Putting Our Organization First

"If you fail to receive . . . "
"If you fail to receive . . . "

At the drive through I saw this sign that struck me as amusing and I just had to snap a picture. It said:

If you fail to receive a receipt with your order please notify manager before leaving window for a refund of price paid.

After I finished chuckling, I felt compassionate. This is the restaurant’s attempt to generate trust with its customers. You can imagine the conversation: “We should make sure that people know they’re not getting ripped off, you know, like Joe Pesci complains about in Lethal Weapon. Otherwise we’re going to ” And so a sign is born. You’ve seen this sign, or others like it, everywhere there’s a drive through window.

Heart in right place, but implemented poorly, because the organization is thinking of itself first. It’s thinking, “How do we make sure people don’t get mad at us?” instead of, “How do make sure our customers feel served?” Even in this one sign, it’s evident:

  • The language is lawyerese instead of plain English. I am “receiving” and have to “notify” instead of “getting” and “telling.”
  • The promise is filled with restrictions and limitations. I only get a refund if I don’t get a receipt (not if I am overcharged, or they heard and gave me the wrong thing), and I if I drive away the deal is off.
  • Even the sentence structure implies that if there’s a problem it’s on my end, not theirs. I am “failing to receive.” But the real problem is that the restaurant “failed to give” me a receipt.

It’s a little thing, but it illustrates a problem that almost every organization has: a me-first mindset. It’s incredibly hard to break out of that.

It’s can be particularly vexing among nonprofits. Many foundations and other funders are under the gun and need to be able to show that their investments are having an impact in terms of improving people’s lives. You would think that grantees would be excited about this, as they are all about improving people’s lives, too.

But instead, there’s ongoing controversy. While some higher performing organizations have embraced the idea of actually measuring (and acting on) how well they are doing their job, many other organizations sullenly go through the motions of creating half-hearted metrics and easily-reached targets that they can pass on to their patrons — all the while thinking to themselves, “Our work is too important to let numbers stand in the way. We know we work hard and we know our supporters like us. That is enough.”

What this attitude fails to take into account is that “hard work” can sometimes be misplaced and that good feedback from friends ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

A better attitude, one that is as accessible to the local Burger-Thru as it is to the neighborhood food pantry, is: “How can we make sure that the life of everyone we touch is improved?”

A question like that will generate different signs — and different metrics.

How To Think About Your Blog Like A TV Programmer

The great promise of the Web, which was finally fulfilled by the pervasive existence of blogs, was that everyone would be a publisher. With cheap, easy tools, anyone can publish work that is immediately accessible across the globe.There is literally no fundamental barrier to the creation and distribution of your work.

There is a new epochal shift whose effects are only now beginning to be felt. While everyone can be a publisher — more people are also programmers.

I don’t mean people who write computer code — which a lot of people can do — but I mean programmer in the sense of a TV or radio programmer.

What’s driving this is the pervasiveness of the Stream. More and more people interact using status updates and other ephemeral, time-limited messages: Twitter updates, Facebook status updates, TXT messages, Media posting on YouTube, Vimeo, Posterous, and similar sites.  All of these add up to a Stream of output.

What differentiates the Stream from my blog posts or from email messages is that, at any given time, some people will see parts of this Stream and others will miss it.

And those who miss it won’t come back to it unless they are highly motivated. There is an inherent time component that I have to take into account.

In other words, as a person who creates content, I’ve got to think like a programmer, keeping in mind not only what content I am creating, but also when I push it out, how I push it out, and how often I do that.

Here are five tips to thinking like a TV programmer when it comes to linking your blog with social media:

Tip #1: Schedule reruns.

Ever watch C-SPAN? Have you ever noticed that they will rerun certain shows? That’s not just to fill time. It’s to give more people a chance to see the show. Use this idea by repeating yourself if you have something important to let people know about. There is no perfect time to add your link into the stream. There are a number of good times. Add a link to your new blog post on Twitter right when you’ve posted it. Then come back around in 4-6 hours and repeat the update. The maybe once or twice more, with sufficient time in between that you can be sure you’re catching different people. Do NOT go overboard with this because people will just tune you out and it’s rude. But a bit of “twepeating” is useful.

Watch your own behavior and experiment with different times. You’ll find a good mix. For me, I’ve found that some of my friends are reading in the early morning (eastern), but there’s another big block that is reading in the late afternoon (eastern). And, while Sunday afternoon is death for news, it’s great for social media interactions!

Tip #2: Tease different.

Lots of people, when they complete a blog post, will paste the title into their Twitter client, add a link, and just go with that. If you’ve written a decent title that should work OK. But you might also want to think about varying your language, even highlighting different things. For instance, if there’s a key question or insight in your blog post, try repeating that question along with the link.

The same goes for sharing the link in Facebook, too. As you repeat, try different teases, calling out different aspects of your post.

Tip #3: Interact with commenters.

The vast majority of blog posts garner few to no comments. If you are lucky enough to generate comment activity, mention that in social media streams! “Great conversation in the comments at this post about widgets. http://xx.xx/xxxx.” People like to go see what other people are talking about.

If you don’t have a plug-in on your blog that lets people follow the comments on a particular post, get one. Then make sure you respond to people when they comment on your blog. They will feel a greater connection and will start to come back more and more.  If you “know” them on Twitter, consider sending them an “@” message after you comment, with a shortened link to your blog post. “@blahblah Great comment, thanks! I have some thoughts about that which I added in the comments. http://xx.xx/xxxx”. This may intrigue others to take a peek.

Tip #4:  Syndicate to Facebook.

Lots of people will read my blog at my website, but there are some eople in my audience who seem to live their entire online lives in Facebook. I’ve found that if I repost the articles on Facebook, I am likely to get comments and interactions from people who never post on my blog. (You do this by writing a “note” in Facebook — make sure you set it so “everyone” can read it unless for some reason it’s top secret.) It’s like I’m “synidcating” my show to another outlet. If I have the energy, I’ll mention comments in one sphere in the other (e.g., “great conversation going on at Facebook on this post, too. <link>”.

You can set up your Notes in Facebook to automatically import your blog, so that each time that blog is updated a Note is generated. (This typically happens within an hour or so of the original posting and sometimes it is a bit flaky but it beats doing it manually.)

Tip #5: Maintain flow and mix it up.

With a few exceptions, the stream approach is not very compatible with a “news bureau” mindset where you just broadcast your own content. For one thing, just issuing social media updates about your own content is seen as overly self-promotional. For another thing, unless you are in the breaking news business, you will have long stretches of no updates. In an environment with constantly-flowing streams of information, you want to be a presence throughout the day.

So don’t just post links to your blogs, but link to other interesting things — friends’ blogs, useful articles, good videos. Do this regularly, so there is a constant (not overbearing) flow.

Remember, with all these tips, I am not advocating spamming your Stream wantonly. You’ve got to be providing useful content. Some of your posts might be throwaways that you don’t necessarily need to go hammering on — it happens to everyone. But for the blog posts, questions, or other information that you want to get out, you need to have an approach that recognizes the time element and allows more people to see your material.

What are your tips for handling that?

Four Tips For New Bloggers: Feed The Beast

I’ve been blogging since before we had the word “blog” — with varying degrees of success. By “success” I don’t mean number of readers. I mean success in actually getting my blog posts completed and posted.

Im blogging this by Flickr user Foxtongue
"I'm blogging this" by Flickr user Foxtongue

There have been long dry stretches, where I could barely get anything written. I didn’t know what to write, I didn’t want to write anything, I could not motivate myself.

Other times I had too much — three, four posts per day which for some people is just right but for me is overwhelming.

Right now I am in a groove, though. I thought I would share the four main tips that have made this current state possible:

Tip #1: Dig a hole.This is the biggest single piece of advice I can give. You need a news hole.

There was a long time when I wrote essays “occasionally.” This was designed to let me off the hook if I just couldn’t get it together to write. Result: long stretches of bupkis. Once I committed to a regular schedule and stuck to it for long enough for that to become a habit, it’s dialed in. Now I know every weekday I need a new post. (Sometimes I think of it as “feeding the beast.”) Since I know that every day I need to write something, I can schedule ahead, putting things in the can for vacation times, or just getting next week set so I can take it easy. You might go on a weekly schedule, daily, bi-weekly, or some other schedul. But the key is to make it regular. Don’t post “occasionally” or you will not be able to sustain it. If you want to post two stories per week, decide which days you will post. That’s your news hole.

Tip #2: Limit your time. Don’t allow yourself to work too long. Stop at 30 minutes.

It’s easy to not write because I think it’ll take a whole bunch of time.  So I limit myself — 30 minutes to write a post. (Your own duration may differ.) It is 100% easier to say, “I am going to bang this thing out becuase I only have 30 minutes” than it is to say “Wow, I have to write something about health care reform (or whatever).” Remember, this is blogging, not writing for print publication. It should not take a long time.

Tip #3: Lower your bar. Do not shoot perfection. Go for “good enough.”

Here is a good way to keep yourself within your time limit. Don’t pursue perfection. This is a blog, for goodness’ . Good enough is totally, completely good enough. Maybe once in a while you will want to write the definitive post — set yourself a long time and go for it. But for day-in, day-out production, just keep it simple. Four paragraphs or less. Breezy style. And don’t edit too much. Just feed the beast — who cares if it’s prime rib or hamburger?

Tip #4: Link, baby, link. Use links to help you write. Make sure you are linking.

This is a bit of a technical piece of advice but it also helps with production. Make sure you link to something, even if it’s another article you wrote. Why? Well, for one thing, this is a blog and people expect that. For another, it gives you something to hang your piece on. It gives you something you have to describe (the thing you are linking to) and that means you’ve got one paragraph down. Three to go!

These aren’t hard and fast rules, obviously, just tips. And they don’t at all cover what to blog about. These are just things to think about.

If you write a blog, how do you make sure you’re getting it done? And, if you are considering blogging, what are the things holding you back?