Blog As I Say, Not As I Blog

  • March 27, 2011 10:45 am

Any communications professional will advise his/her boss or client to get into blogging or social media if and only if you have a strategy and the resources to consistently maintain those platforms. There are various rules of thumb as to how often you should tweet, post a Facebook update or pen a new blog entry. But there is no exception to the rule that you cause more harm than good by diving in head first sans plan.

I am clearly not walking the talk. Much to my chagrin I’m 1 for 3.

(Twitter 1-0) As you can see from my Twitter feed, I’m pretty active there. I tweet for my full-time job (if you don’t already, be sure to follow @LEAP_VA) so I’m on Twitter (or HootSuite or TweetDeck) a lot, and it has essentially replaced Google News as my go-to news source.

(Facebook 1-2) While I am overly active on my personal Facebook account, I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be a strong platform for my business at this point.

(Blog 1-3) And my blogging fell off a cliff right before I went to work full time for one of my clients, the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) in Charlottesville. I leave the bulk of my to-do list largely untouched as it is, so it became impossible to squeeze in time for “personal” blog posts.

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

But I beg of you not to blog as I do but as I say. A blog is often the single best way to share important news and perspectives, drive traffic to your website, and keep your site fresh and you (your organization/company) relevant. And there are tons of social media channels to help spread your posts far and wide. But there has to be a plan to generate the content and commentary on a consistent basis.

Here are some resources to keep your online platforms and social networks fresh and lively:

SmartBlog/SmartBrief on Social Media – together they are a great way to plug into some of the best and worst examples of organizations and companies using (and abusing) social media. Read the blog and sign up for daily email compilations of the top social media news stories and analysis.
Marijean Jaggers is Charlottesville’s social media maven, but you don’t have to live here to find her advice and experience useful. Sign up for her daily Change the Conversation emails.
Mashable is the fan fave when it comes to breaking news, tracking trends, and sharing tips in easy-to-digest “Top 10″ type lists (good and relevant example: “15 Excellent Corporate Blogs to Learn From”)

Together these are the best way to get started and keep going with your blogging strategy. Radio silence does not a compelling blog make, that much I can say from experience!

Annual Reports*: Cool. Compelling. Effective. (*Not Obsolete)

  • October 4, 2010 9:30 am

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning your 2010 annual report. Think annual reports are obsolete? Think again.

This is way more than financial reporting – it’s an opportunity to tell your story, build your network, produce substantive marketing collateral, reinforce your mission, and take delivery on your accomplishments over the past yea r.But with tight budgets and, in some cases, a desire to limit the use of paper and other resources, you’d be smart to consider design elements and new technologies that maintain the content’s integrity in a more efficient and effective manner.

Here are a few ideas for and aspects of annual reports to consider:

Give Credit: Especially important for non-profits is recognizing and thanking members, volunteers, staff and funders – by name or in general – for their role in your success. Of equal importance is sharing the stories of the people you’ve helped.

Be Innovative: When I was with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability we got rave reviews for our 2007 annual report (a stack of postcards) and 2008 annual report (a notebook). The fact that both reports were reusable was just another way to underscore the organization’s mission and message.

Make the Data Compelling: If the report is going to include data (i.e. financial or membership numbers/trends), there are ways to make the key take-home numbers pop. One of my favorite ways to break down data is to do a “By the Numbers” chart modeled after the Harper’s Index – Newsweek and Time both have similar elements.

Be Interactive: Think about the options to engage people with an annual report that is part or all online – a clickable map with places you have helped protect or new offices/locations you’ve opened, a photo gallery, or a video series. Many organizations start by adding a video message from the ED or CEO.

Go Beyond the PDF: Simply putting the pdf version of your report online is not enough. You can take it up a notch with a pdf or other format you can actively flip through as if you’re reading a hard copy (and there are some really cool options in the examples below), or you can create a separate web strategy and presence for the report’s content.

Include an Action Item: The obvious is a donation form or other financial solicitation. But you don’t have to get stuck in that box. Include a policy action item, a vote or contest, or a way to gather feedback.

Use it as a Springboard: If you’re planning a big announcement (i.e. new campaign, product or service), dovetail it with your annual report. This saves resources and reinforces your narrative of action and success.

Create a Format People Can Share: One of the biggest criticisms of the traditional annual report is that you spend wads of money for the recipient to flip through it and stick it on a shelf (or – gasp – the recycling bin or – double gasp – the trash can). A key benefit of online reports is the ability for people to share all or parts of it.

Ditch the Report: Even if you can’t do a full annual report, you should take stock of what transpired over the past year and, where possible, share that. This could be a “Top 10” list of accomplishments or your perspective on the “20 Hottest Trends” in your field. On that note, make sure key reporters are on your mailing or emailing list for whatever annual reports you produce.

Create Two Versions: Maybe your funders or other VIPs expect a hard copy report, so you do a limited print run for that audience and focus on the online component for everyone else. Keep in mind that your online version drives people to your website and other online communities and is a way to repurpose content and functionality in which you’ve already invested.

In my opinion, here are some recent annual reports that have embraced new technologies and are worth checking out for inspiration and ideas:

ASPCA (flip-through with share and other options)

Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (flip-through)

Columbus Metropolitan Library (video, content options)

The Nature Conservancy (flip-through)

The Salvation Army (video, content options)

Social Venture Partners (pdf has a fun design that speaks to their mission; data is presented in a compelling way; and the focus – also in the web version – is on stories.

Sutter Health (video)

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (video)

Volunteer Match (higher quality flip-through)

Note the Non-Profit Marketing Guide has a ton of resources for annual reports, too.

Summer of Sludge

  • May 28, 2010 2:30 pm

This weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, a season in which millions of Americans flock to the beach, fresh shrimp and fish become a meal staple, and coastal economies – based on that tourism and seafood business – are in make-or-break mode.

As such, there has never been a more devastating start to summer than that which BP brought us in the form of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and ensuing worst oil spill in our history.

I’m a native of Virginia Beach – a community that could be witnessing a vision of what’s to come from Sandbridge to Fort Story – so I’ve long been passionate about coastal protection and the need to keep dirty and dangerous offshore drilling off our shores.

Thus I feel compelled to share a few observations:

It’s not a “leak.” When the pipes in your house leak, they don’t gush water out in a heavy and uncontrollable fashion and quickly flood your house. What we’re seeing in the Gulf is not a mere leak or a slow drop, even as BP and drilling advocates hammer at that narrative. This is why it’s disingenuous to call the BP Deep Horizon oil rig catastrophe as anything short of that – a catastrophe, a disaster, a devastating spill, a gushing leak.

More than an environmental disaster. The devastation to the wildlife, water and the entire Gulf ecosystem (and beyond) will be felt for decades. But this should be referred to as an “environmental and economic disaster” given the economic havoc it is reaping on Gulf Coast communities (and the fact that economic concerns resonate more with people).

They won’t back down. It is hard to believe that many politicians and their groupies still embrace the “Drill, Baby, Drill” banner even as its more apt corollary “Spill, Baby, Spill” threatens the economies, families, wildlife and wild places along the Gulf Coast. But the promises of “safer and cleaner drilling technologies” has been exposed as farce, so their cries are beginning to ring hollow.

BP’s Making Me Dizzy. I’ll admit I long ago bought into the BP spin. For years we went out of our way to get to a BP gas station, often bypassing Exxon (due to the Valdez), Shell (Africa exploitation) and others. “Beyond Petroleum” was brilliant, complete with a green and yellow logo that could have been designed for and environmental group. Many of these efforts were and are real. But much of it was a mask that started to tear away at the edges with their recent oil spills in Alaska and explosion in Texas and then was finally ripped off in the deep waters of the Gulf.

Humor Trumps Spin. I wonder if the BP spin machine saw this coming. A fake Twitter account (www.twitter.com/BPGlobalPR) has attracted 90,000 followers and counting (10 times the amount following the official BP Twitter feed – if that’s any indication of the trust people have in what BP’s selling) with Tweets like “We’ve created something that will affect your children’s children. Can YOU say the same about YOUR life?” and “We plan on spending millions of dollars to fix this mess. We also plan on jacking gas prices so high that you’ll wish you never complained.”

Plug the Hole, Fix the System. How did we allow a company with a horrid, worst-in-a-bad-industry track record on safety and spills drill 5,000 feet below the surface of the rich Gulf alongside a fragile coast with essentially no safeguards or legitimate plans for a worst case scenario when warnings were sounded more than a decade ago? As much as we need to plug the hole and staunch the flow of oil, we need to fix a system in which the fox (oil companies, their lobbyists and their cronies in government) are guarding the henhouse.

Regulations are There for a Reason. President Obama has made eloquent remarks in defense of the role of government, but it is clear that the government hasn’t been using the tools at its disposal when it comes to energy policy, regulation or enforcement. The same was also true with the tragic explosion at a Massey Energy coal mine just weeks before the oil spill in which 29 miners were killed. I was glad to see that the Southern Environmental Law Center (based here in Charlottesville) and Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit to challenge, among other atrocities, the environmental review exemptions that the government issued since – yes, since – the Deepwater Horizon explosion. In other words, haven’t we learned a few lessons here?

We Need Outrage that Leads to a Vision. You can boycott BP all you want (is there actually a good alternative?), but at the end of the day we need federal policies in place that move us away from our addiction to dirty and dangerous fossil fuels – oil, coal, tar sands – to move forward with a safe, clean, competitive energy future.

Oh and I wouldn’t count on the oil industry learning any lessons — check out this Rachel Maddow segment:

As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said perfectly:

“Please don’t tell us that our role is just to hate BP or shop in Mississippi or wait for a commission to investigate. We know the problem, and Americans are ready to be enlisted for a solution. Of course we can’t eliminate oil exploration or dependence overnight, but can we finally start? Mr. President, your advisers are wrong: Americans are craving your leadership on this issue.”

Take a look around. The vulnerabilities of our current energy system are on vivid, heart-wrenching display right before our eyes.

Oil is spewing into the Gulf at a heavy but unknown rate with no end in sight. Fisheries and livelihoods that depend on them are teetering on the brink of irreparable disaster. Florida and the East Coast are in the crosshairs both from the BP oil hitting the loop current and from unflagging pushes to drill offshore. Hurricane season is threatening to exacerbate the situation. Meanwhile renewable sources of energy like wind and solar along with energy efficiency are primed and ready.

Has there ever been a better time to embrace this clean energy vision?

Nope, this summer of sludge is our moment.

Sustainability Solutions Honored from Charlottesville to Swaziland

  • April 25, 2010 5:52 am

It’s easy to focus on the problems and bad guys – whether we’re talking about the financial system, immigration or environmental issues. But it’s far more important to recognize and champion the solutions – and the people doing the solving.

I had the opportunity to witness some of those innovations and innovators at the Second Annual University of Virginia Sustainability Project Competition here in Charlottesville, where dozens of undergraduate and graduate students showcased 17 initiatives to achieve a sustainable future.

As a judge of the competition I felt: humbled by their knowledge and forward-thinking ideas; jealous of the courses now available to students related to sustainability and entrepreneurism; and inspired by those same ideas and opportunities and their positive “yes we can” attitudes.

Selecting the winners was its own challenge for our four-judge panel. In the end top honors went to a project that will support the new Charlottesville-based Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) with energy audits, data analysis and homeowner education on energy efficiency. Runners up included projects to provide electricity and clean water in Cambodia, initiate a recycling program for fraternities and enhance the Community Garden on grounds.

Other entries included Meat Free Mondays in dining halls, algae cultivation as cleaner source, sustainability measurement at Virginia wineries, and efforts to reduce bottled water use at a local middle school.

And that’s all from a single college campus.

Meanwhile, the annual Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six “grassroots” leaders on six continents who have affected change through community or citizen action. The Prize annually “recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.”

The 2010 Goldman Prize went to recipients who are tackling significant environmental problems against powerful foes and often without the media spotlight or adequate resources, including:

• Factory livestock farming in the United States
• Shark finning in Costa Rica and beyond
• Protection of Europe’s dwindling wilderness in Poland
• Sustainable agriculture in Cuba
• Conservation that focuses on human rights in Swaziland
• Wild elephant conservation in Cambodia

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by concerns about climate change, our fossil fuel addiction, dwindling water supplies or [insert environmental issue here], take a moment to appreciate the people who see a problem in their community, marshal their wits and resources, and confront the challenge head-on with a powerful vision for the future and a dedication to make that future a reality.

Look closely and you’ll find these problem solvers in your community and in the far corners of the planet, from the University of Virginia to Swaziland and everywhere in between.

Happy 40th Earth Day from the Battlefield, Sports Field and Red Carpet

  • April 19, 2010 9:05 am

Update: Check out this cool video by Sierra Club Productions that was filmed here in Charlottesville at the Ben Harper concert on Earth Day. Disclaimer: I helped out as a field producer and was blown away by the energy and passion of this group!

I have been known to tell people that I hate Earth Day. Of course I don’t actually hate a day dedicated to increasing awareness of the threats to our planet (and ourselves) and to boosting participation in the solutions. I’m simply not fond of the greenwashing that happens every April, nor am I thrilled with the masses who “go green” for a single day out of 365.

But this year Earth Day is, as Vice President Biden would say, a BFD. It’s the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a time to both applaud our progress over the last few decades and to regroup for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

There are countless ways to celebrate but I’d like to kick off the week with promising green news from some not-so-usual suspects. What’s clear here is that 40 years on, protecting the Earth, its resources and its inhabitants isn’t a lost cause embraced by hippes and treehuggers; it’s a mission that is championed by the military brass, professional sports teams, Hollywood stars, and the President (not to mention CEOs, mayors and governors, the faith community and many more).

Going Green on the Front Lines

What in the world does the United States military have to celebrate on Earth Day? When you consider that the Defense Department is the biggest energy consumer in the country, the answer to that question becomes a lot more obvious.

Energy and water saving initiatives have been smart investments for our troops. The Army has cut water usage by 31% since 2004, and the amount of energy used at Army facilities fell 10.4% in the same period. [Note these figures don’t include Iraq and Afghanistan, through green measures are implemented at many levels in those operations.] As concerns about peak oil reverberate through the military, the Armed Forces are investing $2.7 billion this year to improve energy efficiency.

The rationale is quite simple: consuming less oil, saving a vital resource like water and minimizing climate change and the conflicts it will cause all lead to energy security. And in the 21st century, energy security is national security.

Going Green on the Playing Field

As a sports fanatic I seek out ways to combine that love with my passion for environmental issues. Thus I now jump at the opportunity to shine a light on the Portland Trail Blazers basketball operation, which has followed its city’s lead in green initiatives. The Rose Garden where they play is now the only LEED Gold certified sports venue in the nation. They accomplished through a variety of innovative measures, including efficient lighting, recycling and composting, transit options for employees and more. One example of success: the facility’s diversion rate (the amount of waste recycled or composted) has jumped from 38% in 2007 to 63% today.

The LEED certification was announced as part of the NBA’s Green Week, an initiative supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council which also works with Major League Baseball, the United States Tennis Association and the NFL’s Eagles. Across the division in Dallas the Cowboys season-old stadium had a raft of green design components, something I wrote about last summer for ICLEI USA.

Of course the sports world already has its hands full this Earth Day – with the NFL draft.

Going Green on the Red Carpet

“Hollywood Goes Green” won’t make any headlines or tickers these days. Those who walk the red carpet very often drive a Prius, buy organic, and eat less meat – and they like to tell us about it.

But this is different than the lifestyle choices of the Hollywood elite. For anyone who watched “Avatar,” the green undertones were more like overtones. In a unique marketing move, the DVD release of “Avatar,” the highest grossing movie of all time, is set for Earth Day. It’s a key element of a partnership with Earth Day Network dubbed the “Home Tree Initiative” that will plant 1 million trees worldwide this year.

The movie’s producer James Cameron, who has made headlines for fighting a destructive dam in the Amazon, will speak at the Climate Rally on the National Mall in D.C. on Saturday, joining other stars of the movie and music biz as Sting, Joss Stone and The Roots. Cameron’s trip is expected to be on the heels of one to Bolivia where President Evo Morales is hosting the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Going Green Outside

Given that a limited number of us will ever see time on the battlefield, on an NBA court or on the red carpet, it’s worth noting a major announcement from the Obama Administration that will hit home for the millions of us who work and play outside. It came at last week’s White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors. There the President launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative with several core components:

First, we’re going to build on successful conservation efforts being spearheaded outside of Washington -– by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups -– so we can write a new chapter in the protection of rivers, wildlife habitats, historic sites, and the great landscapes of our country.

Secondly, we’re going to help farmers, ranchers, property owners who want to protect their lands for their children and their grandchildren.

Third, we’ll help families spend more time outdoors, building on what the First Lady has done through the “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.

And fourth, we want to foster a new generation of community and urban parks so that children across America have the chance to experience places like Millennium Park in my own Chicago.

Given that American children spend half as much time outside as their parents did and we lose 2 million acres a year to development (according to the Interior Department), it’s a smart and timely move. And it’s easy to get started immediately as this week entry into all 392 National Parks is free.

Find a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, but keep in mind that we need action 365 days a year on the front lines, sports fields, and red carpets of the world and everywhere in between!

Offshore Drilling Doesn’t Help Build Clean Energy Future

  • April 2, 2010 9:39 am

The Obama Administration’s move to open up America’s coasts – protected for decades – to destructive offshore drilling hit home for me (and hit me like a ton of bricks). As a native of Virginia Beach and current resident of Virginia, I have long been passionate about the beach and ocean and preserving our coasts as sanctuaries for wildlife and people alike.

But the push to feed our fossil fuel addiction at the expense of our coastal legacy is part of the broader discussion about our energy choices.

First, a couple of quick observations on the harsh realities of offshore drilling:

Industrialized coasts. Even with the best technology, oil and gas drilling still means a massive infrastructure footprint on- and off-shore.
Negligible money for the state. The revenue projections are uncertain and revenue sharing schemes are far from being resolved.
Negligible savings for consumers. What we’re talking about is a potential savings of 3 cents per gallon of gas by about 2030. That’s it.
Too expensive for rich oil companies. Given current oil prices, much of the oil might not be economically retrievable.
Drop in the bucket. There is only an estimated 130 million barrels of oil that be recovered off the coast of Virginia – that is equal to a six-day supply of oil for the US at current consumption rates , and 1,140 billion cubic feet of gas— equal to an 18-day supply. That’s it. (Learn more from the Southern Environmental Law Center)
Jeopardize the tourism and fishing economies. Starting on August 21 last year a new, state-of-the-art drilling platform in Australia leaked about 2,000 barrels of oil and gas every day for 10 weeks. The claims about “clean, safe technology” are bogus and the threats real.

Of course the Obama Administration went to great pains to present the new drilling as part of an “energy security package” that also included an announcement that fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks would be raised to 35.5 mpg within six years – that’s an important 10 mpg increase from where we are now.

According to the EPA, the standards will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. Consumers will save an average of $3,000 over the life of these vehicles (with an upfront increase of up to $1,000) – all told the standards will save consumers $65 billion in fuel costs.

Those stats are far more impressive than a few pennies decades down the road and a few days’ supply of energy.

Judging by the SUVs that crowd Virginia’s roads, this should be welcome news despite the blow dealt by the drilling part of the deal.

Alas Virginia’s Attorney General announced immediately that he would file suit to block the efficiency standards, fast on the heels of challenging the EPA’s right to regulate global warming emissions.

Those who would push the “Drill, Baby, Drill” logic while obstructing progress on efficiency would be wise to remember that efficiency is not a finite resource. Fossil fuels are.

The real danger in offshore drilling whether you live in Virginia or Nebraska or any state is a false sense of energy security and a continued delay for the real energy solutions like efficiency and renewables.

We are not a country that can drill and mine our way to energy independence. As a nation we must embrace at an accelerated clip efficiency and renewables in a more robust manner. Otherwise we will not lose just our precious coasts and economic anchors – we will also forfeit our competitive edge in the clean energy future.

Short, Simple and Strategic Tip #1 – Spring Cleaning for Your Website

  • March 30, 2010 12:29 pm

You clean out your closet and garage during the Spring, so why not your website?

Take Stock
Does the site accurately and powerfully capture your mission? If your messaging or goals have evolved, that should be reflected on the website – your public face to the world.

Are you keeping up with technology or is this the time to invest in enhanced functionality or a new platform?

Do an analysis of your website metrics (or start tracking site usage and trends if you aren’t already) to see what pages are drawing people in, what they are doing there, and from what page do they leave the site. That will speak volumes about what you’re doing effectively and where you can make improvements.

Evaluate Content and Structure
Do a sweep for broken links and outdated information (still advertising that event from last Fall?).

Take a step back and look at the content holistically. Has your site ballooned to hundreds of pages? If so, make sure it still fits neatly and intuitively in a sitemap so that users can easily navigate through the denser site.

Spruce it Up
If every other page has the same stock image of a tree or a solar panel, it’s probably time to invest in new images or consider hosting a photography contest as a means to gather more unique images for the site.

Check All Channels
While you’re cleaning up your website, take the same spring cleaning approach to all of your e-communications – e-newsletters, e-alert templates, blog, social media platforms, etc.

Best part about this spring cleaning? It doesn’t require a vacuum or ask that you get rid of that favorite unused pair of heels!

World Water Day Makes an Online Splash

  • March 22, 2010 12:10 pm

Today is World Water Day, which is no trivial matter for the nearly 1 billion people around the world who lack access to safe drinking water. Dirty water now kills more people than all forms of violence including wars, according to the UN.

To mark the day, there is plenty of activity in the news media and online – which makes it a prime opportunity to gauge how different groups are using the occasion to promote their mission, new products and campaigns and overall messages of water quantity and quality.

I waded into the dizzying mass of action alerts, new campaign promotions, and #hastags and have compiled some of the most interesting examples that can be a model for your group to consider.

Tapping into Social Networks
Water.org and the ONE Campaign – together backed by mega Hollywood stars like Matt Damon and George Clooney – teamed up for One Week for Water. With a few simple clicks, you can donate your Facebook and Twitter voices in the name of clean waters. It will automatically update your Facebook posts and Tweet your followers once a day March 22-26 with water facts and stories – and it will tin your photo and avatar blue.

Water Tweets 101
If you don’t want to completely hand over your Twitter account to a week of posts by another organization, the Water Day website is the next best thing. They provided an extensive list of sample Tweets (by date, general, and basic water facts) along with instructions on how to use Twitter.

Launch Pad
The Surfrider Foundation used the occasion to launch a new online video: KnowYourH20. “The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water,” is an overview of how we currently manage our water systems impacts coastal solutions. Plenty of ways to share the video in an effort to make it go viral. Check it out at www.knowyourh2o.org.

Raise Money
Most groups with a water mission are slipping a fundraising ask into all of their online activities, but for others the donation is the core message. Today Charity:Water launched a launched a fundraising campaign, “Unshaken,” to raise $1 million to help 11 regions in Haiti with sustainable water solutions. The best feature (from a social media perspective) is the “spread the word” page which allows users to easily share Unshaken with their networks – with sample Tweets, banners for your site, and links to embed their short but powerful video (which, as you can see, I took advantage of).

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words
National Georgraphic’s special water issue (“Water: Our Thirsty Planet”) doesn’t hit newsstands until March 30, but that didn’t stop the famous magazine from promoting their compelling water stories and photos online.

Competitive Writing
Last I checked the World Water Day Writing Contest, sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Helium, had 60 entries that answered their question: “Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation claims 4,500 lives a day. What should we do about it?” This is a great tool for awareness and engagement as it gives people what they love – a platform for their opinions and solutions – and it generates more voices and ideas (and, let’s face it, content).

Clever and Visual
Walk for Water: My sister took part in a really cool event in San Diego called the Walk for Water. The tagline, “Experience the Journey,” meant that participants walked 5 kilometers carrying jugs of water – not easy, but not as hard as the 3-6 mile journey that women and children make every day to get water for their family’s survival. This is a powerful (and probably painful) way to put water issues in the spotlight, though they don’t appear to have tapped into social media yet. A similar event in Portland has.

World’s Longest Toilet Queue: This movement is attempting to raise awareness about access to clean water and basic sanitation and break a Guinness World Record for a queue in multiple locations acround the world across the same time period. If you aren’t able to participate in an actual que, they make you feel involved with an online petition. I like the hook here: they are trying to influence a high level global meeting on water issues in Washington next month, which helps make the action relevant and tangible.

There you have it. Some social media water for thought!

7 Questions to Answer Before Jumping on the Social Media Train

  • March 12, 2010 12:43 pm

Getting in the social media game is imperative for many organizations and companies. But while the move may be urgent or inevitable, it should not be made without answering at least these seven questions:

1. What is our goal? Seems like that’s a “Captain Obvious” question, but you would be surprised how many organizations and companies are diving headfirst into social media waters they haven’t tested. Is your goal to raise awareness of a campaign or issue, increase brand visibility, engage supporters, attract costumers (and sales), solicit feedback or some combination?

2. Where is our target audience online? Chances are some of the people you are trying to reach are out there in online communities already. The beauty is you don’t have to create your own platform, but you do have to think about your audience demographics and habits and find or recruit them.

3. What is the experience we want them to have? An offshoot of #1, think about the atmosphere you want to create, the way you want to engage people and the experience you want them to have with your brand or mission. Whether you’re building a fan base or community, promoting a product launch, or affecting policy – the first step is to cultivate a relationship.

4. How do we contribute to and learn from the conversation? Speaking of cultivating relationships, the biggest mistake is to treat social communities like you own the microphone or the stage. The key word here is conversation. Remember that the microphone and stage are owned by the collective. Good technique: Use social media to track and respond to comments about your company or to identify trends that impact your mission. Bad technique: Tweet a link to a press release.

5. What resources will we dedicate? There is no exact formula for how many and what types of staff and other resources you need to allocate to your social media presence, but it is not something that feeds itself. You’ll get a return on your investment only if you make an investment in the first place. It is fine to start small and scale up, but you won’t get an accurate read on the potential until you give it an honest shot. Consider an incremental approach or testing a pilot when resources are limited.

6. What resources do we already have in play? You probably already have the foundation for social media success – website, blog, e-newsletters, email lists, staff who know the ins and outs of social media. Rarely will you have to – or want to – start from scratch. In fact, quite often the value of, say, a Tweet or Facebook post is to drive people back to an already established resource like your website.

7. How will we know if we’re successful? Social media can bring a strong return on investment, but you have to define what that looks like based on your goals. The outcomes may be tangible or intangible. Make sure you are applying the same metrics to social media that you do to other media, advertising and outreach campaigns.

Social media is far more complex than these seven questions but, at the same time, getting started can be simple if you’re smart about it. Use the process of answering these seven questions to guide you. Get on board before the train leaves the station – just make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Is “Treehugger” a Dirty Word?

  • February 15, 2010 11:23 pm

While contemplating the name for this blog, I toyed with various iterations of “A Treehugger’s Words of Wisdom” and “Dear Diary, It’s Me, a Treehugger.” I went in a different direction for a variety of reasons, but it made me think about the meaning of the word “treehugger.”

When I turned 16 my parents gave me their old car with the license plate “SVEARTH,” so it’s safe to say that I’ve been called a treehugger a couple [hundred] times in my life. The term has been wielded as a mean-spirited slur, a friendly ribbing, and an adoring accolade. I myself have alternately worn the title “treehugger” proudly as a badge of honor and tucked it away quietly behind a locked door.

At the end of the day, what’s so wrong about wanting to protect – if not outright hug – trees? Consider these stats I found from a news article:
• A single shady tree can save a homeowner $80 a year in energy costs.
• Property values are 7 to 25 percent higher for houses surrounded by trees.
• Consumers spend up to 13 percent more at shops near green landscapes.
• Patients who can see trees out of their windows are hospitalized for fewer days.

Of course treehugging isn’t just about trees. Ultimately I embrace the word “treehugger” and its myriad connotations – which include such principles as clean air and water, energy efficiency, open spaces, heritage and legacy, respect for life and natural beauty. And the treehugger stereotypes have been rendered baseless. For example my shoe collection has a ratio of high heels to Birkenstocks of about 50:0.

That point has been underscored by the wildly popular website Treehugger, a name that founder Graham Hill says reflects the notion that someone wearing a collared suit and sitting in a corner office can contribute just as much to solving environmental problems. (Listen to him explain it to musician Ben Harper in this short clip.) The word simply needed an image makeover.

And it turns out that core environmental concerns – alleviating our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels, creating sustainable economies and jobs and fostering safe and healthy communities – are some of the biggest global, societal challenges in modern history.

But that’s not really a new phenomenon. How we talk about it has evolved.

This spring a host of major environmental (other) groups are rallying together as part of the Earth Day Revolution in the lead up to the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The tagline, “Patriots Needed,” is part of a campaign to get Americans to sign a Declaration of Energy Independence that reads, in part:

“… America has a failing energy policy that continues to reward polluters, undermines the health of the American people, threatens our national and economic security and keeps us dependent on energy sources from overseas… We call for America’s elected leaders to join us as Clean Energy Patriots and deliver on the promise of a clean energy revolution and climate action now.”

The umbrella group Clean Energy Works has a tagline – “More Jobs. Less Pollution. Greater Security” – that might as well read “Baseball, Mom and Apple Pie.” They talk about repowering, refueling and rebuilding America. Who doesn’t want that?

Are these “clean energy patriots” fighting for anything that different than “treehuggers”? Not really. Does it sound more powerful and resonate with more people? Absolutely.

At the end of the day, words matter. (But so do trees!)