February 2010

New report: Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals

A couple of months back, we conducted a survey of nonprofit staff members who were already using social media for their organization. We wanted to know what tools they were using, but more, we wanted to know what they thought was working. Specifically, we asked about seven tools or types of tools: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, video-sharing sites, photo-sharing sites and blogs.

The analysis and results are finally here. Download the report Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals: The Results of a Survey (free registration required)

A few quick highlights to whet your interest:
  • Generally, respondents felt social media channels were effective for enhancing relations with an existing audience and reaching out to new supporters, but considerably less so for raising money.
  • Twitter was in the top three channels for every goal, and was considered the most-effective channel for reaching potential new supporters.
  • Although Facebook was the most widely used tool by a considerable margin, and the one that those not yet using were most likely to start, it was seen as the most-effective only in terms of raising money-and then, only by a small margin.
  • MySpace was not widely used, and ranked lowest for each of the three goals. LinkedIn was considered comparatively effective for fundraising, but lagged behind everything but MySpace for the other goals.
The analysis and report were made possible with the generous support of Firefly Partners, Balance Interactive, and Beaconfire.

View all the results and analysis online at www.idealware.org/sm_survey/

New Faces, Blog Changes

newbloggers.pngLaura let everyone know last week that Idealware's web site is up for a major upgrade, coming soon. The Idealware blog won't be left behind -- we're happy to announce new bloggers and some other important changes that coincide with the Web Site update. Here's what you'll want (and need) to know:

New Bloggers!

We're growing the blog roster, with an eye towards landing at ten bloggers posting about twice a month, for a healthy and diverse amount of content focused on helping nonprofits use software and technology to serve their missions. Joining Heather Gardner-Madras, Steven Backman, Eric Leland, Laura Quinn and myself are:

Johanna Bates has a strong background in technology management, with special knowledge of the web and online communications.

Debra Askanase brings her background of 20 years of community organizing with a focus and expertise in how nonprofits use social media to the blog.

Andrea Berry, who currently serves as Idealware's Director of development, brings her expertise in fundraising and donor management systems to the blog.

Marc Baizman brings a broad range of tech skills to the blog, with a background as both a nonprofit technology director and consultant in the sector.

New RSS Address!

Take note that, if you're one of the hundreds of people who subscribe to this blog in an RSS Reader, we will be moving to a new RSS address. You can change your settings now, and that's recommended, as the old feed will stop updating once we're on the new site. The address is:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/idealwareblog

(Just click on that link to subscribe)

It's All About You

As we make changes and improvements to the blog, we're eager to hear from you. What do you look to get from the Idealware blog? What works? What doesn't? What would you like to see more of? What burning topics are we failing to address? With a bigger group of bloggers and a renewed focus, we want to write about the things that you'd like to know more about. Feel free to offer your suggestions any time, either in the comments, or to Idealware at our Twitter feed or Facebook page.

Three Great Nonprofit Resource Opportunities

Do you tell your nonprofit's stories online? Do you leverage your online community to raise funds? Do you have a great group of enthusiastic online supporters? If so, there are a three timely opportunities for you to enter to win cash, rewards, and recognition for your organization. Interested?

1. Conduit Gives 2010
Conduit will donate money to 100 selected nonprofits

However, it's more than a simple donation; Conduit will donate money for every click on the "click to give" button of a custom Conduit toolbar. If selected, Conduit will help your nonprofit create a custom toolbar (called a "custom conduit") that you can distribute to your online stakeholders. The toolbar can be customized in many ways that benefit your organization, but it will also contain an exclusive "click to give" button on the toolbar. Selected organizations can offer this toolbar to community members, and each time someone clicks on the button, conduit donates to the organization.

To apply, check out their FAQ page and application here.
This contest, offered by Conduit Gives 2010, ends March 1, 2010.

The catch:
Do you have an active Ning, Facebook, MySpace, or private label community? If you don't have one already, does your organization have existing assets that it can leverage to easily create one (such as an active, large, email list, alumni list, etc.)? According to the Conduit Gives 2010 FAQ: "Non-profits will be selected based on their expressed need and their plan/commitment to promoting the program to their community." To me, this means that organizations that already have a vibrant online community have a much better opportunity of being selected by Conduit for participation. Think about it: Conduit is also interested in exposing users to its Conduit platform, in giving away funds (if they don't give away much money, then that would be bad for PR), and in helping organizations raise funds. One other important note: I cannot find any reference in the online literature as to how much money Conduit will donate for each click.

Here's a screen shot of the custom toolbar that was created for The Staley Foundation:



2. Getty Images' Grants for Good
Getty Images is offering two Grants for Good to facilitate nonprofit storytelling


Getty Images wants to work with photographers or videographers that want to tell nonprofit stories. According to the website, "our Grants for Good provide two grants of $15,000 annually, to cover photographer, filmmaker and agency costs as they create compelling new imagery for the nonprofit of their choice." They want to help nonprofits develop imagery that "furthers the
strategic communication objectives and mission of a nonprofit organization."

The good news for nonprofits outside the United States, is the communications professional or agency can choose any nonprofit to work with, anywhere in the world, as long as the nonprofit is officially registered in its own country.

To apply, check out the Grants for Good page with downloadable FAQs, application, and judging information.
This contest, offered by Getty Images, ends March 1, 2010.

The catch (actually, there are several):
A professional photographer (or filmmaker) and a communications agency together must apply for the grant. Advertising and communications agencies are "seen as essential partners to the 2010 Grants for Good program." In addition, the applicant must select a nonprofit that it will work with on an image project prior to the application process. The application cannot be submitted by a nonprofit; it must be submitted by the image maker or the agency. The $15,000 grant will be split by the photographer and the communications agency.

The biggest criteria for selection, as far as I can tell are how the images will be used, and the strength of the image professional's portfolio. This is emphasized in the application process PDF document. If you are a nonprofit that has a clear idea of what story you need to tell to further your mission, how telling that story visually will help you to do that, and you know of a professional filmmaker or photographer that you want to work with, apply!

3. Fourth Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards
Win up to $10,000 in grants (plus awards! plus publicity!) with your nonprofit's video


YouTube and See3, along with sponsoring organizations The Case Foundation, the Nonprofit Technology Network, and Flip Video have teamed up for the Fourth Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. If you are a registered nonprofit in the US, the UK, Canada, or Australia, and your are part of YouTube's nonprofit program, then submit any video (or videos) that you made in 2009. Sixteen final videos will be selected on the basis of message, use of video, quality of video, and creativity. Top prize winners will be selected from among the sixteen finalist through a community voting process.

To apply, go to YouTube's Nonprofit Video Awards page for application and voting details.
Application deadline is March 16, 2010

The catch:
While the best sixteen videos (top four in each awards category) are selected by the judges, the public will choose the top winners in each category. Other limitations have been previously stated above.

So - submit your best video of 2009 and let the stories be viewed!
It's all explained clearly in this short video:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhNyqPb2D4E]

Will you be entering any of these contests? Look forward to hearing about your entries!

What is Customer Service?

It’s as hard or harder evaluating customer service for software you might adopt than evaluating the software itself. Mainstream computing magazines tend to drown us in all the new features without making the time or resources to evaluate how long choices will last.

By contrast, last year’s Idealware.org assessment of open source content management systems advised, in part, that what you select in the end may have a lot to do with confidence in who will be your line of support. While evaluating service from consultants is different from generally anonymous commercial enterprises, there is a lot to be said to looking at standards, positive and negative, set by those with the most resources.

At home we are coming to the end, I hope, of a protracted process of updating our cable access subscription. Last fall, when we added Internet and phone service to our Comcast TV account, we took for granted that since the physical pipe out to the Internet would be the same, service would remain the same or even get better. As it happened, there were some kinks in the upgrade process. Even so, despite the need for several service visits to our house, I come out of this with nothing but admiration for Comcast customer service. And it made me think hard about customer service standards that we and colleagues might have.

Thinking back, I can tick off some lessons and for the most part admired in the response. And before that, let me add, this does not mean I’m necessarily endorsing Comcast products over other options. Please: that's a different article! And the service standards may vary nationally. I did see some at least regional service standards that I found admirable.

1. If you have a customer service response line, monitor it. I’m sure many of us have experienced the routine follow up survey after service on a car or such thing. Usually pro-forma and you don’t really expect much back if you had issues. In this case, after the initial upgrade, before even calling back, I posted honest comments about where we stood on a generic Comcast customer satisfaction form. Definitely not irate, but not entirely happy.

Quite surprised, within a day I got a phone call from a regional office quality assurance manager. She identified herself by name, gave us a direct phone line to her desk, let me know her hours of availability, and said she would stick with us until our issues were resolved. Latoya patiently listened to everything and got the wheels moving. Since then, she has responded to all our inquiries and followed the case through. Very impressive. Thanks, Latoya!

2. Don’t blame the customer. My wife Linda and I had direct contact with a bunch of different field and office staff. At no point did they blame us for being stupid, not following instructions, exaggerating problems, not “reading the manual,” not being able to isolate incidents or any such thing. It was quite refreshing. When they came on site, they questioned us carefully, and then went about their work. Every time they tried something new, they explained what they were doing, showed us the monitoring tools they used yet didn’t expect us to grasp the intricacies.

3. Don’t ignore the customer’s expertise. This precept balances the previous one. I’m sure most everyone has had the computer company phone support calls experience, where they completely ignore your technical level of expertise, make you go through painful diagnosis steps even when you are pretty sure you know what the problem is. “Are sure, really sure, really really sure you have paper in that printer? I’ll wait while you check.” Doctors and hospitals can be like this too, for sure. Well, at least with technology, if you have skills, you often want to participate, both to get to the solution faster and to advance your own knowledge. The Comcast folks wanted to hear what we had tried on our own, note our subjective impressions on the issues, take it all seriously and incorporate it into their own diagnostics. This is the other side of the previous point, and we appreciated both.

4. Be prepared to support what you offer. We used our neighborhood association email list to see who else might be having problems. We overlaid this “grass roots” information over incident research Comcast did. It turned out some that cabling further away from where we live needed replacement. I’m imagining that as more people took the promotions to upgrade, demand grew and aging switching equipment faced greater stresses. (Kind of ATT’s mobile broadband woes writ small.) Suddenly cables and switches around the neighborhood had to be checked and upgraded. You wish it had been happening before all the past year’s upgrade promotion offers and not after more folks started upgrading, yet once Comcast saw the problems, they escalated the field response to “plant” to deal with it. Manholes opened up and new cables put in.

5. If the customer has made a mistake, discuss it matter of factly without recrimination. As the field response escalated, a senior “plant” level engineer came on site. While not saying we did anything wrong technically, the engineer was not pleased that when we continued to have problems, we didn’t call him back directly. He had also given us a direct line cell phone number. I had misplaced it, and figured since we already had a “friend” in the Central Office, I should just stick with her. That turned out to be not the best, since it led to different field people coming out, the “plant” team losing sight of our situation. It muddied their diagnosis. I could tell the guy was irked both because he had lost time and information on fixing the problem, and also just maybe because the Central Office had expressed impatience. Yet he never blamed us or said we had made things worse. I appreciated that. We listened and learned and after that, made calls to both, and the response closed in on solutions faster.

6. Especially if they are not all “yours,” be sure of your entire chain of service delivery. Comcast is a unionized workforce, with senior service engineers with impressive experience. They also use contractors. The initial crew who came out to do the upgrade were contractors. We were impressed with their initiative in making improvements to our wiring and so on. Yet much later on, Comcast field staff took a closer look at the cable modem and some of the new wiring. The cable modem was both late model and refurbished. Nothing necessarily wrong with that since it’s theirs and they are supporting it. But it took a long time after we had started having problems before anyone thought of just swapping it out. Ditto for the VOIP phone wire they put in. I have no idea whether the contractor work orders ever went from their home office back to Comcast, and it was a missing piece of information for quite a while.

7. Stick with the customer. At one point, we gave Latoya the option to just give us up, cut their losses, and move on. I bet we have all at one point or another been in a project that, hmm, hadn’t gone as smoothly as everyone hoped. What we both most appreciated was Comcast’s commitment to making us whole. Latoya said plain and simple Comcast doesn’t walk away from their customers. We in the nonprofit sector may expect that kind of ethic as well, and it’s much harder for a small consulting practice than for giant Comcast. Yet it’s not the kind of commitment that one necessarily expects to see from the big impersonal guys out there. Given that it will probably take five years or more of billings to us before Comcast balances out the cost of all the service calls, I’m especially impressed. For what its worth, here is the "Comcast Credo."

Now should we measure our sense of Toyota’s responses to its current crisis against these kinds of criteria? I personally don’t know enough about Toyota to comment. Commentators are wondering what they knew and when they knew it and say it will take a long time for Toyota to fully recover its previous reputation.

And the experience made me reflect back on an experience we had a year or so ago. We were consulting with a client on what to do about commercial software they had previously licensed from a national nonprofit vendor. They felt they were not getting the service they deserved given their annual costs. The organizational staff dealing with the software publisher definitely had above average internal technical ability. Yet open tickets lingered for weeks and months. We asked the client to give the vendor another chance and let us look into things. When we called and said among other things we were evaluating whether the relationship was a good one, all of a sudden, things started to fall into place. We had calls directly from a senior corporate officer. We got technical information we could translate into action and relay to the client. Service has improved and the organization is still using the software. But the whole process left me with an uncomfortable taste and came back to me as I wrote this post.

Despite our problems with Comcast, I come away prepared to recommend them again because of these elements of their response, and in fact just have to a co-worker making the same switch. I wrote this without researching what’s out there for customer service guidelines, , and I’m sure they exist and maybe readers will post them. And I haven't checked whether my experience was typical and so on. Its just based on what I observed here. I liked what I saw.




Coming Soon: A Brand New Idealware Website

I admit it: we're like the shoemaker's kids over here. Our current website is sadly lacking in a number of areas, like, say, the ability to find an article, or the ability to easily post anything.

But all that's about to change! Within the next month, we'll have a shiny new site, way better organized, friendlier, and easier to use. In particular, it will be primarily organized around "Topic" pages, to be able to see everything we've got in one place. Interested in software for fundraising? The Fundraising topic page will lead you to all our relevant articles, reports, seminars, and blog posts all in one place.

Corresponding with the website, we're also taking a look at our blog approach. Peter Campbell, always an Idealware blogger extraordinaire (and a new Idealware board member-- hooray!), is now taking the healm of the blog. There won't be any alarming changes, but under his guidance, you'll see some new bloggers and an increase in posts. More from Peter on that soon.

But I can't post about the new website without thanking all the people who helped out with it. We've done the entire website with volunteered and bartered services. It's not always been a smooth road, but we're arriving at a great place, with the help of:

Sprout Builder cancelling its subscription services - now what?

Just about a year ago I posted about Sprout Builder (an online do-it-yourself flash widget maker) changing from free service to a paid subscription model and the implications for nonprofits wanting a low cost entrée into the world of flash widgets for social networks and slide shows etc. Yesterday Sprout Builder announced their plan to shut down the lower levels of service, focusing instead on enterprise ($3000/year or $250/month) level services. It seems they didn't amass enough smaller subscribers to keep the service going at lower levels. While this is understandable, especially in light of the recession, what matters to nonprofits using the service is - what does this mean for us?

First, if you currently use Sprouts and want to know the details, you'll want to check out the Sprout Builder FAQ on timing. While administrative access will cease at the end of March it looks like your Sprouts will be viewable through the middle of May, so there is a bit of time to come up with alternative solutions for presenting your content.

Here is the original post about Sprout Builder alternatives. It sums up my exploration of what options existed last year with similar functionality. I haven't had time to look around and see what's changed yet - what's better now, what else has gone away and what's new.

Since posting the announcement on my personal blog yesterday I have seen a good deal of frustration and panic in the response to losing their Sprouts, especially from those that ponied up for the paid service which, while generous for nonprofits, was still a significant budget item for some. I am trying to go with the "every crisis is an opportunity" model myself and am wondering how we can utilize this unexpected change to our advantage.

Maybe its time to reevaluate that content being served up in widget form - is it still the best way to get your organizations message across? Many things have changed in the past year so maybe another avenue that wasn't such a great option last year is now a stronger option. Or that the cost and effort of doing "viral" outreach might be better spent improving your email campaigns or other web 1.0 technologies. Or it might lead to the discovery of an even cooler widget possibility, a mash up you wanted to do but that Sprout didn't support.

In any case its a good reminder to always evaluate free and low cost third party services in terms of their longevity and your access to your content and data. As Michelle Murrain pointed out at this time last year "Web2.0 won't be free for much longer" and it pays to have a back up plan and backups.

But Sprout Builder was such a cool inexpensive way to produce some really great flash widgets that it will be sorely missed by the smaller nonprofits who can't afford to hire a flash developer to replace them. So please use the comments to let us know what you think about the similar services, other ways to create simple interactive widgets and what your plan is to replace your existing Sprouts. A lot of people are now in a tight spot due to this announcement and under a deadline to recreate their outreach materials and the hope is we can help each other out.

One newcomer I have seen suggested is Ahead (http://ahead.com), but I haven't had a chance to check it out yet and would love to hear about folk's experience with this or the other alternatives. Link

Supported Open Source

I’m at an interesting intersection in my career path. I just concluded eight years at a small, statewide health care reform nonprofit in Massachusetts called Community Partners. I was Technology & Strategy Director there. Like so many orgs around us, we went under a month ago due to the bad economy. Though I am sad to lose my wonderful co-workers, it was coming for a long time, so I was somewhat prepared. A long time ago, other organizations and foundations started asking me lots of technology questions. This has naturally parlayed into consulting.

At this juncture where I have a sense of what it's like to work in a small org and am also looking at and helping larger orgs and foundations to make decisions about tech and use it in smart ways, I’m thinking a lot about something I call "supported open source."

"How do I choose a CMS?" is one of the most frequent questions I get. "Should I go with a closed but well-supported system or should I venture out into the Badlands of Open Source?" There is another way! That is supported open source.

The perception is often that if you choose open source—even if you hire additional expertise to initially build your site—you have to have skills in-house to keep it going after launch. I think the perception that you're on your own with open source is one of the barriers to its adoption for many businesses and nonprofits. But there are companies and consultants that will stick around, long after your site is launched, to give you the help and support you need. And there are different ways of doing this based on your org's budget.

At Community Partners, we ran things on a shoestring. I build web sites, but I don't write custom PHP code. When we wanted to use a profile module to collect contact information from users on our Drupal site and sync it with our Access mailing list database (yes, I know... Old Skool...), I found the module. It didn't work right. This functionality was a priority for us, though. Luckily, we maintained a contractual relationship with a Drupal consultant who would help us out with our site when our budget allowed. We only paid him to help us when something was broken, or when we wanted a new feature we couldn't implement ourselves and we had the funds to do it.

Having someone you can pay to give you support only when you need it is clearly cheapest way to go. If you're rolling in money, however, having a company on-call 24-7 to support you with anything you need is the other end of the spectrum. And everything in between exists. I want to disclose here that at present, I have a paid relationship with a consulting firm called OpenIssue LLC, which offers a spectrum of services for open source CMS platforms. I am working with them because I am becoming increasingly convinced that supported open source is has some serious advantages for our sector.

I am dogmatic about not being dogmatic, and the needs and mission of an org should always determine what technology they choose, not the other way around. You're never married to a piece of software and you should change platforms if and whenever it serves you. But particularly during this time of economic uncertainty, there is something comforting to me about software that's being developed by a worldwide brain trust. Open source software can't be yanked out from under you if funds (temporarily) disappear, or if a contract expires, because we all own it.

Though this community code base can be messy, open source development specialists know how to clean it up for you. So you get that worldwide scope of innovation, plus the focused attention on your org's particular needs. For orgs that want to stay innovative but don't always have cash flow, this can be a great solution. Ongoing support can be stopped and re-started as needed when there are budget troubles.

I know of a few companies out there that explicitly offer ongoing support for open source platforms. My fave among these is PICnet. Non-Profit Soapbox is designed to be an affordable, fully hosted, software-as-a-service (SaaS) way for nonprofits to build sites quickly and easily in the Joomla! CMS. PICnet has been around for a long time, and honestly I don't know why more companies aren't offering open source SaaS for nonprofits. Seems like a great idea to me. Here are a couple more companies that offer ongoing support:

I predict more of these companies will emerge in the coming year, and I think it will be a great leap forward for our sector. Do you know of a company or a consultant that offers ongoing support for open source software platforms? If so, I'd love to know about them. Please add them in the comments.

Scott Berkun on Public Speaking

People who read and write about technology often find themselves giving talks about it as well. If you find yourself in that situation, you owe it to yourself to pick up Scott Berkun's Confessions of a Public Speaker (O'Reilly, 2009). The book takes a practical, engaging, fun, personal—at times painfully personal--look at public speaking. Berkun offers the vantage point of someone who has begun to speak professionally—earning a living giving paid keynotes and other lectures for a fee. I suspect that readers of this blog who occasionally speak at conferences, regularly do formal trainings, or take part in team project presentations will find it fun and useful.

The lessons of Confessions for technologists are more implicit than explicit. Snap-shot-sized chapters walk you through stage fright, “bad rooms,” hostile crowds, tiresome questioners and more. Much of it common sense reminders probably not dissimilar from those of my high school public speaking teacher, Mrs Buckwald. Here, they are usefully updated for the latest in conference speaking environments.

While Berkun keeps his observations, he comes from a tech background. He first caught my eye with The Art of Project Management (O'Reilly, 2005). We wrote this after exiting Microsoft having worked as a Microsoft program manager for Internet Explorer versions 1 through 5.

Reading the book from the tech vantage point made me wonder, does speaking or writing about technology have the same challenges as speaking or writing about anything else? While geek knowledge has a certain unavoidable vogue these days, I suspect most of us would say that tech oriented presenting, popularizing, planning has special obstacles and opportunities. And so after breezing through Berkun's short book, I went back through it looking for implicit lessons. I suspectyou will as well, and they are there. I'll leave you with one:

Berkun spends a bunch of time on speaker and workshop evaluation forms. He opens by sharing what seems like a pretty good score for himself at some speaking engagement. He then dissects its false objectivity. His discussion of typical formulaic evaluation forms rang true.

What interested me is that he then drops in three sets of questions that might give more useful feedback to and about a speaker. The first two seem general enough to apply to any speaker on any topic, including wonderfully transparent questions like, “Was this a good use of your time?” and “Are you considering doing anything different as a result of this talk?” (p122).

He later on suggests a third set of questions (p 136) as something a speaker might send out by email a few days after the event. I liked these best (paraphrased a bit here) because they homed in what matters most in a tech presentation:

  • Do [you] have any new questions now that [you're] back at work?
  • Did [you] use anything [the speaker] said? What happened?
  • Is there a topic that now, since [you are] back at work, [you] wish [the speaker] had covered?
  • Can you suggest ways to make the experience … more active, engaging, or interesting?

Tech workshop presenters often imagine that the real value of the talk will only when participants return home and try to do something. These questions came alive for me, and I'll probably try to adapt them.

Talking or writing about technology (including in this blog) risks just making up for deficiencies in technical documentation. There wouldn't be the catchy O'Reilly “Missing Manual” series name if this didn't strike a chord. Yet gathering 20, 30, 100 people in a room to hear and see how the basics work on something is neither that efficient or environmental. At the other extreme, tech talks can become so trendy abstract that a day later when you try to explain them to someone else, they seem to be intentional or unintentional marketing pitches for things at best in beta. Or maybe they’d be better suited for science fiction conferences (though nothing wrong with that).

Drawing my own conclusions, seems useful to think in terms of striking three balances in presenting technology to busy people trying organize projects, make intelligent software choices for this year or otherwise work on:

  • Instructing on a mix of some key basic things to help beginners get started (the Missing Manual) while also giving intermediate to advanced users a few joyous ah ha moments to also go home and try.
  • Providing a manageable set of new information directly while also offering a resources and options for further learning.
  • Speaking or writing to the here and now while also providing transformative insights that motivate commitment and excitement for the long haul. (See Berkun's chapter on "The Clutch is Your Friend").

Check out the book and Scott’s blog at http://www.scottberkun.com. I think you’ll appreciate it. And if you want to get a taste of him speaking, check out this or other videos out there.

The Buzz Factor

buzz.png
buzz.png

Long time readers of my ramblings here are aware that I drink the Google kool-aid. And they also know that I've been caught tweeting, on occasion. And, despite my disappointment in Google's last big thing (Wave), I am so appreciative of other work of theirs -- GMail, Android, Picasa -- that I couldn't pass up a go with their answer to Facebook and Twitter, Buzz.

Google, perhaps because their revenue model is based on giving people ad-displaying products, as opposed to selling applications, takes more design risks than their software-developing competitors. Freed of legacy design concepts like "the computer is a file cabinet" or "A phone needs a "start" menu", they often come up with superior information management and communication tools.

What is Buzz?

Buzz, like Twitter and Facebook, and very much like the lesser used Friendfeed, lets you tell people what you're up to; share links, photos and other content; and respond to other people's posts and comments. Like Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter (if you use a third party service like Twitterfeed), you can import streams from other services, like Google Reader, Flicker, and Twitter itself, into your Buzz timeline.

Unlike Twitter, there is no character limit on your posts. And the comment threading works more like Facebook, so it's easy to keep track of conversations.

How is Buzz Different?

The big distinguishing factor is that Buzz is not an independent service, but an adjunct of GMail. You don't need a GMail account to use it, but, if you have one, Buzz shows up right below your inbox in the folder list, and, when a comment is posted on a Buzz that you either started or contributed to, the entire Buzz shows up in your inbox with the reply text box included, so that continuing the conversation is almost exactly like replying to an email.

The Gmail integration also feeds into your network on Buzz. Instead of actively seeking out people to follow, Buzz loads you up from day one with people who you communicate regularly with via GMail.

Privacy Concerns

Buzz's release on Tuesday spawned a Facebook-like privacy invasion meme the day that it was released -- valid concerns were raised about the list of these contacts showing up on Buzz-enabled Google Profile pages. A good "get rid of Buzz" tutorial is linked here. To Google's credit, they responded quickly, with security updates being rolled out two days later. I'm giving Google more of a pass on this than some of my associates, because, while it was a little sloppy, I don't think it compares to the Facebook "Beacon" scandal. Google didn't think through the consequences, or the likely reaction to what looked like a worse privacy violation than it actually was (contact lists were only public on your profiles if you had marked your profile "public", and there was a link to turn the lists off, it just wasn't prominently placed or obvious that it was necessary). Beacon, in comparison, started telling the world about every purchase you made (whether it was a surprise gift for your significant other or a naughty magazine) and there was no option for the user to turn it off. And it took Facebook two years to start saying "mea culpa", not two days.

Social Media Interactions for Grownups

Twitter's "gimmick" -- the 140 character limit -- defines its personality, and those of us who enjoy Twitter also enjoy the challenge of making that meaningful comment, with links, hashtags, and @ replies, in small, 140 character bursts. It's understood now that continuing a tweet is cheating.

Facebook doesn't have such stringent limits, but you wouldn't necessarily know that to glance at it. It hasn't shaken it's dorm room roots; it's still burdened by all of the childish quizzes and applications; and, maybe more to the point, cursed by a superficiality imposed by everyone having an audience composed of high school buds that they haven't seen for a decade or two, and who might now be on the other side of the political fence.

But Buzz can sustain a real conversation -- I've seen this in my day and a half of use. Partially because it doesn't have Twitters self-imposed limit or Facebooks playful distractions; and largely because you reply in your email, a milieu where actual conversation is the norm. This is significant for NPOs that want to know what's being said about them in public on the web. I noted from a Twitter post this week that the Tactical Philosophy blog had a few entries discussing the pros and cons of Idealists' handling of a funding crisis. But Twitter wasn't a good vehicle for a nuanced conversation on that, and I can't see that type of dialogue setting in on Facebook. Buzz would be ideal for it.

The Best is Yet to Come

This week, Google rolled out Buzz to GMail. Down the road, they'll add it to Google Apps for Domains. The day that happens, we'll see something even more powerful. Enterprise microblogging isn't a new idea -- apps like Yammer and Socialcast have had a lot of success with it. I'm actually a big fan of Socialcast, which has a lot in common with Buzz, but I was stumped as to how I could introduce a new application at my workplace that I believe would be insanely useful, but most of the staff can't envision a need for at all. What would have sold it, I have no doubt, is the level of email integration that Buzz sports. By making social conversations so seamlessly entwined with the direct communication, Google sells the concept. How many of you are trying hard to explain to your co-workers that Twitter isn't a meaningless fad, and that there's business value in casual communication? Buzz will put it in their faces, and, daunting as it might be at first, I think it will win them over.

Little Things Can Mean A Lot: Email Signatures

Easily Overlooked Opportunities to Polish your Brand Online

This is the second of a handful of small ways to extend your organization's brand through out your online presence.

As I was trying to come up with a good handful of easy wins I thought immediately of the email signatures. I have seen some great ones on various mailing lists and some that make me cringe. Plus no list like this would be complete without a mention of this free way to improve your branding on a daily basis. So I started with Google, as I always do, to see what the prevailing wisdom is on these - sure enough I found out that I am not alone in my thinking and I found two great articles right away.

After reading through the brief summary below, I highly encourage you to check out Nancy Schwartz's definitive article and Jon Stahl's fantastic real world case study from at Groundwire (formerly One NW).

Make the most of your last word
When you talk about email and nonprofits E-newsletters and donation appeals come to mind immediately, but in this case I'm talking about the last lines in regular day-to-day emails that staff send to each other and those outside the organization. Internally having a set (or set of) on mission and on brand signatures can reinforce professionalism and a sense of unity. And when you communicate with the outside world, the value of these snippets becomes even more apparent in solidifying your identity and purpose in the readers mind.

What should your organization's email signature include?
Obviously you'll want to have your name, position and contact information.

You should keep this under control though and if you find that your signature is regularly longer than the email itself, it's probably too long.

What else?
Add your branding, tagline, website or maybe a tagline and link for your current campaign - action or fundraising.

Think long and hard about adding a logo graphic though - simple and consistent more important than flashy. Think of this as subtle reminder not a billboard because by the 3rd time they get an email from you it can start to annoy people if its too large. Also as you can see in Jon's article its not as easy to implement as text only.

I think developing a set or some really clear guidelines could be a potent tool to allow for personalization while staying on message. If you can offer two or three acceptable styles (short, medium and long or official, colleague and more personal) and make them easy to get into the emails staff will be able to match the signature to the message.

See Nancy's article for a more thorough list of ideas.

Check out what some organizations are doing:

Ask for donations:
Support our efforts for 2010
http://www.1sky.org/donate
-
Love us? Support us!
Make a tax-deductible donation to the Office of Letters and Light today.
http://store.lettersandlight.org
--
Engage activists:
Sign up to become part of Audubon's E-Activist community
http://www.audubonaction.org/audubon
--
Give a description of your organization and the official tag line:
Visit our website: www.policylink.org

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.®
--
Reinforce your mission:

Several nature and environmental organizations include the line -
"Please consider the environment before printing this email"
--
And while those funny quotes that used to be so common probably aren't a great idea for an official organization sign off, I love the use of humor in this one:
http://www.issuelab.org/subscribe/public/index.php
We've got issues. Read all about it in IssueLab eNews!

More tips and ideas on how to do it

From Microsoft - all about using your Outlook signature

A few good thoughts on how to sign off

Thanks for reading,
heather gardner-madras
------------------------------------
gardner-madras | strategic creative
http://www.heathergm.com
[e] hgm@heathergm.com
[p] 541-933-1942
[c] 541-579-6665

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