Librarian Tip for Nonprofits: 90-Second YouTube

I was reading the May 2008 issue of American Libraries and the Internet Librarian column by Joseph Janes jumped out at me with the potential to be immediately useful to me at work (which is not in a library).

I help run a program at a literacy nonprofit, and a lot of people contact me and my colleagues all the time with a large volume of questions.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those people who actually gets a kick out of answering questions.  It’s just that as I mentioned in my last post, when we’re bombarded with questions, especially redundant ones, it’s extremely difficult to do the rest of of our jobs done.

This article, “Spring Awakening,” describes how the Cornell University Library ended up making 90-second YouTube clips for their incoming first-years about basic research concepts.

As Janes points out, this isn’t earth-shattering, but as he also points out, it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering in order to be dead useful; it just needs to 1) address the need and 2) actually happen.

It brings to mind a huge site I used a few times in college called Atomic Learning.  Schools can subscribe to it to give their students access to tons of tiny (“atomic”) learning modules.  My college subscribed to it, but I don’t have access to it now that I’m out of school, and I think the focus was watching, not creating your own.  The brilliance of using YouTube instead is that it’s free, allows participation on both sides, is easy to embed, and simple to access.

How powerful would it be to have even a couple of 90-second videos addressing super-common questions!  I’m so excited to bring this to the team and see what we can make of it.  I’m thinking that even if we can’t do video, a cute (and very brief) Slideshare really should be doable.  Or hey, even a Voki if we’re feeling cartoony.

Have you done something like this?  How has it gone?  Can you use this kind of resource in your organization?  What can help bring this from the “idea” stage to the “actually happening” stage?

Online Communities Plunge Into Lake Scranton

The Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology blog posted “Why Most Online Communities Fail.”  (Thanks to Doug H for sharing it on Twitter!)  It’s short and sweet, and explains it’s based on a study of around 100 businesses with online communities.  Three big, common errors: 1) They spend too much on “oooh, shiny!” technology, 2) They don’t appropriately staff the projects, and 3) Their goals and metrics don’t align so they’re pretty much doomed to appear to fail.  The article points out that these are pretty obviously mistakes.  Any thoughts on why these illogical errors were so easy to make for so many businesses?

It’s so good to read a concise yet pithy post about what not to do!  Sometimes I think that social media talk is just a tad more Pollyanna than is warranted, though I obviously partake and enjoy doing so.  The We Are Media Project has been talking about how to be Social Media “Evangelists.”  I think that sharing awareness of common pitfalls is a huge part of being a responsible social media evangelist.  It shows that it’s not a brand-new, completely untested idea.  It shows that you’re informed and honest.  And it provides a more complete map to guide our organizations.

The fate we’re all trying to avoid is that of Michael Scott, who unthinkingly follows his car’s GPS straight into a lake and then insists that technology tried to kill him.  We can be intelligent about new-to-us technology, and understanding where pitfalls (or lakes) are can keep ridiculous plunges on The Office and out of ours.

Ning.com?

At work we’re looking to make a social network function for quite a large and geographically distant internal network, which in an ideal world would have 5 or 6 related but distinct subgroups.

Our overall goal is to use a system to efficiently get information around these groups. Email is not cutting it.  We would like to free ourselves from its grip.

We were initially very excited about Drupal, but I’m told that we would have had to rely on a programmer to make it happen for us, and he has evidently fallen off the face of the earth.  I hope he’s ok, wherever he is.

In lieu of outside help, I’ve been looking around at other options.  I heard Ning.com mentioned a few times, and as far as I can tell it’s just Moodle.  Regardless of which nonsense-word social network service we use, I’m excited about several features:

  • Initial setup was intuitive
  • I can post events, announcements, links, and other information
  • Groups
  • A blog, forum, etc.

My concerns about Ning.com in particular are:

  • I have an alarming quantity of information to post, including a forms library.  Is there a good way to do this using Ning.com?  Or is this where Moodle really shines?
  • I’m having trouble editing the layout of my page, as opposed to the main network page.
  • Will it be intuitive enough for enough of our network to make it worth trying?

I also have a more general concern about Web 2.0-ing my program.  Within our program, there are a lot of details, complications, and restrictions, not all of which are intuitive.  It’s the nature of our funding streams, and is even a little extreme in a nonprofit context.  We definitely want our network to collaborate with each other, talk, share stories, etc.  We also need the rules, regulations, and expectations, and their relatively strict natures to be abundantly clear.  How do other networks walk that line?  What are some tips for success?

Solution: Posterous

Thanks so much to Amy Sample Ward for blogging about Posterous!  Just email them content and they post it for you.  Woah.

This is exactly the kind of tool I should have used back when I started a blog without home internet.  There’s no process for signing up, you don’t have to do any account managing or appearance adjusting if you don’t want to, and they embed your media for you.  Yes, this helps people who aren’t familiar with much web technology beyond email.  It also reduces time commitment for anybody, no matter how tech-savvy.

It was a piece of excellent timing, because we were just brainstorming at work about some low-cost, low-time-investment ways to improve (specifically Web 2.0-ize) our website as we bide our time till a major overhaul.  Posterous would be a great way to post our informational emails as a blog; this would make them accessible to people who don’t want more email and also put them in a format that welcomes comments and discussion.  The best thing about this is we can just add post@posterous.com to our mailing list and it will post automatically.  Very exciting for a bunch of efficient nonprofiters!

I tested out my own just now.  The chief lessons I learned are that it is instant, the default style is clean white with orange links, you can BCC them, and that you should send photos as attachments rather than as links.   Things to explore: getting a better URL, changing the title, adjusting the look.

What do you think?  Who is this useful for?

Social Media is… well, Social

I have a lot of blog thoughts going through my head right now, and I think the theme that will tie them together into a relatively cogent post is that, at least for me, meaningful social media focuses on the social, not the media.

  1. Being social leads to the exchange of ideas and information.
  2. Ideas and information lead to friendships, alliances, and action.
  3. Using social media lets you be social with more people in a way that’s literally linked to the great information resource that is the world wide web.

You might have noticed that I linked to a Dinosaur Comic a line or two ago.  I did it because I have a soft spot in my heart for T-Rex, and also to make a point about the ideas and information we exchange: let’s not pretend that it’s all formal.  Not to say that it’s all informal either.  Some value I derive from social networking is directly, clearly work-related.  See?  I just helped advertise to a Twitter-based blood drive in Texas.  Way to forward a cause with social media, Emily.

But a lot of the value comes from less formal, more purely social interactions.  People don’t just swap lists of 10 ways to improve your website or strategy-of-the-day for saving money.  They swap thanks, compliments, and moral support, and in doing so build a sense that we’re on the same team.  I think of it as the cheerleader phenomenon.  On Twitter I mentioned I’d had sort of a rough day yesterday, and several people took a moment out of their days to offer a quick show of support.  Morgan, who I’ve never met, left the nicest comment ever on my blog last week and it totally made my day.  Last year my family made a Christmas wiki, which was useful and extremely fun to put jokes in.  And let’s not even get into how Twitter, blogs, email and IM let you stay in contact with friends and family you’re far away from.  So yes, social media is dead useful, but I find that what keeps me coming back is the human element.

I also really like how it supplements “normal” interactions.  For example, I commented on a coworker’s blog earlier today, a conversation that might have quick taken place in the office kitchen if we’d happened to be there at the same time.  I’m glad I heard what she had to say even though our paths didn’t physically cross today, and I hope to continue the conversation.  And see what I did just there?  I linked to her, the equivalent of meeting you in some other kitchen and bringing up the linked conversation.  I’m doing things I’d do anyway, just in a different way.

So I guess that the real, true draw of social media for me is that it gives us another way to be human to each other.

(For more about the “Why” of social media for nonprofits on a more organizational level, see the great project Beth Kanter has going.)

Ironically for a post all about being social, I don’t have a billion comment-prompting questions to put out there.  Nonetheless, comments, questions, and vaguely related thoughts are welcome.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Rewards of Blogging

This post is in response to Michele Martin’s comment, in which she asked “…how blogging in particular has made the web a more rewarding place to visit.”

I realized I had quite a few different but connected answers and struggled for a way to present them.  Many thanks and apologies to the genius of Wallace Stevens.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Rewards of Blogging

I
It’s like having your very own room when you’re a child.  It has your stuff, your bed, and unlike everything else out there, you control it.  Yes, you have to keep it clean so your parents don’t get on your case and so friends can come over… but still.  It’s yours.  You want to be there.

II
It’s like going to a party thrown for people in your profession; it’s fun!  You all have something to talk about, letting you connect with new people instead of awkwardly talking about the weather.

III
The Blog Stats page is fun to obsess over every evening.

IV
Getting comments from people you know you can connect with is a little like getting digits from that party you attended in item 2.  It’s gratifying and opens new conversations and possibilities.

V
I have a showcase of my everyday writing.  It’s like an automatic portfolio for anyone who may want to hire me or collaborate with me.

VI
I can show people what I’m interested in who might not fully understand if I just say it.  My grandmother, for example.

VII
I’m not anonymous when I comment on other people’s blogs.  The blog is an anchor, some context, the home base of my web presence.  My comments don’t stand alone because they link right back to my blog.

VIII
Having a web presence is important.  It helps me be a tech-savvy professional, keep up with what’s going on around me, and share what I know.  Back to the portfolio idea, my blog also shows that I am tech-savvy, interested, and a sharer of knowledge.  It’s both the pudding and the proof.

IX
Watching my Technorati authority creep very slowly upward from zero makes me smile.  I’m building something!

X
Speaking of authority, as my blog becomes more and more established, I feel braver about commenting on other people’s blogs.  It’s as though I feel invited to more of those parties.

XI
I enjoy writing.  It’s nice to have a public yet low-pressure venue.

XII
I finally have a reason to take notes: I can post them and reflect upon them.  While I haven’t found many of my notes post-worthy yet, having a blog inspired me to take notes in the first place.  It’s helped me be a more active listener, always thinking, “How can I blog about this?  What would I add or ask about?” because those thoughts now have a place to go.

XIII
Through blogging, I’m involved with communities I care about in a flexible, comfortable medium.  I can widely represent myself “business casually” instead of only through formal and/or narrow communication.

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?

Commenting Strategy

At risk of linking to Beth Kanter’s blog way too often, she started a pithy, interesting, and altogether extremely helpful discussion about commenting strategy the other day.  I think it’s especially relevant for new bloggers, but I recommend checking it out to anybody reading this.  Why?  Keeping it short, because I learned about comment tracking tools, heard opinions from several seasoned bloggers, and found more fodder for my RSS feed.  It was the most thorough answer to a question ever.