Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett

The second half of the semester had us shifting gears away from theory and towards application.  This led to the Networked Nonprofit Project.  To aid in the execution of the project, we were told to read two books: Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, and The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine.  They were good companion books, each strong and weak in their own aspects.  While I felt that Networked Nonprofit was a dry read, it was straightforward and serious, technical and was a good text.  Content Strategy for the Web was less intense to read because the authors made it funny and a much lighter read.  It was easier for me to follow because I didn’t feel quite as out of place reading it.  It was conversational, so I didn’t feel so inadequate and out of my element when reading it.

Both books had a lot of areas where they would overlap, but the biggest area that they both agreed on was the use of social media being the only way to go for nonprofit organizations.  It costs little to nothing for an organization to start up a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or WordPress account.  It can also be easy to keep all of them connected to each other.  Kanter and Fine make an excellent point in NNP by stating that organizations should try to be as “transparent” as possible.  That would be like getting a Facebook account set up and letting the world know what’s happening through status updates, events, and links to outside sources like videos.  This transparency is a common theme throughout their book that really ties all of the social media usage together.  Halvorson and Rach on the other had, constantly point out that “Content is King.”  They use that to tie into social media by saying that the content doesn’t have to be pages long, just engaging and relevant to catch the reader’s eye and keep them coming back for more.  They insist that short blurbs of information can have just as much, and sometimes more, relevant and noteworthy content as a 2000 word blog post.

Another area of overlap is their continued mentioning of listening.  Listening to the audences, to find out what is relevant and important to them.  Listening to the content being used and deciding if it is what the audiences want to know.  NNP says that “The key ingredient to building a relationship is good listening.”  This ties into both themes of transparency and content as well.  The more an organization listens, the better it will know what the audience wants and the better they can give them the necessary information.  This leads to the increased movement of information and, as a result, the more information given, the more transparent the organization becomes.  It ties back to Content is King because listening to the audiences allows for the organization to determine what information, or content, is relevant to each audience and help eliminate the unnecessary information.

As similar as the two books were, they also had many differences.  The tone is the first one that jumps out as obviously different.  Content Strategy for the Web  was obviously very weighted toward a strategy.  The entire purpose of it was to give organizations a clear cut track toward a strategy.  It included tips and a literal road map for how to tackle the topic of strategy.  The entire book was kind of like a “Content Strategy for Dummies” type of manual.  The entire idea was to create a social media basis, create a following so to speak, listen to the audience, make an ebb and flow of information and then weed out what is and isn’t relevant to the audience.  Then, form a plan on how to keep the audiences updated and execute the plan.  The authors call this Core Strategy, and was the whole point of their book.

Networked Nonprofit on the other hand, was more about how to keep all of the social media together and becoming networked.  The authors here really created a book that would help organizations to stay connected with all of the communities they build throughout all of their social media outlets.  They begin by explaining the importance of using social media in this time.  They go on to say that making relationships on social media sites is just like any conventional friendship.  You have to give something of value to receive something of value back.  It’s a type of social currency.  This ties back to their building relationships theme that I mentioned earlier.  The second big thing they explain is how a nonprofit becomes networked.  They encourage organizations to become transparent by using many different social media outlets.  The entire book is a guide for how to best help nonprofit organizations to stay on top of the times and continue moving forward in our constantly changing social world.

Thought these two books are vastly different in some senses, they go hand in hand.  Any nonprofit that is looking for a way to optimize their social media use should definitely flip through these and take some notes.  Ali and I found more use from Content Strategy for the Web with our organization simply because they don’t do enough (or anything really) with social media for NNP to be helpful to us.  Most of the work that we did with NDAB was getting their website more audience oriented by reorganizing their content into a simpler form.  So, for our project, Content is King overruled all else, and Content Strategy for the Web was the ticket.  But, if and when NDAB starts using social media, NNP would definitely be recommended as well.

Cognitive Surplus

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I, personally, liked listening to Clay Shirky talk about cognitive surplus far more than reading the chapter on the same subject.  I had a hard time following the text, and thought that it was dry.  But, I like that Shirky, during his TedTalks segment, brought the idea to life using different aspects of it.  I thought it was really cool that he brought up points from both ends of the spectrum: Ushahidi, serious, civic, useful to its own audience, and LOLCats, funny, merely for entertainment purposes, and made for a broader audience just looking for a laugh.

I could connect with his talk, and I think that’s the point at which I got more out of it.  He said that people “like to create and want to share.”  I completely support that statement.  All of the work that I have done for NDAB, whether it makes a difference to them or their audiences, was simply me being creative.  Starting with what the organization gave me and going from there to see what I could create.  It’s a challenge, and I am always up for a good challenge.  I also wanted to be able to share that with not only NDAB, but their audiences, their site visitors, and anyone else who might have been interested.  That’s part of human nature.  It’s like the little kid who makes a mess finger painting; it might not seem like much, but he wants his mother to put it on the fridge for display anyway.  It’s that recognition that human nature strives for.

I especially liked that even though it seemed like he was comparing apples to oranges, there was a connection there.  Both are a form of creativity, creating something for others to see.  I don’t believe that there is a place for “stupid” in creativity.  Cognitive surplus is a great example of this.  It’s all about creating new things in this new generation, and the use of social media makes it all the easier.

If NDAB decides to move toward the use of social media, I think they would be pleasantly surprised.  Other people outside of their established and sustained community could begin to contribute in their own creative ways and make something similar to cognitive surplus.  It becomes a new outlet for information and a way to draw people in.  I definitely recommend it and, maybe, if all goes the way I would like, I’ll get to help them out after all.

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The ups and downs that Ali and I have had on this project have caused a very erratic workflow.  It doesn’t really help that we both have exams either.  So, trying to find time in between studying and work and classes has been difficult.  This is where my experience  with working in a nursing home has helped.  I’ve never had a clear cut at-this-time-do-this-and-be-done-by-this-time-or-suffer-the-consequences set of job duties.  I’ve always had to be very flexible with it and kind of make it up as I go sometimes.  So I felt right at home with that kind of workflow.

We had given NDAB a “prospective schedule” for the project, prospective being the key word.  Once we got into it, we realized that with our format, website to wordpress, was not going to work.  So, after totally bypassing our expected plans, we started to transfer information and update and whatnot.  But, since we couldn’t find time to meet up due to clashing schedules, it’s been very erratic.  We have a sort of, post a page when you have five spare minutes and update when you can workflow.  It keeps life interesting.

With it being the last week of the semester, we’re both trying to get all of the project finished, and are expecting to be done on time.  It’s not like it’s terribly difficult work; most of the information is there, it just needs to be transferred over and updated.  Maybe a revision here or there, and get everything linked up so the pages follow the webmap.  Not too bad.

Since the organization doesn’t do much of anything with social media, I can’t think of any apps that would be appropriate for them.  Some of the members of the organization seem a little intimidated by the idea of using social media, while others believe that they’ve gone without it for x number of years, so why start using it now.  There has been hinting by the president of NDAB that he would like to begin using social media, but I don’t think it will be for a while yet.  I wish I had an app that could do all of this workload for me, but that’s highly unlikely to happen.

The end of this class will consist of finishing up blog essays, getting the NDAB WordPress looking good, putting the finishing touches on the site, and tying up any loose ends.  I can totally do this.

 

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As per my end of term tradition, I am late to the party.  Very late.  So late that everyone else is no longer interested and has moved on with their lives.  It’s like that time I tried to explain the entirety of the Harry Potter series to my mother during the first five minutes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2.  (In case you’re wondering, she didn’t understand and none of the movie made sense to her;  she was lost throughout the first half of the movie, got frustated, and left.    I thought it was funny.)

As you all (assumably) know, Ali Engraf and I have been working with the North Dakota Association of the Blind (NDAB) for this content strategy project.  We analyzed their website, and came up with a proposal for them to look over and ponder about.  We recently received both good and bad news from two different people within the organization.  The way it is sounding, we may not actually get to be of help to them during the semester, but maybe over the summer if we get the go ahead.  We’ll see.  Anyway, that’s the bad news.  The good news is, Mark Kueffler, as it President of the NDAB Mark Kueffler, thought it was really good.  He especially liked the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle idea.  That part of his e-mail had me ecstatic.  I thought it was kind of lame when I drew it up and put it on paper, but he seemed to really like it.  He would love to see our plans put into action, which is nice.  The other part I really like is when he said, “… I want to ensure that you understand you have sold me on your ideas and I am confident I can get approval.”  That makes me feel much better about this whole thing.

But, for now, the project is going forth in a private WordPress account.  That way we can at least have something going for the project.  Both for the grade and for the organization.  If they need a little extra push to see what their website could be like or even just an example, this could be a starting point for them.  There have been a few hiccups in our process, but overall it’s going really well.  I’m very confident that we will be finished on time – maybe even ahead of schedule if we’re really lucky.

 

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The Consultancy Conundrum

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Am I a consultant?  Well that depends on what you mean.  Do I give advice?  Sometimes; usually to my friends, and most of the time they ignore it in the end.  But that doesn’t make me a consultant.  There is nothing professional about my advice and I don’t claim to be an expert.  I can bandage my own cuts and bruises, but that doesn’t make me a doctor.

I’ll be totally honest, I came into this class not really knowing who I “‘am” online, and I still don’t have a really great idea.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot this semester.  But it seems like the more I learn, the more questions I have.  It just keeps me wondering.  But, seriously, me…a consultant?  I don’t think so.  I’m still not present enough online for me to feel comfortable playing the role of a consultant; and, with how fast all of the technology and social media outlets are being developed and revamped, I don’t think I could learn fast enough to stay ahead.  There is just so much that I don’t think I could ever truly understand all of it.  Especially not well enough to help someone else.

Even this project makes me feel inadequate.  As much fun as it has been, I don’t see my life going in that direction.  I’m much better at my science-y stuff.  I would much rather mix some chemicals together and maybe cause and explosion or two.  I definitely respect the people who take the time to put all of that work together.

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The work that I’ve put into this course has taken a toll.  I’ve been more active on social media now than I was even in high school.  Which is huge, considering my level of shy with all things social.  I’ve sort of forced myself outside of my comfort zone on several occasions.  I do feel a little more comfortable with it though.  But it is one thing for me to post some obscure Harry Potter or Doctor Who reference.   It’s a totally different thing to try and give advice to a third party about their use of social media and how to make the most of it.  Most of that is far outside of my abilities.

I look forward to continuing to develop my social media skills, understanding, and know-how; but for now, I think I’ll leave “Social Media Consultant” off of my resume.  Just to be on the safe side.

01-content-strategy-quad    ContentisKing

Shifting gears a little, this blog is all about strategy.  More specifically, the strategy for helping The North Dakota Association of the Blind revise and refresh their website, ndab.orgAli Engraf and I have been hard at work sifting through the content on the NDAB website and brainstorming some ideas.  She took half of the pages and I took the other half.  My analysis came out as seen here in tabular form. (It will download as an excel file.)

NDAB content analysis

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Under the usability column I placed little notes for possible improvements that I would recommend.  This would be the first step in moving forward.  General spring cleaning by removing unnecessary pages and combining those that could go together.  Doing this would make the website less overwhelming at first glance.  The content is amazing, but going to the main page and seeing 18 links is too much for me.  The geeky science fan in me thinks it would be cool to add a page that provides information about the continuing research involving visual impairments, like the Bionic Eye and the Boston Retinal Implant Project.  I personally think it would be an interesting way for NDAB to engage the public on improvements in visual based science.

The next task would be to tailor information toward the two audiences: those that are visually impaired and the general public.  One idea is to have separate “links” on the main page that would then give the information specific to that group without having to dig for it.  This would also make it easier for the web designing aspect – the visually impaired section could use screen readers on a more basic layout that may seem boring to the general public.  So, the general public’s layout could be more visually open and engaging.  This ties into the content.  What content is important to each of the audiences?  What do they want to know?  How will they find it?  I think that having more of a “follow this link” type road map will improve that.  No one is going to spend more time on a website than is necessary.  I myself get easily frustrated if I can’t find what I’m looking for in the first one to two minutes.  Our world is fast paced, we have very little time to spend finding information.  So make it easy.

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After all of this is done, is coming up with a way to maintain it.  Obviously, this information is not static.  There are pages devoted to sporting events and seminars.  This needs to be kept updated, and is, by NDAB.  But changing a few dates and times is only the beginning.  The website as a whole needs to be kept updated interesting.  Obviously, before any plans for this can be made, there will have to be another meeting with the organization.  So, this is where I leave you for now.  Tune in next time for a full fledged report.

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The North Dakota Association of the Blind was formed in 1936 as a way to give those who are visually impaired a voice.  The NDAB works with legislation to aide those within the state of North Dakota and, in some cases, those who live in other states.  Their goal is simply “to enhance the way of life for persons who are visually impaired.” (This comes from their mission statement which can be found on their Website.)  The organization has done a number of things for the visually impaired, such as helping to educate them, hosting summer camps and seminars, and helping to give them the ability to complete private ballots when voting.

The organization, being for the visually impaired, is made up mostly of “older” people.  There is nothing wrong with that and it’s not a real surprise.  This does, however, show correlation to NDAB’s lack of social media usage.  They do not have Twitter or Facebook, nor do they blog.  So, when given the opportunity, they were asked about their how comfortable they are in signing up for and using Facebook and Twitter.  This was met with hesitation.  Again, that’s completely normal.  I had much the same reaction when my friends started signing up for it and encouraged me to do the same.  I can imagine that it would be even more difficult for the visually impaired to use social media.  This does however, leave Ali Engraf and I with fewer options for our social media overhaul project.  So if you haven’t come to the correct conclusion yet, I’ll spell it out.  Our plan is to help update the NDAB website and make it easier to navigate and such.

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The first step in this process was obviously, as pointed out in The Networked Nonprofit, a content analysis.  This basically means that all of the information that is on the website and all of the pages will be looked over for content and purpose.  Who is the page for, what kind of audience?  What is the information, what message is it trying to give?  Is the information usable, is it relevant, and is it appropriate for the page it is found on.  For this, Ali and I split the website in half and each of us will analyze half of it and then reconvene at a later time.  The plan was that I would analyze the first nine webpages and Ali would do the remaining nine.  The findings of my analysis are as follows:

(Please Click Here for the full table: NDAB content analysis

Page Audience Message Usability
Officers Visually impaired and general Contact Information This page is for the purpose of discovering who is in charge of the NDAB and getting their contact information out to the general public; information is relevant to the page; page could be renamed?
NDAB History Visually impaired and general Brief overview of history The purpose of this page is to give information of the beginning of the NDAB; information is relevant to the page; could be combined with their advocacy efforts page to make a longer, more engaging and cohesive page
NDAB Advocacy Efforts Visually impaired and general NDAB’s work within the state The purpose of this page is to give examples of the NDAB’s continued work to advocate for the Association and work with the State of North Dakota; information is relevant to the page; could be combined with the history page to create a longer, more engaging and cohesive page
Summer Camp Visually impaired NDAB summer camp rules and regulations The purpose of this page is to lay down the rules and guidelines of the NDAB’s summer camp; information is relevant to the page; could be combined with the sporting events page and with other events pages to create a “one stop” location for all the information
Family Adjustment Seminar Visually impaired Information on the Adjustment seminar The purpose of this page is to give information about the seminar, the date, the expectations, and the general regulations; information is relevant to the page; could be combined with other event pages to create a “one stop” location for all the information
Sports and Recreation Visually impaired Information on sports events for the visually impaired The purpose of this page is to give information about the sporting event opportunities that are open to the visually impaired along with contact information, cost, and the option to pay fees online; information is relevant to the page; could be combined with other event pages to create a “one stop” location for all the information
College Scholarship Fund Visually impaired Scholarship opportunities The purpose of this page is to explain scholarship opportunities that are open to the visually impaired, along with contact information and links to the two scholarships available; information is relevant to the page
NDAB Goals Visually impaired and general Mission statement The purpose of this page is to explain the purpose of NDAB, their mission statement, and what they are trying to achieve; information is relevant to the page; could be placed as a link on the history page
NDAB Constitution Visually impaired Constitution The purpose of this page is to provide the full NDAB constitution and make documentation of the constitution; information is relevant to the page; could be placed as a link on the history page

While searching through the different pages, ideas for ways to improve and renovate the pages and overall website were noted; such as combining some of the pages, new design ideas, and separating the website into two separate areas, each tailored to a different audience. The content is all there, and it’s good.  It makes my job so much easier, because that means that Ali and I don’t have to start from ground zero and build up.  Our goal is just to get it up and working at a professional level.

I know I look forward to it.