Exploring Germany: Gateway to Europe

Aasee Lake, Munster

Image: Aasee Lake, Munster

Germany was my first choice when I began planning a three-week summer break in June 2014. I have family and friends settled across the east, west and central parts of the country. This would allow me to cover different cities and experience first hand the regional variations in food, fashion, architecture, and way of life. I must say, I had the time of my life in Deutschland and look forward to visiting other parts of the country in the future!

There is a wealth of natural beauty, including forests, greenery, valleys, gardens and parks; cultural spots on the lines of grand museums and contemporary art galleries, opera houses, historical towns and squares, castles; urban spaces such as airfields, pubs, street music and art, artist enclaves, start-up studios, and a whole lot of food, entertainment, shopping and commercial avenues to explore in Germany.

Some technicalities: Germany is the seventh largest country by area in Europe and the 62nd largest in the world. The longest distance from north to south is 876 kilometers; from east to west, the longest distance is 640 kilometers. However, I come from the sub-continent of India where the longest distance from north to south is 3,214 kilometers, so Germany is actually a “small” country, comparatively, to navigate. If you wanted, you could go from north to south within half a day by train!

Germany Map

Image: Map with pointers highlighting the places I visited.

My journey across Germany took me to Frankfurt, Schwangau, Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Berlin, Potsdam, and Munster. I would say Frankfurt and Berlin can be covered in 3 days each, where as the other smaller cities and university towns need only a full day of exploration. Of course, if you are a leisure traveler like me, you would invest a good five weeks for an immersive cultural experience and explore not just the main hubs, but the countryside and quaint towns as well.

Since I stayed with family and friends, I got to enjoy typical, everyday and non-touristy activities that helped me get a sense of what makes the locals tick, observe what they are passionate about and understand their daily rhythm. I enjoyed grocery shopping, visiting the local school and university, spending time at the park, enjoyed a post-sunset barbecue. A lot of my discoveries came by just walking around streets and not having a fixed itinerary to follow or a place to cover.

Frankfurt business district

Image: Frankfurt’s business district. The skyline is impressive, whether you view it up close, from the vantage of a cruise or from the roof top.

Helaba Tower, Frankfurt

Image: Main Tower is a 56-storey, 200 m (656 ft) skyscraper in the Innenstadt district of Frankfurt, Germany. It is named after the nearby Main river. The building is 240 m (787 ft) when its antenna spire is included.

Museum of Modern Art and Culture, Munster

Image: LWL Museum of Art and Culture in Munster presents over a thousand years of art history, from the Middle Ages to modern times.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau

Image: Neuschwanstein Castle is a nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner.

Potsdam Biosphere

Image: Potsdam Biosphere is a jewel on the city’s urban crown. It’s a magical, albeit artificial, nature preserve in the university town and features diverse flora and fauna. The butterfly gallery is a delight!

Tea house, Berlin

Image: The Recipe for a Good Connection | Tea House / Shop in Berlin

Sansoucci Palace Interior, Potsdam

Image: The Sanssouci Palace is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin.


Image: A stolperstein from German, “stumbling block” is a monument created by Gunter Demnig, which commemorates a victim of the Holocaust. Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized memorials for an individual victim of Nazism.

Shoe plant

Image: Somewhere in Berlin, on the rooftop of a popular mall, lie scores of shoes with plants and buds thriving within.

Hoscht, Frankfurt

Image: Traditional German architecture. This is Höchst, a suburb in Frankfurt.

Graffiti on trains

Image: Graffiti on Deutschbahn, the local and regional trains in Germany.

Berlin Wall

Image: The eponymous Berlin Wall

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Image: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Tree on the Grounds of Heidelberg Castle

Image: A mothball-ish tree at Heidelberg Castle. This is a famous ruin in Germany and landmark of Heidelberg. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Read a detailed post on Heidelberg here.

Kornerpark Berlin

Image: Körnerpark at Neukölln, Berlin. This was a mesmerizing and abundant park, replete with trees, fountains, a cafe, benches, and a walking track. A must-visit place in Berlin.

lace shop in Rothenburg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a picturesque town in the district of Ansbach of Mittelfranken, the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. It is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

Glass pen seller at Potsdam's Russian Quarters market

Image: Got a pair of glass-blown pens from this gentleman who had a stall at the Russian Quarters market in Potsdam. Spent a whole lot of Euros and a pleasant afternoon shopping at the street.

Wishing Locks + Love Locks on the Main River Bridge, Frankfurt

Image: Eiserner Steg or The Iron Footbridge in Frankfurt. It’s also referred to as the Love Bridge as thousands of couples declare their love for each other by fastening a lock to the fences. I am particularly fond of the golden-colored lock in the shape of a heart!

Note on CouchSurfing
I am a late entrant to the CouchSurfing community and it’s been such a pleasant wake-up call! I had a very positive experience with two of my hosts; they were friendly, caring, went out of their way to show me around the city, and made me feel comfortable in their homes. In return, I couldn’t offer anything more than my gratitude, conversations, firsthand knowledge sharing about my country enthusiasm, and a special gift!

CouchSurfing can be an enriching experience if approached with the right intentions. Yes, having a place to crash in a foreign country is a godsend and not having to pay for it in cash is like finding the Holy Grail of Travel. However, please remember, the hosts take time, effort and money to welcome you into their homes. The least you can do is offer to do one or more of the following: cook, clean up after yourself, do the dishes or help with some chores, pay for meals taken in a restaurant, provide useful references and tips on countries you have visited and they haven’t, and lastly, leave the place and people better than when you came in.

Dear Readers and Fellow Travelers, if you would like to share notes or just ask for suggestions and tips on traveling to Germany, please feel free to email me or ping me on Twitter @culture_curate. Your comments make my day!

Day Trip to Malshej, Maharashtra

It’s a trait shared by the most avid travelers: we explore all corners of the world, but somehow end up neglecting our own cities or local places of interest. I have lived in Mumbai for 30 years and haven’t really seen much of the coastal belt or smaller cities of Maharashtra. Last week, I joined a bunch of travelers to check out a place called Malshej.

Day trip to Malshej Ghats

Malshej is a mountain pass in the Western Ghats range of Maharashtra, roughly 150 km from Mumbai. It’s famous for its waterfalls, the Shivneri Fort, a lake, and beautiful scenery.

Scenic views on the way to Malshej

The perfect time to visit Malshej is during the monsoon season; the waterfalls overflow and the entire journey is breezy and pleasant!

View from the top of the valley

Malshej can be covered in a day trip and is best explored by car or mini-bus. Take along plenty of drinking water, lunch, snacks, and other picnic paraphernalia. There are spots to just sit and enjoy the view, for instance, at the Shivneri Fort.

Shivneri Fort

When it pours cats and dogs during the monsoon season, the 15-odd sprinkler-to 50-feet-high waterfalls are a sight to behold. It’s exhilarating to stand under the waterfalls, with the water pounding your back, head and shoulders.

waterfalls at malshej   under the waterfalls waterfalls at malshej

What are some of the places in Maharashtra that you have visited or would like to see? Share your suggestions and travel moments in the comments below. Follow me on Twitter @culture_curate.

Eid Special Photo Walk: Ramzan Treat in Mumbai

Mawa Jalebi seller

Kebab stall at Mohammed Ali Road

I have lived in Mumbai for a little over a quarter century and consider it one of the most lively, diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. Every month is marked by the celebration of a festival and this month was no different, with Muslims practicing a month of fasting from the end of June to the end of July. The end of the fasting is marked by the festival of Eid, which involves offering prayers at the mosque, visiting family and friends, serving sheer korma and other Muslim feasts, including meat or chicken biryani, gulab jamuns, and other desserts.

What the rest of us get to enjoy is the Ramzan-time snacks, sweets and meals cooked in the homes of Muslim neighbors and friends, the restaurants and most anticipated of all: the food vendors and pop-up stalls lining the eat streets of Mumbai. This week, I went on a foodie photo tour of Mohammed Ali Road located at Masjid Bunder, South Mumbai. Some of these delicacies are prepared only during Ramzan and a true-blue Mumbaikar would never miss the opportunity to visit the Ramzan food stalls spread across the city. The bylanes of Mohammed Ali Road are the most popular for the variety of food on display. Rightly the place is commonly referred to as ‘khau galli’ – eat street!

Black Currant Malai (milk cream sweet)

You have to be at Mohammed Ali Road to experience the chaos that it is, particularly during Ramzan. It’s a slice of life comprising color, sounds, smells and aromas, body heat, cloth textures and architectural surfaces, old buildings and new highrises, potholed roads and treacherous cable wires, and the chant of “come here, buy this, see what we have” on loop, every hawker’s sales pitch drowning out the next. I was away from Mumbai the last couple of years and the sudden onslaught of horns, sirens and people-talk was a sensory overload. But it soon faded into a white noise and I began taking it in, realizing that this is what makes the city so vibrant! It’s madness yes, but it’s a madness that is comfortable and familiar.

The food stalls pop-up only during Ramzan, but the place itself is a traditional market and features everything from cloth material to ready made garments, shoes, bags, perfumes, accessories, to crockery and plasticware. It’s a bargain hunter’s paradise and you will see people of all communities, as well as travelers, tourists and photographers thronging the place to get a feel of a typical bazaar.

Bangle seller

We all live with certain culturally-imposed food habits and taboos, apart from that, we have our own inclinations towards certain cuisines and a total rejection of others. Soon after my graduation, I had turned vegan and had given up eating milk and dairy-based products, chicken, sea-food or meat preparations. It was an overnight snap decision, prompted by a cursory reading of Maneka Gandhi’s book on animal cruelty, and I couldn’t imagine consuming anything that remotely involved “harming” another species for my well-being.

Well, my tryst with veganism ended 6 years ago and I now consider an omnivore! It’s a term which describes someone (a species, in general) that can survive on different diets, including vegetable and animal-based food groups, and isn’t restricted to only one diet for survival. Omnivores are perfect foodies – we enjoy local, regional and international cuisines, are not fussy about the type of animal or plant we get to eat (including the various parts, from the tongue or tail, to the roots of a plant – I see some of my readers wrinkling their nose in distaste). Every meal served is an opportunity to taste, experiment and appreciate diversity in culture.

bara handi - meat gravy made from 12 spices

Read: Origins of the Bara Handi shop on Mohammed Ali Road.

As a kid, my parents and I would travel 22 kms by train from the northern suburbs of the city to Masjid Bunder and shop for chinaware, baking items and cloth material. The place has not changed much in the last 30 years! With my food taboos placed neatly aside, I knew I was in for a treat at khau galli during my maiden Ramzan time visit. As soon as my companions and I entered the street, the aromas of charred meat, spices, ghee and fresh fruits welcomed us. It was intoxicating. We took it all in – the coal-flavored smoke, the sweet apple cider burnt wood, the saccharine sweet smell of sugar-dipped, deep fried dough balls (gulab jamuns), the sticky texture of the dates mixed with the scent of incense sticks placed over them, and the stench of raw meat and marinated poultry waiting to be grilled or deep fried.

The sweets and desserts far outnumber the main course and snacks at the Mohammed Ali Road stalls. Some of the sweets include malpua, gulab jamun, jalebi, mawa jalebi, rabri, phirni, motichur laddoos, halwas, barfis, and in the cool drinks section, you could find milkshakes of seasonal fruits, and fruit juices, apart from exotic stuff like dry fruits milkshake and the ever popular Falooda. Instead of relegating desserts to the last, we alternated between having spicy snacks, grilled meat and sweets one after the other so that we wouldn’t be left with a lingering aftertaste of either the masalas or face the aftermath of a sugar high. This strategy really works if you have a lot of food to consume within a short span of time.

Recipe for Malpua (video).

Suleiman Usman Bakery

What did I try at the Ramzan food stalls? How about cow tongue soup, goat brain gravy, roasted quail bird, and goat leg soup. These dishes were completely new for me. While you do get almost all of them at local Muslim restaurants, it was a delight to try these in the company of other first-timers. The sense of queasiness that we experienced before trying something out of our ordinary diet vanished when the juices and spices of the meats hit our tongue (no pun intended!). Among sweets, I loved the black currant malai (condensed milk) and the intensely sugary, hot and crispy mawa jalebi (a fun variation on the doughy soft gulab jamun). View: Recipe for Mawa Jalebi.

At the end of two days, we ended our food sojourn by downing Falooda at one of the city’s most famous restaurant, Badshah Juice Center (estd. 1905), in Crawford Market. A lot of the experience of enjoying food at the Ramzan stalls stems from being part of a group or crowd who are there to have a good time exclusively through food. Everyone is sweating buckets. There is not much space to walk or navigate from one stall to the next – it’s intense body crush. It can get claustrophobic! Yet, we are compelled to brave the crowd (and smelly bodies), the intermittent monsoon drizzle, the slushy roads, and the smell of raw meat for the sake of enjoying a lip smacking meal that is exclusively relegated to experiencing during Ramzan. Try: Recipe for Falooda.

Minara Masjid

The hallmark of Mohammed Ali Road are not its food stalls though. There are several mosques lining the intersections, each belonging to the various Muslim sects living in the locality (Shia, Khoja, Bori). The Minara Masjid is the most famous of these, with its colored stone work, painted wooden windows, stained glass, and facades decorated with fairy lights. These spaces are marked by a magical contemplative silence, with the men offering prayers and later breaking the fast with humility and containment: there’s no frenzy, no noise or talking, no rush to eat. It is time slowed down to the act of recognizing that you have triumphed over your hunger with only your will power aiding you.

The rest of us revelers are there for the purely sensual gastronomic experience of eating wholesome food. That’s the hallmark of foodie faith: appreciating a well-cooked meal for the joy it brings us.

Eid Mubarak! Happy Feasting! Let me know your favorite festival treats in your comments below!

Heartfelt thank you to Mayank Soni of Caribou Drift who organized the photowalk. Check out their Facebook page.

Have Feet, Will Travel

The Traveler's Feet

Traveling is a way of life, as many travelers would tell you. It’s not just about choosing a destination, booking the flight / train tickets and planning touristy things to do before you begin. One of the best ways to enjoy a new place is to embrace it in leisure: it’s what I call slow travel. 


Why I love to travel:
I get to be part of the local culture, explore public spaces, try to understand the customs and traditions that people believe in and follow, be neutral to rituals or experiences that I might not understand, and get a peek into lifestyles that are completely different than mine.

I take in the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the places I am visiting. It’s a way of experiencing intense sensual stimuli and treating yourself to beauty, wonder and the extraordinary, which you are bound to miss when you study, work and commute within your city everyday. Dedicated travel time allows you to get out of an uninspiring routine and charges you up!


Travel also involves dealing with the everyday, the mundane and tiring aspects of getting from place A to B. I simply catch up with my reading and music “lists” and curate my photos, check emails, read a book, and talk to people at airports, bus stands or railway stations. Slow travel by default doesn’t involve the concept of “time waste” or “boredom” or “nothing to do”.  

Shadow Puppets, Kerala

What makes traveling a meaningful experience are the people you meet. If you listen with all your being, everyone’s life experiences in inspirational. Each of us has overcome odds, we struggle to reach our goals, we have problems getting along with family or trouble at work, and we think we are alone. When you travel and meet people and listen to their life experiences, you realize you are not really alone in your struggle. You really aren’t! Everyone is dealing with their share of burdens and yours will appear lighter if you gain some perspective. 

Bhutaradhane Dancer, Udupi

For me, traveling is an immersive cultural experience and a means to shape and re-shape my worldviews and perspectives. I am not the same person I was a month ago. Traveling to a new place has changed something within me, altered some of my beliefs and expanded my values. Traveling gave me a chance to step out of my limited self and be part of a wider circle.   

Sunset at Kamshet

Traveling is a way of life. 

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” ― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt.  

Traveler's Feet

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.