Tag Archives: media

How to change minds

I’m a part of the March for Science Facebook group, for people that were in the Marches for Science all across the USA on April 2017 or that supported such. A lot of the talk on the group has been about science education and public relations. There are individuals and communities all over the USA – and the world – fighting against science-based decision making in public policies and science education in schools, and many on the group feel this is because of poor wording and poor outreach by scientists and those that support science regarding public relations. In my ongoing quest to be a better communicator, I’ve watched these discussions closely.

Recently, someone posted the following regarding how we communicate about science. I think it’s a great testimony regarding what works, and what doesn’t, regarding swaying public opinion, changing people’s minds and fighting misinformation. I’m sharing it here, with her permission, but without her name to protect her identity:

I’m not a scientist. I’m not afraid of science but I also don’t have a strong grasp of most science related jargon. I joined this group along with a few other science groups/pages as I heard more and more of anti-science rhetoric from our govt. Allthough I don’t understand a lot of scientific things that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the importance of science for our society and for our future.

I have learned SO MUCH from reading posts and comments. The reason I have learned so much? The reason I am no longer “afraid” of GMO’s? The reason I have changed my mind on other popular misconceptions? Because my fear was never the science. My fear was that I didn’t know what information to trust. Money talks. It’s hard to figure out who is paying. Do I trust a science study that was paid for by a big corporation? Do I trust a study that’s published but not peer reviewed? WHO do you trust?

The common thread I’ve found as I read posts and comments in order to learn more is how stupid I am. How dumb was I to not trust GMO’s. People’s comments were blatantly MEAN. And sure, I was completely uneducated about GMO’s. I read the wrong information. I trusted the wrong sources. But again, without hours of research to find out funding sources, etc HOW do I know what to trust?

This question was amazing. I always want to learn more. I want to understand about so many things – to give my kids the best future possible. The best food to eat. The best meds for my asthmatic child. The best environment for them to grow up in, etc. But here’s the thing. If I wasn’t determined to do the best for my kids . . . by the 100th ridiculing comment on a post I found interesting I would have stopped following and learning. Heck by the 20th I would have written off these sciences pages.

Even in this thread there are those using terms like “stupid,” “brainwashing,” etc. Very derogatory terms and grouping all people who don’t have a knack for science into one realm. I have a great head for business, finances and can analyze the heck out of any non-technical literature. I don’t make fun or ridicule those people who don’t have have that ability. It accomplishes nothing.

So thank you to those of you who answered this post thoughtfully. I’m certain there are many of you who diligently try over and over again to get your point across. Don’t give up. Changing peoples’ minds is never easy but in this case it’s worth the fight.

—end quoted text—

Also see:

fake news, folklore & friendships

gossipIt wasn’t getting a journalism degree, or being a journalist, that made me a skeptic when it comes to sensational stories. It was a folklore class. Urban Folklore 371, to be exact. It was a very popular class at Western Kentucky University back in the late 1980s, both for people getting a degree in folklore studies and for people needing humanities courses for whatever their degree program was, like me. Class studies focused on contemporary, largely non-religious-based legends, customs and beliefs in the USA. One class might focus on watching a film about the games kids play on a playground and how those games explore the things they fear – marriage, childbirth, stranger danger, being ostracized by their peers, etc. Another class might review the difference versions of the “vanishing hitchhiker” story and why such stories are so popular in so many different cultures, and how the story changes over time.

I heard at least one student say, “That’s not a true story?! I always thought it was!” at least once in every class. Because of that class, I realized there were legends being told as truth all around me, by friends, by family, even by newspapers. “I heard it from my cousin” or “My friend saw it in a newspaper” or “My Mom saw it on Oprah” was usually the preface to some outlandish story told as fact. But the class taught me that, in fact, no woman was ever killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo, that there has never been a killer with a hook for a hand that attacked a couple in a parked car in a nearby town, that there is no actor who has never had a gerbil removed from his anus, and on and on and on.

I became the “um – that’s not true” girl at various places where I worked. And then via email. And I still am, now on social media. And what I have learned from being little Ms. Debunker is that people REALLY do NOT like these stories debunked. In fact, pointing out the facts that prove these stories aren’t true, no matter how gently I try to do it, often makes people very angry.

Back in the 1990s, a friend sent me yet another forwarded email. This time, the text said the email was from Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, that he’d written a program that would trace everyone to whom the email message was sent, and that he was beta testing the program. The email encouraged people to forward the message and said that if it reaches 1,000 people, everyone on the list would receive $1,000. Of course, it wasn’t true – I knew it as soon as I saw it. She’d sent me several of these type of emails – one that said people that forwarded the message would get a free trip to Disney World, another said we’d all get free computers, and on and on. I had been deleting them, but I was tired of it. So I looked online, found a site that debunked the myth, and sent her the link. I didn’t make any judgement statements; I just said, “This is a myth. Here’s more info. You might want to let everyone know you sent to, as well as the person you got it from,” or something similar.

She was not happy with me. In fact, it almost ended our friendship. She told me that the Internet was “a place for having fun” and “you can’t win if you don’t play” and what did she have to lose by forwarding the message even if it sounded fishy?

And that kind of reaction kept happening. Three new friends I made back in 2010, after I’d moved back to the USA, all unfriended me on Facebook the same day, outraged that I pointed out several things they were posting as their status updates – about how Facebook was going to start charging users, about how putting up a disclaimer on your Facebook page would stop the company from being able to sell your information, and on and on – were all urban legends, all untrue. Their reaction was almost verbatim of what that friend via email had said: Facebook is “a place for having fun” and “it’s better to be safe and share it” and what did they have to lose by sharing the message even if it sounded fishy? Also, they said they did not have time to “check every single thing online.”

Now, in 2016, I have friends that are furious with me for posting science-based web sites that debunk their posts from quack sites like the “Food Babe” claiming that GMOs cause cancer or that vaccines cause autism (to be clear, these are MYTHS). Two journalists – JOURNALISTS – were mad at me when I pointed out that a status update one had shared – it urged users to use the Facebook check-in function to say they were at Standing Rock in North Dakota, that this would somehow prevent the Morton County Sheriff’s Department there from geotargeting DAPL protesters – was promoting false information. I wasn’t just annoyed by the message – I found it imprudent, and yet another example of slackervism or slacktivism: people truly wishing to assist the protesters were checking in on Facebook rather than doing something that would REALLY make a difference, like sending funds to support the protest efforts or writing their Congressional representatives in support of the protesters. It also misdirects people from the nefarious ways law enforcement really does surveil people on social media. I would have thought journalists would know better than engage in such behavior.

Contemporary legends online cause harm, and it’s bothered me long before the Standing Rock/Facebook book check-in myth. Since 2004, I have been gathering and sharing examples of how rumors and urban / contemporary myths often interfere with relief and development activities, and government initiatives, including public health initiatives — even bringing such to a grinding halt. These myths create ongoing misunderstandings among communities and cultures, prevent people from seeking help, encourage people to engage in unhealthy and even dangerous practices, cultivate mistrust of people and institutions, and have even lead to mobs of people attacking someone or others for no reason other than something they heard from a friend of a friend of a friend. With the advent of social media like Twitter and Facebook, as well as just text messaging among cell phones, spreading misinformation is easier than ever.

Based on my experience as a researcher and a communications practitioner, and everything I’ve read – and I read a LOT on this subject – rumors that interfere with development and aid/relief efforts and government health initiatives come from:

  • misinterpretations of what a person or community is seeing, hearing or experiencing,
  • from previous community experiences or their cultural beliefs,
  • willful misrepresentation by people who, for whatever reason, want to derail a development or relief activity,
  • unintentional but inappropriate or hard-to-understand words or actions by a communicator, or
  • the desire of an individual or community to believe an alternative narrative, a desire that is stronger than the facts

That list of bullet points was central to the long list I made of recommendations on preventing folklore, rumors and urban myths from interfering with such initiatives. I made that list to help aid workers, particularly people leading public health initiatives. For years, I’ve updated that list and felt really good about it being comprehensive and realistic, and I’ve employed some of the methods myself in my work.

But are these recommendations enough anymore? I’m not sure. Because BuzzFeed reported that fake news stories about the USA Presidential election this year generated more engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets COMBINED – that included major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News, and on and on. And a new study from Stanford researchers evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources, and described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak” and a “threat to democracy,” as reported by NPR News. Researchers said students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, getting duped again and again. The researchers weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles. And the students failed. Miserably. And then there’s my own experience seeing the reaction a lot of people have to references to sites like snopes.com or truthorfiction.com or hoax-slayer.com or the Pulitzer Prize-winning site Politico that debunk myths; those people claim that “These sites aren’t true. They’re biased.” And that’s that – just a simple dismissal, so they can continue to cling to falsehoods.

National Public Radio did a story a few days ago about a man in Los Angeles who decided to build fake news sites that publish outrageous, blatantly false stories that promote stories that extreme far-right groups in the USA (also known as “alt-right”) would love to believe; he thought that when these stories were picked up by white supremacist web sites and promoted as true, he and others, particularly major media outlets, would be able to point out that the stories were entirely fiction, created only as bait, and that the white supremacists were promoting such as fact. But instead, thousands of people with no formal association with white supremacists groups shared these stories as fact – reaching millions more people. He wrote one fake story for one of his fake sites on how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot. Again, this story is NOT TRUE. But it led to a state representative in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana; a state legislator was creating legislation and outrage based on something that had never happened.

BTW, to see these fake news sites for yourself, just go to Google and search for snopes is biased, and you will get a long list of links to fake news sites, most right-wing, all fighting against debunking fact-based sites like Snopes. I refuse to name those fake news sites because I don’t want them to get any more traffic than they already do.

Competent decision-making depends on people – the decision-makers – having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful and appropriate context. Reason – the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgments by a process of logic – relies on being able to evaluate information regarding credibility and truth. But fact-based decision-making, the idea of being logical and using reason and intellect, have become things to eschew. The Modis Operandi for many is go with your gut, not with the facts. Go not for truth, but truthiness.

I always thought that last bullet in my list of why people believe myths, “the desire of an individual or community to believe an alternative narrative, a desire that is stronger than the facts,” was easy to address. Now, given all the aforementioned, I’m not at all sure.

I’m going to keep calling out myths whenever I see them, and if it costs me Facebook friends, so be it. I prefer the truth, even when the truth hurts, even when the truth causes me to have to reconsider an opinion. There is a growing lack of media literacy and science literacy in the USA – and, indeed, the world. And the consequences of this could be catastrophic – if they haven’t been already. People need to be able to not just access information, but also to analyze it and evaluate the source. That’s just not happening. And I’ve no idea how to change things.

Also see:

8:10 am Nov. 28, 2016 Update: Filippo Menczer, Professor of Computer Science and Informatics and Director of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University, Bloomington, authored the article Why Fake News Is So Incredibly Effective, published in Time and The Conversation. Excerpts: “Our lab got a personal lesson in this when our own research project became the subject of a vicious misinformation campaign in the run-up to the 2014 U.S. midterm elections. When we investigated what was happening, we found fake news stories about our research being predominantly shared by Twitter users within one partisan echo chamber, a large and homogeneous community of politically active users. These people were quick to retweet and impervious to debunking information.” Also of note: “We developed the BotOrNot tool to detect social bots. It’s not perfect, but accurate enough to uncover persuasion campaigns in the Brexit and antivax movements… our lab is building a platform called Hoaxy to track and visualize the spread of unverified claims and corresponding fact-checking on social media. That will give us real-world data, with which we can inform our simulated social networks. Then we can test possible approaches to fighting fake news.”

1:05 pm Nov. 29, 2016 Updates:

Donald Trump and the Rise of Alt-Reality Media: You think the truth took a hit last year? It’s about to get worse. A lot worse. from Politico.

For Some, Scientists Aren’t The Authority On Science from NPR

Dec. 3, 2016 Updates:

Spread of Fake News Provokes Anxiety in Italy from The New York Times

Dec. 6, 2016 Updates:

A North Carolina man read online that a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, DC, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring, so he drove six hours from his home to the restaurant, and not long after arriving, he fired from an assault-like AR-15 rifle. No one was injured, and he’s been arrested, but, as The New York Times notes,  “the shooting underscores the stubborn lasting power of fake news and how hard it is to stamp out. Debunking false news articles can sometimes stoke the outrage of the believers, leading fake news purveyors to feed that appetite with more misinformation. Efforts by social media companies to control the spread of these stories are limited, and shutting one online discussion thread down simply pushes the fake news creators to move to another space online. The articles were exposed as false by publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post and the fact-checking website Snopes. But the debunking did not squash the conspiracy theories about the pizzeria — instead, it led to the opposite. ‘The reason why it’s so hard to stop fake news is that the facts don’t change people’s minds,’ said Leslie Harris, a former president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit that promotes free speech and open internet policies.”

Dec. 9, 2016 update

“Fakes, News and the Election: A New Taxonomy for the Study of Misleading Information within the Hybrid Media System”

Giglietto, Fabio and Iannelli, Laura and Rossi, Luca and Valeriani, Augusto

November 30, 2016. Convegno AssoComPol 2016 (Urbino, 15-17 Dicembre 2016), Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2878774

Abstract:
The widely unexpected outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election prompted a broad debate on the role played by “fake-news” circulating on social media during political campaigns. Despite a relatively vast amount of existing literature on the topic, a general lack of conceptual coherence and a rapidly changing news eco-system hinder the development of effective strategies to tackle the issue. Leveraging on four strands of research in the existing scholarship, the paper introduces a radically new model aimed at describing the process through which misleading information spreads within the hybrid media system in the post-truth era. The application of the model results in four different typologies of propagations. These typologies are used to describe real cases of misleading information from the 2016 US Presidential election. The paper discusses the contribution and implication of the model in tackling the issue of misleading information on a theoretical, empirical, and practical level.

Also see: Feuds in the nonprofit/NGO/charity world

Volunteers broke Flint water story

It was VOLUNTEERS – unpaid people donating their time and expertise – that conducted the long-distance, independent sampling of Flint’s water and releasing findings that forced the government, the media, and the world to pay attention. That’s what unpaid “citizen scientists” are: volunteers. These 25 volunteers—four undergrads, 11 graduate students, seven post-docs and three faculty members—united “to help resolve scientific uncertainties associated with drinking water issues being reported in the City of Flint, Michigan.”

Local groups like WaterYouFightingFor and the Michigan ACLU (among others) also mobilized volunteers, helping local Flint citizens – as volunteers – to collect water samples.

THIS is the value of volunteers – not money saved, not paid staff replaced, but rather, a job done BETTER because it was done by unpaid people. Would the Independent Sector or UN Volunteers or the Corporation for National Service try to put a dollar value on this volunteer time donated in order to show the value of this volunteering?!

There is a GoFundMe page up for this volunteer team of scientists and students operating out of Virginia Tech, to help them cover the costs, paid out of their own pockets, for this work. The group goes by the name FlintWaterStudy and formed in August 2015.

More via The Nonprofit Quarterly.

Also see:

What do NGOs understand that USA nonprofits don’t?

Last week, I got to be a part of the program for a group visiting Portland through the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). It was the fourth time I’ve gotten to be a part of the program over the years – the first time was in Austin, Texas, back in the 1990s. This time, visitors were from Egypt, Afghanistan, Liberia, Tunisia, Latvia, Greece, Mexico, El Salvador, Morocco, South Africa, Cameroon, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and more.

Talking with leaders of NGOs from all over the world is incredibly energizing – for me, it feels like coming home. Many are stunned that I’ve been to their countries – or that I even know where their countries are, what language they speak there, etc., in contrast to so many people in the USA. I’m sorry to sound the snob, but my fellow citizens are notorious worldwide for our ignorance about the rest of the planet, and not even having a passport, and I’m proud to be in contrast to that stereotype.

(just last week, I had to explain to a very close friend what the European Union was – she’s a very intelligent person, but if none of the news outlets ever mention the EU, how would she know what it is?).

This time with the IVLP, I was part of a small group of members from the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA); instead of a traditional workshop, we divided up and each spent time with three people, for 20 minutes, talking about volunteer engagement, and would switch to a new group every 20 minutes. It allowed me to get one-on-one time with more than half the NGO representatives, and that’s always delightful. Many of the problems they face regarding volunteer engagement are the same as anywhere: trouble mainitaining volunteer motivation, volunteers not finishing assignments, too many volunteers one day and not enough another, etc. I hope they found my references helpful – hard to address everything in just 20 minutes!

One moment for me that I particularly loved: how integral social media is for many of these NGOs in working with volunteers. I loved hearing about all the ways they recruit, interact with and support volunteers using various social media tools, reaching volunteers via their phones as much, if not more, than via their computers – all said that, for the most part, email is dead for their young volunteers (people under 40) altogether. These NGOs haven’t needed workshops or conferences to convince them these tools are valuable; they’ve seen their value immediately. When I told them just how many nonprofits here in the USA refuse to use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media tools to work with volunteers, about how, if nonprofits here do decide to use such, they often give social media responsibilities to interns and senior management stays away from such, and how often I’ve had hostile reactions to the tech practices that these NGOs, by contrast, have fully embraced, they were floored. And they laughed. A lot. And when I told them that, in Oregon, in the supposedly oh-so-tech-savvy Portland area, I have had women younger than me say, “Oh, I don’t have email, so send that to my husband’s/daughter’s address, and he/she will print it out for me to read,” their jaws dropped.

True, many of these NGOs aren’t recruiting ethnic minorities, religious minorities and other marginalized groups as volunteers in their countries – and don’t see why they should have to make volunteering more accessible to such. They don’t see who they might be leaving out as volunteers by totally abandoning offline recruitment and support methods. In short, their volunteer engagement is not perfect and needs to further modernized, especially in terms of being inclusive – but what they are doing in terms of leveraging networked technologies in recruiting, involving and supporting volunteers is far, far ahead of what most nonprofits are doing in the USA. And all I can say is: WELL DONE. And keep teaching me!

Another big emphasis for these NGOs in particular is involving young people as volunteers – young people who are unemployed or under-employed, people under 40 with some education but who cannot find jobs. These NGOs see volunteer engagement with young people as a way not only to build the skills of those young people so that they can get jobs – or even start their own businesses – but also to give these young people a sense of civic responsibility and community connection beyond protesting in the streets. I was happy to help address some of these ideas in my very limited conversations, and welcomed their online inquiries so I can send them to further resources.

And, finally, I apologize to the guys from West Africa who were offended I hadn’t been to any of their countries yet (I’m trying!), and if the guy from the Philippines does not send me the photo he took of myself and the guy from Afghanistan wearing the cowboy that he bought in Texas, with both of us making the “hook ’em horns” sign, I will be DEVASTATED.

POSTSCRIPT: Not devastated.

For more information about my training.

Also see:

Before you create that online profile… do you want to keep it?

Each time you create a profile on any service — Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter, whatever – you have to use an email address for that profile.

Choose that email address carefully, because it could determine whether or not you get to keep that profile once you leave your organization or agency.

More and more, staff members across organizations – not just the marketing department – are creating online profiles and participating in online groups and social media as a part of their work. An organization’s IT staff might be participating on the TechSoup Community to talk about their approaches to choosing hardware or tools to ensure system security. An agency’s human resources staff may be on an online community for other HR managers, to discuss the latest legislation and court rulings affecting the workplace. An agency’s program director may be on Facebook and Twitter to interact with people participating the agency’s services, classes, whatever.

When that staff member leaves the organization or agency, the tech waters can get quite muddy over who owns those online profiles. Often, it’s not the content of the profile that determines who owns such – it’s what email address was used to register that profile.

If there is any chance you will want to keep any online profile after you leave an organization, don’t register that profile using your organization’s email address.

In an article by Society for Human Resource Management, entitled, Ownership of Social Media Accounts Should Be Clarified in Agreements, Jim Thomas, an attorney with Minor & Brown in Denver (whose No Funny Lawyers Blog has been listed as one of the top 25 U.S. business law blogs according to LexisNexis) offers advice regarding company ownership of employee online activities. He notes in that article:

The clearest case for employer ownership will be an employee who uses other employees to maintain his or her accounts,” Thomas stated. “Beyond that, indicators will be use of employer e-mail addresses, employer standardized or coordinated formats (this is what your page should look like) or approaches to social media (coordinated campaigns); employer-provided photos and/or content; employer-provided passwords or passwords that are shared with the employer; employees who are allowed to use employer computers to use social media during working hours. Not that any one of these or even all of them will be dispositive.

The best advice is to have frank conversations with your supervisor, and to get clear policies from senior management, regarding who owns employee social media activities, and how accounts will be handled if you depart the organization. And you will have to have more such conversations and agreements every time your supervisor or senior staff changes, if policies aren’t in writing.

My Twitter Lists

One of the things I really like about Twitter is that I don’t have to follow absolutely everyone whose tweets I might be interested in reading at some point; I can put people and organizations on various lists, by subject matter, geography, whatever, and then check in with those lists as I like. I pick one or two of my lists a day, and then spend a few minutes going through the tweets of that list.

I make my Twitter lists public – anyone can see them. I’m also sharing them below – I thought you might like to see what they are, either to find someone you should be following, to subscribe to any of these lists or maybe to finally get you on Twitter at long last.

Afghanistan
People and organizations that tweet about Afghanistan. I’ll always care about Afghanistan…

Aid work & Dev
Organizations working development, aid and humanitarian response in developing/transitional countries.

CSR
Corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship, including pro bono help

Colleagues
My professional and volunteering colleagues (if you aren’t on this list, and we’ve worked together at some point in some way, and you are on Twitter, please let me know!)

español
Info & orgs in Spain & Latin America, or any site I follow that tweets in español, all related to some subject I follow (aid work and development, tech4good/ICT4D, tourism for good, CSR, FOSS, etc.)

FOSS
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) – vendors, distributors, volunteers and advocates.

International NGOs
Major international non-governmental organizations I’m particularly interested in.

Nonprofit associations
City, state & regional nonprofit associations in the USA.

PNW
Portland, Oregon & Pacifc Northwest Tweeters I follow.

Tech4Good ICT4D
Also #nptech, apps for good. Organizations and individuals engaged in activities that use computer, software and Internet technology to help individuals, communities and the environment.

tourism4good
Organizations promoting tourism for good, or tourism for development.

Women & Girls Empowerment
Orgs & tweeters re women & girls empowerment/rights

Vol Research
Research regarding volunteerism and/or community engagement

Volunteerism non-English
Volunteer info & orgs that do not tweet English (but tweet in Spanish, French, Portuguese, or anything I can sorta kinda figure out)

For Volunteers
If you want to / are a volunteer. If you tweet about your volunteering activities, the things you do as a volunteer, contact me and let me know. If you are an organization focused primarily on volunteers (you have developed a web site or app to help people find volunteering opportunities, for instance), let me know.

Volunteer recruit/manage
For those that work with volunteers – for managers of volunteers, and for organizations that regularly tweet regarding their volunteers.

Volunteerism
Promoting or researching the concept of volunteers/community help.

If you want to be on any of these lists, please contact me. And if you are interested in the subjects I am, or want to know what I’m up to, I hope you will follow me on Twitter!

Why Your Organization Probably Doesn’t Need A Facebook Page

An excellent blog: Why Your Company Probably Doesn’t Need A Facebook Page

I completely agree. And I think it’s true for many nonprofits, NGOs, community agenices and other organizations as well.

Shocked? Don’t be. Facebook is a great, appropriate outreach / engagement tool for many organizations – and a complete waste of time for others, as this blog explores.

Consider this: maybe all of your volunteers are on Facebook – but they don’t want to mix their Facebook activities with their volunteering. Offline, I don’t always feel comfortable talking about what I do as a volunteer at work with colleagues, or when I’m socializing with friends – perhaps I feel the same way online.

Having a booth at the local county fair might be a great way to create awareness about whatever issue your nonprofit is concerned with, or as a way to recruit volunteers – and might be a complete waste of time for others.

Same for putting an ad in the local newspaper.

Same for doing a PSA on a local radio station.

Same for putting a billboard up on a highway.

How do you know which outreach or engagement tool is right for your organization? Through knowing your potential audiences, through observing online activities by other organizations similar to your organization or also serving a similar community, and through asking your current clients, donors and volunteers how they heard about your organization and how they do or don’t want to use social media with your organization. Through experimenting. Through trial and error.

That said, if you are on Facebook, and want to use Facebook as a way to learn about effective volunteer / community engagement, about nonprofit / NGO management, about aid and development, or about my work, I would love for you to like my Facebook page. But it’s worth noting that a LOT of my friends haven’t done this, because they don’t like mixing work and fun (and they see their Facebook activities as purely for fun).

And if you are on Twitter, and want to use it for those similar reasons, I would love for you to follow me on Twitter. But, again, a LOT of my friends haven’t done this, because they don’t like mixing work and fun (and they see their Twitter activities as purely for fun).

January 5, 2017 update

I still believe 90% of this blog – and the blogs I link to in this blog. My only change is this: your nonprofit does need a page on Facebook, just to “own” your organization’s online real estate – the name of your organization on Facebook. This will mean people can find you on Facebook –  yes, they are probably looking for you, and are angry when they cannot find you – and it will also prevent someone else from creating a page for your organization without your knowledge. But if you aren’t going to publish a status update on Facebook at least once a week, if you aren’t going to mark “like” on every single comment made on your status updates, if you aren’t going to respond to questions and criticisms made on your status updates, then say so: publish a status update that says your organization does not regularly update its Facebook status update, and the best way to know what your organization is up to is… what? Check the web site regularly? Follow you on Twitter instead? Also, publish your email address in that one-and-only status update, and note that it’s the best way to reach you. Finally, set your privacy settings so that no one can post on your Facebook page, and so that if anyone mentions your organization on their own Facebook status update it doesn’t show up on your page.

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 WHY I DON’T BELIEVE IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES INVOLVING THE GOVERNMENT.

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.

LinkedIn for Nonprofits? The Good & Bad

I love LinkedIn. It’s how I stay connected with so many of the colleagues I’ve worked with or presented with over the years, or people whose work I am intensely familiar with (and who know a great deal about my work as well).

What’s kept LinkedIn so valuable for me is that I don’t connect to just anyone on LinkedIn; I reserve my connections there for real colleagues – employees or volunteers, doesn’t matter – and treat their contact information there as oh-so-precious. It’s my online address book for current and former co-workers. If it went away, I’d be lost, as it’s my professional address book and my way to know who is where.

I appreciate all my LinkedIn colleagues who gateway their Twitter feeds to their LinkedIn status – that way, I can more easily catch up with what they are up to without having to subscribe to their Twitter feeds.

I tolerate LinkedIn groups. They are clunky: hard to navigate, bury discussions, make it hard to see who else is a member, and are severely limited (you are limited in how many discussions you can actually join). But worst of all, the content seems to be mostly pleas for employment, rather than substantive discussions/debates. YahooGroups is a MUCH better platform for discussion – easier to use, more features, allows much more control by individual members in terms of how they receive messages, and many of the groups are rich in content.

I would love it if more organizations would put their events in the LinkedIn event feature. Then everyone who is attending – including those who are presenting – could show via LinkedIn that they are attending, which is then seen by everyone they follow, and which then might lead to even greater attendance.

I appreciate that LinkedIn has a section for users to input their volunteer experience. But I don’t use it. Why? Because whether or not I was paid to head a project, manage other people, facilitate an online event or represent an organization shouldn’t matter in terms of my profile; the nature of that work, that accomplishment, that leadership should be what’s most important. Why should some of the best work I’ve done be segregated elsewhere on my profile merely because I wasn’t paid to do it?

Is LinkedIn of use for nonprofits and NGOs? Of course! In addition to what I’ve said above, it’s also a great way to review new people you are connecting with elsewhere – on Facebook, that you meet at this or that reception or read about in a newspaper article and think, hey, that might be a a great candidate for our marketing position (paid or volunteer – doesn’t matter!), or as a possible board member.  

But a word of advice: never email someone you have never met with an invitation to be a board member at your organization, no matter how great their profile is on LinkedIn. You need to make sure this person is going to be a good match at your organization before you offer him or her a leadership role, and that takes interviews and reference checks.

Should you use LinkedIn as I do? Maybe. Maybe not. My point with all of the above isn’t so much to say, use it like me, but to say: think strategically about how you use it, at least review all of the various features, and test many of them for yourself as well, to see if they are worthwhile for YOU, specifically.

Also see:

Pro Bono / In-Kind / Donated Services for Mission-Based Organizations:
When, Why & How?

Short-term assignments for tech volunteers

An Afghan strategy shows my conversion to Twitter

When Twitter got started several years ago, it was a tool meant to be used via text messaging on your cell phone. That meant that, every time you got a message via Twitter, your phone vibrated or made a sound.

And that’s why I stayed away from it. That’s way, way more information I want via cell phone text messaging. And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way: I talked to nonprofits who told me they were abandoning their Twitter feeds in those early days because their volunteers and other supporters were complaining: we do NOT want this many text messages from you.

But just as Facebook went from being primarily an online dating tool for university students to an online social networking tool for everyone, Twitter has become a way for people to send and receive very targeted information – because it’s accessed primarily via a web browser or cell phone app rather than cell phone text messaging. Now, unlike its early days, Twitter reminds me so much of USENET newsgroups, the online communities that preceded the web and launched me into cyberspace (back in the 1990s, I checked my newsgroups before email!).

I hadn’t realized how far my conversion to Twitter was until I was midway through creating a strategy last weekend regarding Twitter use for an Afghanistan government ministry initiative. I never would have written this strategy two years ago!

And my point is: you have to be ready to revisit online tools. What may not be right for you now may be right for you in a couple of years. And what you are using now may be replaced by something better.

It’s annoying, I know: right after I had fully invested in an online profile on MySpace, including a blog focused specifically on youth volunteer engagement, people started abandoning MySpace in droves for Facebook. All that time and effort, down the drain… but I’m sure organizations that fully invested in their America Online profiles and communities back in the 1990s felt the same way when the World Wide Web really took off.

In case you are wondering: why did I recommend that an Afghan government initiative adopt Twitter?

  • Afghan government ministries have trouble thinking of their web sites as something that needs to change daily, even hourly. Adding a Twitter feed on the home page and other key web pages of this initiative will automatically make its web site dynamic – updated with every Tweet.
  • This government initiative needs to communicate much more effectively with current donors and international donors – and many of those international agencies and foreign government offices are very active Twitter users. They will still send their reports and meeting invitations, but now, they will also give very short, regular updates – and that’s just what the donors want.
  • This initiative needs urgently to communicate better with the press. And the press in Afghanistan is really tired of press conferences and 10 page press releases.
  • This initiative needs to learn to say why it’s great (and it is) in 140 characters or less. Afghan government workers are some of the most verbose writers you will ever encounter. I attribute that to a combination of Persian poetic roots and United Nations training. I’m hoping Twitter use will contribute to them writing more effective messages in all of their communications.
  • The initiative staff needs to read what is being said about its work beyond local newspapers, if they want to know what international donors are thinking.

My goal with the strategy is to get the staff at this initiative up and using Twitter as soon as possible, and to keep their use as effective and worthwhile. So my strategy included:

  • What to write as the program’s Twitter user name – and why.
  • The wording for the program’s Twitter bio – and why those specific words were important (word choice is important, so that people looking for certain key words will find their profile).
  • The Twitter feeds for this initiative to follow, at least at first, and why (which I hope will guide the staff regarding future follow choices). It’s about 200 Twitter feeds – and, yes, I carefully chose each of them.
  • Exactly what to do during their first 48 hours on Twitter.
  • Tweets for the first five days.
  • What to tweet after those first five days.
  • Tags to use, and not to use – and why.
  • Best days to tweet (best days are NOT Thursday afternoons, Fridays or Saturdays, which are the Afghan weekend), as well as best times of day (late morning is best to reach Europe, late afternoon is best to reach North America).
  • Tips for avoiding bad PR on Twitter (how to be supportive of the nation and the government without getting political, the importance of keeping personal info off the Twitter feed like “here are photos from my vacation in India!”, choosing whom to follow, etc.).
  • Why it’s important to check to see who has mentioned the agency on Twitter, and how to find direct messages on Twitter.
  • What activity is public on Twitter (pretty much everything!).

I spent about an hour dreaming up example Tweets for almost each advice item above. That was fun. It involved poppies.

What about communicating with Afghan citizens? That certainly will happen too with this Twitter feed, with affluent Afghans, even if that’s not the primary purpose of the Tweets. While cell phone permeation is shockingly high in Afghanistan, even among farmers and ranchers (Bloomberg News, April 2010), I doubt many will follow via cell phone text messaging – and the numbers are still relatively small (because of literacy and remoteness). Should the ministry create a separate Twitter feed to reach those farmers and ranchers specifically via text messages? Maybe! But first, this ministry needs to use Twitter with donors and the press, IMO, so they can hone their messaging skills. And when they’re ready, I hope I get to help with other strategies as well.

Will this government ministry go for it and start using Twitter? If they do, I will announce it on my own Twitter feed. Stay tuned…