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Nonprofit Websites: Five Ways to Keep it Alive

A website is the most important part of your nonprofit’s presence online, followed by email and social media. It is the online transactional hub where people can learn about your work in a deep way, make donations, sign up for your email list, review volunteer opportunities and much more. Without an interactive, up-to-date website, you don’t exist to millions of potential supporters.

I’ve been helping nonprofits create and improve websites for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of exciting changes in what is possible as well as a lot of cautionary examples of websites withering from neglect. Here are five elements, features and functions that are essential keep your website alive, kicking and contributing to your success.

A Place for Stories

While SAY teens Food Bankfacts and figures are part of the work of many nonprofits, it is stories that stick with people, engage them and motivate them to volunteer, donate or help in other ways. Fresh content is what keeps a website alive. Ensure that your organization can generate stories and has a place to put them on the website. Think about the people you help – not just direct clients but others in the community that are affected by your work. Tell stories of your donors, your volunteers, your board members your staff. Bring your organization to life by telling stories of the many kinds of people your work touches so that visitors see other people they can relate to who are supporting your efforts. Encourage everyone connected to your nonprofit to help by sharing their story – It can be as simple as the answers to two questions – why they love your organization, why they spend their valuable time or money to support your work. Three or four paragraphs that tell the story succinctly and that includes at least one image (preferably more) is great content that helps keep your website alive.

Calls to Action

MegaphoneThe way your website is set up and the stories you tell should be aligned with your desired calls to action. Make it easy for a visitor to take actions on your website. People come to websites to learn and then to act. Each story should connect to an action. After I read a story about how great it is to volunteer with you or the important impact you make with my donation, encourage me to volunteer or donate and make it easy for me to take those steps. Stay away from calls to action like “email us” or “call us”. Let me make a donation easily and immediately. Send me to a page that lists your current volunteer opportunities, where I can fill out a form to say how I’d like to help and what experience I have in that area. Ensure that content and calls to action are easy to find – have your donate now, email signup and search functions in the same place on every pay elf your website.

Measurable Objectives

measureprawnpieHaving a website without clear objectives wastes time and effort. Just having something, anything online is not better than nothing. Every nonprofit has a mission and almost all have a strategic plan for how they will move towards meeting that mission. Based on your strategic goals, have communication goals and objectives that support your organizational goals. This helps you make much better use of the time you spend not only on the website, but on email and social media as well. Create measurable objectives for each part of your online presence. Examples:

When we post a new story on our website and share a link to it via email and social media, 50 people visit the website page within 48 hours.
When we run a fundraising campaign and share a link to the campaign website page via email and social media, 200 people visit the page within a week. 40% make a donation during their visit.
When we send out an e-newsletter that includes separate links to 3 new stories on our website, at least one of the links gets 75 clicks within 72 hours.

Sometimes the objectives will be guesses, but even those will help you measure progress.


Art in Action website

The internet is a visual medium and people process an image that tells a story faster than reading the proverbial 1000 words. Collect images everywhere you can – in the field, at gatherings, at special events, with donors, clients, volunteers or friends of the organization. If you are in the habit of collecting images you then create an image library which you can pull from when you need images for the website, email, social media or print communication. There are many excellent online resources to help your nonprofit with creating graphics, infographics, videos, photo essays and other types of digital storytelling. Search on the internet with “nonprofit” in front of any of those terms to find helpful hints.


Over Capacity Tim BuenemanKeeping your online presence alive requires time and effort. There are people in your community who are online regularly and can help with writing stories, taking photographs, making images, even doing updates or helping in other ways with website, email and social media tasks. Ask them. Talk to them about your goals and objectives for the website and other online activities. See who has talents or expertise in those areas who can commit to doing 1 or 2 activities a month. With everything else you she on your plate, trying to add additional tasks means that things get dropped, delayed or don’t happen at all. There are too many nonprofit websites in the “digital graveyard” with outdated content, old images and no-longer-relevant information. By making some simple asks, you can increase your organizations capacity to maintain your online presence, ensuring that you make the most of what the internet can bring to you.

Next steps

What is one thing you can do to increase your capacity to tell stories? Gather and manage images? Create calls to action, then set and measure objectives? Take a step today and you’ll be on the road to a happy, healthy website that will serve your nonprofit well and help you meet your mission.


(Images:  flickr: prawnpie, GustavodaCunhaPimenta,Tim Bueneman;;

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An Analog Social Media Exercise To Improve Content

For the Professional Social Media class I teach at Sonoma State University, I created an exercise designed to help folks practice both content creation and looking at metrics. Nonprofit’s can use this at a staff meeting or other gathering to help people improve their content creation skills as well as their skills with looking at social media data.
6a00e55012f2ab883401b7c7753d83970b-500wiThe equipment is mostly analog, the index cards and colored dots pictured, plus a place to record the results. To view the results I use a shared Google spreadsheet, but you could make a grid on a whiteboard on even just a piece of paper.

Here’s how it works:

1. Stage setting: Brief everyone on what is going to happen. Each person will be given an index card and enough dots for the number of folks participating. I ask folks to not write their name on the card, but see below for options.

2. Content Creation: On the card, write a short (preferably one sentence) social media update. In my case I use a Facebook update but you could use an update on any channel with the relevant engagement options, in this case Like, Comment & Share. Ask folks to think about the people in the group and what content would appeal to them.

3. Engagement: The cards are collected, mixed up, then each person is given one card. Using the dots, they will indicate if they would “Like” (blue), “Share” (yellow) or “Comment” (green) on the post. Each person reads a card, attaches any stickers that indicate how they would respond if they saw the post online. The card is then passed to the next person until everyone has “voted”. I ask folks to put the stickers on the back of the card.

Content & Metrics Exercise4. Metrics: The totals are then tallied. You could collect them all and write on a piece of paper or whiteboard what each person’s totals were for each of the possible actions. In my case I will ask folks to take back their card and type their scores into the online document, which we will view live. One advantage of using an online spreadsheet is that once the data is in, I am able to easily sort the columns to see who had the most of each type of engagement

5. Debrief: We review which updates got the most and the least engagement, ask folks to suggest why they think something worked or not. You might have a token prize for winners if you choose, I don’t as I want to reward learning not just success.

This exercise helps people to see in real time how much engagement their examples post gets, see what worked – or didn’t – for others, and helps spark a conversation about the shared characteristics of the posts that elicit engagement. Participants are wonderfully creative in the ways they try to tap into the interests of their audience.

You could also do this anonymously using numbers on the cards if for example you are doing this with folks who are strangers. You could also have folks include their names, as the credibility of the source can effect engagement. For my cohort, I prefer the anonymous route to reduce bias. The other influencer can be that as a card is passed around that has a lot of engagement/stickers, that could either spur or deter folks, but that is the same online.

I like how the exercise shows that some posts are better if sharing is the main goal, while other posts (especially questions) are better at sparking conversation and generating comments. If some get a lot of likes but little sharing and comments, why is that? While I think just “likes” are not a great metric, it’s better than no interaction at all, and this exercise helps point out how the different types of posts are received.

Feel free to remix, modify and share this exercise. Beyond social media, this could also be interesting to use for donation appeals, event messaging or any other messages your nonprofit is sending out.


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Quality vs. Quantity: Reframing Personal Productivity Online

Most articles about online productivity are framed as helping you to do more – automate this, multi-task that, consume more faster, etc. Most professionals I know – especially those in the nonprofit world – are already consuming too much information, most of it online. I’m encouraged by seeing folks reframe how they think of online personal productivity. I'm an advocate for finding ways to be more focused, consume less information and make the time spent on line more fruitful.

Calm The ChaosConsuming tons of information online can lead to the illusion of doing a lot, but in fact it is usually mediocre, low-quality time spent. This is akin to the McDonalds or Ikea mentality – as long as it’s fast, consistent and cheap, it’s okay if it’s low quality. When I take the time and focus on spending my time well, I am much more satisfied professionally vs. the lack of satisfaction when I know a lot of the time spent was not high quality.

I have come to realize that spending time in such mediocre ways is a disservice to myself, the organizations I work with and our communities. Unfortunately we often buy into the false social construct that those that do more are somehow more valuable than those who do high quality work. While many artists are prolific, we rarely judge them by the volume of work they create but by the quality of that work.

The Shallows BookConstantly skimming and scanning and glancing is detrimental to my ability to concentrate. I highly recommend reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr ( to understand the detrimental effects chronic information overload is having. I am better off when I do things that satisfy me professionally and personally. For me that means being more focused with my information consumption.

It has been a big help to actively reframe what online personal productivity means to me. I realized that focusing on doing a few things well leaves me more satisfied, produces better impacts and keeps me energized. Spending my time in mediocre ways leaves me dissatisfied, disappointed and feeling burned out. I get much more satisfaction from writing one or two good quality blog posts a week than cranking out low quality posts with typos and other errors every day.

Each of us has to decide what leads to our own satisfaction. For some, they might find satisfaction in producing work that meets minimum requirements. Others like me may realize that we are left wanting when we buy into the more-is-better myth.

Having clear objectives for my time online is a great first step. Defining those objectives first allows me to have a heading instead of only wandering organically through the information ocean. Both objective-focused and organic time online are valuable, so defining your best balance will be helpful.

Some actions to consider:

  • Reflect on what kinds of online work really leaves you satisfied and energized. How might you reduce the skimming and scanning you do? Be laser focused on what you are looking for online and do a lot less “browsing”. Social media channels want you to stay and browse for as long as possible – so they can serve you up more ads and make more money. Do what’s best for you, not best for Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Realize that time spent “taking a break” looking through social media channels can actually be adding to stress, burnout and information overload, not regenerating. Explore alternate ways to recharge and take a break – walk around the block, sit outside and be present in nature, do something creative offline, work on learning something new, or – gasp – actually do nothing for five minutes and let your brain recharge.
  • Forget about the worry of “missing something”. For each of the past few years I have taken breaks for several weeks from being online and guess what? I missed nothing important either professionally or to my happiness and well being. Reject the notion that you need to be constantly plugged in, finger on the pulse, hyper-aware and constantly vigilant online. What is truly important will find you at the right time if you are true to what satisfies you.

Be purposeful with your time online and to catch yourself if you are wandering aimlessly too often. Beth Kanter’s blog has some great related articles on being mindful online for further reading:

How to Train Your Attention and Be Effective When Working Online

Stop the Glorification of Busy & Thrive

Image: Imagistic

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When NOT to Have a “Donate Now” Button

WWF donate buttonConventional wisdom tells us that whenever a nonprofit has a website page, there should be a conspicuous “Donate Now” button. If at any time someone is motivated to donate while browsing your website, you want that button prominently displayed for easy access. But there are times when what you are trying to accomplish online is better served by NOT having that donate button.

We know we are most effective when we are strategic about how we communicate, engage and fundraise. Sometimes that means separating those objectives, rather than trying to accomplish all three at once. Sometimes your goal is strictly a communications play – trying to raise awareness. Sometimes it is an engagement play, trying to get signatures on a petition or getting folks to sign up for an event. In both of these instances, bringing in a fundraising ask can muddy the waters and dilute the focus on the action that you want folks to take.

I recently spoke with fundraising expert Barbara Pierce of Transformative Giving (, who works helping nonprofits engage with high net worth philanthropists. She knows well the importance on an effective online presence‚ telling me “I have heard from major donors that if a website is clearly not up to date, it raises a red flag.” Barbara noted that while annual and ongoing fundraising efforts benefit from the prominent online donation button,  the “donate now” button can sometimes be counter-productive in garnering large gifts.

Barbara shared an example of when a Donate Now button is not appropriate, which made a lot of sense. Sometimes organizations are running an informational campaign, primarily focused on major donors. This might be for a capital campaign or other major initiative where the organization is communicating about the need and the plans to address the need. This online communication is meant to be followed by asking for a donation in person. Barbara said “Sometimes you are not aiming for many smaller donations but are looking for targeted gifts from a targeted group of people. The online pieces help folks share with their online networks about what you are doing and provides a place to point the press, so you want to keep those pages targeted to serving those purposes.”
Help_End_Domestic_Violence__Donate_to_W_O_M_A_N___Inc__Today_In this case, the online parts of that campaign – emails and a web page – serve the purpose of providing initial information, and help fundraisers begin an in-person conversation with a major donor. The aim of those emails and that web page is not to get someone to “Donate Now,” especially when the aim is to secure the type of major gift that comes through a personal, targeted ask. This  is a case where the campaign page is not well served by having a donation button.  You may end up losing a larger gift by passively “asking” for a gift through the “donate now” button. The donor may see the button, click on it, see your suggestion to give $2,000 and do just that. That could hurt your chances when it comes to asking for $25,000. On top of that, if you do get a major gift through the online portal, typically three to four percent of their substantial donation is taken by the payment processor.

So when you are crafting and executing a fundraising campaign, be clear about which pieces are about information or engagement vs. donations. Sometimes it is smarter to keep the related emails and web pages free of extraneous elements and focused on the strategic communication goals that help support your successful online – and offline – fundraising efforts.

There are many other pieces of the online fundraising puzzle that can support success. To learn more about them, join me for the Foundation Center’s three-part webinar series “Excellent Practices in Online Fundraising and Engagement” November 5, 12 & 19.  Click here to learn more and register

Learn more about the work of Barbara Pierce on her website:

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Four Vital Nonprofit Leadership Traits That Support Impact

What leadership qualities improve a nonprofit’s impact through effective use of technology? I was co-facilitator of the Impact Leadership Track of NTEN’s Leading Change Summit in San Francisco in 2014 and I am frequently asked to speak to nonprofit leaders on this topic, so I share here four traits I have found to be vital to impact.

I have witnessed some amazing demonstrations of leadership from nonprofit colleagues when it comes to technology. For many nonprofit organizations, technology remains on the back burner, something only dealt with when it is absolutely necessary. Other organizations have taken the reigns of technology and harnessed it for the good of the organization, its mission and its impact – thanks to effective leaders.

Of the many leadership traits that support impact, four that stand out to me when thinking about technology are: Courage, Vision, Conviction and being a bit of a Rebel. Here’s how I’ve seen those work.

Lion ucumari:ValerieCourage

When technology has not traditionally been a strength of an organization (and/or its leader), it takes courage to make technology a priority and invest in technology initiatives. Tech projects sometimes have a hard-to-define Return on Investment (ROI), and there is a dearth of funding for these projects. Knowing the positive impact that well-placed, thoughtful use of technology can have, I am inspired by the courageous leaders I see that embark on technology projects despite the obstacles. Courageous leaders move ahead, knowing that no project is perfect. They also know that if you are not keeping up you are falling dangerously behind.


Having the vision of what the organization can achieve with smart applications of technology is vital to success. Along with a vision of how staff and stakeholders can step up to support even complex technical projects, this is a key leadership trait. I have seen folks for whom technology was a very foreign subject embrace it whole-heartedly because of the vision they have of a mission fulfilled. One of my heroes is a nonprofit staff member who learned HTML in her 70’s in order to manage the organization’s website. It wasn’t because she had a particular desire to learn it, but because of her vision of how the impact of their social justice work would be supported by an effective online presence.


Conviction edit Raul Pacheco-VegaWhen you are in an organization where technology has not been a priority, it takes conviction to advocate for engaging with technology. There are sometimes grueling politics to deal with, resistance to change and objections to overcome as well as plain old inertia. Changing the technology culture of a nonprofit from a reactive, non-engaged one to an engaged, proactive one is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes conviction to keep beating the “focus on technology” drum over the long term.


Rebel 1banaanIn order to buck systems that are not friendly to the embrace of technology, you need to be a bit of a rebel. An ability to push back against conventional wisdom, against the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude,  against prejudices and fears against technology in a sustained way is required. Yes, technology projects can be expensive and confusing, but they can provide a positive ROI and improve efficiency in the organization’s work systems – which in turn free up resources for more mission-focused work. That is a big payoff which “quick-fix” approaches don’t produce. The smart rebel leaders I have seen know when to push back and be disruptive as well as when to step back and let the changes sink in. So including a dash of diplomacy with your rebelliousness is a good idea.


When it comes to Impact Leadership – demonstrating leadership in the service of generating greater impact for your organization – this combination of being a bit rebellious, having the courage of your convictions and having a thoughtful vision which you are working towards are an unbeatable combination for nonprofit leaders.

Flickr photo credits: Lion – ucumari/Valerie;
Lighthouse – kenyonsf;
Conviction – Raul Pacheco-Vega;
Rebel – 1banaan

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Six Nonprofit Technology Questions for Board Members

Recently Kevin McCray, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Ground Water Association asked me “Do you offer a list of appropriate questions for board members to ask of staff/management when management is making a recommendation for a technology purchase?  We can offer up our rationale and background, but we think they should focus on what questions are appropriate from their oversight positions.” As this is a question I know many organizations and board members struggle with, I wanted to share my answers publicly.

Square Peg Round Hold sfllawFirst I’d like to appreciate and highlight the phrase “questions appropriate to their oversight positions”. I have seen board members waste their time and the staff’s time delving into operational details when it’s unnecessary – and not helpful. Hire staff that you trust to do their job well, then let them do it. Nobody likes to be second-guessed or micro-managed. If there is a lack of trust or confidence in your technology staff, that is an HR issue to be addressed by management and not a good use of the board’s time. The board has an important oversight role that these questions can help spotlight.

While each situation might require slightly different questions, here are some of my suggestions for questions that focus on the high level, oversight role of the board when inquiring about technology projects.

  1. How is this project aligned with our mission and strategic goals?
  2. How are we measuring progress towards the organizational goal(s) this technology project supports?
  3. Will this project alter how progress is measured? What data points will you use to show progress on this project?
  4. How are you defining success for this project? Are there tangible and intangible results that will be reported back to the board about the Return on Investment (ROI)?
  5. What data do we as the board need to make informed decisions about this project regarding budget, policies, staffing or other role-appropriate decisions?
  6. What actions can we take to support this project?

In my experience, once questions get beyond this level into discussions about specific tools or operational procedures, the focus on oversight begins to blur. If you are a board member or are presenting information to a board, trying to redirect the conversation to oversight-related questions like these can help keep the dialogue away from operational details and on track.

I’d love to hear about other questions that folks think are useful for board members to ask about technology projects.

flickr phto: sfllaw

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Ten Nonprofit Technology Conference Tips

I’m presenting about Improving Tech Trainings at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#16NTC) in San Jose.

The 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference was my tenth year of attending. While I didn’t attend in 2015, since Philadelphia in 2004 I did not miss a year and was honored to present at least one session every year.

The cardinal rules for the conference are:

1. Have Fun

2. Connect with folks who are also passionate about nonprofit technology

3. Learn new things (usually a lot of things!)

I hope my tips help you make the most of the conference:

1. Get Organized

NtclogoReview all of the activities online before you arrive. Don’t waste precious time on site with so many interesting people to talk to looking through lists of sessions. Try to schedule as much as you can beforehand using the handy schedule tool then put them into your calendar. You might change or revise based on new information onsite, but having a basic plan provides a solid foundation. You’ll hit the ground ready to connect.

2. Pace Yourself

I find conferences to be exhausting. Avoid burnout and brain death by pacing yourself. Take twenty minutes every morning and afternoon to do nothing – no email, no voicemail, no networking, no consuming anything work related. Go for a walk, sit quietly in your room or find a coffee shop with a quiet corner and just relax.

3. Take a Tech Break

KanterKenyon09NTCYou are at the conference to connect with other people IRL (In Real Life). You can stare at your phone anytime, this is the time to put your phone and laptop away, walk up to the nearest person and introduce yourself. Having a phone or laptop in your face puts up a barrier, so invite conversation by disconnecting from your tech when you can and opening up to conversation.

4. Have a Tagline

You can easily meet up to 100 people or more over the course of the conference. You will be more memorable if you can state clearly and concisely where you focus – or want to focus. “I help nonprofits make good decisions about fundraising software and related functions” is much better than “I do a lot of different things for a lot of different organizations”. While your task may vary widely, it is easier for others to grasp if you can say it simply and concisely. If you are looking to adjust your focus, the conference a great place to practice stating that intention and helping it become your reality, i.e., “I am moving into doing more coaching of executive directors” or “I’m looking for a partner to write a book on integrating technology in strategic plans”. Introduce yourself with a personal tagline.

5. Have a Goal

Your goal may be to finally meet that person whose blog you never miss, or to finally understand the differences between Tumblr, Slack and a wiki. Give some thought to whatever goal or goals would be most useful to you in the coming year. Have a website revision coming up? Make it a goal to talk to three people in similar size organizations who have been through it recently. Interested in moving to the cloud and want to know the most carbon neutral options? Ask everyone you meet if they know. Having some set questions also helps you move from just making small talk to having a more meaningful conversation.

6. Skip One Session

While there is no shortage of outstanding education sessions, some of the best conversations happen in the hallway. You run into that person who asked a smart question in the last session, or you catch that person you’ve followed forever on social media. Pick out a slot where there is a session you are least excited about and skip it. Walk around the halls, talk to vendors or conference staff, pull up some floor next to a fellow attendee and just talk. You can only absorb so much information, so your brain’s learning center will thank you.

7. Hit the Town

NTC09DOSDInnerTableKeep your eyes out on the listservs, online and onsite for the many social events that happen around the conference. From informal get-togethers to tech specific gatherings to other ways of Making Connections, there are a lot of opportunities to connect with others in a casual, relaxed environment. Same with dinners – you can go out to eat with your co-workers anytime – connect with people you don’t know. If you’ve never been to the host city and want to see some sights, take time to reflect on what you’ve been learning while you enjoy the town.

8. Be Comfortable

While we all want to look professional, try to find your most comfortable professional looks – especially shoes as you will do a a lot of walking. Skip the sweats and flip-flops but also avoid high heels or restrictive clothing. Hotel conference rooms are notorious for not being the right temperature for everyone and by the time someone corrects it, your session is over. Take control of this by wearing layers. A short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve shirt under a sweater or pullover gives you a lot of comfortable options.

9. Be a Responsible Learner

Don’t just let the presenters craft your learning experience, ask the questions you have. If something is unclear or they went over it to fast, stop them and ask for clarification. Ask yourself how you might use the concepts you just heard about. Imagine applying them to a situation you have or expect to encounter – what questions might arise when you go to implement this idea? By the same token, please don’t derail the session trying to get advice on a question that is not of interest to others – talk to the presenter afterwards.

10. Keep in Touch

HanbackKenyonBump2NTC09In 2004 the conference was smaller, around 400 people if I recall correctly. That made it easier to spend time with and meet everyone I wanted to meet. Now that attendance is pushing 2000, with such a large crowd I often only see people in passing I wanted to sit down with. Consider keeping list of folks to contact after the conference to set up a call or meet in person. If you think of it, when you get a business card from someone, write a few words on the card to remind you what topic you wanted to follow up with or what resource you offered to share.


Bonus Tip: Thank Your Hosts

NTEN logoPutting on a conference of this size is a massive undertaking and would not be possible without the dedicated, hard working NTEN staff. Sponsors and the vendors at the Science Fair are also crucial to the conference. Pleas join me in thanking these folks for their hard work and support whenever you get the chance.

I always look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones at NTC, I hope you find some of these useful and would love to hear about any tips you have!

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Reducing Your Social Media Risk

Third in my series Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate course at Sonoma State University.  Visit for information.

Using social media comes with risks. From damaging your professional or personal reputation to being snooped on by the government, sharing your life in public carries potential hazards.

Kerry Rego bookOne of the leading experts on social media risk is Kerry Rego, a social media & technology trainer, author and keynote speaker. She who wrote the book “What You Don’t Know About Social Media CAN Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation”, which covers reputation management, risks and liabilities. She is the social media staff trainer for the County of Sonoma, columnist for the North Bay Business Journal, a Vistage speaker, and an independent consultant.

Kerry is also an instructor in the Professional Social Media Certificate course and spoke recently about online reputation management. You can see her full online reputation management presentation on Slideshare by clicking here.


Important reminders Kerry provides include monitoring your online presence by setting up searches and alerts that tell you when you or your business are mentioned; being thoughtful about responding to negative posts; having both a crisis plan that is tested and a communications plan that includes guidelines for social media.

The best way to prevent fraud and keep your organization’s good name online is by listening. Setting up Google Alerts for your organization name, acronym, or other related terms provides you with email updates as they happen. Searches that can be set up on listening tools like NetVibes, HootSuite or other similar tools also provide updates on terms or phrases, including hashtags.


Negative mentions of your brand will happen. You can’t please everyone and likely someone has – or soon will – complain about your company online. Hopefully others will praise you as well, but it’s important to respond in a thoughtful way to negative comments. If the comments are true, you may want to address them directly and describe your response. If they are an opinion, you may want to acknowledge them and describe your position. If they are false or inflammatory you may not want to fan the flames by responding. Whatever the case may be, a rapid but thoughtful response is important and you can only respond if you are listening.

The American Red Cross famously had a staff member accidentally send out an update on Twitter through the organizational account that was meant to go out through a personal account. It mentioned beer and included the hashtag #gettingslizzerd. The organization took down the offending tweet and rather than ignoring it, they did disaster recovery well, putting out a tweet assuring followers that “the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”. This is just one example of how important it is to have a crisis plan/disaster recovery plan. See the full story on Beth Kanters blog.


To be thoughtful and targeted with the time your organization spends on social media, you need to focus on specific goals. Every organization should have a strategic plan upon which a communications plan is built to support the strategic objectives. Within the communications plan are goals that are supported by social media along with guidelines for social media use. It’s important to have these guidelines up front so that everyone who is representing your company online is clear about what to do and not to do. This helps eliminate a lot of issues before they become serious.

One useful tactic I have seen employed is to have staff or volunteers compose example social media updates and present them to a small group where they can get feedback on why something may or may not be appropriate. This provides feedback on real work instead of theoretical situations which is much more effective in teaching folks how to follow the guidelines.


The best way to protect against online risks is to be proactive in your goal setting, listening, preparation and response. Its the old cliche of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Avoid potential online viral disasters by taking action now that sets the stage for a graceful recovery.

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Critiquing Social Media Advice

Second in my series Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate Course at Sonoma State University. Visit for information.

The world of social media advice is rife with bad science, link bait and self-serving "news”. The recent report from Princeton researchers showing how Facebook will lose users and comparing user adoption to the spread of infectious diseases, is one example that was then refuted by Facebook itself, among others – see this BBC article – Facebook Turns 10 but are its Days Numbered?

Some advice includes useful information, commentary and opinions but unfortunately there are many sources with information that may be less accurate. Knowing how to examine the information you find about social media is an important skill. Here are some things to consider and some leads on trusted sources.

Case In Point

In class recently we discussed this video about how Facebook’s business plan will backfire:


One of the points made in the video is about how Facebook filters posts so we don’t really see everything that our friends or others we follow are posting. We see a filtered view controlled by Facebook. Some students completely agreed with the assessment. Some shared that it made them angry or frustrated with Facebook. One student noticed that when she opened Facebook on her laptop, smartphone and tablet, all three feeds were different. Another talked about running into to a friend who said “I like seeing your posts” but then realized she never saw her friends posts. She likened this to sending physical mail “If I put something in the mailbox to another person I expect it to get there. This is like putting something in the mail and it never arrives”.

Hardly anyone questioned the presenter in the video, though someone mentioned he was “slick”. Instructor Merith Weisman pointed out that, as described in the video, he gets money from YouTube based on views and advertising sales. This might entice him to produce content that is more sensational than fact-based, more opinion than research, more fiction than fact. Or is it?

Consider the Source

Most publishers of information have a goal. Often times the goal is to get traffic to their site, so they can sell space to advertisers and make a profit on your attention. Sometimes the goal is less obvious, as was the case with a recent article on a worldwide “wine shortage” which turned out to have as its source an investment firm with a self-interest in getting people to invest in the wine industry. Sometimes it is self promotion or simply ego that makes people present information that is sensational or merely hype.

Examine the Content

Actively examining what you are consuming with a critical eye and reflect on the content. Is this a trusted source? What does the author have to loose or gain? Might the content be self serving? Where do I disagree with assertions?

Reflecting on what you just consumed is equally important – does the information make good sense to me? Do I follow the logic or do I see faulty logic? Can I really swallow that user adoption of a social media tool mimics how infectious diseases spread? It usually helps me to write down some main points or to imagine having to relay the information to someone else to see if it makes sense upon repetition.

Social Media Magnifying glass ePublicist(Flickr photo: ePublicist)

Trusted Sources

There are publishers who are widely regarded as providing accurate and unbiased information. Among these sources are The Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project and McKinsey & Company. This article lists both the twenty five most popular mainstream and industry media sources for digital marketers.

But remember that popular doesn’t always mean useful, accurate or unbiased. Thinking critically about the content you consume about social media makes for a smart and savvy consumer.

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Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate Program

This week we welcomed the inaugural group of students to the Professional Social Media Certificate Program at Sonoma State University. The class sold out at 30 students and there is a waiting list for the fall session.


I am part of an outstanding team of five instructors, pictured above. They are (left to right) Merith Weisman, MA, the Community Engagement & Social Media Coordinator at Sonoma State University who has brought the program to life; Pamela Van Halsema, MLIS, the Dean’s Coordinator and Strategist at Sonoma State University School of Education; myself John Kenyon; Emily Acosta Lewis, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies for The School of Arts and Humanities at Sonoma State University; and Kerry Rego of Kerry Rego Consulting, a prominent social media consultant, trainer and author.

Over the next twelve weeks, the course covers six modules –
1. The Power of Community, Introduction to Professional Social Media
2. Exploring Social Media: Essential Channels
3. Diving Deeper: Additional Channels, Visuals and Mobile
4. Social Media Strategy
5. Metrics and Measurement
6. Capstone Project

Sonoma SUI’m teaching the fifth module on metrics and measurement, but I plan to attend most weeks sessions and I’ll be sharing interesting discussions and questions as they come up.

The first class focused on introductions, administration, reviewing the course, sharing strategies for dealing with the overwhelm that social media can bring, discussions on the benefits of social media and the importance of listening. If your organization is looking to find where to start with social media, listening is usually the best place to start. Listen to conversations about your organization, your area of focus, your competitors and to respected people in your field, to understand what kinds of relevant conversations exist.

The students vary widely in their backgrounds and include former journalists, a newspaper section editor, a recruiter for a technology company, the vice presidents of marketing at a regional Sonoma county bank, the marketing directors from an architecture firm, a prominent regional entertainment venue and a small retail shoe store chain, current Sonoma State University undergraduates, a communications/pr firm director, a member association director, a youth scholarship program manger, an employee of the city of Santa Rosa, some other regional nonprofits and several launchers of new projects.

There will be some rich discussions and interesting ideas from this varied group which I look forward to sharing as we progress through the coming weeks. You can also follow the conversations on Twitter where the hashtag will be #SSUPSM.

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