back it up, back it in

Photo by PatriotWorld

Photo by PatriotWorld

I went to Podcamp Boston 3 last weekend, despite being busier than I’ve been all year, because Podcamp is not to be missed.

For those of us who are deeply into social media — whether it’s blogging, podcasting, twittering, facebooking, flickring, or any combination of the above (and more) — this is our chance to gather (gasp) in real life, meet face to face, and get each other up to speed on our latest projects, and get a feel for the current zeitgeist.

Who am I kidding. It’s a tribal gathering. It is just flat-out exhilarating to be in a room full of like-minded people, people who are just as fascinated by all this, all this online nonsense that is simultaneously being heralded as the next great thing, the next great bubble, or simply a sign of (a) flaking off on the job, (b) extreme narcissism, or (c) downright anti-social tendencies.

Whatever the case, whatever you believe, this much is true: It is good to be among one’s own. I was personally giddy with joy the whole time I was there, and the afterglow honestly hasn’t faded yet.

Ironically for a conference full of hardcore Twitter users, Twitter was scheduled for some “routine maintenance” right in the middle of the day on Saturday. This was a fact that had escaped the notice of most attendees until the dreaded moment was upon us…

Photo by Steve Garfield

Photo by Steve Garfield

Photo by Steve Garfield

Photo by Steve Garfield

Photo by Steve Garfield

Photo by Steve Garfield

Now, a cynic might say, Aha! Now all you geeks will be forced to speak to each other face to face!

But the thing is, Twitter was how I was connecting with people at the conference. Yes, it was back-channel, and chatter, and making plans for lunch. But there were several people who I was planning to meet at Podcamp simply by tweeting them at some point in the proceedings and saying Let’s meet in the hallway.

Without Twitter, how were we to ever find each other?

Naturally, most did what Twitter users do when Twitter goes down: complain, joke, and wait (more or less) patiently for its return.

And improvise, using whatever technology was handy:

Photo by Cindy Coy

Photo by Cindy Coy

Jokes about our twitter dependencies aside, what really is the fallback when Twitter goes down — or when any technology goes down at a conference or major event?

This isn’t about Twitter, really. It’s about planning, back-up, and redundancy.

We face a real vulnerability when we rely too heavily on any one platform for basic communication, and the risk increases when we start to use these platforms for business purposes. An open source version of something like Twitter has recently been released, and people are endorsing (at least in theory) the wisdom of reduced reliance on one private, fallible company.

This holds true for any communications technology, not just start-up flavored web 2.0/social networking platforms.

What is the plan when the phones go down? Email? FedEx? What is plan B, and how much of a wrinkle will you create by switching to Plan B?

Now, I’m thinking in these terms right now largely because I am about to help put on a very large outdoor party for about 15,000 people. I am backing up my back up plans like you wouldn’t believe.

I’ve got documents duplicatively stored on hard drives, on flash drives, in Google Docs, in my Gmail archives, and in laminated hard copy in three different undisclosed locations.

Frankly, it’s the only way I can sleep at night.

What is it they say?

Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Being able to improvise is huge (believe me, I prize my background in improv theater, and count it as one of my most valuable skills), but being able to write an alternate script (or three) in advance isn’t too shabby, either.

That way, your light-hearted comedy is far less likely to turn into a farce.

we are media – thoughts on evangelizing social media

This week’s module in the We Are Media Project is How to be an Effective Evangelist for Social Media within a Nonprofit Organization.

I’m on record about this business of being an evangelist — I think the term itself sets up an unhelpful dynamic between the converted and the heathen, as it were. I prefer to think of myself and my like-minded peers as translators, ambassadors, and diplomats.

Remember that social media is a foreign culture to most, and a good deal of cultural sensitivity is often called for. Think of yourself as the foreign exchange student, not the other way around.

That said, here are a few tips for trying to get something social started in your nonprofit:

Put your audience’s needs first

Think first about who it is you want to involve in your organization, who it is you want to reach. Try to provide some real data on them. Does your nonprofit conduct regular, systematic market research? No? What a surprise.

Fortunately, there’s fair bit out there for free. Forrester’s interactive marketing blog is a good place to start. The authors of Groundswell have posted lots of free data on various demographics, and maybe some of it will be helpful to you as you discuss what your members are likely to be doing online.

Are they the type of people who join social networks? Who read blogs? Who would enter a photography contest on Flickr? Believe it or not, you can actually make some well-founded generalizations on some very good research — without spending a dime.

So first, decide who it is you want to reach, and then figure out what it is they already like to do online. Remember, it isn’t about you, it’s about them.

Tackle something with social media that the old methods can’t seem to touch.

You also want to focus on what the problem is that wants solving in the organization. What’s broken? What is “the old way” NOT doing well right now? What’s a stubborn problem that won’t budge, no matter how many mailings you send, how many lists you buy?

Flat membership renewals, not enough new donors coming in, what? Isolate one small thing, and build a trial social media plan around solving that one problem. Keep your budget small — including staff time and money — to keep the risk low.

As another participant in the We Are Media project, Brad Lewis, writes, Emphasize the people, not the technology. Results, not platforms. Avoid jargon. Ask people what they want to get done — first.

Put your policies on paper first.

It’s important to put policies in place before you start implementing any social media plans. There’s a lot of source material out there already on blogging policies for organizations. Even if a blog isn’t going to be your first move (and despite the hype, it often is NOT the right first move — it has to be the tool that best fits your objective), thinking through what happens if this, if that, or if that happens, will always be a useful strategic planning exercise.

Remember to plan not just for bad things, but for success as well. Being wrong-footed by a run-away smash hit can be just as damaging as a negative comment or three. Yes, it can.

Remember you’re on the same team.

Beth Kanter writes:

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a reader. She told me that her board was very conservative and that she was the youngest person on staff. Every time she brings social media or social networks in any discussion about marketing or communications, the idea gets labeled as “crack pot” idea. I’ve heard even worse horror stories.

Remember that old habits die hard. and quite honestly, they should. Being cautious, risk-averse, careful with resources, and skeptical of unproven ideas — these are all generally good things to have in organizational leadership.

Your board members have a fiduciary responsibility to keep your organization afloat. They do not wish to shoot you down. They wish to have a successful, sustainable organization. So do you.

This is why I dislike the evangelism terminology. It sets up the two parties in opposition to each other. In actuality, you are on the same team. You have the same ultimate goal. You might just differ about the means.

And that’s what it all boils down to, really. Social media is a means to an end. Media is another word for way. It’s the way you get to your goal, not the goal itself. Remember that, and stay focused on your goal, and you’ll be off to a good start.

the third thing

I’ve always loved the children’s book Miss Rumphius.

It’s about a woman who resolves as a girl to travel all over the world, to then live by the sea when she was done, and finally, to make the world a more beautiful place.

After she has achieved the first two goals, she becomes very sick and has to stay in bed for a very long time, slowly getting well in her house by the sea.

When she does get up, she decides to fulfill her third obligation by filling the countryside with lupines.

I just now realized that she only started planting lupines (strewing the seeds, really) after she was laid up sick in bed for a year.

She had to spend some time not doing anything, reflecting on things, before she realized the tragically lupine-free conditions under which her seaside town suffered.

So when she finally got out of bed, she knew what she had to do.

Beth Kanter posted today about the five steps to building a social media plan:

  1. Listen
  2. Prepare
  3. Engage
  4. Go offline
  5. Measure success

You can read the whole post to see where she’s going with this.

My thoughts about Miss Rumphius started popping up when I read about Beth’s fourth step:

Step 4: Go Offline

This is a really important step. Does anyone know of good posts that elaborate on this point and are written from a nonprofit perspective?

It is a really important step. I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging not long ago, and used the opportunity to reflect on what it is I’m trying to accomplish here, and what value I’m adding to the space by contributing to it.

You can read my reflections on the self-imposed hiatus here.

I wrote about feeling like I was missing out — on fresh thinking, on new developments, on what was going on in people’s lives — and I still feel that way when I miss a few days or when I am in the middle of a particularly intense time at work, as I am now.

So what am I doing to provide new ideas, new ways of thinking about things? Where are my lupines?

If you’re an organization reflecting on your first foray into social media, what would happen if you took this view of things instead?

Instead of focusing on YOUR return on investment, on how many dollars/donors/emails you won at the end of the game, what would your program evaluation look like if you asked yourself what did THEY get out of it?

What bright new thing did you place in the world?

How did your community members, how did any given individual, benefit from your efforts?

This isn’t another nonprofit final report question that reads something like “quantify the number served by this program.”

It’s more a way of asking: what freestanding thing of lasting value did you create?

Look for the lupines. Start by taking a break, and lying down for a while.

and here’s the play at the plate…

I’ve got very little time to spare these days and for the next little while, as we are fast approaching the date of my organization’s major event on Sunday, August 3, at the same time as we are getting ready to launch our new website (about to launch in beta in about ten days – want to beta test it with us?).

Things are only going to get more hectic over the next few weeks, which has made me think more about my online habits, and specifically, what happens to those habits when I am truly pressed for time.

What happens? I spend much more time sending out short bursts of information, via microblogging like twitter, or audio posts on Utterz.

These are technologies that allow me to broadcast on the fly, and let me just keep folks up to date on what’s going on. Useful, very useful, for when times are so busy all I can do is act, not reflect.

It seems to me that blogging is more for reflection, assimilation and synthesis of information, whereas the tools I mentioned just now — often referred to as lifestreaming tools — are for real-time updates.

If my life were a baseball game, Twitter and Utterz would be the play-by-play announcer, and my blog is where I write the column for the next day’s newspaper.

And Friendfeed? Friendfeed is my wire service.

If you want to watch (and participate in) something really fun and interesting while I am over here going 100 miles an hour, check out the NTEN Be The Media Project (to be renamed soon, we promise). I am participating and contributing to it as I can, but there are bound to be many interesting contributions and discussions over the course of the project (curated by none other than Beth Kanter), so mark it and stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be in the play-by-play booth.