Tag Archives: nonprofit

Would you give me permission to read your mind?

After finishing graduate school I was looking for a job and in the meantime freelanced. I was an internet strategy consultant. I was designing websites primarily for nonprofit organizations.

Well into a relationship with a client, I was called to come to a meeting with the chair of their board where an outside vendor was going to make a sales pitch for some new web technology.

The pitch: Their technology would read the minds of website visitors.

No, really, I’m not joking.

They said they could read the minds of people visiting the website and, based on realtime information, would deliver the exact content and experience the website visitor desired.

They would know when the visitor was bored and new information needed to appear on the page.

And, they would be able to tell what kind of information, too. They could tell when a sports fan would want to hear a sound file of the cheering of the crowd roar from their speakers.

Throughout this whole presentation, it was difficult not to burst out laughing.

With Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing fresh in my educated mind, I thought of the privacy concerns: “Does the customer opt-in to the company reading your mind and thoughts?”

In an innocent Columbo-esque way, I asked such a thing. The answer was that of course the customer would be okay with it because it brings them pleasure and satisfies them in their experience.

Would it be okay? Really?

“And if my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.” -Bob Dylan.

I don’t think so.

The last people (maybe) who consumers will want to have reading their minds are companies trying to sell them something.

When the vendors had left, I expressed my outrageous skepticism. I sent the company’s ink to some people I went to graduate school with and we had a good laugh. That evening at home, I browsed the company’s website. The product demonstration was full of lovely stock photos of nature scenes, rainbows, and animals. Eventually music loaded.

I walked away from my computer and had forgotten to close the browser window. Upon my return the message on the screen had changed:

“Since you’ve enjoyed this page so much and have been studying it so carefully, here are some links we think you’ll like.”

I was just thinking about how great the sandwich I had eaten was.

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Thoughts on Nonprofit Land’s “Social Media Pitching”

About a week ago I decided to do a Twitter search for “nonprofit” and found people tweeting “Nonprofit Land >> Social Media Pitching“.  With the number of people tweeting the link, I thought I would see what was there.

Adrienne Royer discusses the usefulness of social media to effectively fundraise and build relationships.  She brings up how Twitter can be particularly useful in establishing and building relationships with the local media.  However, she oversimplifies the strategic use of Twitter and other social media tools, thereby lending support for her argument against the usefulness of social media consultants.  This is a troubling considering that most of the people I know who work for nonprofits are a bit more old school—still heavily relying on stuffing envelopes and print press releases!

A few disagreements:

  1. Royer isn’t sure if nonprofits will ever be able to connect tweets with the bottom line.  This is already happening with for-profit businesses using Twitter.  While one tweet isn’t likely to snag the big fish, the building of a relationship over time may yield a positive response to an ask.  This can all be tracked through Google analytics or another web analytics program.
  2. Twitter is good for building relationships, but it shouldn’t be thought of as exclusively for reaching the local media for two reasons.  First, not all of the local media is on Twitter and also (I’m speculating here), that someone on Twitter is more likely to reach non-traditional media makers like bloggers, podcasters, and videographers.  Those who read my entry earlier this week on the Boston Globe may know my bias: nonprofits need to effectively use online channels because it is the way the world communicates and it will be more cost-effective.   Building relationships with the media, while important (and traditional), isn’t the be-all, end-all of success.  Building relationships directly with the people who care and believe in what you do is more direct and more effective.  Nonprofits are usually very savvy and creative when building communities; and building a following on Twitter or on another network online should be a natural progression.
  3. Yes, Adrienne Royer is correct that there are a lot of social media consultants out there selling their services, but I disagree with her that they don’t serve a purpose and their services are “pointless.”  While nonprofits are veterans at building communities, they aren’t always the most internet savvy.  Their work serves the public need and they have experience building social movements in their specific disciplines.  However, most of this has been done at cocktail parties, fundraisers, speeches made on soapboxes, and a few connections from graduate school.  The internet and the various social outlets are populist, but strategic planning with the help of an “expert” may spare the amateur efforts notably seen when established organizations begin their first foray into more non-traditional outlets.  I discussed this previously when talking an article in the November 2008 issue of Fast Company.
  4. Royer oversells how easy it is to do. “Social media is no different from real conversations. You don’t need to create elaborate new strategies on how to reach social media users. Just think of social media as a very large townhall or church. Information spreads on the interwebs the same way that it does in real life. In fact watching a message get retweeted is a lot like playing the playground game of telephone.”  While tools like Twitter and social networks like Facebook are free, the time it takes to develop compelling content and build the network is substantial.  Everything is measurable.  Through click-paths, an organization will know how many people are coming from Twitter and completing some kind of online transaction.  Web analytics can tell an organization how many people came from a specific link and if that traffic is yielding results.  A consultant who is worth the money will work with the organization to establish metrics and to define success.

Royer linked to Bulldog Reporter’s “Superior Social Media Pitches” which mentions two suggestions “Dive in and engage—test different social media tools” and “Admit ignorance—ask before committing social media snafus.”  Since nonprofits are traditionally understaffed and under resourced, and prioritization and maximization of time are essential, there simply may not be a staff member who has the time.  The people I know who are working for nonprofits, like baseball players, are creatures of habit.  If something isn’t broken, they don’t fix it.  If something has worked, they are reluctant to change, especially if the resources are not easily available.  The old guard of nonprofit management executives that have built the organizational structures around the United States that encourage charitable giving are be visionaries; they should not pass up opportunities to innovate.

If someone on the staff of a nonprofit—particularly the marketing, communications, and public relationship staff members—doesn’t know the tools, strategies for communication, or time hasn’t been allocated to do this, it’s already too late.  The time was yesterday and it’s time to catch up and integrate social media into the overall marketing and communications plan.

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Open Letter to The Boston Globe’s Alex Beam regarding “Downturn’s upside”

Dear Mr. Beam:

Your March 31, 2008 column, “Downturn’s upside” was disappointing.  It was clever, but it wasn’t funny and it misses the mark.

In your first paragraph, you aim directly at the Huntington Theatre Company and, by proxy, the entire Boston arts community by suggesting that attending the arts is an “obligation from which the recession has officially freed us”.   There are many among us who would, not so cleverly, disagree.  Theatre enriches our lives, brings us joy, pushes us to examine life’s dilemmas, and sustains us through difficult times.

What you’ve done in that paragraph is what marketing staffs for any arts organization do: Find pull quotes to promote the performance.  In the very same sentence that you claim to love the Huntington, you tip the scales by highlighting negative quotes from reviews:

The Huntington Theatre called the other day, trying to interest me in Richard Goodwin’s fabulous new play, “Two Men of Florence.” (“Dense speeches, stock characters, and heavy-handed displays of stagecraft” – Globe reviewer Louise Kennedy.) I love the Huntington, and who doesn’t want to spend a couple of hours watching “good actors . . . wasted on caricatured cameos” (Carolyn Clay in the Phoenix). But I had to say no. It’s the recession, you see.

Curiously, the online version of your article has no links to the reviews which would provide easy access to the whole story, or more importantly the context.  In this world of abbreviated thoughts and truncated communication, context still counts for something.

We are in a recession; individuals, families, and nonprofit organizations are hurting.  Theatre Communications Group recently released the results of a phone survey (“The New Normal” pdf) reporting that “[v]irtually every” one of the 495 theatres questioned will be cutting their operating budgets by between 5 and 30 percent.  Furthermore, theatres with an endowment or an invested cash reserve are reporting losses of between 15 and 30 percent.  This is not an easy time for any nonprofit theatre company.  Everyone is sacrificing; some of necessity more than others.  Theatre may be a luxury in hard times.  And all theatre is not created equal, or as Hamlet said of the players “they imitated humanity so abominably.”  But even with shortcomings, as every school child knows, “the play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

The recession has not “freed” anyone from their “obligation to attend the theatre”; it has made it more relevant to go, to explore the human experience from the safety of a dark room in a cushy chair, occasionally not so comfortable.

Leave the reviews for those who actually saw the performance.  Reading the New York Review of Books, instead of the book only counts at cocktail parties.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Peterson
Somerville, MA

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