Web and Social Media

Last night I went to the Kids Summer Stock Social Media Mixer at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

That’s a mouthful! What does it all mean?

It means I was in the Food Bank’s HUGE Raleigh warehouse full of boxes of all kinds of food — fruit, vegetables, eggs, bread, Mt Olive pickles, peanut butter, water, you name it — on towering shelves that reach up to the ceiling. Imagine Costco without all the junk food. A passionate Food Bank volunteer (thanks David!) led a group of us on a tour of this humongous building into several giant refrigerator and freezer rooms – a pleasant relief to the 90+ degree heat.

It also means I hung out with a bunch of fun and kind folks I first met on Twitter a few years ago but who have become friends whom I don’t see often enough. That’s the social media part.

However, the real reason we gathered was not to ogle giant boxes of sweet potatoes, but to support the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock program. I must admit when I first heard “summer stock” I thought of summertime theater – is that just a New England thing? But, no, this is a serious issue.

When school ends, breakfast and lunch programs end too for 270,000 kids in the Food Bank’s service area of 34 counties. Kids go hungry. Imagine being hungry all the time and the effects that would have on your mood, attitude, energy level, brain power and self-image. What a crappy way for a kid to live.

Kids Summer Stock provides the food needed to support these kids and their families during the summer. In the past three summers it’s provided more than 4 million meals.

freelance writer blogger copywriter raleigh

Last night’s mixer was not only fun but a way to get the word out to the local social media community about the Kids Summer Stock program. I’ve written before on the Socialfish blog about the Food Bank and their social media outreach. I like to call their database and website manager, Jen Newmeyer, their social media Champion because she uses social media, especially Twitter, to develop personal relationships within the community.

And what happens when it becomes personal? You care. Of course I’ve always cared about hunger in my community, even before I met Jen. When I lived in Sacramento CA and Arlington VA I supported food banks with time and money. There are so many other causes I’d like to give to, but with a limited charity budget, how do I decide where to give? How do you?

When it becomes personal, we care and we give. When someone I know and like is an advocate for a cause, I get interested. Think about where you’ve spent your charity time and money this past year. Some of your decisions may have been based on a deeply personal interest, for example, fighting cancer. But I bet you supported friends or family who walked or ran in charity events or you bought cookies from a Girl Scout. What was your motivation for giving? A personal relationship?

The Movember campaign inspired me to write last fall about the reasons some causes resonate with us more than others. My top reason: friends are involved.

The Food Bank understands the power of friends. They also understand the power of friends with influence and a platform. Chatty friends. Friends who write, tweet, share and socialize. Their new Social Media Ambassadors program gives a lot of their social media “friends” a way to spread the word about the Food Bank and its programs to their friends and network. This type of program appeals to today’s volunteer who prefers ad-hoc involvement: helping when they have the time in a way that fits their lifestyle and appeals to their interests.

Now, I’m going to appeal to you. Do you have $10 bucks to spare? Come on now, that’s not so much for many of us, that’s two beers at your local pub or a craft brew six-pack.

If you’re from central or eastern North Carolina, visit the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock page and contribute some money or time to the hungry kids. If you’re from elsewhere, you can find your local food bank on the Feeding America site. I bet you grew up with a full belly and refrigerator, let’s help the kids who have empty tummies and cupboards so their future can be full of happiness and success.

What do I do when I’m not writing?

Every now and then I share what I know with others. Recently I did a few presentations that I thought I’d share with you too. Of course it’s not like the real deal when you get to experience my witty banter and stories. Consider this the Cliff Notes version.

In March I went to Chicago to speak to a group of association volunteer leaders about creating and nurturing an online community – Community 2.0 – PowerPoint or PDF version with slide notes. My slides for this presentation are more text heavy than usual because they were recording the audio for a webinar for the members who couldn’t attend in person.

online community, associations, membership organizations, community

Ignore the icky template. That asked me to use it, I did. I'm a rule follower.

I also did a short session for the same group on Writing for the Web.

writing for the web, online writing, blogging

When writing, always start with a good breakfast. Yes, another template.

Last week I spoke to a group of association professionals here in North Carolina on the basics of blogging – And Now You Want Us to Blog Too? – PowerPoint or PDF version with slide notes. I love that title! I can’t take the credit; it was AENC’s idea. In this presentation I talked about objectives, strategy, content and making a blog work.

blogging, associations, membership organizations, nonprofits, blogs

Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.

~Albert Einstein, 1932, from What I Believe (or My Credo), a speech to the German League of Human Rights

If Einstein were around today, he’d blog, tweet and probably have a Facebook page too. He’d love social media and its potential to connect him with an “invisible community” of hundreds, more likely, thousands, of interesting minds and loving hearts.

Not everyone is comfortable talking to strangers. Social media makes it easy for those who are less outgoing to share their thoughts and ideas and expand their network of friends. As long as you’re comfortable with the written word, there are no limits to the people you can meet and nuggets of wisdom you can share and enjoy.

It doesn’t matter where you live. Even if you’re three hours from the nearest coffee shop, you can still find community online if you’re attentive, giving and kind.

An invisible community has the power to embolden and transform us, as we know from watching our activist heroes and heroines in Egypt. Or it can simply be there to support, inspire and delight us. Einstein said it best: “How happy and grateful I am for having been granted this blessing.”

invisible community einstein social media

Chris Brogan inspired me to think about online communities and “platform fatigue.” In a post aimed at public relations pros, he says:

“We want to connect on maybe two or three networks tops. One or two of these will remain the “commons” services like Facebook or Twitter. The rest of people’s interactions are going to fall into smaller communities, often private or self-selected in some way.”

Our time, attention span and dedication are limited. How much can we spare for a new online community if we’re already spending time on Facebook, Twitter and other sites?

Think about your usual online haunts. Where do you spend time? How do you get there? Do you have to make an effort to go there or does it come to you? It makes a difference when a community isn’t yet a habit.

My homepage is Google Reader. That’s where I start my online day, reading and visiting blogs to comment. I generally return to it for more reading later if I get my work done.

I use Hootsuite to visit Twitter once or twice a day, unless I’m taking a day off. While on Twitter I chat, click links and open tabs to read later. Twitter is my most valuable professional and personal hangout, well worth the time spent there.

I dip into Facebook about once a day to read and comment. Ok, ok, sometimes more than once a day if it’s the weekend. Like many, Facebook is more of a personal hangout.

I scan LinkedIn network updates and questions in my Reader and get my group discussions delivered by email. I don’t go to the LI site unless I’m changing my status or commenting on something. Could I live without LinkedIn? Definitely, and I may change my habits, but I feel strangely compelled to have a presence there, for now.

Isn’t that enough online action? It is for me. If you’re hoping to get my participation in yet another community or social platform, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. My time, brain and heart are already stretched too thin. If you want to play with me, you’ll have to come to one of my playgrounds — blogs, Twitter, Facebook — unless you deliver value, packaged efficiently, that I can’t get anywhere else. But considering the value I already get from my existing networks, that’s a stretch. Do you feel the same way?

However, an online community might be a good stepping stone for people who aren’t yet immersed in social media like I am. Again, only if it provides value they can’t get anywhere else in real life. Sometimes the key to attracting and retaining new members is an old-fashioned remedy — local face-to-face events. Those real life experiences make it easier for social media newbies to deepen their relationships with other community members and with the community itself.

Brogan tells brand managers to settle for “small bites” – small communities. Focus on the quality of the interactions, not the quantity of members. A quality experience leads to member loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.

I agree there’s a place for small or niche communities, but it might be 3rd or 4th place unless they provide unparalleled value or one-stop shopping plus value. I’d love a niche community where I could do it all — check my Twitter stream, read and comment on blogs, and see Facebook or LinkedIn updates. If I can do that and get to know and learn from others in my niche – be they writers, association professionals, frugal home cooks or craft beer geeks – then you might have a potential resident.

How about you? Are you a member of any niche online communities? What is it about that community that makes you find time to spend there?

We’re in the midst of a Communication Shutdown today.

I was alerted to this by a friend who wrote on Facebook over the weekend that she would be abstaining from Twitter and Facebook today in solidarity with those with autism. She also is using a special badge showing a big red slash, the universal “no” symbol as her social profile photo.

My next touch with the campaign was in my Reader this morning — a post from Beth Kanter about the campaign.

Now I was intrigued. By telling me they were not communicating today, I wanted to learn more about it. But I wasn’t willing to abstain from communicating. Besides I had already blown it by publishing a new post to my other blog, Grabbing the Gusto, and chatting on Facebook. Plus, maybe it’s my social nature, but it seemed to me that a campaign would be better off with people talking about it, not being silent.

The music in the one-minute campaign video tells us, “We can be heroes, just for one day.” I wondered about the hero bit and read further,

“If (people outside the autism community) shutdown for 1 day, they will feel a sense of disconnection and a sense of frustration. By creating a little empathy, we hope to encourage a wider understanding and acceptance of people with autism – an understanding we recognise those in the autism community already have.”

I’m not sure I buy that. I still think awareness is more likely than true understanding. But what if your job depends on you being active in social media? I wonder how long shutdown or boycott campaigns like this will work when our organizations become more and more social, and participating in social media becomes a daily function of most jobs.

autism cause awarenessI read further to learn that even before it started this campaign was not universally accepted in their community.

We are very happy to see that Communication Shutdown has prompted ‘Autistics Speaking Day’ and ‘Communicate to Educate and has been able to rally people in a productive way. Although our executions are paradoxical, we believe we have the same goal. We are talking to a number of people….who will be blogging on Nov 1 about their positive experiences and also their challenges. We believe that both events complement each other and will be promoting their blogs to give their voices extra reach, while at the same time giving our supporters a deeper understanding about autism.

Good recovery. I honestly don’t think someone like me can deeply understand autism by not tweeting all day, never mind the struggles of those with autism and their families. As I searched for more info on autism, I came across Stuart Duncan, a father of an autistic child, who wrote on his blog:

“The whole idea of Autism Awareness and Advocacy is that we speak out for those people/children that can not speak for themselves. As such, it makes very little sense to silence ourselves for them. I’m not even Autistic but even I feel it’s pretty insulting to think that not visiting a couple of websites could ever give you any insight into what it’s like to have Autism.”

I agree, but at least I am learning more about autism and sharing some facts with you, and that’s solely due to the Communication Shutdown. Score one for awareness. From Autism Speaks:

Did you know …

  • Autism now affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Prevalence vs. Private Funding:

  • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 1,200 / Funding: $277 million
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 100,000 / Funding: $162 million
  • Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 300 / Funding: $394 million
  • Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $156 million
  • Autism: Affects 1 in 110 / Funding: $79 million — What the what? Let’s fix that.

There are always naysayers about social media causes, campaigns and memes. It will be interesting to read the take on this one. Or will it? I’m beginning to tire of social media ranting about campaigns that aren’t done the “right” way. Perhaps the ranting is a natural phase in the development of a new medium. We analyze and criticize as a way to figure out how to make something better if we were to do it ourselves. I’m especially guilty of this when it comes to the use of social media by associations.

Is this a rant? I hope not. My purpose in writing this was to do my small part to help raise awareness and inspire you to click a few links and learn more for yourself.

Did you know there’s an easy way to get together once a week with other professionals to talk shop for an hour without leaving your office? If you’re shy or tired, you can sit back and listen. No one will mind, in fact, they won’t even know. And if you can’t be there, you can read a full transcript later.

I’m talking about Twitter chats. There are 210 regularly scheduled chats, according to the Google table created by Robert Swanwick. Each Twitter chat has its own identifying hashtag, like #assnchat. Yes, I realize that hashtag may be considered “not safe for work,” but those of us in the association community have come to love it.

It’s easy to participate in a Twitter chat. I use my regular Twitter application (Hootsuite or Tweetdeck) to create a search column for the hashtag. You could also use TweetChat, Twebevent or Tweetgrid – applications specifically made for Twitter chats. Or you can follow chats using the search function in your mobile Twitter application.

Everyone who participates adds the chat hashtag to the end of their tweets. The search function in your application will only display tweets that include that hashtag.

If you miss a chat, transcripts can be found on What the Hashtag if you log in Tweetdoc (What the Hashtag no longer exists). Some chats are also archived on Twapper Keeper.

In a Twitter chat you will meet others who share your profession or interests, pick up new ideas and perspectives, share a laugh and sometimes find answers to problems. Here are some of my favorite chats. All times are for the Eastern Time zone.

Twitter chats as seen on Hootsuite

#blogchat – Sundays at 9:00 p.m.

This wildly popular chat, hosted by Mack Collier, can be overwhelming as several thousand tweets fly by in an hour. However, it’s worth dipping into as it covers all facets of blogging. Don’t expect to read all the tweets, just read what you can. The October schedule is posted on Mack’s blog.

#assnchat – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m.

Started in the spring of 2009 by Jeff De Cagna for the association management community, #assnchat is moderated by Kiki L’Italien. Recent topics were online communities, HR and social media and diversity. Many ideas and friendships have blossomed from #assnchat. The hashtag is also used to mark blog posts of interest to the association community.

#fnichat – Mondays at 4:00 p.m.

I sat down for a recent Foodies’ Night In chat with a growling stomach only to learn the chat was about cheese.  Oh the humanity, talk about cravings! It’s a well-organized and friendly chat.

#wclw – Last Wednesday of the month at 11:30 a.m.

WordCount Last Wednesday is for independent journalists, bloggers and freelancers. Guest speakers discuss tech tools for writers, writing and freelance business issues. The last chat was about Facebook pages for writers which was a little too basic for me, but helpful for others participating.

#cmgrchat – Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m.

If you want to learn more about managing online communities, this new chat for community managers provides tips and advice. There are summaries of past chats, including topics like time management and handling negativity, on their blog.

#u30pro – Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.

Ok, you got me, I don’t participate in this one, I’m too old, but I’m all for spreading the love. If you’re under 30, join their community and receive a weekly update at David Spinks’ blog.

#eventprofs – Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:00 p.m.

I don’t participate in this chat for event professionals, but I know many who do. Recent discussions include overcoming barriers to conference participant engagement and making social an integral part of event strategy. The schedule is posted on their chat wiki.

If I’m lucky, I participate in one or two chats a week. I’d like to check out these chats someday:

  • #bakechat – Mondays at 9:00 p.m. – covers the professional and lay-person world of baking, pastry and desserts.
  • #writechat – Sundays at 3:00 p.m. – discusses writing and the writing life.
  • #foodchat – 3rd Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. – brings consumers together with agriculture to bridge the farm gate to the consumer plate.

Which Twitter chats do you enjoy?

Like many of you, I didn’t attend Blog World Expo this year. Instead I blogged live from the TEDxRaleigh conference on Friday morning and left on Friday afternoon to go camping at Ocean Isle Beach. In putting this post together I dipped into the most recent portions of the #bwe10 hashtag archive and selected the posts that either described sessions or gave personal take-aways. If I encountered a pop-up window upon arriving at a blog, I shut it down – your obnoxious attempts to tease me with some lame offer result in no visit from me.

Maggie McGary wrote in her recap of BlogWorld that “being there was like swimming in a sea of Kool-Aid and everyone was drinking it. Maybe in the for-profit world experiences like that are par for the course, but in the association world, they are so rare as to be basically non-existent.” She also gave link love to these posts by other bloggers:

David Griner also wrote two other posts about sessions he attended:

Lisa Barone shares excellent and thorough daily recaps of three days at BlogWorld.

Lulu Grimm discusses how the need to be certain causes paralysis in blogging.

“Timeliness is everything” writes Callan Green in her ten takeaways from BlogWorld. That’s why I’m scrambling to write this post!

Corey Creed shares his notes from 11 sessions plus his final thoughts on the conference. He reminds us that content is still king.

A mind map drawn by John Haydon illustrates his social media on-ramp for nonprofits.

Priya Ramesh found five social refreshers at BlogWorld including “blog with passion and SEO will follow.”

Blogging and social media go hand in glove” is one of the five business trends that Anita Campbell uncovered at Blog World.

Barry Moltz share seven things he learned at Blogworld including “it’s all about how you tell the story.”

Have you written or read a good BlogWorld recap? Please share it in the comments below.

Fishing on Ocean Isle Beach, looking at Sunset Beach, not Las Vegas


Social media dwellers, yes, that’s me, throw the term “listen” around as if everyone knows what we’re talking about. Listening in a social media context means using tools to monitor the mentions of your name, your username, your company and other keywords. When you listen, you become aware of these mentions and therefore any conversation about you or aimed at you. You have the opportunity to be part of the conversation, instead of being oblivious.

Sometimes when I tweet to an infrequent or untrained Twitter user, it’s like tweeting into the void. I never hear back from them, or I hear back a week later and by then I can’t remember why I tweeted at them in the first place. They’re not listening.

This problem is complicated by Twitter’s technical bugs. I heard that Twitter missed many Mentions this past weekend — tweets mentioning your username or directed to your username. Twitter’s API, the programming interface allowing Twitter to talk to applications like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, had problems again – growing pains. If someone directed a tweet at me this weekend with the @ symbol or mentioned my username, it might not have shown up in my Mentions column. I would have never known that someone tweeted me or that I was a subject of conversation unless I was listening, which I was.

It’s hard to have a conversation when the other person’s not listening. There are dozens of monitoring tools out there – basic ones are free and more sophisticated ones come at a price. Here are some free tools that work well for individuals or for organizations just getting started in social media.


Google Alerts

Even if you don’t use social media, I recommend you create Google Alerts for your name, company name and other keywords like the name of your blog, products, events and publications. You’ll be notified when your name shows up in blog posts, tweets and websites. If you use Twitter, create Google Alerts for your Twitter username. If you have a commonly misspelled name like mine, create searches for the frequent misspellings. In Google Alerts, select the option for real-time (as-it-happens) search results to be delivered in Feed format to your Google Reader.

Twitter Search

The first step to listening on Twitter is reading your @Mentions tab on the Twitter site or, if you use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, reading your Mentions column. Keep this column where you can see it. Do the same for your Direct Messages tab or column. I also set my UberSocial mobile application to alert me when I get a Mention or Direct Message.

Twitter search is not what it used to be. At times it only goes back a few days. That’s why it’s better to get real-time search results sent to you instead of relying on the web page to show you results. Go to the advanced Twitter search page and create searches for your name and other keywords. Then click on the orange RSS icon to create and send a feed for each search to your Google Reader.


Lots of conversation happens in blog comments, possibly about you or your organization. I use these tools to keep up with mentions of my name and blog:

URL Twitter Mentions

You could set up a Twitter search or Google Alert on your blog’s domain but it won’t capture any tweets that use a shortened URL, like a bit.ly or ow.ly address. My favorite URL Twitter search tool is now Topsy. You can register your domains with Topsy and it will alert you when a blog post with your domain has been tweeted. It’s a great way to find all the tweets mentioning your posts. I find tweets via Topsy that other tools don’t catch. A similar tool is Backtweets but I’m not as in love with that one.

Twitter Favorites

If you’re curious to see which of your tweets are being Favorited by others, create an alert with favstar.fm to have alerts sent to your Reader.

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few additional resources to get you started.

Listening is just the first step. Now that you’re aware of the conversation about you or your organization, what are you going to do?

Your Turn

I’ve shared the free tools that I use, what about you?

  • What other free tools do you use to monitor your name?
  • Do any of these tools have shortcomings that bother you?
  • What about tools that search discussion forums or boards, like BoardTracker or BoardReader? Do you use them?
  • Do you use any Facebook-specific tools?

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