For the record this is the fourth in the series and yes, I did write them all in one day. Part 1 is “The Formula“, Part 2 is “Furthering Your Cause” and Part 3 is “Getting People to Take Action“. I felt that if I split them apart a week apiece I would forget and not care what I was thinking about before. The sad thing is I have another post on similar but slightly different topic also burning to get out. Moving right along…
Part 4 – Staying Connected
I truly believe that people will have varied experiences as far as this topic is concerned. What I am getting at is that we started our Twitter account in December of 2008. There are many people we used to chat with who unfortunately for one reason or another, we no longer do. We didn’t have a falling out or anything, we just stopped tweeting each other. My theory is that the more followers you have and the more people you follow, the more likely this is going to happen. There is no way anyone can read all the tweets going by once you pass a certain number of people you follow. So we break them down into lists. I have a private “A-List” (don’t worry, you’re all on it) of people I connect with on a somewhat regular basis. I interact with them whenever appropriate. I also almost always chat with anyone and everyone who mentions me in a tweet. The only time I don’t do that is if I’ve been away and received a lot of mentions. I expect the people I used to chat with do the same. So if I don’t mention them, they can’t respond.
There are some people I really liked following but their FourSquare tweets were simply killing me. “I’m at school.” “I’m on the highway.” I’m at a red light.” Every morning this woman takes her kids to school. I get it. So alas we chat far less now than when we did before. I would also venture to guess that some have left the building. A while ago I looked up my old role model @AlexKaris to discover he seemed to quit Twitter altogether. His last tweet was Jan 11. A guy like that who enjoyed over 50K followers I know he put a lot of effort into getting there. No matter how many followers he had he would still engage with everyone. I hope he is OK.
I just discovered today that one of my (what I thought was) “new” connections actually was not so new after all. Mariah is the owner of @GingerSnapAlley. She has a whimsical web site geared towards kids playing the old fashioned way — by using their imaginations. And the parents are very much involved. She had generously purchased a premium brick on our Tweetup wall. Now the Tweetup is near Baltimore and she is from Alabama so I doubt that she is making the drive. That was very kind of her to support us. Anyway we have been going back and forth ever since.
Well today I challenged her. She was using her Ginger Snap Alley logo as her Twitter avatar. Being the type who sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong I suggested she change it to her smiling face. If you ask most people they would much rather follow and converse with a face than a brand or logo. It took me about two years to learn that one. To my surprise her next tweet was accompanied by her beautiful smiling face! So we got to talking and she says the following: “FYI: Been following KidsAreHeroes since you first started I was @majesticchild. I fav’d a tweet u made and I still have it :) “Wow! How cool is that! I asked her what the tweet was. “I don’t remember what I offered to do but you said: ‘Thanks for the offer. Let’s tweet a bit first.’ LOL. You were a newbie.” Yes I admit I can be guarded at first. And finally she said, “Yup. There were no donor walls or videos. It was the very first version of your site. You’ve come such a long way.” Wow. I thought. It is kind of sad that she was following us for so long and it took us all this time to get really connected. But better late than never right?
So I can only hope there are more who peek in from time to time to check up on us, just like I do for Alex and others. If you are out there, let me know. I don’t bite.
Love to hear your experiences. Are there people you have remained connected with since the beginning?
As usually happens with me, I have more thoughts to add to this. Here is Part 5 – The Favor.
And now we come to the most difficult post of my four part series. I think if you have read Part 1 (“The Formula“) and Part 2 (“Furthering Your Cause“) you would concede that I have been very candid in these posts. I am going to maintain that tradition and I ask you to do the same in any comment you might make. I have thick skin and can take whatever you dish out, as long as the aim is constructive. So without further ado…
Part 3 – Getting People to Take Action
I recently discovered from my new friend @Nonprofit_Mo that we are a “tiny” non-profit. Tiny? I knew we were small but never thought of us as tiny. Her classification has small non-profits having a budget of up to $500K per year. Right now I’d be happy with $5K so I guess tiny we are. Regardless of our size, we need money to survive. We are now moving into our fourth year and have made great strides from where we started. Despite a few small corporate donations we have had to “foot the bill” ourselves. I am not complaining here, just trying to put things into perspective. So far I estimate that in the three years KAH has existed we have put anywhere from $12-15K of our own money into the organization. Part of it is my own fault. I am not good at, nor do I want, to ask for money. The recent struggling economy has hit us all. Now we don’t have the luxury of footing the bill ourselves. One of our ambassadors was shocked when I told him that if we didn’t get $5K this year we’d have to close our doors. (And don’t think this is a long-winded script to ask you for money. Believe me it’s not. My point will be made soon.) He replied by saying, “You do realize that $5K is nothing don’t you?” In terms of a non-profit budget I absolutely do realize that. The problem is that we are the people that must somehow go out and get it.
In the beginning of March I came across what I thought was a very cool idea, which are virtual donor walls. People buy “bricks” on them and get their pictures and links back to their web sites. They even have promotional text displayed when a user hovers their mouse over top of the image. We have tried so many things that haven’t worked. We tried charity gift cards, magazine subscription tie-ins, even a crazy Jib-Jab like concert that you could create as a benefit concert for Kids Are Heroes. In the beginning MaryMargaret and I would do Twitterthons on Friday nights between 8-10 where we would run trivia contests, send out fun facts and take song requests. Although we had so much fun together doing that and I’ll never forget them, the most we made was $25 one night. Usually it was nothing. So I was indeed excited to learn about these donor walls. After all, because we have so many followers we can offer true meaningful value back to our donors by inviting people to view who is on them at any given time. I believe our Foundation Wall made $1000 in the first three weeks. Finally something that worked! And people have said that it is fun for those who participate.
The other half of the good news is that a local social media company has offered to put on an ambitious Tweetup in May with all the proceeds benefiting Kids Are Heroes. If it’s successful we should get a thousand or two from that. So it is very hopeful that we will survive after all.
When something works I will tweet about it. Why wouldn’t I? In the first part of this series I explained how all this social media blog posting came to be. A person sent me a DM complaining that we were campaigning too much. Indeed maybe I was. I am trying to get 100 registrants to the Tweetup by April 30. Not wanting to put all of our eggs in one basket I still promote the walls. Since I sent her the first post I wrote this morning, Susan (@morphing) says she loved what I wrote and didn’t need to be anonymous. We are certainly on good terms. As a matter of fact, although we were following each other, I knew nothing of her. Now I read as many of her tweets as I can. So I appreciated her pointing this out to me. This is where it gets difficult. Non-profits need money to survive. Businesses need to sell products. To think that if we just converse with people and not talk about our agenda at all they will just give us money or buy our products is naive at best. That certainly hasn’t happened to us. I admit the productivity of the donor walls has slowed down a bit as I expected but people won’t buy a square unless they know about it. Who better to tell them about it than us?
You might make the point this this is social media. You shouldn’t be “selling” or “promoting” anything. Commercials on TV are the venue for that. I would say you have a point. But since we have no budget for commercials, this is the only place we can do it.
So this is the very fine line that we must walk on. Until we get a staff that know what they are doing fund raising wise, I have to depend on myself to keep us going. Businesses have to sell their own products. Again these posts are about engaging and we are all about that but let’s be tolerant of just a little selling (and in our case, begging) sprinkled in.
This is where I’d love to hear from you. If you have been following me I would love an honest answer. Have we been pushing the “campaigns” too hard? My own sister told me “sometimes, yes”. So you are encouraged to give us your gut reaction. If my own sister, who is a huge fan of what we do, doesn’t offend me then you won’t either. Where is the balance? What are your suggestions?
Read Part 4: “Staying Connected“
I don’t get paid to write. I don’t have deadlines. I have nobody telling me I have to produce so many posts per month. It’s a good thing because I don’t work that way. Normally I’m happy if I have written a post once a week. Sometimes I’m shocked to see it gets close to three weeks in between posts. I write when I think I have something meaningful to write and I’m inspired to write it. This is the fourth blog post for this week. I just completed Part 1 of this series entitled, “The Formula“. What triggered that post really got me thinking so I am now writing parts 2, 3 and 4.
Part 2 – “Furthering Your Cause”
The title expression works for a brand just as well as it does for a non-profit. If everyone on Twitter would be honest, 99.9% of them would say that the #1 reason they are on Twitter is to promote something. If they did not have that one major thing to promote, their time on Twitter would be either minimal or nonexistent. For posturing purposes many of them will never admit it, because technically we are not supposed to be promoting are we? We are supposed to be engaging. Well I do believe in engaging. In my search to find the ultimate balance in social media I write to help flush my own thoughts on the subject and garner advice from others. In Part 1 we talked about The Formula, which some say should be 12:1. That is for every one tweet that is all about you there should be 12 others to that are not. I also said how I felt that was near impossible for me. The interesting thing is that after posting that piece and getting it out there I did have a lot of conversation with people. The chat wasn’t limited to the blog post either. As an exercise I went back and looked at my last 35 tweets. I was surprised to see that only 2 of them were all about me. So I went from near impossible 12:1 to 17½:1 with ultimate ease. As a matter of fact it wasn’t only easy, it was a lot of fun. But here’s my story and I’m going to stick to it. I would love to do that every day on Twitter but find that it is difficult sometimes. I throw out open-ended non-spammy comments and get nothing in return. I guess that’s a sign to work on something else. Sometimes, however, it works, just like today did. Do I think that in the long run having conversations like we did today will better serve our cause later? Absolutely. I had some meaningful conversations with several people. I really hope to keep this trend going because it truly is more fun to be engaged on Twitter.
We have a neighbor whose boss is a workaholic and expects her to do the same. Our neighbor told us of an incident where she was on the phone with her boss, at night, from her hotel room. Her boss said to her, “Wait a minute…you’re not working are you?” Jane’s response was, “No, I’m eating.” Jane’s boss told her, “You know that you get a bonus at the end of the year. I’m afraid yours won’t be that big if you don’t get with it.”
My point here is that there’s furthering your cause and there’s doing it with dignity and still getting the most out of life. I used to work in a corporate sweatbox environment like that and what was it all for? My boss ended up getting fired, I quit that job and now I’m doing something that I think is much more meaningful. And yes, I work hard at it, seven days a week. We have worked especially hard in social media for more than two years now. We do it for the advancement of Kids Are Heroes, because it is our passion. I think we have made great strides in those two years, but we are still looking for the right balance. That is what these four posts are all about. Have we tamed the beast? Have we found the right balance? I won’t say “Yes” because that would indicate there is no more room for improvement. There is always room for that.
One thing I do know. Just broadcasting why you and/or your product is so great will not work. Period. What I like to do when people engage with me is look at their profiles and click through to their web sites. I look to see what else we might have in common. Sometimes I might see a good match between them and someone else, so I go and make an introduction. Other times I think of things that could be beneficial to us both. I do feel that is one of the best ways to connect with someone. If you approach them knowing a little of what they are about, that is just so much more effective that going into a conversation with no clue.
So how do we do it? How do we “further our cause” without doing too much broadcasting? I think that one thing I must realize is that there are many people “behind the scenes” who check us out and like what we do but don’t necessarily take action. Without spoiling a story I’m reserving for Part 4, I discovered today that one of my “new” connections has actually been following us since the beginning. Think about it. If all you are seeing is one-sided broadcasting (or “campaigning” as I was accused of in Part 1) would you want to engage with that person? I think this is sort of a pill I need to take every day to remind myself. It can be so tempting to send that tweet out asking for a donation or asking your followers to look at your shiny new gadget that you worked so hard to build. You have to trust that they will find your gadget once you have truly engaged with them.
Read Part 3: Getting People to Take Action
I hope my non-nerdy readers will bear with us for just a second here. One of the famous quotes from the Star Trek TNG series is the word Captain Picard used to tell the helmsman to take the Starship Enterprise to their next destination. No it wasn’t “Giddyap!!”. The word is “Engage”.
If you think of Twitter and social media in general, the word “engage” in my mind sums up what it is all about: engaging with people. A couple of small things happened to me that got me thinking so much I am writing this blog post, and even splitting it into four parts. This is certainly not a dissertation from me of how things should be. As a matter of fact it’s just the opposite. It is intended to engender discussion on the subjects, because I truly want to learn more. After all I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I want this time to be used as effectively as possible. Sometimes I feel like Twitter is a greased pig that I’m trying to catch. Just when I think I have it it slips away again and I have to start over. I do have a reason for being here and make no bones about it — that is to promote our charity Kids Are Heroes. The trick is to do it in a way that engages others rather than offends them. I hope the discussion is such that it benefits the reader as much as it does me.
So the four parts are 1) The Formula, 2) Furthering Your Cause, 3) Getting People to Take Action and 4) Staying Connected.
Part 1 – The Formula
Let’s start by telling you how all this got started. There is a lot going on with Kids Are Heroes these days, and for those of you that have been watching us you know how passionate I am about it. I know other people can’t share this passion to the extent that I have it and that’s OK. But just let it be known that everything I do is for the advancement of the organization. We have recently been touting our Donor Walls a lot on Twitter. I will speak more about them in Part 3, but since they are working I have been tweeting them out on a regular basis. We also have a company, Social Marketing Concepts, that is putting on a very ambitious event in May where all the proceeds benefit us. I really want this to be successful so I admit I have been tweeting about that a lot too. I received a direct message from an unnamed source yesterday. It read, “Hi – great work you’re doing, but too much campaigning and not enough that really engages me with your project (could just be me)!” Now this is not a person I had been tweeting with before this at all. Was I offended by this? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact I thanked her for her candor. How else are you going to get better if you don’t have feedback? In a few wordy DMs back to her I tried to explain myself as best as I could and asked her to bear with us. Her response was “Cool! Just tell us more of the story, when you can. : )“. Very nice. For the record as of this writing she is still following me.
Fast forward to today. What’s the first thing I do when I get up in the morning? Like any other red-blooded American/Canadian/Irishman I check my Twitter. Among other mentions I saw a tweet from a new person, (@ragnarkarlsson from the UK) that read “Just started following @KidsAreHeroes, good example of someone doing good with Twitter and being engaged. They get it!” After the lashing I took the day before this made me feel a little better. I told him the gist of how I was scolded yesterday and his response was, “It’s a fine balance and we all learn, one of my best friends doesn’t follow me because I tweet too often, can’t be for everyone!” to which I replied “Thought the same thing yet I always try and improve. Have to listen to what people are saying. Was grateful to her.” Then after more banter back and forth he mentioned the formula:. “…I like the 15:1 ratio adopted by some of the twitterati.”
What this formula essentially means is you should be sending out 15 tweets that support others to your one link that asks people to take action for you. I have heard 12:1 before but it is something that is definitely thought of by many as a viable way to engage on Twitter. I have felt that since I try and improve how I do things on a daily basis, that I too should adopt this formula. The problem is I have a very difficult time doing it. Yes I do retweet people and I do converse a lot but sometimes all I see on my large monitor that displays 8 Tweetdeck columns are other people broadcasting. I specifically look for things to retweet but sometimes just can’t find a particular nugget that interests me. I get really annoyed by all the Four Square oustings and the Mashable retweets. (Do you notice how the “gurus” retweet Mashable a lot to make themselves look smart?) I even ask people to send me something to retweet and don’t get the response i would have expected. So I talk about our kids, or send out a message about the Tweetup, etc.
I was in a Twitter chat the other night and a brand reached out and asked the best way to get their message across. My response was, “Make it about them, not you.” I still believe this to be true. If all you do is broadcast your own stuff you’ll just be spinning your wheels. He asked me “How can I tell them about my product if it’s all about them?” I think he has a very good point. In Part 2 “Furthering Your Cause” I will discuss why I think people are on Twitter. At some point you do have to put your stuff out there if you are here to promote it. I haven’t done it yet, but I’d love to watch the Twitter stream of the 12:1 people to see if they actually are doing it. As a matter of fact, I will go so far as to say that some use it simply as a posturing statement. Now I’m not talking about my new friend Ragnar. After all, he engaged with me so well he got me to write about him. For that I am thankful. I just think that for me, the 15:1 or the 12:1 thing is very difficult. So what I will commit to is this: I will continue to try and engage with as many people as I can, retweet the gems that I see go by me, but if I don’t ask for things we desperately need we won’t get them.
What’s your formula?
Read Part 2: Furthering Your Cause