Water Wings for the Social Stream: Blogging

Anyone can blog. But blogging that’s more than ranting, regurgitation, or simply routine is well, rare. Here are some practical tips from our public relations and social media mentors on how to RAISE the quality [and the impact] of your posts.

Relevant: The most important, and most overlooked question to ask about any piece of writing is SO WHAT? Why does the topic matter to your reader–if it doesn’t yet, why should it? Anything that doesn’t communicate that in the first few sentences probably isn’t worth reading…or writing.

Actionable: No one becomes a guru, or a witch-doctor, or a highly-successful consultant without making a concrete difference to people. Thinking through possible applications and spelling them out for the reader will help them realize [and recognize] the value of your content.

Imaginative: Blogging should be fun! [and blog posts should be fun to read, but that’s not an automatic corollary] As Tom Davenport points out in his very fun recipe for good online content a dash of humor and a pinch of personal context go a long way. So does a fresh, unexpected perspective looking energetically beyond the typical.

Short!: In a world defined in 140 characters, people with time and inclination to read essays are few and far between. 250 words or less. Period.

Erudite. Do become an expert–just don’t talk like one. Contribute, explain what you know, but do it simply, accessibly. Which probably means you shouldn’t use words like erudite.


5 Steps to (almost) Effortless Empowerment

Corporate America spends millions each year searching (usually at vaguely fluffy off-site retreats spattered with trust-falls, group “sharing” and warm-fuzzies) for employee “empowerment.” These concrete tips take little time, even less money…and actually work.

1. Call People By Name Research has shown that hearing our own name on a regular basis, especially from those in positions of power makes us more likely to take risks, accept responsibility, invest in a community, and generally push our personal boundaries.

2. Pay SMART Compliments We’ve all seen the difference that specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely goals can make. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same criteria to our expressions of gratitude and affirmation, and “Hey, good job.” became “Wow. Your presentation this morning was awesome–your re-write of the opening totally hooked them, and the pacing through the financials was right on. Seriously can’t wait for next week.”

3. Give Negative Feedback Researchers in the field of “expertise and expert performance” continually cite our cultural dirth of negative feedback as the main reason so few of us ever escape mediocrity. We’d fire an athletic coach or music teacher who refused to point out and correct mistakes–so why do CEOs and managers get away with it?

4. Speak Their Language Advice to learn your co-workers “love language” may sound like an invitation for a law suit, but applied appropriately, it can help build trust, diffuse conflict and increase creativity. Individuals tend to express (and therefore receive love (and affirmation, appreciation, validation, etc.) in several distinct ways. Learning which each of your employees or team members responds best to can help you communicate positive reinforcement so that it actually makes a difference. Look for these 5 main “dialects”…

  • Words of Affirmation : Chances are, you already think nice things about your co-workers an a regular basis. But since most of them aren’t mind-readers, it doesn’t do much good unless you speak up!
  • Quality Time : Ever heard the saying, “time is money.” Well, in business particularly, it’s often true. So making time for colleagues–to work through a problem, share a lunch, even listen to them vent–often communicates their value to you more clearly than anything else.
  • Acts of Service : for these individuals, simple gestures (rinsing their coffee cup, offering to take their place at a meeting, picking up the slack when their 2-year-old gets chicken pox) speak louder than words.
  • Physical Touch : again, keep this appropriate, but for some people nothing “says” good work! like a good-old-fashioned pat on the back.
  • Gifts : even small tokens of appreciation–certificates, awards, gift cards, time off–can go a long way with a person whose language is gifts.

5. Listen! Ever notice how the few people you know who are really good listeners also tend to be some of the most popular, productive, and powerful people you know too? So take a good honest look at your listening skill and set a concrete goal to improve.

Embracing Micro-Failure

How granting others permission, authority and even incentive to fail can lead to quicker, deeper, more lasting success.

“Look at all of your work as an experiment — a pilot — and plan upfront for several review points along the way that allow you to correct your course or exit altogether. First drafts are rarely your best work. It is the thousand little edits and mid-course corrections that create excellence. Smart failures are a badge of honor.”   – Larry Blumenthal

Here are a few thoughts on how leaders can enable micro-failure:

  • Permission to Fail – Let people know it’s okay to fail. And be explicit. (One team I know adopted the motto: “Have you failed today?”) Not only will it contribute to a positive team environment, but individuals with permission to fail also have permission to take risks and push boundaries, question assumptions, and ask for help when they need it.
  • Authority to Fail – Giving your colleagues, employees, or volunteers tacit or even explicit permission to fail does little good if they haven’t even got enough rope to hang themselves. It’s a lot easier to delegate tasks than to delegate authority. But real autonomy and decision-making power ensures credit as well as accountability. And it’s a lot easier to learn from a mistake we feel we own.
  • Incentive to Fail – It sounds counter-intuitive, but find ways to reward and celebrate failures (or at least the resultant lessons.) Regularly sharing micro-failures within a team, passing around your own “fail whale” trophy, and mapping past failures to current success can help make your organization a “fail-safe” environment.

After all,

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”   -Theodore Roosevelt


6 Tips for Choosing a Domain Name

How to boost traffic, improve SEO, and prepare for growth from day one.

1. Connect the Dots: Some companies tack on an attractive up-sell that includes obscure extensions like .me, .info, .biz, and more. Keep in mind that most users default to .com when searching/working online (a fact that should influence the purchases of .org non-profits and social ventures). Most organizations will do fine purchasing the top three variants of their domain.

2. Say That 5 Times Fast: Face it, typos are a way of life. And American spelling and grammar proficiency isn’t getting any better. Try typing (or having a few friends type) your domain name several times quickly. Make note of the most common miss-spellings or typing mistakes and purchase several of those domain variants to redirect to your site. [We purchased tipingbucket.org, for example]

3. Read Twice, Register Once: In a similar vein, be sure to say your chosen domain name out loud a few times before pulling the trigger. Better yet, have a few people unfamiliar with your venture read it back to you. [click here to laugh at some people who apparently skipped this step.]

4. Scale with Sub-domains: Remember that you can build out a site structure within any given domain. [blog.tippingbucket.org means that you don’t have to buy dropsinthebucket.org or tippingbucketblog.org, for example]

5. Reach for Re-directs: If another organization already owns an extension variant of your domain (for instance, tippingbucket.com – rain gauges, not world-changing) reach out to the owners and suggest a mutual re-direct; “If you need the kind that measures rainfall, click here.”

6. Cash in on Coupons: This one’s easy—a simple search will almost always turn up discount codes for whatever domain registry you choose to work with. You’re a startup–take advantage.


Burning Out

I remember learning as a girl, perhaps significantly while building a fire, that fire needs 2 things to burn: fuel and oxygen. [Well, three actually—an ignition source, but that’s not relevant to the current analogy.]

FUEL: It’s more than things to do—there is always something to do. It’s the kind of “things to do” that produce results, the kind that allow you to channel energy to release/transform more energy. And just like building a campfire, things tend to go a good deal smoother when you’ve got a good stack of fuel in various sizes readily available [usually because, surprise, surprise, you went out and looked for it] You need to gather “kindling” little things that require little effort, little risk, little faith, to demonstrate the potential of the bigger efforts, the ones that need “all the love you can give…” You start to see situations in terms of fuel, ordering all that needs to be done into manageable, relatively uniform chunks of progressive requirements/potential. And you’ve got to constantly be watching the fire, evaluating what type of fuel it needs next.

OXYGEN: This part always seems to be harder for me. I never seem to struggle finding stuff I want to burn. But if you pile it on too fast, or too dense, you starve the flame, even risk extinguishing it altogether. The last little while I’ve been seriously pondering what I’ll have to change in order to survive a lifetime of this. [“Sustainability” has taken on new meaning for me lately.] I am tired. And I’ve only been at this 8 months. It takes discipline to leave “air space” in the fire. You have to build it in, plan for it, protect it…occasionally stir things up a bit to make some more of it. There has to be time for study, time for exercise, time for laughter and meaningful relationships, time for rest [other than just exhausted sleep].

These are things all social entrepreneurs must figure out, because as you move deeper and deeper into the wicked problems you’re working to solve, it gets clearer and clearer that “this could take a while.”


The 4 C’s of Catalytic Connections

Some of the best social media advice I’ve heard came from David Jay at SoCAP09: “Don’t just talk about yourself, talk about the world and show that you’re listening.”

Here are 4 simple ways to start:

  • Compliment. Affirmation has always been a powerful social currency. RTs, comments, track-backs and diggs have put flexible, convenient new denominations at our fingertips. Spend freely! Look for reasons to congratulate, to thank, to encourage and to acknowledge to efforts and contributions of others.
  • Critique. Obviously not as easy or as fun as the previous option, thoughtful criticism (carefully given) can build even deeper, more active social capital.
  • Coordinate. Connecting individuals and organizations with potentially synergistic interests/objectives/resources etc. can be rewarding in so many ways. A simple introduction can inspire loyalty and the oh-so-valuable (sometimes even sub-conscious) desire to reciprocate.
  • Collaborate. Taking time to understand someone’s thoughts/ideas enough to actually build on them is a significant investment–one not commonly made in today’s information-saturated world. Don’t underestimate the potential impact of the effort.

The obvious corollary to this sort of strategy is that it’s not the world you’ll be listening to. The world is too big, too loud for anyone to really listen to. Listen to your tribe, that self-selected sub-population you want to lead. Get to know them, engage, and reap the benefits.

Who knows, with all this engaged listening, you might just learn something.


Networking 2.0 : "Tools to Put More In"

Nathaniel Whitmore of Change.org blogged this week about a next-generation approach to networking. He concluded by describing social media platforms and utilities as “tools to put more in.” Thought I’d pick up where he left off with a few thoughts about how

LinkedIn: Write reviews. Be generous in your acknowledgment of others strengths, accomplishments and contributions to your success.

Twitter: RTs and mentions are a valuable form of social currency–spend liberally.

Blogs: Do more than just read–even simple comments, 1-click tweets, diggs, or trackbacks can help boost a contact’s credibility and profile. Keep in mind the 4 Cs to help build authentic online conversations.

Facebook: Here again, small is beautiful. Use Fb Share buttons to promote good content, go ahead and become a fan of someone’s venture…who knows, you might just find a legitimate use for that “suggest a friend” function.

It may come as a revelation to some of the “wired generation,” but networking doesn’t actually require a URL. Some of the best connections, and the best contributions, you can make still happen the old fashioned way–face to face.

  • When meeting someone for the first time, make it a goal to ask three meaningful questions before saying anything about yourself.
  • Build a mental ‘map’ of the space you live and work in. Pay special attention to the gaps, places where you might be able to facilitate connections.
  • When you receive a business card, take a moment to note one ‘gift’ you could give that person–an introduction email you could write, a link you could pass along, even a book you could recommend (or send).

Above all, be sincere. To borrow from Nathaniel again, today’s networking is all about building layers of connection and reciprocity…less transaction, more legitimate network.