Tag Archives: communication

14 (was 13) things you do to annoy me on social media

handstopMore than a dozen things that annoy me regarding the use of social media by too many nonprofits, government initiatives and other mission-based programs:

1) You don’t post at least one item a week to your Facebook page.

2) You have created a gateway where everything you post to Facebook goes out on your Twitter feed. Never mind that every message ends up being truncated on Twitter, so that Twitter users see things like this: Join our staff, donors, participants, volunteers & allies as we march on Saturday to support the vital issue in our community regarding… with a link for more information. Most people will NOT click on that link to find out what in the heck you are talking about!

3) You don’t list every public event by your organization on the events function on Facebook, so that people can mark “interested” or “attending” and, therefore, receive automatic reminders of the event as the date approaches, or get an idea of who else is interested or who is attending. It also makes it easier for others to share those event details with others via Facebook.

4) You don’t have your organization’s full name in your Twitter profile. That means, if anyone wants to tag your organization in a tweet or wants to follow you, it will be difficult to find you, and they may even use the wrong Twitter handle, driving traffic to someone else instead of you.

5) You post only “one way” messages to Twitter and Facebook, rather than posts that encourage engagement, like questions, or posts that say “Tell us what you think about…”

6) On Twitter, you don’t participate in Tweetchats, you don’t respond to other organization’s tweets, you don’t retweet other organization’s messages – you don’t ENGAGE.

7) On Facebook, you don’t “like” or comment on the status updates of other organizations. You want them to do that for you, but you don’t do the same for them.

8) On Facebook, you don’t reply to or even “like” comments made on your status update. That means no one ever knows if you care that they’ve provided feedback on your activities.

9) You don’t thank people that share your Tweets or Facebook status updates.

10) On Twitter, you don’t spend any time reading tweets by others – you just tweet your own messages. That’s like going to a conference, shoving your brochure into people’s hands and walking away, never listening to them, never meeting anyone, never attending workshops.

11) You post far more messages encouraging donations than you post about accomplishments by your organization, things your volunteers have been up to,

12) You work with teens but don’t use Instagram.

13) You don’t experiment with GooglePlus or YouTube or Snap Chat, because you couldn’t figure out the value a year or two ago.

14) You have something awesome in your email newsletter and I want to share just that item via Facebook, but it’s not on your Facebook feed nor your Web site (except as maybe in a PDF version of your newsletter, which no one reads online) Feb. 22, 2017 addition

If you changed your ways regarding social media:

  • your donors and volunteers would feel more strongly about supporting you,
  • your donors would be more motivated to continue giving and volunteers would feel more motivated to complete assignments and take on more,
  • the media would be more inclined to contact you regarding a story or for your comment on current events,
  • you are more likely to attract new donors and volunteers,
  • your staff would become even better versed in talking about their work,
  • other organizations would be more inclined to refer others to you, to collaborate with you and to rely on you

Also see:

Keynote speaking in South Carolina & Washington state!

logoCome here me speak this month or next!

Me in South Carolina Jan. 27 – 29, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker and presenting workshops at the South Carolina Association for Volunteer Administration (SCAVA) annual conference, January 27-29, 2016 in North Myrtle Beach! You do not have to be a member of SCAVA to attend. Join me!

Me in Vancouver, Washington (state – USA) Feb. 11, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker at the Nonprofit Network Southwest Washington / Directors of Volunteer Programs Association (DVPA) conference on Thurs., February 11 in Vancouver, Washington (state), USA.

You can book me for your conference or workshop! After February 2016, my consulting schedule is wide open. I am available for presentations, short-term consultations, long-term projects, part-time positions, and, for the right role, a full-time permanent position. Here’s what I can do for your organization/initiative.

There are free online workshops by me which you can view anytime, if you want to know more about my presentation style. Most are more than 45 minutes long:

I’m available for interviews on Skype or your preferred video conferencing tool, and, of course, by phone – I’m on West Coast time (the same as Los Angeles). I’m available for in-person, onsite interviews in and around Portland, Oregon (the area where I live), and am willing to travel most anywhere for an interview or as part of a short-term consultation.

Words matter

Back in my university days, for my major in journalism, I had to take a class about ethics in journalism. And it changed my life. My “aha” moment was when the professor handed out two different news articles about the same event – a funeral. Both articles were factually accurate. In our class discussion, we noted that one story seemed rather cut-and-dry: the hearse was “gray”, the women “wore black” and they “cried openly”, etc. After reading the other article, the class said their impression was that the family of the deceased was very well off and very high class – the hearse was “silver”, the women wore “black haute couture” and they “wept”, etc. There were lots more examples we came up with that I cannot remember now, but I do remember that I started paying a lot more attention to words that were used in the media to describe events. And I still do.

I use the following as an example not to invite debate about the ethics of abortion or access to abortion, but, rather, for you to think about words, to think about those debates and the words different people use when talking about the same things. One side talks about reproductive health, personal choice, reproductive choice, health clinics, pregnancy termination, freedom from government interference and abortion access. The other side brands itself as pro-life and uses words like murder and killing and baby parts and abortion industry. You can know which side a politician is on based on which words that person uses. Both sides regularly petition the media to use particular phrasing when talking about any news related to abortion services.

Another example: following mass shootings and murders by different young white men at a Colorado movie theater in July 2012, a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012, a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015, and an Oregon community college in October 2015, among many others, the shooters were referred to by police and the media as loners and mentally-ill, their relationships with women were often mentioned, and the words terrorism or radicalized were rarely, or never, used by journalists or politicians in association with the events once the shooters were identified. By contrast, mental illness, relationships with women and similar references was rarely, if ever, discussed by those same people regarding mass shootings, murders and bombings in the USA by young Muslim men in Little Rock in 2009, in Boston in April 2013, in Garland, Texas in 2015, and in Chatanooga in July 2015, among many others (details are still emerging regarding the shooting in San Bernadino this week, so I’ll leave that off this list).

Another example: the estate tax versus the death tax. In the USA, when someone dies, the money and goods that they had that is passed along to heirs, usually children, is taxed by the federal government. When this tax is described as an estate tax, polls show that around 75% of voters supported it. But when the exact same proposed policy is described as a death tax, only around 15% of voters supported it.

Sometimes, our choice of words to describe something is unconscious, a matter of our education or background. Other times, the choices are quite deliberate and meant to add subtext to our message, to sway the reader or listener in a particular direction. As I said on Facebook in response to someone who implied she doesn’t think word choice matters when describing groups, people or events:

If there is anything I’ve learned in my almost 50 years – WORDS MATTER. The words we use influence, inspire, change minds, create understanding or misunderstanding, fuel flames or put them out. Using a double standard to talk about people that murder others brands one “just really sad”, and the other “terrorism.” It demonizes entire groups while letting off other groups that are the same. It’s hypocrisy.

Here is a wonderful web site from a student project at the University of Michigan on the power of word choice in news articles (it includes rather wonderful lesson plans you can use in your own trainings!). It hasn’t been updated in a long while, but the examples it uses – many from the second Iraqi war with the USA – are excellent for showing the power of word choices to influence opinion – and even create misunderstanding. Also see this lesson plan for students in grade 9 – 12 regarding word choice and bias from Media Smarts, “Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy,” for more examples of how word choices can influence our opinions.

Words matter. Choose carefully.

Also see:

Communication for Development (C4D): Addressing Ebola

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Communication for Development (C4D) web site section shares information and materials any initiative can use to help educate individuals and communities about how to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus and how to care for those already affected.

Materials include:

  • Fact Sheets – For example, key messages, brochures with facts, and slide presentations.
  • Visual materials like a poster of signs and symptoms and a flip chart for health communicators.
  • Audio materials like songs and public service announcement (PSA) spots.
  • Training materials.
  • Guidelines for community volunteers.
  • Planning Documents – For example, a West and Central Africa (WCARO) strategy framework model.
  • Other Tools – the Behaviour Change Communication In Emergencies:  A ToolkitEssentials for Excellence – Research, Monitoring and Evaluating Strategic Communication; and the UNICEF Cholera Toolkit.

The Communications Initiative also is compiling information from a range of organizations regarding how to address communications challenges regarding Ebola. It’s updated frequently, and it’s a must-read for any development communications or public health communications specialist.

Also see my own resource, Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) & Urban Myths Interfering with Development & Aid/Relief Efforts, & Government Initiatives (& how these are overcome).

What a work day is like – so far

A few of you have asked what my work day here at the UN is like. So, for those interested:

I have a driver that takes me to the office every day, something my host, an American that’s lived here for many years, so generously arranged. I don’t think he’s an official taxi, but he gets the job done. It’s a 5-10 minute drive, or a 40 minute walk. I’m keeping the car for my entire time here to drive me to work, but once it cools off, I’ll start walking home every day.

I try to get to the UN offices a few minutes before 9 a.m. To me, that’s a really late start to the work day – at home, I often start before 8! Because of the time difference with the West, you get much more out of your day here in Kyiv at the UN HQ, in terms of being able to connect with people outside the country, if you work later rather than earlier. Because of that late start to the day, I can do a lot from home before I come into the office:  check my personal email and other personal communications, then my own professional email for my consulting, etc. I also check my UN email before I come in, to see if there is anything urgent, but I don’t reply to anything, unless it’s urgent, until I’m in the office. I prohibit myself from personal social media activities at work. I’ll post work-related items to my Facebook page and a bit to Twitter – and reading those is a good way to be most up-to-date on what I’m working on – but anything fun has to happen outside of work hours (some things do sneak in over lunch here).

I share my office with the UN communications manager, who is from Ukraine. I go through several tasks as soon as I plug in and start up my computer to catch me up-to-speed for the day:

First, I read ReliefWeb’s updates from various resources about Ukraine. Sources are from all over the spectrum: from the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia Today, Amnesty International, UNICEF, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Guardian (in the UK) and more. This let’s me know what my colleagues are going to be dealing with most urgently, what the press or donors might be calling about, etc. I don’t have to deal with the press or donors, but I’ve got to be ready to help my colleagues do so. My colleagues can’t wait for me to get up-to-speed in a meeting – I’ve got to come into the meeting with a basic understanding of current happenings. This is how I do it.

Then I glance through the tweets of everyone on my Twitter list for Ukraine. This further educates me about what’s “hot” in the country right now, particularly regarding political opinion, something that’s vital to know, as public opinion influences government and donors. Again, my colleagues can’t wait for me to catch up in meetings – I’ve got to come in already understanding ever-changing contexts.

I also look at some Twitter feeds specifically, in the morning and afternoon:
@UN_Ukraine (my office mate manages this account)
@UNDPUkraine (manager of this is just down the hall)
and I do a search on OCHA Ukraine (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to see what comes up. This keeps me up-to-date on what all the various UN offices are doing, in terms of communication and public programs. I’m here for just two months, and there’s no time for weekly meetings – this is how I stay up-to-speed on what’s going on so I can make appropriate recommendations regarding communication, especially in reports to donors.

And amid all this, or after it, I work on various projects: writing something, editing something, researching something, meeting with someone – as directed/needed by colleagues. I never know when a project or meeting will demand my attention until just a few minutes before it arrives, usually. I always makes sure that I have a project to work on in-between the sudden spurts of urgent things to do – I’ll create one if I have to. That’s essential in this work, to always be able to look for something to do – not just busy work, but something needed, that will actual help colleagues in some way.

In my first two weeks I’ve:

  • Drafted a very important strategy briefing document (took a LOT of research and rewrites and meetings)
  • Drafted a Twitter guide to help ramp up and evolve Twitter activities by UN offices here (also took a LOT of research), and bugged my communications colleagues with “try this” emails regarding immediate adjustments to make re: social media.
  • Advised on an app to help citizens report infrastructure issues to the government
  • Researched whether or not our offices might need a policy re: editing Wikipedia (such editing is easily monitored by citizen activists and even some hostile “bodies”, and conflict of interest editing can turn into a PR nightmare; I doubt anyone is editing Wikipedia from the office, but this is a VERY tech savvy country – I’m trying to think preventatively).
  • Had various ideas bounced off of me by the communications staff here for various events, announcements, activities, etc.
  • Participated in various meetings, mostly about coordination of humanitarian and aid programs.
  • Asked a lot of questions, listened, taken a lot of notes, listened to drafts of speeches, read lots and lots of information so I can write about various topics when called upon, read and responded to a lot of emails…

Unlike Afghanistan, I have complete freedom of movement here, there’s consistent electricity, everyone has a smart phone (not just a cell phone), no one has asked me for a bribe, and the country’s most urgent aid and development needs – and they are urgent, and sad, and often horrific – seem so far away… and that makes this experience surreal at times.

The first week, I left every day at 6, but this week, I’m leaving at 6:30, and next week, who knows, perhaps I’ll stay even later. The car is waiting for me and takes me home, and my work day is done – though I admit to checking work mail one more time before bed, and responding as needed.

That’s how my days have gone my first two weeks here. The glamourous life if aid and development work…

rampant misinformation online re: Mumbai (from the archives)

This blog originally appeared on a different blog host on 28 November 2008. If any URL does not work, type it into archive.org to see if there is an archived version there. For more information about why I am republishing these old blogs, scroll down to the bottom of this blog entry.

I’m intensely interested in how rumors and myth derail humanitarian efforts — or affect our understanding of various events, both current and historical. So yesterday, as I watched CNN reporters trumpet again and again how easy it was for “ordinary people” to find and disseminate information regarding the Mumbai attacks via various Internet tools such as blogs and Twitter, as well as cell phone text messaging, I wondered how long it would be before CNN started reporting unverified items from these Internet sources and ended up repeating things that would turn out not at all to be true.

I think it took approximately 15 minutes after that thought before a reporter started retracting some of the things being reported online that CNN had repeated. Suddenly, cyberspace wasn’t such a great example of “citizen journalism” after all.

In CNN’s own story about this online phenomenon today, they admit that a vast number of the posts on Twitter amounted to unsubstantiated rumors and wild inaccuracies. As blogger Tim Mallon put it, “far from being a crowd-sourced version of the news it (Twitter) was actually an incoherent, rumour-fueled mob operating in a mad echo chamber of tweets, re-tweets and re-re-tweets… During the hour or so I followed on Twitter there were wildly differing estimates of the numbers killed and injured – ranging up to 1,000.”

Amy Gahran has posted Responsible Tweeting: Mumbai Provides Teachable Moment that includes four excellent tips for people who want to micro-blog the news as it happens. It emphasizes checking sources and correcting information that you have found out is incorrect, and cautions journalists to remember that everything you read on the Internet or your cell phone isn’t necessarily true (how sad that they even have to be reminded…)

Sometimes misinformation is bad, or even worse, than no information at all. As with any communications tool, when it comes to instant networking tools like blogs, Twitter, and cell phones, use with caution. And TV journalists — please re-read your journalism 101 text books.

Why I’ve republished this old blog:

I have long been passionate about debunking urban legends, and that I’m very concerned at how easy online and phone-based tools, from email to Twitter, are making it to promote rumors and myths. Five to 10 years ago, I was blogging on this subject regularly. The web host where I published these blogs is long gone, and I’m now trying to find my many blogs on the subject of how folklore, rumors (or rumours) and urban myths Interfere with development work, aid/relief efforts and community health initiatives, so I can republish them here. I’ll be publishing one or two of these every Saturday until they are all back online.


Myths aren’t just annoying – they promote hatred

I have long been passionate about debunking urban legends, and that I’m very concerned at how easy online and phone-based tools, from email to Twitter, are making it to promote rumors and myths. Five to 10 years ago, I was blogging on this subject regularly. The web host where I published these blogs is long gone, and I’m now trying to find my many blogs on the subject of how folklore, rumors (or rumours) and urban myths Interfere with development work, aid/relief efforts and community health initiatives, so I can republish them here. I’ll be publishing these every Saturday until they are all back online. 

This blog originally appeared on a different blog host on 13. August 2009.

myths aren’t just annoying – they promote hatred

I worked in Afghanistan for six months in 2007, and I maintain a lot of contacts there. One of them forwards emails to several people, including me, regarding warnings or calls for protests, and all of them have been urban legends — not one has been true. The latest was this:

In the business area of MID TOWN MAN HATTAN in New York a new BAR is opened in the name of APPLE MECCA which is familiar to KAABA MAKKAH. This bar will be used for supply of Wine and Drinks. The Muslims of New York are pressurizing Government of USA not open this BAR.

Accompanying this myth is a purported photo of the “bar” — here’s an example.

Ofcourse this is all a lieThe picture is not real. It is a doctored image of the Apple Computer store on Fifth Avenue in New York City (which, indeed, has a bar — a genius bar — where knowledge, rather than wine and beer, is served). It is a clear block, not a black box, and is not at all a rendering of the holy Ka’ba. But many people forward the message via their phones or computers to all their friends and relatives, and they not only keep the lie alive, they also generate hatred and misunderstanding by Muslims against the West.

In the USA, we have a variety of online resources that debunk myths and rumors, such as the Straight Dope column by Cecil Adams, truthorfiction.com, President Obama’s Reality Check, and the popular but politically-framed snopes.comAre there any efforts in Arab-speaking countries and countries with large numbers of Muslims that are actively, engaging in myth-busting? If you know of such, please contact me. If not — please, someone, get busy!

Hire me in 2013 – let me help make your organization even better!

Blunt headline, I know, but it gets the point across: I’m available as a trainer for your organization or conference, or for short-term consulting, for long-term consulting, and, for the perfect opportunity, full-time employment in 2013!

As a consultant, I specialize in training, advising, capacity-building services and strategy development for not-for-profit organizations (NPOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, grass roots organizations, and public sector agencies, including government offices and educational institutions (altogether, these organizations comprise the mission-based sector).

Capacity-building is always central to any training or consulting work I do. Capacity-building means giving people the skills, information and other resources to most effectively and efficiently address the organization’s mission, and to help the organization be attractive to new and continuing support from donors, volunteers, community leaders and the general public. My training and consulting goal is to build the capacities of employees, consultants and volunteers to successfully engage in communications and community involvement efforts long after I have moved on.

My consulting services are detailed here. I can deliver both onsite and online services. Also, I love to travel (especially internationally!).

In 2013, I would love to create or co-create an entire course as a part-time or full-time instructor at a college university within any program training nonprofit managers, social workers, MBA students, aid and humanitarian workers, etc. I am most interested, and, I think, most qualified, to teach courses relating to:

  • public relations (basic public relations functions, outreach to particular audiences, crisis communications, how to address misinformation / misunderstandings, how to deal with public criticism, etc.)
  • strategic communications (systematic planning and utilization of a variety of information flows, internal and external to an organization or program, to deliver a message and build credibility or a brand)
  • cross-platform media and electronic media (using traditional print, synchronous and asynchronous online / digital communications, and emerging digital technologies effectively, and integrating the use of all information flows)
  • public speaking
  • community engagement (involving community members as volunteers, from program supporters to advisers, and creating ways for the community to see the work of an organization firsthand)

Would I consider giving up the consulting life and working just one job, either as a full-time consultant for a year or a full-time, regular employee? Yes! In that regard, I am looking for opportunities to:

  • manage/direct a program at a nonprofit, university or government agency.


  • direct the marketing, public relations or other communications activities for a major project or program at a nonprofit, university or government agency – a corporation that matches my professional values.

I have a profile at LinkedIn, as well as details on my own web site about my professional activities. I’m also happy to share my CV with you; email me with your request. If you have any specific questions about my profile, feel free to contact me as well. References available upon request as well!

Looking forward to hearing from you! Questions welcomed!

Brag about it

Once upon a time, I was the publicity director at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I was in charge of all marketing and public relations for this major national summer theatre festival. And believe it or not, merely having Sigourney Weaver or Stockard Channing in a production wasn’t always enough to sell tickets. The Internet was far from mainstream in those days – there wasn’t even a World Wide Web yet (just newsgroups, gopher and what not) – so we were doing all marketing and PR by newspaper (remember those?), radio, TV, posters and postal mailings (oh, those bulk mailings…. I don’t miss those).

A tradition that started many years before I had this role was the brag board: one very large bulletin board in the hall way that lead to the costume department and backstage. I (and every publicity director before me) used it to post any newspaper articles about or mentioning the festival, as well as newspaper advertisements for the festival.

It’s one thing to get print outs of articles, neatly presented in a folder. But that board was a very powerful visual for the work I was doing (supported by some wonderful interns). Too often, people just see a full house and think it somehow happened magically. The brag board was my way to say, “Hey, this is what it takes to get those seats filled.”

That brag board not only reminded my co-workers and supervisors about what I was doing, it also reminded the actors, directors and other artists the importance of doing the press interviews I was asking/would be asking them to do. Some actors get annoyed by being asked to do interviews (Ms. Weaver never was, in case you were wondering). This was my way of reminding the artists just how vital it was for the festival that they say yes to publicity activities.

That brag board was internal marketing. And it’s why I had a great summer as publicity director – because everyone knew what I did, and they valued it.

For a few years after that, I forgot that important lesson about internal marketing: I assumed the head of the organization, the heads of other departments, the receptionist, and others knew what I was doing because it was so clearly presented online. It’s all there, on the Internet – everyone sees that, right? It took a woman I admired tremendously, who always made me feel valued at her organization, to take me aside one day and remind me of the importance of internally marketing yourself. It’s of vital importance that you communicate to everyone at your organization about your role, what you do, and what the results of your work are – otherwise, you will find your budget being reduced, your department staff getting cut – and maybe even see your job get eliminated.

Having your work so prominent online, or among your professional associations, is NOT enough to ensure your role is valued at the organization that employs you.

Create a brag board. Put up copies of newspaper articles, blog posts, emails, a compilation of tweet mentions – anything that shows your organization is getting noticed or lauded. Print out and post photos on it that your volunteers are taking while volunteering and posting online. Put the board in a break room or hallway – a high traffic area where employees, consultants, volunteers and visitors will see it – or, if that doesn’t get approved, in your office. Keep it neat, well-organized, and frequently updated!

Keep forwarding links and emails to all staff – hey, look at this! – but don’t ever let that be a substitute for a big visual representation of the work you are doing.

Excuses, excuses

Here’s a conversation I had this week as a member of a certain city’s citizen’s committee regarding bicyclists and pedestrians:

Me: “I’d like for this link to the state agency name redacted web site to added to this web page on the city’s site. I’ve sent two emails requesting it, but no one has responded.”

City representative: “We don’t have money in the budget to do that.”

Me: “You don’t have the money to add a link to a web page?!?”

City Rep: “Actually, it’s because the decision makers need to review that change first.”

Me: “Okay, who are the ‘decision makers’?”

City Rep: “Oh, we don’t have a policy yet on how those decisions will be made.”


This is also a perfect illustration of the change of mentality that’s needed for effective online communications. Using web pages and social media has nothing to do with budgets or policies – it has to do with mindsets.

Fear-based management – it’s a customer service KILLER.