to comment back to people who comment on their posts. If a person makes an effort to write a comment the minimum you should be doing is writing a comment in response. However there are a lot of bloggers who never do this because they are either new and don't realise the importance or have forgotten that the conversation and acknowledging the conversation is really important. Eventually I will stop commenting on a person's posts if they don't make the effort. And it is important to remember this is not just for that commenter but for all commenter's because if they notice that you do not respond back they are less likely to. PS Michele you are so much better at fast response to comments than me.

The second point Joanna makes about commenting to other people's posts is equally important. I spend a lot of time making conversation on other people's posts because I value the conversation and as mentioned before I use co-mment (http://co.mments.com/) so I can quickly respond back to further comments if I choose to. I have had some amazing conversations with other commenters who are commenting a person's post because we have used it as a mechanism to catch up with each other (off course we thank the blogger for the opportunity."

Tom Tiernan underscores the need to acknowledge blog commenters:

"I agree that one real important piece is to acknowledge people who have commented on your blog. Imagine standing next to someone and saying "hi, how are you?" and getting absolutely no response as if you don't exist."


A Guide to Blog Commenting
In yesterday's post I suggested that one thing you need to do, especially if you're writing for a non-tech savvy audience, was create a guide to commenting on your blog. Sarah Stewart took that advice to heart and immediately posted her own. It's a nice example of how to do this and I think gets across Sarah's warm personality very well. If this is something you're thinking about for your own blog, Sarah's example is definitely worth a read.

Sounding Like a Person & Writing from Your Heart
Several people agreed that there's a need to write from your heart and to connect with people on more of a person-to-person, authentic level if you want to invite conversation. As Danielle B said:

I personally have to make sure that my posts come from my heart and not from my always analytical head. Which is why #1 and #3 are areas I keep a look out for when I re-read a post before I hit 'publish'. When I did the post on teaching our families to hug us, I had several quotes on how scientific research proves the positive benefits of hugging. I hit publish...had it up for five minutes...edited out the 'press release' stuff..and re-published. I think this made all the difference in the number of comments. However, as a side note, there was one person who had read the post in that five minutes with the research quotes and emailed me wanting them (grin).

Jered Stoehr echoed Danielle's sentiments and then asked:

". . . how would you turn these into measurable things? Could / should you measure tone or other aspects that are behind these more open ended questions?"

Great question that I'm not sure I have the answer to. I told Jered via email that I would tend to measure whether or not my strategy to sound approachable was working based on whether or not I was receiving comments, since that was the outcome I was looking for. But that's not a very direct measure and may not be the best way to look at it. I might also do a poll to get people's reactions to my approach or have someone who doesn't read my blog take a look and give me their impressions. Any other thoughts on this one? Both Jered and I would love some feedback on this issue.

Thanks again to all who took the time to comment yesterday--as Laura pointed out, writing a post about commenting may be one of the best ways to get comments. :-) And, of course, thanks to Chris for the tweet that kicked everything off.

If you have additional thoughts on how to increase comments on a blog or can help answer Jered's question about measuring the success of your strategies, leave a comment!

Photo via supa m.b.

Six Reasons People Aren't Commenting On Your Blog

Comments As part of his Social Media 100 series, Chris Brogan is exploring the power of blog commenting by "writing" his post through comments. (OK, I'm a day late in seeing this in my feed reader). It's an interesting experiment that has me thinking some more about commenting, a topic I've explored previously.

Many of the commenters in Chris's thread are complaining that they don't get comments on their blogs, something bloggers eternally discuss. It got me to thinking about how some people create an environment that invites conversation and some people don't. Since a major reason to blog is for that give-and-take, obviously a lack of comments causes a problem.

Some of the reasons for a lack of comments go back to things like the 1% rule or the fact that you may be operating in a really tiny niche that doesn't generate a lot of interest.  But after clicking through  to some of the blogs in Chris's comments thread,  I began to see a pattern of behaviors that I think may be contributing to the lack of comments and therefore are extremely instructive. The result is:

Six Reasons People Aren't Commenting on Your Blog

1. You sound like a press release.
This is a particular problem when a blog is either being run by an organization or by an individual who's trying to generate business and isn't getting the informal, authentic nature of the blogging culture. The problem is that a press release is not something that's designed to invite conversation. It sounds like what it is--a way to get coverage from newspapers or magazines. It has its place in a marketing mix, but it doesn't belong on your blog.

Let me show you what I mean.  This is a press release. Read it and then then let me know how drawn into a conversation you might feel if you saw this or some version of this on a blog. Right. I didn't think so.

2. You sound like an infomercial.
This is closely related to problem 1. Blogs that come across as thinly-veiled sales pitches don't invite comments. I would argue that they don't invite a lot of readership either, but that might just be me.

Certainly having some individual posts that are related to "selling" something can be OK, but I wouldn't expect a lot of comments on them. And I definitely wouldn't expect to create a big sense of community on your blog if most of your posts are geared towards pitching your products or organization. There are ways to do this, but you have to be adding value separate from anything you're trying to sell. I think that the Rapid E-Learning Blog is an excellent example of the "soft-sell" approach that works best in the blogosphere.

  3. You sound like a know-it-all.
I've been running an informal experiment here for the past few months, trying to see which blog posts generate the most comments. Hands-down they are the posts where I ask a lot of questions and where I give incomplete answers on topics that interest me. I think this works for two reasons. First, no one is attracted to a know-it-all. Oh, we may want to bookmark their stuff, but that doesn't mean we want to talk to them. I also think it's because by asking questions and not having all the answers, we leave space for comments to happen. As a reader, it feels like there's more that could be said on the topic, so I'm more inclined to comment. Questions are the lifeblood of conversation . They need to be a regular part of posts. 

4. You haven't showed them how.
If you're blogging for bloggers or for people who are comfortable with the conventions of blogging, then explaining what comments are and how to comment isn't necessary. But if you're blogging for people who are new to the blogosphere or who aren't that proficient with the technology, you definitely need to make commenting easy to do. This is something I learned during the 31 Day Challenge and have seen a substantial increase in comments since then.

5. You haven't created the right atmosphere.Comment_thread_3
You know how you go to some gatherings where the hosts make you feel right at home? Even if you don't know everyone there, they do a great job of introducing people to each other and creating an environment that invites people to settle in for a chat. It's the same dynamic with blogs. Some blogs make you WANT to talk to the author and to other commenters. Some blogs--not so much.

My personal feeling is that a lot of it has to do with "tone." If someone's writing seems warm, inviting, authentic and transparent, then I want to join the conversation. If they sound "institutional" or distant, the conversation will have to be pretty darn interesting for me to be drawn into commenting.

I've also found that I'm reluctant to comment if it feels like I may be breaking into someone's "clique." Not that you won't have regular commenters, but sometimes there can be a problem with having an "in-crowd" that emerges over time, making newcomers less likely to share their thoughts.

6. You just don't seem that into it.
I LOVE talking to people who are really passionate about a topic and are incredibly excited to share their ideas with me. I'm less thrilled to talk to people who aren't that into the conversation. Same thing with bloggers. The ones who are passionate about their topic--and allow that passion to shine through--they're the bloggers we want to talk to. But if your posts feel like you're slogging through them, unless it's a post on how you're slogging through posting, you probably won't get the conversation started. Blogging is about passion and about sharing your excitement about a topic. It's those posts that tend to generate conversation, not the ones where you're going through the motions.

So those are my six reasons for why I think that people may not be commenting on your blog. What would you add to the list?

Photos via premasager and ario_j


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Don't Want to Look Stupid in Front of Your Customers? Start Playing with Social Media Inside Your Organization First

Community Although I don't know if stats back me up on this, personal experience tells me that one of the main reasons people are afraid to use new tools is because they don't want to look stupid in front of the world--and more specifically in front of their customers.

I've been thinking a lot lately (again) about why there's still resistance to social media tools.  I'm beginning to believe that some of the resistance comes from the fact that so much of the advice out there focuses on using these tools with external stakeholders--your customers and other constituents with whom it feels most risky to make a mistake.

There's no doubt that if you're new to things like blogs, wikis and social networks, there can be lot to learn about the technology and conventions of operating in these environments. But the thing is, there are ways to start practicing with these tools without having to put your efforts out in front of those people whose reactions scare you to death. There are ways to get comfortable with the media before having to work with the tools in the wider world.

Here are some ideas. . .

Blogs are just online journals that list posts and articles in reverse chronological order, with the most recent information first. They're actually incredibly versatile and could be used in a lot of ways inside your organization:

  • Individual departments or workgroups can set up a group blog that they use to update the rest of the organization on what's happening in their department.
  • Use a blog as your employee newsletter and to share time-sensitive information with staff.
  • Have employees maintain blogs to reflect on their work practices and keep track of achievements. They could also be used to have more senior staff document work processes and tips from which more junior staff might benefit.
  • And you could replace your "Employee Ideas" box with a blog, too. Float ideas or problems and then have people use comments to provide their feedback.

If you're going to play around with blogging within your organization, you'll want to check out Blogger or Wordpress--there's a version you can download and run on your own servers for free or you can use this online version, which has fewer features, but will do the trick.

To some, a blog can seem like a big commitment. Another option is to use a tumblelog like Tumbler. This is a form of blogging that favors much shorter posts and sharing of multimedia. It's a great way to keep track of ideas--as you think of them, you can just make a quick post to your tumblelog--and to share multimedia finds, like a Slideshare presentation. You may want to consider creating an organizational tumblelog that everyone adds to as they find new materials or have new ideas. It can be a more dynamic form of a wiki (see below).

Wikis are websites that can be edited by anyone. They are a great tool for developing group documentation and sharing information. Probably the best intro to wikis I've seen is this one from the crew at Common Craft. Some of the ways you could use a wiki inside the organization include:

  • As an online FAQ for office proceduresWetpaint_logo
  • To manage a project
  • As a policy and procedure manual.
  • For personal or organizational brainstorming.
  • To create an online resource guide for staff

I've written more about the uses of wikis here and here to give you some additional ideas. I like Wetpaint or Wikispaces if you decide you want to start your own. 

Your Own Organizational Social Network
Ning is a tool that lets anyone create their own social network, complete with forums to have online discussions, member pages, individual member blogs and places to upload videos, photos, and PPT presentations.

  • Your Ning site could be set up as an "online office," where staff could upload shared resources (such as Word docs of forms, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) and get answers to questions through the forums. It also would ensure that staff could access what they needed from work or from home.
  • It could also function as a virtual classroom to share learning and professional development resources.

Here are 8 steps to creating a great network.

A podcast is simply a digital audio file that can be recorded and uploaded to the Internet for downloading onto an i-pod or mp3 player. It can also be listened to online. You can get fancy with podcasting, but probably the easiest down and dirty thing I've seen is G-cast, which lets you record a podcast through your cell phone. It's as simple as calling a number and starting to talk. This could be used to record and share:

  • Instructions and How-Tos
  • Interviews--maybe an interview with a staff person on a recent achievement or a program they are running.
  • Work tips
  • News and updates

Once you've recorded your podcast(s), then you can set up links to them in the appropriate blog or wiki. So you might have a "How To" wiki of policies and procedures that includes not only written information, but also supplemental podcasts.

Getting Started
Keyboard_keys_2 Obviously there are a LOT of ways you can get started with social media inside your organization before you ever have to start using these tools with customers. I think this might be a safer space to experiment and once you get more comfortable using these tools, then you can start playing around with them in the wider world. But where to go from here? I'd suggest:

  • Think about something you want to start doing better at work. Do you want to start keeping track of your personal achievements so you have them all in one place the next time you want to talk to your boss about a raise? Do you want to start keeping better track of new ideas? Do you need to manage a project or would you like to keep in better touch with your colleagues? Find one thing you'd like to do better and set a goal.
  • Find a tool on the list that can help you with your goal. Let's say that you want to start keeping track of your achievements and work assignments so that you can show them to your boss at the next performance review. You might want to consider setting up a blog or tumblelog. Each time you do something, you can post what you did online, along with a reference to where you put the digital file(s) supporting it. Or if you need to manage a project, play around with setting up a wiki.
  • Start experimenting with your tool. Once you know which tool you want to use, then start playing around with it. Don't worry. You won't break anything. And if you're really nervous about making mistakes, then try using a tool just with yourself--don't worry about showing it to anyone else. Don't give up too soon--sometimes the technology can be frustrating, but most of these tools have pretty short learning curves if you can stick with them.
  • Start the cycle again--or start using your new tool with a wider audience. Once you get comfortable with your new toy, then you can either start working with a wider audience--maybe you take that wiki to the rest of your department--or you can start practicing with another tool to try it out and get comfortable with it.

The only way to really learn new media is to experiment with it. But you don't have to do your experiments in front of other people if they make you uncomfortable. By practicing with social media tools inside your organization, you can develop the skills and comfort level that will allow you to start using them with customers and other external stakeholders.

How have you used social media tools inside the enterprise? What ideas do you have for how this could be done?


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