One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for January 2014

Leaving Net2Chi

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net2chi - horizontalI hope you’ll forgive the late nature of this week’s post, but I have been busy doing something that….well, I’ve been reluctant to do, but need to do nonetheless. As many of you know, I’ve been co-organizer of Net Tuesday Chicago or “Net2Chi” for the past six years – sole organizer for the past year and a half. At the end of January, I’ll be stepping down from that role.

Much of it has been due to increasing professional and personal commitments – after all, if I want to make time for work or a personal life, it means that I have to make some sacrifices. (As the man said, I can have anything I want, I just can’t have everything I want). But I have to say that moving on from a group that’s
been part of my life for the past six years – that’s shared my mission of driving tech
excellence in the social good field – has encouraged a range of mixed emotions in me….and which I hope the next generation of leadership can face head-on.

I won’t deny that we’ve had our successes – we’ve been able to drive the idea of digital excellence throughout the Chicago area. When I look at the variety of local like-minded organizations – from Free Geek Chicago to Pumping Station One – it makes me glad  that I was part of the crowd providing the solution. (Not taking credit – just feeCNow - Skylineling fortunate to be a witness). When I hear of plans to establish broadband on the southeast side (which has met with some potential challenges) or gain work through Smart Communities funding, I know that my involvement with Net2Chi (or “the Chicago branch of Netsquared“) has been very fortunate. The fact that a state task force focusing on driving socially-minded entrepreneurships is in existence simply provides that driving social good isn’t just a trend, but is slowly, but surely, becoming a movement.

But I’ve also seen in the tech/social good sphere behaviors and attitudes which are…well, problematic. Several individuals are often self-serving, focusing on being “wonderful” rather than doing “wonderful” things. (You’ll often see them making comments about  other efforts that brings to mind a very NSFW Clash lyric about nuns and churches). You will often hear them talk about how “building awareness” is a great idea….without focusing on what to do with that awareness, or mobilizing towards a common goal. They can show you their press clippings, but not their achievements. In fact, there is an increasing belief that because they are part of the non-profit/social entrepreneurship/place-your-social-benefit-category-here scene, they don’t need to follow normal rules….because they’re doing something special for the community.

(Examples: a colleague from a marketing agency offered a non-profit a half day’s work by members of his firm, and the non-profit responded that they needed three days worth of work. Another colleague had asked me for guidance, since a non-profit “connector” informed him that he “didn’t get” non-profits. One organizer of a tech/social good organization turned down another’s offer of a presentation because ‘our members don’t want that’, despite attendees’ providing positive feedback. That meeting was later canceled, with the announcement that a year’s worth of meetings had been scheduled.)

CNow - CBOTIn short, a few people have asserted their “guru” nature by claiming to be “community-minded”, focusing on “collaboration” and “connection”. However, their behavior seems more like “competition”, using buzzwords to sound professional but focusing less on building consensus than sowing dissent. With a variety of organizations focusing on tech and the social good, it becomes imperative to focus less on competition than collaboration – that everyone has a place at the table, and that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit – when we collaborate, the greater Chicago community benefits

For now, I’m looking forward to moving out of a leadership position – so far, I have two people who have expressed interest. If asked, I will share my guidance and insights, but sometimes leaving a leadership position doesn’t mean giving up, or believing a cause to be lost.

It only means now, some of the real work can begin….

Know of any other organizations that are working to help communities bridge the tech gap? Or assist communities in becoming more tech-savvy? Please feel free to mention them in the comments below.

In the meantime, please feel free to like us on Facebook, or contact me privately either via private e-mail or via Linked In. And as always, thanks for reading!


Slizzered on Twitter: Social Media Lessons Part 2

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(Revised on July 19th, 2022)

Last week’s post on Twitter created a nice groundswell of interest – so much so that we even received a slight increase in traffic…and increased comments. This week, we’ll see how one of these comments provided a wealth of really good lessons for Chicago-area non-profits, social change agents, and other mission-driven organizations.

(We’re placing a nice gallery of screenshots below that you can review since this is going to be quite a lengthy post)

So after posting last week, I received an interesting comment…mostly because it directed me to an agency that encouraged me to “buy” Twitter followers. (Don’t worry – the comments have since been removed, but not before I took a screen capture, thanks to my Ubuntu-powered ToughBook).

But I was curious – after all, what was this company promising me? I don’t believe in purchasing Twitter followers – it’s like populating a theater with mannequins before you put on Hamilton. Sure, the audience won’t boo at your Richard III….but they won’t exactly cheer, either.

So I did a bit of Google magic, and did some digging, and….well, here’s what I found:

  • Their website contains a lot of self-congratulatory text, but quite honestly, there are no strong case studies.  (Probably because there are no case studies) Even their “reviews” are from user names who focus more on the results than, say, what those results brought. (Did greater users mean greater reach? Greater sales? Greater click-through rates or conversions?)
  • Their fine print and disclaimers were hard to find….and just a hint: putting gray text on white is never a good idea. (03/30/2014 Edit – Since the owners of the site had expressed concerns about the accuracy of this post, I am removing their agency name from this post. But I stand behind the accuracy of my statement…and yes, you can find their name in the slideshow below.)
  • For a company that brags about how their “proprietary technology” will increase your followers….and expects you to purchase their services, without understanding the strategic or tactical side of social media. 
  • Oh, and the commenter who started this? She returned and made disparaging comments about our online status…as if social media were simply a numbers game. As of 3/31/2014, I’m removing any and all reference to them, since my criticism has unduly affected their search optimization efforts….and quite simply, social media professionals need to hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior. So in that spirit, I’m focusing on principles over personalities.

What’s my point, you may ask? Too often, non-profit marketing consultants emphasize the fact that 1) they are wonderful and know social media, and 2) they believe non-profits should use social media to “build awareness”.

That’s only part of the puzzle: non-profits should be using social media to foster an aware, engaged audience of advocates. It means doing some of the difficult work of investing time and effort – providing insights into their operation, thinking through how their mission impacts the general public, and not falling into the “gee, whiz” mode of believing social media is a cure-all and end all.

Want an example: let me give you two – Chicago Red Cross and PAWS Chicago. They provide great lessons in how non-profits engage via social media. They rarely engage in the kind of (in this blogger’s opinion) falsely leading tactics of buying and selling followers as a shortcut to social media “popularity”.

And neither one will leave you slizzered.

Comments? Please feel free to leave them below. Want to reach me directly? Contact me either via Linked In or direct e-mail. (All contact information can be found via the About page). And please feel free to follow us on Facebook.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Don’t Get Slizzered On Twitter: Social Media Lessons in Pop Culture

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Now that we’re cleaning up from the holidays and the recent “snowmageddon”, it’s time for all good social change agents to get back to work and reengage their constituents. However, One Cause At A Time would like to help you with two lessons in handling social media – specifically, Twitter – by providing two great lessons from pop culture on avoiding getting seriously slizzered. (Yes, this week’s post features celebrity cameos, for your entertainment and learning pleasure!)

Because sometimes, even the professionals get it horribly wrong.

Neil Patrick Harris' Honda Tweet

Early in December, Neil Patrick Harris, known for his diverse range of roles (but we’ll forever call him “Doogie”) tweeted that he had received a new maxivan from Honda as an early Christmas gift. Smart move on Honda’s part: recruit a well-known celebrity, give him a sample product, and allow him to make testimonials about the product to his followers. Sounds ideal, right?

Well, if you catch the responses while scrolling down, you’ll find that there is some outrage – after all, families are struggling in this economy, and they might be better candidates to receive complimentary transportation than Dr. Horrible. (Personally, I would nominate the co-hosts of this comics and pop culture podcast, but I would stand to gain personally….and there are even worthier candidates for free cars). Although many celebrities have large followers, Twitter is best used for conversation – not pushing an ideal message. So one lesson is to think through the potential consequences of a tweet – even non-profits pushing their mission can risk a backlash. (Although the best example of a non-profit handling a bad tweet well remains the ever popular phrase “getting slizzered”.)

But more appropriately, part of the concern is a lack of disclosure. According to the FTC’s Disclosure Guidelines, anyone who blogs/posts/tweets about receiving complimentary products needs to disclose that fact. (It’s really simple to do – just check out any of the book reviews on this blog). All it would have taken for Mr. Harris to disclose are five simple characters: #spon. (Or if he was pressed for space, three characters: #ad.) Companies like CMP.LY provide guidance and tools for both companies and users to follow the rules, but disclosing when you receive free things isn’t just a good idea for transparency….it’s the law.

(For non-profits, social enterprises, and other mission-driven organizations, you definitely want to look at other potential rules and regulations about disclosure. Some consultants might tell you that this is not important, and that driving “awareness” is the primary goal of social media, but trust me – it will help you avoid problems in the future. Especially around “getting slizzered”.)

But on a related note, let’s talk about hashtag use – you know, when you use the “pound sign” to highlight key words. In Twitter, this can be a great way to find key conversations. (For example, enter #cnblog into Twitter search to find more great posts from my fellow Chicago Now bloggers. However, many Twitter users – in order to gain attention – tend to overdo it. So you’ll frequently see tweets that look like this:

#cnnow #bloggers #weareawesome #noketchuponhotdogs #bringonthesnowmageddon #writing #chicago #slizzercity

The result is something that looks cluttered and sounds ridiculous. Or, as Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, long-time readers of One Cause At A Timedemonstrate the destructiveness of hashtag overuse via this YouTube educational video.

(Note: To the best of my knowledge, neither Mr. Timberlake nor Mr. Fallon read this blog. But I would like to thank Steve Heye for the link to the video)

Here’s something to remember: one #hashtag is a clever attention getter, two #hashtags can be a smart way to gain attention, but three or more #hashtags is the equivalent of TYPING IN ALL CAPS, or shouting in the public library. It’s obnoxious, discourteous, and quite frankly avoids conversation….which is the primary goal of social media.

Although there’s a lot of great information about engaging with Twitter and other social media channels, many people find it confusing or misleading. Thankfully, One Cause At A Time is not only here to help educate, but thanks to special celebrity cameos, I think we’ve worked to help make Twitter a little easier. In 2014, part of what we’ll be working towards is helping non-profits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations avoid getting slizzered on social media.

Speaking of social media, my twitter handle is @gordondym, and you can follow blog updates on our Facebook page. You are always welcome to leave follow up questions and comments below, and you can reach me privately via Linked In or private e-mail. (All contact information can be found via the About page). Thanks for reading, and remember – don’t get slizzered by social media.

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Social Change Agents

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Although New Year’s celebrations may be over, New Year’s resolutions have a great importance. For social change agents like non-profits, social entrepreneurs, and other community-based mission-driven organizations, adapting to the constant evolution of technology will be critical. So here are five resolutions that Chicago-based social change agents should consider keeping to insure success in 2014:

  1. Let’s resolve to gain impact by losing buzzwords – Many social change organizations focus less on “impact” and more on “building awareness”. For smaller organizations, awareness is critical….but what is important is action. Knowing how an organization’s activities have a direct effect on its mission isn’t just a good idea – it’s a surefire key to success.
  2. Let’s resolve to not think of ourselves as “special” – And yes, I’m looking at you, non-profits. Too often, several of you use your mission-driven status and “lack of resources” as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. (Example: a colleague once told me that when their philanthrophy unit offered a half day’s services, a non-profit official countered with “No, we need two or three days’ worth”). With social ventures, community groups, coalitions, and others entering the social change sphere, non-profits are now going to have to share the moral high ground….and lose a bit of “specialness” in the process. In the meantime…
  3. Let’s resolve to remember that collaboration is never one-sided – Often, many consider “collaboration” to be “what you can do for me” rather than “let’s share resources towards a common goal”. (Example: One non-profit leader offered another a presentation to fulfill a meeting requirement. The other leader was hesitant – despite members’ approval of the concept – and later cancelled the meeting). Nobody has a monopoly on social good, and collaboration is becoming mandatory for funding and programmatic requirements.
  4. Let’s resolve to read (or re-read) The Mission Myth  and The Myths of Creativity I’ve written about Ms. Mahoney’s and Mr. Burkus’ books in this blog; in my opinion, these are two must-reads for non-profits, serving as a kind of Mythbusters-style session on non-profit effectiveness.
  5. Let’s resolve to not adopt technology or tools simply for their own sake – Many of us see technology – whether it’s computers, smartphones, software, cloud-based services, or other tools – as an end in and of itself. Nobody would suggest using a hacksaw for every problem, so why would being “on every social media channel” or having “the most recent smartphone” be any different? Let’s all resolve to take stock of what we need….and make sure we match the proper tool for that need.

We’re more than a day into 2014, but it’s never too late to resolve to make change. If we want to have a greater influence on executing our missions, we all need to adopt the attitude that revolution begins at home – preferably in the bathroom mirror.

What are your organization’s resolutions for 2014? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me privately via the About page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 2, 2014 at 8:38 am