Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Favorite Links: May 2013

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

The Studio is the World: Educating Tomorrow’s Designers
AIGA.org

UNICEF Tells Slacktivists: Give Money, Not Facebook Likes
The Atlantic

Figure It Out
Harvard Business Review

Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care
On Being

How Twitter is Like Golf

 

golf swing - fore!In an annual ritual that portends the coming spring, Major League pitchers and catchers reported to sunny baseball diamonds all across Florida and Arizona last week. Somewhere, no doubt, people tweeted about it.

But, baseball isn’t the sport I’ve been thinking about recently. No, I’ve been thinking about golf, and how many parallels it seems to have with Twitter – the social network that has captivated the news media, celebrities, and marketing professionals everywhere. For example:

  • Twitter and golf both support a flourishing industry of experts who will gladly take your money in exchange for promises to improve your game.
  • Both are governed by widely accepted rules of etiquette.
  • Fewer shots (and characters) is considered better than more.
  • Golf is the leisure activity most closely associated with corporate success in America. Twitter is considered, by some, vitally important to an organization’s marketing success.

There are other similarities, however, that are cause for deeper analysis.

You’re probably not very good
Most people prefer to spend time doing things they’re good at. Curiously, golf and Twitter are two pastimes in which lack of aptitude does not appear to be a deterrent to participation.

As in most things with a bell curve, the distribution of talent gets pretty thin over on the right edge of the graph. However, a lot of activity, in both golf and Twitter, is generated by this smaller group of people. According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, 10% of users account for 90% of all Twitter activity. Similarly, fewer than 10% of Americans play golf and, of those, only a small percentage would be considered avid golfers – those playing 25 rounds or more per year.

So why do the rest of us continue to flail about?

Even though I can’t throw a football like Peyton Manning, dunk a basketball, or hit a 95 mile-per-hour fastball, every once in a while I can swing a club and strike the golf ball with as much purity and precision as any professional golfer. I’m convinced it’s those moments that keep hackers like me coming back for more.

On Twitter, in real time, we can follow the thoughts and actions of those we admire in a way that feels more personal and connected than other forms of media – and some people may even be interested in following what we have to say.

The intoxicating possibility of regularly hitting a golf ball well, or having legions of followers, seems tantalizingly within reach. Except that it’s really not – at least not for most of us.

Aimless practice
It’s much easier to hit your target if you know what it is. This holds true whether you’re swinging a golf club or crafting 140-character messages.

Nearly every golfer on a practice range is swinging a driver – a club that’s used relatively rarely during an actual round – to hit the ball as far as they can. Approximately two-thirds of all shots in an average round occur within 100 yards of the hole. Yet, it’s the rare player that allots practice time according to the frequency of the shot.

Many Twitter users take a similarly haphazard approach to the social network, practicing without a clear understanding of what they hope to accomplish. Is it better used as a broadcasting platform or for instant messaging with friends and colleagues? Is it a link sharing service or a marketing tool? It could be any or all of those things, but few users persist in working with a specific audience in mind, or defining what success looks like and a strategy for achieving it.

Return on investment
Mark Twain is famously attributed with the assessment that golf is “a good walk spoiled.” When it comes to Twitter, nonprofit marketers’ expectations of the social network as an effective media channel can be spoiled by reality.

One of the drawbacks of playing golf is that it costs both a lot of time and money. As people have become gradually busier and the economy has struggled, golf’s popularity has waned over the last ten years.

Twitter, in contrast, may suffer from nearly the opposite problem – with high demand but unlimited supply the cost of participation is negligible, and “playing” can be done in one’s spare time. Because it easily fills the little “throwaway” gaps in an ordinary work day, Twitter may not be as highly valued as an activity that requires a stronger commitment.

In either case, when it comes to marketing, the question that must be answered is not: Do I enjoy this activity? But rather: Is this the best use of my time?

Fore!
The workplace is rife with examples of busy marketing professionals who have difficulty prioritizing the tasks on their to do list – who regularly confuse “nice to know” with “need to know” – and consequently end up either working harder than necessary or distracting themselves with more stimulating, but less vital, pursuits.

People can rationalize all day long about how they choose to spend their time, and point to exceptions that prove the rule, but make no mistake – for the vast majority of people – Twitter, like golf, is an enjoyable diversion, not an integral part of your marketing success.

Related content:
Survey of Worldwide Twitter Use
Defining Twitter Goals

Favorite Links: September 2011

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

Are We Measuring The Wrong Factors in Social-Media Marketing?
Ad Age

Three Self-Delusions That Influence Your Decisions And Productivity
Fast Company

Think Quarterly: The Innovation Issue
Google UK

What If The Secret To Success Is Failure?
New York Times

Don’t Wait for Perfection

The web is an amazingly flexible medium that can be updated at a second’s notice, yet many people seem to forget this when launching a site. A website needs to be functional and well designed when it is unveiled, but waiting for perfection is a trap that can delay a launch indefinitely. Here is how to avoid that trap.

Set realistic goals
Websites often get delayed because the scope of the site is too big to execute given the manpower. Don’t plan for content that no one has time to write or interactive features no one has time to build. Distinguish between functionality and features that are necessary and those that are simply nice to have.

For example, many organizations struggle with how to integrate social media into their website. While social media is an attractive feature, it adds little value if no one has the time to sustain it. Instead of setting up blogs, a YouTube channel, and an account on every networking site, determine how many channels you realistically have the time and passion to maintain. One well-maintained social media channel will be more effective than half a dozen that are not.

Not all problems can be avoided
Sites can be delayed by endless hypothetical questions. A common one I hear is: What if members of my audience are using a dial-up connection or an outdated browser? Yes, it’s possible that someone will want to access your site on Netscape, but frankly the number of people fitting this profile is statistically insignificant.

Be as thorough as possible when planning for the ways different people will be accessing your site. Make sure it is easily accessible from multiple browsers, screen readers for the visually impaired, and for smart phone users. However, it is impossible to prepare for every scenario. Inevitably, some people will encounter a few bugs.

Encourage people to report problems by including a link to your webmaster in the footer of your site. If enough people have the same problem, they will identify where the site needs improvements. Don’t waste time worrying about hypothetical scenarios. Wait and troubleshoot the real ones.

Embrace the web’s flexible nature
You may think your site won’t be perfect until that interactive slideshow is finished, or until you have time to write a great blog. Get over it. Don’t delay releasing new content or a more user-friendly interface just because a few bells and whistles aren’t ready. In fact, adding features at a later date can be to your advantage. New features draw the attention of search engines and give users a reason to return to your site after the redesign.

A good website is always evolving. Regularly adding new features and content should be the goal, not a reason to delay launching. If your organization’s website is perfect when you launch it, you’ve waited too long.

– Claire Napier

Favorite Links: March 2010

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

Driveby Culture and the Endless Search for Wow
Seth Godin’s Blog

Facebook Experiment: What Can this Tool do for Business?
Harvard Business Review

What Small Business Can Learn from One College’s Recruiting
Open Forum

Design Thinking and Higher Education
Inside Higher Ed

Rethinking Online Publications

The online version of your publication is an increasingly important part of the communications mix. Because print and pixels are distinctly different, it’s vital to consider how each affects the way your audience consumes information.

Reality check

An online publication should be more than a way to reduce costs by saving money on printing and mailing. In fact, research published in the March 2010 issue of CASE’s Currents magazine found that nearly 75% of respondents did not look at the online edition of their alumni magazine, while 91% always or frequently read the printed version.

People have different expectations when they go online. Readers seek up-to-the-minute information in a media-rich environment that includes video, message boards, and opportunities to connect via social networks. Creating an online publication that delivers relevant content and draws repeat visits takes dedication and time.

Putting a publication on the web offers new opportunities to communicate with people beyond your core audience. The CASE research finds that external searches often spark more interest in your organization and the information and expertise you provide. Online publications must be optimized to help people find you.

Make the medium serve the message

Through animation, some online publications try to literally mimic the effect of a printed page being turned. This gimmick not only misses the point, but is not terribly helpful to the reader. Your web interface should focus on delivering content to your readers in a way that advances the story and increases understanding.

The success of your online efforts relies on your ability to adapt to the way people are viewing the written word. Devices like the iPhone and Amazon Kindle enable readers to interact with content in new ways. Recently, Wired magazine unveiled their vision for taking advantage of this new technology.

Each advance in technology requires an understanding of how people will interact with information — both what is possible and what is preferable. The question should not be: How do we make this more like a printed piece? But, how can we leverage the technology to create a more engaging experience for our readers?

Some examples of well-done online publications:

Bostonia (University of Boston Alumni Magazine)

Frieze

Pepperdine Magazine

Think (The Magazine of Case Western Reserve University)

Related Content:

What Alumni Read (or Ignore)

UMagazinology

Apple’s Bite: Publishers Should Beware the iPad

 

– Claire Napier and Dan Woychick