Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Non-Profit Prepares For Bleak Times

by Lon S. Cohen

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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bloggers united against decision to block websites in Bahrain

This is a couple of months old, but I came across it and thought it still was appropriate to post. Bahrain (which according to Wikipedia is an Arabic island microstate in the Persian Gulf ruled by the Al Khalifa regime) apparently blocked Internet access to its citizens.

Of course Bahrain bloggers reacted. I read many comments over at the Global Voices website but I think the best one is this one below that succinctly summarizes censorship of media in his country. He metaphorically compares his brother who was a “mere idea” a little more than twenty years ago to the phenomenal growth in distribution of information by the world wide web nowadays:

Let me try to paint you a picture:

It is the 1980’s. No internet and no Satellite TV channels and nothing. The only communications we have with the outside world are videotapes, cassettes, books and magazines. In these simpler times, banning something would actually work. If the government says for a reason or another that a film for example is unacceptable and not wanted, the majority of the population, if not all, will not get to see it. Tapes will be easily found and confiscated. And then what? Banning media at that age was quite effective. But that was a long, long, LONG time ago. Just look at my brother, he was a mere idea in ’86 and was born in ’87. Today he is a 186 cm tall man, with a goatee, driving license and a college degree. Media has grown that much too.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is There A Difference Between Social Media And Social Networking?

By Lon S. Cohen

I sometimes have trouble when I’m talking to people at work who aren’t savvy with this whole Web 2.0 thing we’ve got going on here. I use the words Social Networking for some instances and Social Media in others. I don’t explain the differences because to most laypeople, there is none and really, when I start to go into my theory, eyes glaze over and my colleagues suddenly find that the coffee truck must be outside the building somewhere and they have to hurry or Bob from accounting is going to take the last corn muffin.

But since this is the bread and butter of many of the people reading this right now, I think it’s safe to assume we can skip the gory details and get right into the meat of things. First, is there a difference between Social Media and Social Networking websites? Yes. And no. And it depends.

There is a big distinction in the terms Social Networking and Social Media. While many use these two terms interchangeably, you can separate them and the websites that represent one or another or even both effectively.

You can parse out the word Social from Media and Networking in each term. Social Media can be called a strategy and an outlet for broadcasting, while Social Networking is a tool and a utility for connecting with others. Essentially, you can lump both terms together under the umbrella of Web 2.0.

They way I do it is by taking the words and separating them into their different meanings. According to the Dictionary.com website, here are the definition listings for each:

Social: 1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.

Networking: 1. a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest: Working mothers in the community use networking to help themselves manage successfully.

Media: 1. a pl. of medium. (ok that doesn’t help, let’s go to the second definition-L.S.C.) 2. (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely: The media are covering the speech tonight.

The difference is not just semantics but in the features and functions put into these websites by their creators which dictates the way they are to be used. There’s also a kind of, which came first, the chicken or the egg kind of argument to be made here. I suspect that Social Networking came first which evolved into Social Media.

First there was Arpanet. Years later, Web 2.0 allowed for user generated content, democratization of information on the web and blah, blah, blah… We all know the history; we’re a part of it, for Tweet’s sake.

Social Networking.

LinkedIn is a good tool for Social Networking. It’s your resume on steroids. Your interests, the companies you’ve worked for, your schools all become links to others who share your same history. Your personal profile even looks like a standard resume format. Visually everything comes across as a line item. It’s terrific for business purposes. It does one thing very, very well and that is to allow people to network in a profession online arena. You can recommend the work of others, search for jobs, and link up with connections of others in your network through introductions. You can crowdsource your connections by asking questions. And you can post or apply for jobs either through a query or through your existing connections. See how it’s all modeled on real like business networking? These are its strengths.

Since it’s formation, LinkedIn has decided it needs to be a little more like Facebook and it’s added interest groups and the ability to publish links to articles you find interesting. In that respect it pales in comparison. LinkedIn is a Social Networking website. Everything about the structure and format screams business utility. Nothing about it screams media. That’s because so much of the personal pages are taken up by business profiles ala the resume format. For a site like LinkedIn to bust out of its stogy Business Networking reputation it needs to totally reformat its look and function. A tiger can’t change its stripes and LinkedIn can’t shake the fact that it is a functional website for hooking up people wanting to do business with each other. LinkedIn is good at what it does and I’d hate to loose it.

Social Media.

YouTube is a really good Social Media website. It’s television on the web with a bazillion channels. I like the exploding Coke bottles, the funny Panda videos, monkeys falling off of logs and people crashing into garbage cans just as much as I like the step-by-step instructions on how to make an origami Millennium Falcon, viral comedy of Matt Koval and educational presentations on the history of the Internet. YouTube is a no-brainer marketing tool for any business that wants to make an impact on the web and provides one of the easiest distribution channels for video since the advent of Betamax. The elephant in the virtual living room is, of course, the Obama administration’s embracing of YouTube to distribute the POTUS fireside chats to the American people.

But if I want to network with friends and business associates, I’m not using YouTube. Sure I can subscribe to other people’s feeds and get updates whenever they post a new video but I’m never going to get the same depth of information that I’d get on LinkedIn. YouTube lets me put up my standard profile, but it’s not where I’m going to go to find my next business hire or even my next date. And I’m definitely not going to find out that my friends are all meeting up at the latest hip bar on the Upper East Side tomorrow night at 6:30. No. YouTube stands firmly in the camp of Social Media.

Social __________?

Twitter and Facebook are Web 2.0 sites with the whole package. They straddle the Social Media and Social Networking divide perfectly.

Facebook’s layout provides ample space for me to broadcast my pictures, my links, my book lists, my blog posts all while finding my first girlfriend who got married and moved to Virginia. The pictures I post act both as media and a networking tool because I can tag my friends and other people can place their own tags on my photos, labeling that hottie I wanted to talk to who just happened to get into the background of the bar I went to last week. For the most part, Facebook is a Networking site but because it devotes so much of its layout to a space where I can pack in my own stuff it is perfect for Media too. The density of information I can project is almost limitless.

Then there’s Twitter. Such a simple tool. By taking out the status update function of MySpace and Facebook and blending it with the idea of the chat room, the creators have developed one of the most versatile sites in all of Web 2.0. Twitter’s is first and foremost about projecting your words within 140 characters. What you do with those words is totally up to you. You can Tweet out a original work of fiction, you can pretend you’re a character from a TV series, you can sell stuff, inform people, link out to other websites, have conversations, piss people off or keep a low profile while taking it all in. But the essential part is connecting to others for whatever reason you want to connect with those people. In so many ways, Twitter’s most useful to distribute small bits of information but it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile. The minimalist functionality of Twitter is probably it’s most powerful feature enabling it to be many things to many people. The debates rage on whether Twitter should be for brands, for celebrities, or just for conversations with real people. The real secret is, it’s for anything you want.