Weekly Reads: February 11-16, 2014

1. An Extreme Take on Restructuring: No Jobs Titles, No Managers, No Politics.

Zappos is the latest company to switch to a holacracy, but will the concept work with some 3,000 employees?

Author: Sally Helgesen / Strategy + Business

“What gets lost in such efforts, as Andrew Hill suggested in his thoughtful column for the Financial Times, is the actual impact of such efforts on people who are expected to suddenly alter every aspect of how they work. As Hill notes, the result of such grand announcements about transformation is usually a state of confusion.”

Read the article: http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/An-Extreme-Take-on-Restructuring-No-Job-Titles?gko=9b214

2.Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes.

It’s time to rethink our nightmares about surveillance

Author: Zeynep Tufekci / Matter

The Internet’s ability to break down “pluralistic ignorance” – the erroneous notion that your beliefs place you in a minority, when in fact most people feel similarly – is perhaps its greatest contribution to social movements. Facebook likes are often ridiculed as meaningless, but they can make a person realize that their social network feels the same as they do – and that’s a socially and politically powerful thing.

Read the article: https://medium.com/matter/76d9913c6011

3. The Most Magnificent Muslims

Author: William Dalrymple / The New York Review of Books

The religious wounds Aurangzeb opened in India have never entirely healed; at the time they literally tore the country in two. Unable to trust anyone, Aurangzeb marched to and fro across the empire, viciously putting down the successive rebellions of his Hindu subjects. On his death in 17-7, the empire fragmented. Built on tolerance, mutual respect, and an alliance with the Hindus, especially with the warrior Rajputs, who formed the core of the Mughal war machine, the breakdown of that alliance and the Mughal retreat into bigotry, shattered their state and lost them the backbone of their army.

Read the article: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/nov/22/the-most-magnificent-muslims/

4. Searching for Black Girls in the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Author: Monique W. Morris / National Council on Crime and Delinquency Blog

In the recent report, Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls, I discuss how Black girls are disproportionately affected by punitive, zero-tolerance policies that push marginalized children out of school and toward an increased likelihood of dropout, unemployment, and incarceration.

Read the article: http://www.nccdglobal.org/blog/searching-for-black-girls-in-the-school-to-prison-pipeline

5. Another Way of Thinking

There is no substitute for that moment when a book places into our mind thoughts we recognise as our own. For those who carry a pencil, this is the thing we underline. The identification is instant and intimate. If the sentence is long enough, the sensation can even overtake us while we are still in the process of reading the thought that summoned it. These notions spring from a mind similar to ours, except this mind has read books that we have not, has known experiences we lack, has relentlessly stripped away its banalities until this apt remark remains.

Author: Scott Esposito / The White Review

Read the article: http://www.thewhitereview.org/features/another-way-of-thinking/

Social Media Demography: Guide for Non-Profits

Image courtesy Mr. Poock's World History

Plotting a Conceptual Map

You draft your organization’s overall social media strategy by plotting a conceptual map. This is something I have explored in a previous post on ‘outreach for non-profits.’

Let me expand on that conceptual map here. A social media campaign wouldn’t feature only the target demography, but would also take into account the target channels, the technology platforms we will use or have at our disposal, the investments we need to make to expand access to new platforms and new demography, the resources at our disposable in terms of people, number of hours and timelines. Plotting your social media campaign as a conceptual map will allow all stakeholders involved in executing the campaign to share their ideas and be on the same page. No confusion, no assumptions, but with a healthy latitude towards flexibility and creativity.

Your conceptual map should take into account current affairs, upcoming events, cultural activities or even the general elections to allow you to have well-designed messages ready to be released at the appropriate time. “The expectations of social brands everywhere have been magnified tenfold to react and capitalize on real-time events,” says Alan Cassinelli, Postano.com.

A Cautionary Tale

Our corporate counterparts are also famously known to put their foot – literally – in their mouths, or in the case of American clothing designer Kenneth Cole, his company’s shoes. Check out the tweet pic below:

Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet

In February 2011, during mass political protest in Egypt, the @KennethCole account tweeted: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” For a clothing and fashion company to have appropriated a highly sensitive, political and tragic event (Violent clashes between security forces and protesters resulted in at least 846 people killed and 100,000 injured - Wikipedia) is the best case study of a social media campaign gone horribly wrong.

The designer didn’t have a good understanding of his demography and therefore couldn’t predict how they would react to his insensitive tweet. He also didn’t understand the political nature of the situation and his ‘deadpan’ humor was squashed.

Best Case Study: President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory tweet

Barack Obama 2008 victory tweet

Obama’s social campaigning team has built a strong resonance via Twitter and Facebook. The president’s Twitter account features personal messages, funny and emotional videos of the president meeting his constituents, the messages are social, relatable and warm. The team has a thorough grip on the kind of demography following the president. “If Barack Obama’s social media team has taught us anything, it’s that images speak louder than words, with his most popular tweet (and the most retweeted tweet on the entire social network in 2012) consisting of a photo of him and Michelle Obama,” writes Jane Susskind in IVN.us, adding, “Twitter has become a hub for voters to see real-time reactions, candid responses, and instantly check facts and statistics referenced in debates and speeches. It demands transparency from the candidates, knowing that their arguments can be verified in the blink of an eye.”

If done right, your conceptual map would be a ready reckoner of your audience demography: their age group, what they like about your brand and the social media channels they follow. In the case of a non-profit, the conceptual map should clearly show the purpose and mission of your organization and the audience specifically associated with that mission. The map will move outwards to include the number of followers across each channels, a year-on-year growth ratio for social media platforms, and an annual review of the top 5 most shared content from your website and social media platforms.

Tip: If you have a brand ambassador or a celebrity supporting your cause, mark them on the conceptual map and plot how their followers interact with your non-profit’s messages.

It’s possible and manageable to keep track of the elements of this map if you begin this in the early stages of launching your social media channels. Once the ball is set in motion, you have to periodically revisit the map, update the relevant sections, add the new channels you have developed your content on, and plot upcoming activities that tie up with your cause.

This is the first in a series of posts that will focus on the various stages in the life-cycle of a social media campaign strategy. Next week: Social Media Representation.

What are the elements you plot on your non-profit’s social media conceptual map? Would love to hear your ideas!

Content in 2020: Could We Future Proof Digital Content Strategies?

Can content strategists study the current screen trends and predict how the form and delivery of content will evolve?

Some of my recent posts provide tips and best practices to non-profits on how best to leverage their web presence through social media, online outreach and management strategies. These best practices guides are a snapshot of the current strategies that content managers deploy, across the Global North and South.

What my guides haven’t yet focused on is how do content strategists, digital marketers and web editors ‘future proof’ their web content strategy? What will be the everyday tricks that the digital communications professional of 2020 will employ to reach out to her audience and get them to sign-up and signed in? Be it the late 1990s or 2020, the goal remains singular: reach your target audience. The incidental outcome: a loyal demography. Loyalty still reigns and will continue to be seen as the number one benchmark to measure and evaluate the worth of a company, product or service.

Content Strategy in 2020

History shows us that some of the most popular social networking sites and communications channels that were in vogue 10 years ago have sunk out of plain sight. How do we ensure that content strategy stays current in 2020?

This is an important question and one that is being raised by content creators and strategists with the advent of wearable computing and technology.

By 2020, however, all of us will be grappling with a totally unique form of medium: wearable devices. Wearable technology is making quantum leaps and in another half-decade Google Glass, Apple smartwatches, digital finger rings will be the norm rather than the hip + geeky gadgets they are now being marketed as. These are the kind of platforms that users across the age demography will have strapped on to their eyes, wrists, arms, ankles, and other body parts. Information, news, messages, photos, and videos will be consumed – not talking about creating or editing, only consumption and dissemination – on tiny screens.

Here are a few expected outcomes:

1: Content will be live streamed, 24×7, and will resemble the figures of a stock market digital bulletin board. Keyword: ephemeral

2: Content would continue to be device dependent.  Keyword: RSS still rules.

3.  Content would need to be immersive, with elements of augmented reality embedded into every text, image and video, depending on the device. Keyword: interactive

4. Content structure would be atypical. Information won’t resemble a structured layout on a formatted white space. Keywords: Responsive (not web) content interface design. To expand on this,  content could be voice-dynamic or video enhanced depending on the device. On a small smartwatch screen, would you rather watch a video or just receive alerts? But on Google Glass with in-built screens, you could watch videos or read a report.  Keywords: customizable content

5. Content would need to be easily shareable. Right now, it’s too clunky and Neanderthalish for me to view a blog and go through the 10 drop down options to share a post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Keywords: Interface has to be intuitive.

ephemeral  interactive  RSS rules  intuitive

End Note

Can we really future proof content strategy? Short answer: Perhaps. The Truth: not really.

Long answer: I would say, content strategy would be forced to move the Snapchat way in the next 5 years, as we understand and embrace the ephemeral nature of web-enabled digital content. Data will be live streamed 24×7 in the majority of the world. We would have faster browsing speeds and easy of access across the devices. All this would influence the kind of content that is produced and how it’s shared. Bottomline is this: if you are in the business of producing content for profit, you will have a tough time trying to segment your audience base and creating customized content for them. So, content itself will have to be pared down, simplified and made relevant to the device it’s going to be consumed on.

There was a time when content was produced, directed, disseminated and marketed by specialists. Right now content is user created, edited, marketed, and consumed. Perhaps, by 2020 and later, content would be auto-generated, auto-edited and auto-disseminated. Content Crowdsourcing might become normative. Who knows, our very jobs might be non-existent in a couple of decades.

I would love to hear from my readers and content strategists on this topic. Do you have any future-proof techniques on how content strategy should evolve? – Nilofar Ansher

Related Articles:

IBM Reveals Radical Email Interface That is Touch-Enabled; Slated for Release This Year – read the news.

Agency Shuns Traditional  Job Applications in Favor of Snapchat Resumes – read the news.

Generation C: A Group That Deeply Cares About Creation, Curation, Connection, and Community – read the post.

Social Media Management Tips for Non-Profit Managers

image courtesy www.nurseswithheart.com

You would have noticed by now that the ‘best practices for beginners’ series focuses on everyday, low-cost and customizable strategies that your non-profit can implement in order to get the best returns on investment, engagement and interaction.

I have received several comments and feedback from my readers, highlighting how effective they found the last two posts on Social Media Strategy for Non-Profit and Digital Outreach for Non-Profits, as they highlighted specific goals and marketing tips that any social media novice could apply to their careers at the non-profit sector.

In today’s post, let’s look at the best practices that a social media manager needs to keep in mind as we embark on implementing the outreach programs and marketing plans for non-profits.

1. Relationship History

Image courtesy www.notsalmon.com

In my previous post on digital outreach, the number one best practice I highlighted was to ‘Map Your Audience,’ basically, you need to have in-depth knowledge of your demographic before you begin to draw up a detailed plan to market to them. As a web producer at a United Nations advocacy initiative, I maintain these records on an Excel sheet and ensure that this data is updated every 3-6 months (I know, it is tough, but it’s a best practice, so it has to be done!).

Here’s something really cool that you could add to that Excel sheet: maintain a column that highlights the history of relationship between that professional / donor / institution and your organization. The details would answer questions such as:
1. Number of years of association
2. Did the person / institution participate in events you organized or vice-versa
3. Have they contributed to your website through content, case studies or testimonials
4. Have you partnered with them for fundraising, industry workshops or trips
5. Point of contact

This particular bit of information is often not highlighted in social media outreach plans. When you have a ready reference on how your organization has worked with a particular constituent, you will be able to:
a. Reach out to them with specific material, at the right time and reach out to the right person.
b. Impress them with your insights on how your organization and theirs have worked together in the past.

2. Content Calendar

Image courtesy www.ymarketingmatters.com

I will be honest enough to admit that when I started off as a social media consultant for non-profits and academia, I never thought about maintaining a content calendar. I could have had a much easier time managing my social media commitments if I had the foresight to commit to a calendar that featured all the content I was planning to release every day.

A visual map of your social media editorial does three things:
1. Gives you breathing space: If you have a sizeable portion of your content ready for launch a couple of days in advance, it acts as an armor. Preparation is half the battle won.
2. Gives you a quick visual representation of the kind of content you are promoting
3. Provides you insight on the possible posts you could promote in the future

The content calendar varies depending on the type of non-profit you work for and whether you are handling marketing, social media or digital communications via email and newsletter. But the gist of this Excel template would remain the same.
a. What’s the content?
b. Who is the audience?
c. Where are these posts going to show up?
d. What is the publishing time frame (start and end schedule and if there are repeats)

3. Social Media Analytics Dashboard

Image courtesy www.ministrybestpractices.com

A social media manager’s primary goal is to highlight the successes of their social media campaigns. A social media analytics dashboard is a comprehensive datasheet detailing the various channels you have used to deploy specific marketing plans, across a scheduled timeline, and the depth of engagement for each campaign. I agree it’s complex and time consuming, requiring you to keep track of not just the superficial details (number of likes or followers for instance) but other meta-narratives such as:

a. Comments on specific posts and images (Facebook, LinkedIn)
b. How many impressions and clicks (LinkedIn, Facebook)
c. Mapping the constituency and dimension of engagers (who, where, age group, frequency)
d. Did the clicks lead to conversions on the website?
e. Response to paid advertising
f. Top keywords used to discover the campaign (search)

Unless you have hard data proving how effecting your digital marketing campaigns are in attracting visitors and getting conversions to a campaign, it’s not fair on your non-profit organization to justify your monthly fee as a hire and or plan incremental budgets for future social media campaigns. Maintaining a social media analytics dashboard also makes you accountable: you are training yourself to be disciplined (and honest) with the time and money you are allocated to handle a project.

4. Handy Tools and Techniques

Image courtesy www.blogging4jobs.com

My work is doubly challenging as I have to handle website updates along with community outreach, social media engagement, and relationship building (press, institutional outreach, marketing, etc.). What do I do to cut down on the stress and maximize the available time? I have a “toolbox” of techniques, shortcuts and spreadsheets I make use of to handle my day-to-day tasks.

Top of the list is TweetDeck, especially if you are handling multiple accounts for your non-profit organization and working across time zones. I can see you rolling your eyes and waiting to crib about the bugs on this Twitter management tool. Imagine if you have to log in to four Twitter accounts on four browsers everyday to keep track of the interactions and comments? Not to mention, tweeting throughout the day to take into account Asian and Atlantic times and catering to varied audiences! That’s what I do and it was a nightmare earlier. Scheduling tweets and having ready reckoner columns of all your accounts visible on one window is a great way to manage not just time, but information as well. And what do you know, cross-posting news from one account to another is as easy as a click.

Google Analytics custom dashboard. Another eye roll, I see that one coming. Once again, I understand what a pain point GA is and I know many social media managers relegate analytics to an end of the month activity. If you are a beginner in using Analytics, simply create a custom dashboard that has all your most needed dimensions and metrics visible on one window: number of visitors, pageviews, most viewed pages, keywords (although this has become sort of redundant now), country demography, social media engagement, and mobile analytics.

Sentiment analysis. Soon after an event, live tweeting session or a major promotion, I use one of the web’s free sentiment analysis tools to find out how positive, neutral or negative our audience has been towards the campaign. The science isn’t perfect yet, but I do give it credit for displaying results in real time. What’s more, when I send out a brief sentiment analysis report to the stakeholders engaged in the campaign, including the boss, they find it easy to circulate it internally and have a ready reckoner of their biggest supporters.

Delegate. You simply cannot be on top of all channels! This is especially relevant to managing Facebook and LinkedIn groups for your non-profit account. After the initial months of monitoring and moderating, pick out the dedicated users and promote them to group moderators and managers. You save time by not having to check for spam every day. A weekly quality check from you is more than enough to maintain quality control.

5. Update Your Skills

Image courtesy www.thechangeblog.com

How will you know you are following best practices as a social media manager? Answer: update yourself, consistently and constantly. It’s especially mandatory in a field that sees new tool launches and new network releases every month! This means:

1. Reading as much as you can from the right sources (social media club, social media marketing news, social media weekly)2. Participating in Twitter chats that focus on social media best practices (Social Media Today)
3. Attending Webinars on social media strategies and digital marketing
4. Taking an effort to try out new tools and discarding comfortable old tools that no longer serve the purpose
5. Networking remotely: yes, this is do-able and highly recommended. Tap into LinkedIn groups to connect with other social media professionals. Don’t just be a lurker, actively engage and participate with the group members. Post questions, get your doubts sorted, share best practices you have employed, and,
6. Don’t be afraid to invent your own shortcuts and share it with the world. Best practices are not written on stone and keep evolving with the deployment of new platforms.

I would love to hear from other social media managers. Please share with us your tips and tricks to managing your campaigns!

Outreach for Non-Profits: Best Practices for Beginners

graphic showing two starfish helping each other

Update: This post has an update at the end of the article. Please do check out the questions sent in by readers and my responses to these. Thank you!

As a web producer for a non-profit organization, one of my primary responsibilities is to reach out to our constituency and help them make use of information we produce. I work with an advocacy initiative promoting digital accessibility for persons with disabilities and our demographic includes persons working with non-profits, government departments and ministries, disability rights activists, ICT / accessibility and assistive technology experts, along with CEOs and program managers of Fortune 500 companies – from around the world.

The information that we disseminate to our readers and supporters is a mix of case studies, reports, white papers and publications, country data, telecommunications statistics, and blogs written by experts in the industry. It might sound simple: send the data to all our stakeholders and encourage them to support our cause. In practice, this outreach requires strategic planning.

I define outreach as:

“a custom plan designed and deployed to reach out to all stakeholders of an organization with a view to amplify organizational presence across multiple channels over a sustained period of time leading to measurable change in reputation, reach and impact”

Here’s my list of top 5 best practices for digital outreach for non-profits: 

1. Map Your Audience

Non-profit constituents: conceptual map

Without a keen sense of “who” you are reaching out to, your message is as good as lost. Its akin to sending out radio signals in space, hoping that some alien species will receive the code and communicate with you – across the time, distance and space!

When I began work with my non-profit organization, my first plan of action was to draw up a map of our constituency. This requires a fair of time and discussions with the head of your organization, communications director, PR / marketing and sales team (if you do have these additional resources). Typically, a constituency database is drafted on an Excel worksheet and features names, preferred mode of contact, country, detailed contact information, area of expertise, and social media handle.

  • The list needs updating every 6-8 months. In the digital age, contact information changes at the speed of light.
  • Check for relevance, Are people on your list still operating in the same field and working with the same subject.
  • Cross-link individual stakeholders. Persons who collaborate with your organization can be drafted in to work with you on multiple levels and across several channels.

Beginning with the organization at the center point, a constituency map connects outwards to take into consideration various target audiences: readers, potential website visitors, supporters, donors, collaborators, partners, peer and industry network, experts, corporate sponsors, and media relations.

2. Support Your Supporters

The adage, ‘Don’t just talk, listen,’ is the first commandment of social media marketing and outreach for all stakeholders in digital media. We know that one of the first rules of embarking on a social media strategy for your organization is to not just post news and links about your work, but also taking the effort to listen in to the community who supports you. I am asking you to go a step beyond that: be the cheerleader of your supporters!

It’s not just enough to follow them back on all the social media platforms that they are on. The most that organizations do is Retweet a message or say a generic ‘Thank you to all our new followers’. But that doesn’t lend any measurable credit to your sponsor, expert blogger or donor. It also doesn’t provide any value to the new follower.

In case of collaborators, sponsors and donors, support their work, amplify their voice, highlight the projects that they are investing in. In short, be the wind beneath their wings. This involves taking an active interest in your stakeholder’s work and promoting it in a relevant manner. Supporting your supporters (work) is the most efficient – and easy – way to earn their respect. You can definitely expect their support when you want to promote a specific event, blog or report.

In case of new followers: thank them, of course, but also let them know how their follow or support is helping you push your cause. Also, take the opportunity to highlight a latest report that could be of use to their specific background and ask them if you can help support their work in any way.

3. Design Your Data

All the content of your website and your offline resources are not to be dumped via newsletters to your subscribers! Design your data to suit specific stakeholders. This is especially applicable if you are a non-profit with multiple campaigns on your roster or if you have multiple programs catering to varied demographics. The best way to go about this is to ask all website visitors whether they would like to sign up for updates, and if yes, would they prefer generic news or more specific issues that focus on one of the several programs.

For instance, if you are an organization working on human rights, it would make sense to have categoric, weekly emails on child’s rights abuse, or labor rights abuse, or violence against women issues – and a general one clubbing all the three into one, offering only crucial updates. Not all your supporters and subscribers would be interested or be dealing with the larger topic of  human rights. Since you already have a segmented subscriber list now, you can work on these issue-specific newsletter once a month or as a quarterly.

The weekly email round-up could feature news, events, reports, and special publications that all your subscribers would be interested in. This newsletter would be more organization-centric, that is, focused more on the events or reports your organization organized, news from partner / sister organizations, how your sponsors have supported your endeavors, and mainly, an editorial highlighting important news that week.

Yes, as a non-profit, resources are scarce, budget is tight and there isn’t enough time to personalize data for every group on your list. But think about this as an investment towards a future where you can count on supporters who have chosen to support a particular program; you have already built a relationship with them by catering to their interests. You can be sure to count on their support too!

4. Make Your Experts the Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassador

I learnt this the hard way. I am the only resource handling social media outreach for my non-profit and at one point, I had the unpleasant feeling of being in the head space of an octopus! I believed I had to be everywhere, monitoring all channels and conversations, be on top of the feedback-response loop, and also manage new visitors and digital partnerships. An assistant would have been a welcome addition to our outreach efforts, but I got saved by the next, best thing: brand ambassadors.

A couple of months into my job, I saw that a few of my organization’s seasoned collaborators and contributing experts went out of their way to champion our cause. These are industry pros – experts who have been in the field for decades, who understand the subject, have huge followers, and know how to leverage a platform to highlight information.

When we brought them on board as ‘unofficial’ brand ambassadors, we experienced visible increase in our followers, increased sharing of our information and more vocal support of our organization’s work. In return, we cross-promote the work of our ambassadors and ensure that they play a prominent role in the events we organize. Win-Win deal!

5. Contextual Interventions: Time, Place and People

Context is King

Knowing when to promote what information with the right audience is key to a successful outreach plan. This best practices neatly ties up Point 1 (Map Your Audience), Point 2 (Support Your Supporters), Point 3 (Design Your Data), and Point 4 (Make Your Experts the Brand Ambassadors).

  • WHAT + WITH: Take an effort to know your followers, email subscribers, collaborators, and supporters (donors, sponsors, partners). This best practice is analogous to the one I highlighted in my post on ‘Social Media Strategy for Non-Profits: Best Practices for Beginners: read as much as you can about your industry, so that you know what information to promote. In the same way, knowing as much as you can about your followers, would allow you to tailor your content to what they want. This isn’t a vague and generic best practice, but an absolute must-do for any social media strategist and non-profit who would like to have loyal supporters.
  • WHEN: Maintain an events calendar for your social media outreach efforts. Keep up-to-date on the anniversaries, important days and annual celebratory and festive occasions so that you can promote specific content on the special days. For example, World Health Day, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, World Telecommunications and Information Society Day are some that apply to my organization’s and audience interests.
  • I don’t lend much credence to the practice of tweeting at particular times of the day or posting updates on Facebook on certain days. However, I do make an effort to schedule tweets twice a day, as you cannot predict when your target audience decides to log in and share news. With many NGOs having global constituency and worldwide partners, it doesn’t make sense to stick to a time zone for sharing information, especially if it’s current or live. That is why the weekly newsletter is your BEST FRIEND when it comes to reaching out to all stakeholders.

Do share some of your Outreach for Non-Profits Best Practices in the Comments below. Thank you for reading and spreading the word!

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series: Social Media Strategy for Non-Profits: Advanced Guide, where you can read about event promotion, soliciting feedback from audience and measurement on social media.

Also see: Social Media Strategy for Non-Profits: Best Practices for Beginners

Question from Reader 1: Nilofar, thank you for the valuable summary. Besides mapping your audience, what kind of research do you do at your organization to understand your audience?

My response: As a non-profit, we also conduct periodic surveys of our supporting organizations to understand their expectations from us and our content. This survey includes multiple choice response-based questions based on whether they have attended our events, or downloaded reports or interacted on our website.

Secondly, Google Analytics has helped us tremendously to understand where our audience comes from and how do they engage with specific sections of our online services. We can now tailor specific portions of our website, highlight content and group related material on webpages because we have analytics report giving us insights into audience behavior.

There have been cases where it’s difficult for us to reach out to certain target audiences because they are not on any of the most widely used social communications channel (including email!). For these audience, we have to rely on partner organizations in the region to pass on the word.

Question from Reader 2: Nilofar – very nice piece of work – have you had specific experience with LinkedIn vs Facebook and for non-profits can you advise on pros/cons for each?

Thank you for your comment! Yes, our audience interacts with our services and content on Facebook and LinkedIn differently. Both these platforms have different kinds of readers and different expectations. I have observed that Facebook readers want news-worthy, heroic, sensational, quote-worthy, inspiring feature stories, basically content that is more human-interest oriented so that it is worth sharing among friends and friends-of-friends. Facebook is a space to interact with and keep track of your hobbies, interests and news relevant to sports, celebrities, weather, politics, etc, so case studies, reports, statistics, and other dry content doesn’t garner many views or engagement.

On the other hand, when users log on to LinkedIn, they expect it to reflect a professional, serious, international-news based platform where they can share information with industry peers. Users would like to have content that they can leverage to showcase their interest in current affairs. Therefore, LinkedIn users are more receptive of data-heavy information, advice, presentations, and downloadable content, guides and polls.

Based on your mission and the kind of audience you want to reach out to, I would advise a non-profit to make its presence felt on both the social media platforms. On LinkedIn, you could kickstart a group and post discussions – which you would not (and should not) post on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook (and Pinterest), focus on images / photos, inspiring stories of your organization’s work, team members, testimonials from your community, and other related news about your cause.

Want to Work from Home? Here’s My Advice.

Image courtesy blog.zopim.com

www.graphicdesigndegreehub.com has just published a very useful infographic detailing the pros and cons of being a freelancer in America. You can view the infographic at the bottom of this page. My post focuses on a slightly parallel topic: the ins and outs of working from home, full time.

Image courtesy blog.zopim.com

A couple of my colleagues working in regular desk jobs at offices have often expressed envy at my work-from-home status. It has been close to three years since I got saddled with the “remote worker” tag and they always imagine it to be a flexible haven of work-life balance. After all, what’s there to balance when you are already at home! You send the husband to work, switch on the air conditioner and sink into your favorite Eames chair, courtesy the very same husband who gifted it to you on your birthday! What’s not to like about this cozy scenario?

Well, the decision to quit my full-time job at a market research company and a publishing house following that was not an easy one. While I don’t consider myself a social butterfly, the idea of not having colleagues to interact with or having access to your boss was something that was new to my understanding of how organizations functioned. But in a job market where roles have evolved to encompass all manner of digital communications and social media roles, working from home, or remotely, emerged as the most preferred choice for employers across the world.

I eventually took up assignments as a consultant for three dynamically different companies: a technology magazine, a think tank and an international non-profit, with whom I continue to work with. It has been a learning experience for me, both in terms of the job profile as well as in understanding the characteristics and traits that define me as a professional.

Below, I list some of the challenges I face as a work from home professional. These could be applied to any remote work profile, but also specifically to a consultant who works in the digital communications domain.

1. Time: It really is as simple and as stressful as you take it to be.

Working from home means you set your own 8-hour schedule and decide when to begin, when to take breaks and how many at that. If you are one half of a couple or a parent, you get to prioritize depending upon when your partner or kids get back home.

If I take a 15-minute lunch break, I utilize the other 15 minutes to make a phone call to my family, or browse a couple of YouTube videos and just take it easy. And while I do tend to put in more than 8 hours of work on an average of 4 days in the week, I compensate by re-shuffling my goals for the succeeding days. So, if there’s overtime on a Monday and Tuesday, you balance by taking on a lighter load on Wednesday.

Working from home has a major benefit for those who have to commute for more than 30 minutes to 1 hour to-and-fro work. You avoid the crowd, traffic, pollution, and your stress levels are naturally not that high when you don’t have to deal with aggressive driving everyday.

Bottomline: You get to stretch or truncate your timeline depending on how well you manage the 8 hours you are supposed to be available.

2. Chores: let’s be honest here, when you work from home, chores are an essential freebie

Every two hours, I take a break from the desk and laptop and get small chores done through the house. This could be doing the laundry and folding the clothes, cutting up the veggies for dinner, paying the bills online, or heading down to the grocery shop 2 minutes from my apartment block. But this is strictly time-bound and I ensure I am back in my favorite executive chair (a la Eames) within 20-30 minutes. Why? Because if you take a longer-than-expected break from work, you will end up stretching late into the night, hurrying through several assignments and doing a hack job of a task that could have been completed without any glitches.

Working from home allows me to plan my day’s activities along with ensuring that I put in the mandatory 8 – 8.30 hours of online work. In a positive move, I also get to focus on my health, by exercising at home and cooking meals that are healthy.

Bottomline: I have experienced the downside of not keeping track of my breaks because I spent too much time handling the chores. Family also expects that you handle the chores because you work from home. You have to be assertive about your work boundaries and not let home-life affect the rhythms of your professional time.

3. Interaction, engagement and discussions: Less noise is good, but no noise is criminal

When you work in an office populated with colleagues, consultants, freelancers, and the admin staff, there is so much more than “work” that you engage with. Daily interactions with people from different backgrounds and experiences helps broaden your own perceptions. You learn about how to not just work, but maintain relations with people who have vastly different temperaments, attitudes and mannerisms. It’s the same reason children are expected to attend school and college: we are social creatures who thrive when we engage with other people!

At work, you are also obliged to make presentations, collaborate with team members, attend social events, deal with tight deadlines, or supervise junior colleagues if you are in a senior position. There’s a lot going on, especially if you work for a large company or government organization. All this only adds to your knowledge and skill sets. You never know when you will be called upon to display these learnings at a later job.

Working from home means I miss out on all these crucial interactions. I am isolated most of the day and only interact with colleagues through Skype and email. I do miss having colleagues to share my day with or hear them speak about difficult clients, impossible project deliverables or an exciting new venture that the entire floor is gearing up for. These day-to-day routine conversations are part and parcel of a professional’s working life and I am out of that loop now.

But I would say there’s an upside to working by yourself. With no one around to chit-chat with, I am never distracted or feel like I have to provide a listening ear to the idle chatter of office mates. I can focus on my tasks, put down any queries and doubts on email, and simply switch-off from work at the designated time. I am also, more often than not, blissfully unaware of office gossip and politics, back biting and full-on display of subtle innuendos, sarcasm and aggressiveness.

Bottomline: Interactions at work are healthy and they foster a sense of team spirit and act as a buffer when you are going through a tough day at work. I would advice that in the absence of this, you take an effort to develop strong personal support system. Keep in touch with friends and family members; you will really need a patient listening ear when you want to crib about work!

4. Social Network = Social Networth

At work, it’s not just about interacting with colleagues or brainstorming with your boss before a really big sales pitch. All those external clients you meet, the customers you build relations with even over the email, and the support staff who become an integral part of your office life — all of them are part of your social network.

Your social networth is directly proportional to your social networking quotient. If you are not taking an effort to maintain professional ties, you will not be able to generate new leads, acquire new projects or clients, or build a steady reputation as someone who is influential in her circles. This is the same as expecting a two-year old LinkedIn connection, whom you have never stayed in touch with over email or messaging, to suddenly provide you with an introduction to someone in their circles. It’s just not done like that and neither should you expect building your social networth to be so easy!

Working from home on a long-term basis means that I have had to rely on my digital ties and associations to build my social network. While I wouldn’t strictly classify my social networth in terms of the number of followers on my social media channels, I can confidently sat that I can count on my professional network to come through when I need them the most.

Bottomline: As a social media or digital communications manager, we learn how to maintain professional and social ties across the web. So, it shouldn’t matter whether you are in the physical space of an office or at home, in front of your multiple screens, maintaining relationships is a time-intensive and worthy effort. If you want to build your reputation in the digital communications domain, you will have to apply the same manners and courtesy that you would extend to your “real life” colleagues.

5. Professional Growth: Attend Events, Initiate Meet-Ups

It goes without saying that when you are a full-time employee, you get regular benefits like healthcare, dental, life insurance, provisions for your children’s education (depending on the country you are from), and other long-term and short-term perks. As a work from home consultant, I miss out on every single of these benefits and have to put in my own resources and monies to secure my future.

Besides the monetary and security aspect, working from home also implies that I don’t get first priority when the bosses consider signing up someone from the company to attend workshops, conferences and represent the company at international / regional events. Consider the volcanic nature of social media platforms, Web 2.0 and digital / ICT technologies. New platforms are introduced every quarter and you learn about newer apps that help you deal with information management, community management and engagement management. How do you keep up? Apart from a whole lot of intensive reading, as I mentioned in my last post, you also have to be at the spot where such innovations are unveiled.

Training sessions online help to a certain extent. I attend several webinars in a given months, mostly to do with web and mobile marketing and also to do with content management, inspiration, digital communications and social media ROI. These sessions, however, lack the punch (impact, really) of a live event. The sheer number of people available in a conference room, eager to listen and talk and engage with you more closely about the social media industry, is an experience that simply cannot be replicated online. At least, not yet.

When I consider my work profile and the expectations from my organization that I will do a good job, what is left unspoken is that I will update myself on my own initiative without putting additional financial strain on the company’s resources. If I don’t get to participate in workshops or live events, I do miss out on the deployment and intricacies of next generation technologies.

Bottomline: Professional growth doesn’t happen overnight and neither does it take place in a vacuum. You don’t have to attend 20 conferences through the year in order to gain insights on your field. How about you earmark only 2 major industry events and now you have two choices: save up for it, register and attend at your own expense. What you gain from it will not only be invaluable in terms of the networking and ideas, it will also transform you into a more self-reliant professional. Or second, convince your boss to make a budgetary allowance for two conferences or four webinars in a year, depending on what is most useful to you. Keep your eye on the target and work slowly but steadily to attain professional growth.

6. Temperament: Saved the best for last; do you have it in you to be your own boss?

Working from home is not only about having ICTs at home, so you can get on with your digital communications job! It’s actually about your temperament. Can you work in a setup that requires you to be self-sufficient, self-motivating, being pro-active in finding solutions to recurring problems, and taking the initiative to deliver more than you promised? In short, are you capable of being your own boss?

When I began my work-from-home stint, the first month was really relaxed and enjoyable. I experienced a sense of freedom that I have never been able to experience in a traditional office environment. I would compare it to the first month of college: you realize you are independent, you think you are free to behave as you like and you set your own expectations of how the next couple of months are going to be. Well, it took me a good six months to realign my personal “discovery” with the expectations of a remote worker.

From a temperament point of view, I have certain attributes that make me a perfect “work-from-homer” candidate. I am very particular about project scheduling and delivery, I am meticulous with details, and I can work long hours without feeling stressed out or bored. I love my work and never feel it’s monotonous.  I also don’t require an external source of motivation: I am my own best champion and always cheer myself back to work following a minor slump. Most importantly, for me, I work best when I am given my space, with sporadic interventions from supervisor. So, working from home actually allows me to be in my element.

Bottomline: The cons include not having a well-charted out professional development plan, lack of inspiring face-to-face conversations with mentors, and always having to rely on yourself for everything: solving technical glitches, power cuts, internet not working, it could be anything but you are on your own. That can be frustrating.

At the end of the day, I feel no working arrangements need be permanent. The job market is more flexible than we give it credit for. In a down market economy, batten down the hatches and wait for your turn. When the market opens up, give yourself a good shake and step out!

If you are a work-from-home professional, please share your experiences in adjusting to the new way of working. If you are someone considering this shift, drop in a line! Thank you for reading.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Freelancer

Social Media Strategy for Non-Profits: Best Practices for Beginners

This post is first in the series on ‘Social Media Strategy for Non-Profits,’ and is aimed at beginners to the world of social media. It features simple and practical tips to help you draft a social media plan for your non-profit / NGO. Listen to this quick introduction here. 

social media strategy for non-profits

The last three years, I have been working as web producer for a small United Nations-based advocacy initiative that promotes digital and ICT rights for persons with disabilities. Prior to that, I wore multiple hats, simultaneously working as consultant at two places, a technology magazine and as community manager for a research/think tank organization.

Coming back to my current gig, the term web producer is WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) and pretty much encompasses the entire spectrum of digital communication strategy (ideation, creation, writing to deployment, outreach and measurement). I am a one-woman-army and am solely responsible for my organization’s social media presence.

As a communications person, I do a lot of reading, community outreach, creating a marketing calendar for the next quarter, event promotion, social media management, external relationship management, liaising with media, designing the newsletter, Analytics and other web masterly tasks. It’s a full-time job, requiring that I be fully engaged and in the moment, alert to information streaming in and maintaining clarity in the material that gets displayed on our website.

However, considering the nature of my profile and the rather niche sector of work – Communications + Disability, I have to also be up-to-date on issues pertaining to ICT, disability history, accessibility, regulations and current policies, mobile technology and industry events situated around assistive technology and inclusive ICTs. I don’t have a background in the social sciences and neither did I have professional exposure to practical ICT4D. So, how do I keep up?

Here’s the first tip for social media beginners:

1. Be a Subject Matter Guru of the Cause You Support

I know, it’s a lot to ask. You are faced with an exceeding amount of information everyday, and now you have to keep up with news about your organization’s cause! But think about it: how well can you talk, communicate or sell a product or service about which you do not have more than general information?

Excelling in social media communication strategy is not what makes me good at my job. What I read is directly proportional to how well I communicate the organization’s vision to our audience and constituents. This is key to any social media strategist’s work plan. Not only do I have to disseminate news to the public, but also to other stakeholders from the academic, corporate and government stakeholders. These folks will spot incompetence a mile away and I better know my subject reasonably well, before I begin to tell them about it!

All emails, news updates, blogs and newsletter editorial that I write has to be 100% accurate in factual data and also exhibit a sense of confidence and command. By the time you have crossed two years working with your organization, keeping up with current news about your industry will seem as easy as following the online exploits of your BFF (that’s Best Friend on Facebook)!

This rule is especially applicable in the highly specialized, marketplace ecosystem that we are part of. If you are a social media producer for a healthcare or pharmaceutical company, you better know about the latest healthcare policies applicable to your target geography or age group. The same applies to a social media strategist working for a university or education sector; you must be up-to-date on issues pertaining to educational policies, technology in the classroom, best college guides and annual events calendar for educational fairs.

Tip: Maintain an Excel sheet of relevant links, news and infographic you come across and are in the process of reading. A couple of months later, you can simply skim through these links for a refresher course.

2. Managing Content on the Website

If you are a small non-profit, it’s a given that you are working on a tight budget and do not allocate more than 0.5% of your overall financial resources on maintaining a digital base. If you are a social media producer for your organization, chances are you will be the lone ranger or if you are really lucky, have two or three additional team members dedicated solely to handling digital communications. Your focus area begins with a website.

Maintaining a website and populating it with strong, visually appealing (not always possible, I agree) and up-to-date content is a simple and cost-effective take-off point for your NGO’s social media presence. It’s a digital resource center housing the publications, news, case studies, images, videos, and documents that the NGO would otherwise have in physical formats (brochures, newsletters, flyers, pamphlets).

The first rule of Effective Website Content: Spell out the reason for the website. That’s right, let people know who you are and what your area of work is, either on the Header (top of the webpage), or on the left / right column. All the photos, videos and social media messages popping up on your webpage will be irrelevant if visitors don’t get an immediate hang of what your cause is about.

In later posts, I will delve deeper into Content Best Practices. An organization that is just getting started on social media, a good rule of thumb would be to feature a) visible mission statement, b) contact address (please don’t make your visitors dig deep into menus for this!), c) news, d) reports and case studies of your success, e) dedicated social media share icons that takes visitors to your social media platforms and also allow them to share the web pages they were viewing on your site.

Tip: Ensure you have a dedicated webmaster who is looking into comments, pingbacks and spam on the website.  Do a weekly check for broken hyperlinks. Nothing makes a website visitor cancel the page faster than an outdated page! This also applies to your site’s RSS feed.

See how this ties up with Strategy No. 1? Read, be informed and communicate the right information on your website. This ensures repeat visitors.

3. Choosing the (Right?) Social Media Platform for your Non-Profit

A couple of years ago, I would have left the word ‘right’ in the headline above without using the question mark. The digital space was restricted to a handful of options, with allegiances built around age and country of access. All that has changed. Today, there is overlapping of audience and interests across the social media platforms and every social network has its merits, making it necessary for big and small organizations to sign up and stay signed-in.

The advocacy initiative I work for is a pan-global entity and works with governments from around the world, across the language barriers and is primarily dependent on the web to reach its constituents. Our audience consists of the general public, so we need to be on a popular networking channel such as Facebook and YouTube (websites with sizable users). At the same time, we also need to reach out to corporates and independent professionals from the field of ICT, activism, mobile technology and disability rights campaigning, so we are on Twitter and LinkedIn. The third segment comprises academics, government officials and international institutions, whom we reach out through our website, email marketing and newsletters.

♦ On LinkedIn, apart from using my personal account to share updates about my organization, I also maintain a group on behalf of my NGO, and am part of close to 45 groups that center on the field I am working within. LinkedIn is a great tool to connect with professionals from your field and allied interests. Groups allow you to share specific information with targeted audience and you don’t have to worry about whether your message is reaching the intended audience or not. Feedback is also instant as group members can respond to your posts and share it within their network.

♦ Twitter is a broadcast medium, allowing you to share news, links, images and videos, without being too verbose about it. The platform is an effective tool for keeping up-to-date on news from around the world. I look at it as an interactive RSS feed, where you get to respond to the news supplier instantly, instead of passively consuming information. Twitter also allows you to communicate to a larger audience at one go.

Facebook is a platform that cuts across the age, professional or geographic divide. While earlier it was known as a youth hangout, it has now evolved to become a channel used by businesses, universities, music academies, local retailers, and non-for-profits to interact more closely with their audience. The advantage of Facebook is that visitors to your page will share your news and updates within their social / personal circles, turning the platform into a digital ‘word of mouth’ funnel. Facebook also allows you to place ads, videos, images and notes within your post. It’s the network with the maximum number of users in the world.

Watch out for my individual guides on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Coming Soon!

4. Community Development

You have now set up your website, populated it with content and images, and have begun sharing relevant news on the cause your organization supports. What’s next? Well, you need to now focus on building your community of supporters!

How do you decide whom to follow? Social media channels make it easy through their “search” feature. Use the specific keywords associated with your industry (ICT, digital  inclusion, disability, in my case), and expand your search by searching for well-known experts in the field, celebrities who support your cause, other non-profits and civil society organizations that you are aligned with, your peers and colleagues, as well as international institutions such as the United Nations, Greenpeace, Save the Children (only examples, not indicative) who might be associated with your work.

You can also send out a marketing email to an existing database by letting them know you are on social media and if they would like to follow you or Like your page on Facebook and join your group on LinkedIn. Yes, this is painstaking work again: writing to hundreds of people, requesting them for their support, following-up to see if they have indeed signed-up on your network, followed by a weekly or monthly assessment of your supporters.

Followers on social media give you their time, attention and support because you are the public face of a campaign that they support or wish to stand up for. Followers help amplify your reports, case studies and events because they feel a personal stake in your cause. As a non-profit, we are entirely dependent on the community for outreach: both our vocal and passive supporters help us reach the right stakeholders.

Amidst all the business-y updates, do share a note with your followers, thanking them for their support and asking them for feedback on your campaigns and events.  

♥ See how this ties up with Strategy No 3? Pick the right platform, find relevant audience and share information that is relevant.

5. Social Media Population: Numbers versus Strength

You must have read a dozen other posts elsewhere, giving you tips on “how to build your followers on Twitter” or “how to get more Likes on Facebook,” but honestly, numbers are limited in what they convey or signify. Having a thousand followers on Twitter means squat if none of your audience are listening in, sharing or Retweeting your updates. The same applies to Facebook’s Likes. Having a million followers on Facebook is great if you are trying to win a popularity contest, but the real deal is in those million Likes translating to people who are ready to share your message within their networks, thus helping your organization to amplify its message.

It took me three years to build an effective, consistent and strong social media presence for my organization, across multiple platforms, and I had to do it single-handedly! Developing a relationship with your social media audience is painstaking (but fun!) work, and requires a project-like approach:  complete with timelines (but not deadlines), goals (focus on what messages were shared instead of how many were shared), assessment (is the news we share relevant and useful), and evaluation (what do we need to do differently).

If you ask for a ballpark figure, there really isn’t a magical number of followers that you have to acquire. For a niche cause, like say, Save the Amazon Dragonfly, you will only find a few hundred supporters, and these folks might not always be on social media, waiting to spread the message. It all depends on how well you make your cause relevant to the widest audience possible and help them see the impact of their support. It’s slow work, so do not expect turnovers in less than a year.

There will come a point in your social media deployment, when you have a good number of followers, who are steady and loyal. These are the audiences who will share your passion for your cause. They will help you spread the message, compliment you on a job well done and cheer with you when your organization has crossed a milestone. It is for the continued support of these folks that a social media producer needs to strive for. The rest shall follow.

See how this ties up with Strategy No 4? Keeping in touch with the relevant audience will help you build an information-rich calendar that you can refer to through the year.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series: Social Media Strategy for Not-for-Profits: Advanced Guide, where you can read about relationship building, marketing strategy, event promotion, feedback, and measurement on social media.