On My Radar 4/27/09: GOP Culture War

* GOP Culture War
* New Political Online Source
* Spacey To Play Abramoff

These are the stories that interest me this morning, along with my take on why they might be interesting to nonprofits and community-based organizations:

  • Republican culture war brewing.
    SF Tea Party protestor by flickr user Steve Rhodes
    SF Tea Party protester by flickr user Steve Rhodes

    While the Beltway GOP leaders have a “consensus” that it’s time to set aside conservative social issues, outside the Beltway a “rebellion is brewing,” according to the Politico. From the unexpected popularity of the anti-tax “tea parties” to loud denunciations of same-sex marriage, the rank-and-file of the party appears fed up with what they see as their leaders’ willingness to trade off bedrock principles. The leaders, meanwhile, see compromise as the key to governing and to longer-term party growth.

    • My take: The coastal echo chamber at work — DC, NY, SF and LA may be surprised to hear that flyover country has a vastly different set of concerns than power set does. The nonprofit and philanthropy fields can also be susceptible to the belief that coastal thinking dominates, because so much nonprofit and philanthropy takes place in these rarified towns. Midwestern heartland is fundamentally traditional.Understanding this matters as the independent sector is squeezed by the economy and by legislators’ efforts to scrutinize regulation.
  • AOL announces new political news site. AOL’s MediaGlow has launched Politics Daily, with a dream team of reporters and editors. This is an online-only, daily political news source that will feature exclusively original reporting.
    • My take: This new site will be a good competitor to the Politico. With no printing costs, its cost structure may make it easier to manage than others. It’ll also have to go up against the Huffington Post for traffic but is clearly a different niche.
  • Kevin Spacey to play Jack Abramoff. Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that actor Kevin Spacey has agreed to play disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a new biopic, “Casino Jack,” to be directed by George Hickenlooper. Spacey was in DC over the weekend to visit Abramoff in prison. “At one point during the meeting, Spacey was sharing his impersonation of Bill Clinton with Abramoff, while Abramoff shared a pretty good impersonation of Ronald Reagan with Spacey.” Pic is to be written by Dead Ringers author Norman Snider.
    • My take: Washington scandals don’t always make good movies but they very often can be quite useful to glean insights out of. (E.g. The Contender, Shattered Glass.)

Thanks for reading,


Job Seekers: Ways To Use Social Media

I wrote recently about how organizations can use people’s social media feetprints to find talent. There’s also been lots written about how careful people need to be with what they post in the social media sphere lest they inadvertently make themselves unemployable.

Footprints by Flickr user kimba
Footprints by Flickr user kimba

But I think if you’re looking for a job and you’re not using social media proactively, you’re crazy.

What you can do with it:

  • Create a portfolio. I’ve written about this before. Resumes rarely convey your real highlights. They can’t; they’re too stylized. Your social media footprint can do that. On your blog, on your “about” page, you should have a linked, bulleted list of your key accomplishments.
  • Prove your reputation. It’s easy to say that you’re important in your field, or that others regard your work highly. But how do you prove it? A list of three references may or may not get called. But if you have been sharing and generally been a good social media citizen,  the good will you’ve generated will be on display for all to see. Connect with others in your field, and share tips and ideas with them. Use the usual suspects — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.
  • Find places to interview. Duh, obvious use. But it’s a biggie. Ask around, keep your eyes open, be in a lot of conversations. You’ll be able to see who’s looking for talent. And you’ll see who knows about such things.
  • Research a prospective organization. Before you make an approach, you can check an organization out a bit. LinkedIn is great for this, because you can filter by employer. Who’s worked there? Do you know them? Guy Kawasaki has a great tutorial on using LinkedIn to screen potential employers (to avoid nightmare bosses).
  • Watch the prospective organization. Let’s say you’ve gotten that first interview, or even an informational interview. If your statistics systems are set up right (that is, you should be using statcounter or sitemeter on your blog so you can see where people are coming from when they visit your site), you can gauge their interest. Are they checking you out? Doing a good job of monitoring can also help you decide whether the fit with a given organization would be a good one.
  • Control follow up. Of course, the follow up letter is a time honored way of making sure the impression you left your interviewers with is actually the one you want them to have. (“As we discussed when we were together, I am a rock star in these four ways…”). If you use email, it’s also a way to leave hooks. Include relevant links to things you’ve written. Watch to see if they click on them. You can tell how interested they are and also calibrate your own responses by watching your stats.
  • Stay on the radar. Hopefully, you have gained a sense (by asking in your interview or through research) of what, if any, social networks the hiring managers are a part of. It’ll be either Facebook or LinkedIn — in each they may be a part of a subgroup. Don’t be weird and in-you-face about it . . . but be active in ways they may see.  Connect these efforts with your stat-watching. Share links, using url-shorteners that allow you to see traffic stats.

The overall approach is to be active, be visible, and monitor. Don’t just send in the resume, get the interview, and leave it at that.

From the moment you decide to consider working at a firm, you are in a relationship with them, so be proactive about it. It may not get you the job, but it’ll put you higher up on the list.

On My Radar 4/24/09

* Web-Only News Site Stumbles
* Mystery Donor Mystifies
* Times Fdn Suspends Gifts
* Youth Volunteering Less


Mystery by flickr user davitydave
Mystery by flickr user davitydave

Here are the stories that interest me this morning, along with my take on why they might be of interest to nonprofits and community organizations:

  • Rocky Mountain News web-only news site stumbles. INDenver Times, an online-only news source built on the ashes of the shuttered Rocky Mountain News, had planned to go live as a subscription service on May 4. Financial backers killed the launch date, after falling far short of the 50,000 subscriber goal. Reports say the site only had 3,000 subscribers. Investors have scaled back the operation.
    • My take: As one of the first paper-to-Internet conversions, this was closely watched and it’s a shame. I think it says more about the difficulties of succeeding with a subscription model (Slate had long ago tried it and abandoned it) than it does about the financial viability of newsgathering in general. (Side note: I was one of the people who plunked down money for a Slate subscription.)
  • Mystery donor giving millions to women-led colleges. Someone is giving anonymous gifts of between $1 million and $10 million to a variety of colleges. Anonymous donations are not new, but in this case there’s a twist: not even the institutions know who the donor is. The person (or persons) has given up to $68.5 million, according to reports. All the recipient colleges so far are led by women.
    • My take: Nice to see some good news. Even nicer to see a donor so focused on mission that they are utterly allergic to publicity.
  • New York Times Foundation suspends giving. The New York Times announced that it would cease (“suspend”) giving through its foundation as well as through the Boston Globe Foundation. Current commitments will be honored but no new ones will be made. Starting May 22, the foundation will also cease matching Times employee charitable contributions.
    • My take: A shame but no surprise. Two trends at work here. Obviously, newspapers are on the ropes so cutting giving makes sense. But corporate philanthropy overall continues to wither. The growth area for nonprofits to look is individual donors, for a host of reasons I will detail in a separate post.
  • Youth volunteering down. According to a report by CIRCLE, for the first time since 9/11 youth volunteering has dipped, though it remains above the rate for parents.
    • My take: We may see a resurgence of public service from the new Serve America Act, but organizations still need to think creatively about how they can best use volunteers.

Thanks for reading,


Why Be In Social Media?

Any new trend generates jargon. It’s necessary in order for people to talk about the ideas embedded in the trend. Pretty soon, the people who follow the trend use so much jargon it loses its meaning. We’re about at that point with this thing people are calling “social media.” Amber Naslund suggests a good thought experiment in which we need to describe social media without using certain buzzwords or catch phrases (e.g., “You need to join the conversation.”)

Photo of The Conversation by Edouard Vuillard is by Flickr user cliff1066
Photo of The Conversation by Edouard Vuillard is by Flickr user cliff1066

People in organizations need a clear understanding of the value — to them — of pursuing social media. Unfortunately, many of the people who are most excited about and evangelists for social media put everything in a kind of gee-whiz, the world’s changing mode. To anyone older than thirty-five, this holds painful echoes of the way people talked about the “new” economy in the late 1990’s.

The argument amounts to this: “You need to be in the social media space because it is new, and many people, including me, see it as cool.” Why? asks the organization leader.

At that point, many will trot out statements that make no sense but that are meant to sound smart. They will say that a brand is “a conversation,” or that people want to be in a “relationship.” Both are silly things to say. I do not want to be in a “relationship” with my bank; I want easy access to my money and I want it all there when I go to get it. Similarly, I may have a conversation about a brand, but as a consumer I understand that a brand is simply a way of conveying in shorthand what qualities I might expect from a given product, service, experience, or cause.

The thing that is missing in so much of this is the key element of why an organization might give a fig about social media. So here it is: the decision. As an organization, I want to influence people’s decisions so that they decide to do what I want them to (examples: buy my product, attend my school, go to my theme park, support my cause, trust my brand, view me as a thought leader).

So, I would make the case for social media in those terms:

  • People make decisions based in large part on recommendations from peers or trusted figures. Increasingly, these recommendations are passed along through social media tools.
  • The key characteristic of social media that makes it different from other media is that the contributions, comments and other responses of users are seen as intrinsically important.
  • To influence people’s decisions, we need to monitor and play a role in these user responses.

For these purposes, important social media tools include: blog posts, comments on blog posts, user forums, email lists, reviews by consumers on shopping sites, and online communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Each of these is a channel in which user responses and activities are key. They are all areas where an organization can seek to gain a presence.

But if these attempts don’t have a fundamental connection to the decision I want people to make about my brand or my organization, it’s just wasted time and energy.

On My Radar 4/23/09

* New Cell Phone Connection To Cops
* Fox Producer Punks MSNBC
* Step Toward Human Cloning


These are the stories that interest me this morning, along with my take on why I think they matter for nonprofits and community organizations:

  • New software allows emergency victims to connect their cell phone directly to police. University of Maryland researchers have created MyeVyu software, which connects cell-phone users directly to campus police, alerting emergency personnel to a student’s identity and location. Police then can access the cell phone’s audio and video signals as grab the stream from the closest surveillance camera.
    • My take: Another step in all-connected-all-the-time. The millennial generation (at college now) is far less suspicious of The Man than its predecessors in Generation X. This can allow for new connecting technology to be more quickly adopted and go mainstream.
  • A Fox News producer for Bill O’Reilly infiltrated a GE shareholder meeting. Jesse Waters, a producer known for a confrontational interview style, snuck into the GE shareholders’ meeting where a number of shareholders complained about what they saw as MSNBC’s leftward tilt. Waters asked a question too, without identifying himself as a Fox employee.
    • My take: The silliest of stunts, the silliest of controversies. While each network’s news gathering is by the book, the news-and-talk outlets’ overall slant is readily apparent to all and, in fact, is baked into their brands. Fox complaining of bias is, of course, the pot calling the kettle black. But that’s not the point. The point is that people increasingly want opinionated brands.
  • A scientist says he has cloned humans.
    Cady, who died at 10 in a car crash. Her blood cells were frozen and sent to Zavos.
    Cady, who died at 10 in a car crash. Her blood cells were frozen and sent to Zavos.

    Panayiotis Zavos said that he had cloned 14 human embryos, and transferred 11 to the wombs of four women who were prepared to give birth. “There is absolutely no doubt about it, and I may not be the one that does it, but the cloned child is coming. There is absolutely no way that it will not happen,” said the scientist in an interview with the UK’s Independent. Transferring cloned embroyos to a human womb is illegal in many countries and Zavos is operating in an undisclosed location. He also claims to have cloned dead people from frozen genetic material, including a 10 year old girl. None of the clones has been viable thus far and Zavos says he is trying to create healthy babies, not do anything ethically suspect. Zavos is the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary tonight, which includes footage of his cloning attempts dating back to 2003.

    • My take: Zavos has been making claims for years and other scientists dispute their validity, but he does have a point that human cloning — while it creates a host of ethical problems — is on some level inevitable. Another example of technology leveraging ethics. The same thing happens on a smaller scale in the face of any new technology or capability.

Thanks for reading,


Why You Need A Link Sharing Strategy

My friend Mike Weiksner pointed out an interesting set of observations about the important role that “shared links” are increasingly having. More and more, people come across links to information not because they searched for it, but because someone shared it with them.

The article is by Fred Wilson, a New York City-based venture capitalist. Embedded in a series of points is this observation:

When I take a step back and look at my own behavior, I also have a hard time denying the fact that my media consumption habits and behaviors have changed in the last 18-24 months.  I’m getting more and more of my information from the people I’m connected to through email, IM, RSS, Facebook, and Twitter.  Also, the nature of the searching I’m doing now is much more targeted and specific.  I won’t search as much for content or something that’s happening now because I’ve probably already received the link from someone I know or follow.  The links that are relevant to me and timely find their way to me these days with remarkable efficiency.

Oscar Is Sharing Snack With Lily by Flickr user Phil Scoville
"Oscar Is Sharing Snack With Lily" by Flickr user Phil Scoville

(The italics are mine.) That observation seems right on, if I look at my own behavior too. I have long been an inveterate news-and-information consumer. I had a short list of sites that I was almost constantly reviewing. I go to them with little frequency these days, instead relying on a network of people I know to pass things along to me. This “corwd-sourced” early warning system by and large keeps me ahead of the curve. It’s uncanny.

What does this mean for a nonprofit or community based organization? You need a strategy to get this link-sharing to happen in order to spread your messages. There appears to be a sea change beginning (especially if you add in demographic analyses), where people rely more and more on information coming to them from trusted connections — not because they read it in a newspaper.

Of interest in the article is that 25% of the sharing that this VC’s company is watching (which is not the whole Web) gets shared by e-mail, a very old school means of sharing. Twitter and other social media account for just 9% of link sharing. So we’re not talking a Twitter or Facebook strategy here, we’re talking email and blogs.

On My Radar 4/22/09

* Kerry To Save Newspapers
* MySpace Execs Out
* U.S. Capitol Police Bad Behavior


Here is my take on the stories that interest me this morning, and why I think they may be interesting to nonprofits, foundations, and community organizations:

  • Kerry to save newspapers.
    The Boston Globe by Flickr user Tony The Misfit
    The Boston Globe by Flickr user Tony The Misfit

    Alarmed that his money losing hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe, may shutter if it does not get union labor concessions, Senator John Kerry has called for Senate hearings on “the future of journalism” to begin May 6. According to a Washington Times article: “Washington once hosted 71 newspaper bureaus; now there are 25. Policy-influencing, special-interest publications and foreign newspapers, however, have multiplied. For example, in 1968, there were 160 foreign journalists in Washington. Now there are nearly 800.”

    • My take: The death of newspapers is not the same thing as the death of journalism. Some metro areas may be able to support a paper news source. Others won’t be able to. With the demise of some newspapers, local groups will gain new ways to reach local audience, sometime more effectively. (Also: the WashTimes piece is one of the better thumbnail recaps of the pressures facing newspapers I’ve read.)
  • MySpace executives out. Credible rumors are circulating that the “core” executive team at MySpace are out. That includes co-founders Chris DeWolfe, Tom Anderson, and Aber Whitcomb. While making money, the Fox-owned social network pioneer has been losing market share to Facebook, which is poised to overtake it in number of U.S. users shortly.
    • My take: Nothing stays the same in this space. MySpace was a pioneer but needs to regain its innovative spark, which is hard to do as part of a big company. This would not be the death of MySpace, but a shift. The new team will need to clean house, though.
  • U.S. Capitol police investigators are probing whether some officers were part of groups that degraded and objectified women. According to a Washington Times piece: “An anonymous complaint addressed to the department contained the names of nine purported Capitol Police officers who were said to belong to a public group on the social networking site Facebook called the ‘Make-it-Rain Foundation for Underprivileged Hoes.'” (Group link here, not sure how long it will last.) It’s not worth going into what the group purports to be in favor of; it is just what youy think it is.
    • My take: Idiots. Some complain that this is an infringement into “private lives.” As for me, I am glad things like Facebook provide an avenue by which disgusting people can show their true colors — so they can be dealt with.

Thanks for reading,