Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Futility To Utility With Twitter

By Lon S. Cohen

At about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon I was getting ready to leave work when I got a call from our National office. It was our Media Relations Manager. (He’s sitting at a desk in California so I forgave him for missing the fact that I was mentally out the door already.) He told me a reporter from Newsday, one of my local market newspapers, had left him a message wanting information about ALS. The Media Relations Manager provided me with the reporter’s name and phone number. I thanked him and hung up. Cut and dry, right? Turns out, not so much.

Let me interrupt here to explain a little about what I do for a living. I’m a freelance writer (obviously or you wouldn’t be reading this) but my day job is Director of Communications for The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, a nonprofit that raises awareness, provides comprehensive patient services and funds medical research for ALS. Among my many duties in this role I manage all our website, Social Networking, media relations and PR for our Chapter.

After hanging up with the Media Relations Manager I immediately called the reporter. It became obvious that I had written down the wrong phone number. After confirming that the number I had was actually the same as the one that the Media Relations Manager had, I was a bit dismayed. The opportunity to speak with a reporter doesn’t come along everyday and I didn’t want to miss it. I tried to Google the reporter’s name along with the name of the newspaper but no luck. I couldn’t find him. I was upset, thinking I might miss his deadline and he’d go somewhere else for the information or even worse, get the information wrong.

On Monday I got an email from the Media Relations Manager asking me if I hooked up with the reporter. In the email was the proper spelling of the reporter’s name, explaining why I couldn’t find him online. As an aside, I’m big on email. First you have a record of your correspondences if any inconsistencies show up later. Second, it mitigates the telephone game effect where people jot down names and numbers wrong because they hear something incorrectly.

Anyhow, I now had the correct name and immediately Googled him, finding a bunch of articles he’d written for the newspaper. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any direct contact information for him. But, at least I had a name. It turns out, that’s all I needed.

I went about a few other tasks to let the back of my mind work on the problem while the front of my mind answered emails, checked stats and made to-do lists. Then it struck me. I knew another reporter from that same newspaper and had communicated with her quite often. Technically it was every single day since we followed each other on Twitter.

I sent my Twitter connection a DM asking if she knew the reporter I was looking for. I was amazed at the serendipity of her response. Below I’ve pasted our DM exchange. (I changed the reporter’s name and some other information she shared with me for privacy.)

@obilon: Hi. Do you know a Newsday contributor named John Doe? He called me for comment for @ALSofGNY but call back # was wrong. Thx.

@e2_newsday: yep(…) used to work here. lemme try to dig up an email address...

@obilon: Thanks.

@e2_newsday: hi, don't have his # but his ed happened to be talking to him and John says he'll call you back. hope that works.

Minutes later, my phone rang and I was interviewed by the reporter for a story about a local artist who was still creating even though he had advanced ALS.

@obilon: Thanks for the help. He called me after you let him know I was looking for him. The power of Social Networking!

I can’t say enough about the importance of that connection. When I first hooked up with @e2_newsday on Twitter, I thought of all sorts of ways we could help each other professionally. But never did I think I would use that connection to find another reporter when time was of the essence and I had nothing but a name.

This was a huge lesson and not just for me. I conveyed this story to the Media Relations Manager and our CEO about just how I got the information over to the reporter and made the connection. I believe in Social Media as a major part of my Communication Strategy for my organization. But this episode reinforced for my superiors the utility of Social Networking in getting business done.

This also got me thinking. We sometimes use the terms Social Media and Social Networking interchangeably. But you can parse out the Social from Media and Networking. Social Media might be called a strategy and an outlet while Social Networking is a tool and a utility. A good Web 2.0 website can do one of these very well. LinkedIn is a good tool for Social Networking. YouTube is a really good Social Media website. But Twitter (and I’d put Facebook in there as well) is a great Web 2.0 website because it’s great at both Social Media and Social Networking.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Twitter Professors

Just wanted to point everyone who reads my blog (Hi Mom!) to my new article on It's about how some of the people I follow, I consider my Professors of Twitter and why.

Now stop wasting time and go read it here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dreams As Fuel For Your Fire

By Lon S. Cohen

I want to talk about your dreams. I never have the types of dreams that make sense. They’re usually a kind of esoteric, broken up, strange mish-mash of people, dialogue and events that is way too complicated or even too embarrassing to talk about out loud. It’s rare that I have a narrative, logical dream that I can then breakdown and analyze.

I think that’s just how my mind works, never able to just stick to one theme unless I’m concentrating really hard. Otherwise a jumble of thoughts, tangents and threads fly around my head. But it’s like a spider web, there is a pattern forming, I just can’t see it until it’s all done and I reflect on it.

But those are not the types of dreams I want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about the dreams we have in our heads at night, but the ones that we keep in our hearts by day. I woke up the other morning thinking about this. (Usually I wake up feeling like my inner dialogue has been going full steam without or with a random song in my head or both.)

In this economy it’s tough to hold onto the dreams in our hearts. When “they” say that these are the times that try men’s souls, right now, is what they mean.

It may be human nature to give up on our dreams, put them aside or think of them as unachievable because it’s so hard nowadays. You may even think that it’s silly to hold onto the dreams in your heart when you’re struggling to make ends meet. External forces can crush a person’s dreams if they’re not careful. Maybe your dream is falling apart right now. The bank is foreclosing on your dream home. Or your job search is stalled and you are facing the prospect of enduring another year at your dead-end job because the companies in your dream field of work aren’t hiring.

Don’t give up. Now is the time to cultivate your dreams. Do the things you need to do to save them, not give up on them. People start to panic. Understandably, they forsake what they think is superfluous and make a series of short-term decisions because the intensity of the situation calls for it. Try to resist putting aside dreams. Do what you need to do. Cut back on the extras, but your dreams, they don’t cost anything. You can afford to imagine a time when you are back on your dream track again because, well, it’s free to dream. It is the one thing that will keep you going when perhaps you’re burnt out, and feel that this thing is never going to turn around.

But whatever you do, continue to work a little on your dreams. Be creative about it. So many organizations are looking for someone who has the skills you’re developing right now. It may not be the perfect place or the perfect situation but it will keep you moving forward. Someone, somewhere is looking for someone like you and their goals might run parallel to your dreams so seek out opportunities everywhere.

Now more than ever it’s easy to connect with thousands of people on Social Networking websites. Many will also have local groups that meet in real life where you can meet and talk to people who share your dreams. There’s nothing wrong commiserating with others over the sorry state of the world. At least it offers an outlet for frustration and shows you are not alone. You will find that everyone harbors a secret dream that they one day hope to achieve but have to put them off for a while. Even in the best of times, life situations cause people to set their dreams aside for the sake of survival.

Never give up. You don’t know what’s out there. Perhaps you can even make a difference.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anybody want to buy a Madonna?

I’m having an existential crisis. I realize that it’s almost absurd but yet it gnaws at my brain. Here is the situation:

We have just moved offices. After 15 years in one place, you tend to compile a lot of stuff, especially as a nonprofit where people hoist all kinds of things upon you to “donate” to the cause, leaving the organization responsible for selling this stuff for a profit. Sure it’s generous thinking but not all this stuff can sell or be seriously translated into donations so some of it sits around on a shelf waiting for the opportunity to be used in the next auction/giveaway/gift basket.

Cleaning out all the nooks and crannies of the office, we cam upon a statue lady Madonna. The Holy Mother. The Virgin. Jesus’ Madre. She’s quite beautiful, I might add.

Here’s the problem. I was the first to find her and proxy bestowed her care upon me. You might think this an honor (and I do really) but have you ever tried to get rid of a statue of the Virgin Mary? I’m Jewish. I don’t know the first thing about this stuff. To add insult to injury, someone from the office mentioned that if it was blessed by holy water, you can't just throw the statue out. Did she want it? I asked. Umm. No.

So I am in my new office with the Virgin Mary benevolently smiling down upon me from her perch atop one of my cabinets. Not that I don’t appreciate her presence. Not that I don’t get the calming glow but, you know, I’m Jewish and really, these things don’t really belong at work. They belong in a garden in the suburbs, under a clamshell or something.

I’m formulating a plan to donate this statue. I might leave her on the steps of an old church on my way to work. I may have to wrap her up in a bow and give her to my Catholic Mother-In-Law (yes I married a shiksa.) For now, I am tormented. Is it right to just give her away unceremoniously? Or am I spending way too much time thinking about this?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I was exiting the subway this morning. The turnstiles at my station (Wall Street 4/5) are particularly tight. I was distracted in thought about some of my own problems, probably similar to your own: kids, money, projects at work, etc. when it came my turn in line at the turnstile. Maybe it was because I hadn't eaten my Wheaties or because I was so engrossed in my own thoughts but I found the resistance on the metal bars a little stronger than usual. Half way through, someone else entered and began to push on the bars behind me. (These are similar to revolving doors with bars instead of doors much larger than a typical New York City subway turnstile.) Suddenly, with that little extra help the turnstile was so much easier to push.

It made me think.

With just a little help from someone who was doing almost exactly the same thing I was doing anyway, both our burdens became easier. In fact, I thought that perhaps the person behind me was also so deep in his own mind that he never noticed how easy it was to push through the exit.

We're in a pretty big mess here economically in America. We've got some failed policies and two wars looking at us right in the face. I would not want to be the incoming administration right now, because, realistically, the cards are stacked against President Obama despite the overwhelming goodwill he carried into office with him. This morning, I had a small epiphany. It's not a novel idea that when people work together, a tough job becomes that much easier but it really became apparant to me this morning.

It was a minor feat, pushing through that turnstile, exiting the subway and heading up to the street but I realized that all of us want to go in the same direction in this country, toward recovery. Now is not the time to work against one and other; now is definitely the time to work together.

On the Social Networking sites, I see that wave cresting. It's a great feeling when all of us on these sites all are working together to make this system work. I see people on Twitter sharing links to articles, giving back to society through charity work, helping individuals who are seeking advice, engaging in conversation, challenging ideas and sharing resources. It will get better in this country. Our economy will recover, slowly, but it will start sometime soon.

I know this because I see a lot of people everyday online telling me all the good things they do in the real world and like all of us in those turnstiles, all we have to do is give a small push. It adds up. Believe me.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Local Non-Profit Prepares For Bleak Times

It’s looking bleak out there for non-profits. Last year started with the housing market continuing to crash through the floor, wiping out many a family’s largest personal equity investment, which then dovetailed into an unparalleled economic crisis that rivals one most of us only heard about in the history books and ended with a scandalous ponzi scheme whose perpetrator single-handedly swindled some large non-profits of all their savings not to mention the other tens of billions of dollars in private investments it ate up.

2008 certainly was a year of when big events populated the economic landscape with huge storied corporations like Bears Stearn, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Citigroup all falling victim one after the other.

But, far down the food chain are the lowly, local non-profits, just trying to cut a small swath for themselves out of the ever-dwindling philanthropic dollars given by businesses and private donors every year. Sadly, these are the ones who need the money most when economic times get tough but see the their income stream reduced to a trickle.

In times like these that donations go down but the use of services goes up, like the organization I work for. I’m the Director of Communications for The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. My Chapter provides crucial services like equipment loan programs and support groups to ALS patients and their families. They also provide services for caregivers, information about benefits, seminars and they manage and staff three area ALS clinics, one each in New Jersey, New York City and Long Island. Local patients seek us out to help make up their own shortfalls. We will never refuse a patient of services when we have them to offer, but our resources become stretched at times like these. The ALS Association relies on many volunteers to fill in where they can, using individuals with particular expertise to supplement a very dedicated, but beleaguered, staff.

President Barack Obama’s fundraising campaign relied on millions of what are called micro-donations along with locally formed fundraising campaigns to fill the coffers. This “Obama Effect” did not go unnoticed by the development departments in non-profits. The ALS Association had been working toward that type of online grassroots fundraising all throughout 2008 but has really stepped up their efforts for 2009.

Through a strategic Social Networking campaign along with a greater focus on helping individuals and groups form their own fundraising events. It’s going to be a tough year ahead but with some creative thinking and lots of hard work, we think we can make up for the shortfall in donations this coming year.