Category Archives: The Internet Business

Do Non-Profits Spend Too Much Money on the Wrong Things?

control-trusted-pelicanstreet-com-sfox-illustrationI recently left a non-profit company, where my initial role was the managing editor of a Society’s monthly journal. Five years later, as I handed in my 6-month resignation (because my work covered such a variety of tasks in the society), I was leaving having added to my title:

  • Graphic designer (postcards, posters, membership ads, magazine covers);
  • Project manager for the Society’s new website;
  • Overseer of the website’s server;
  • Designer/builder/ trainer of the Society’s Chapters’ WordPress websites;
  • Creator of the Society’s first, bi-weekly, digital newsletter;
  • Launcher of many of the Society’s social media tools;
  • Content director and integrator for all things digital, including member spotlight in the magazine, the newsletter, social media and in videos;
  • Coordinator of three partnership projects (two digital and one print) between other national agencies and the Society;
  • Plus, I served on multiple committees and served with each new president to accomplish important Society presentations and projects.

While I was employed by this Society, I was also moonlighting for another.

While the full-time Society was spending money left and right (and losing members just as fast), the smaller Society was spending very little money and doubling its membership.


It was a simple matter.  The smaller Society put the members’ needs first.  Everyone felt enabled to work together to fulfill the member requests.

The bigger Society’s had an office culture where “that would be too much work” was dialogue that often rang throughout staff meetings. There were those who “did” and there were those who were simply bothered.

Some disturbing vignettes (or horror stories!):

  1. Two thousand dollars spent to send three staff members to a meeting to learn how to enhance membership, and two of the staff went together to every presentation with “automation” in the title.
  2. Offering to teach WordPress, free, to all the members as a member benefit at the annual meeting, but being told that this might step on the education coordinator’s toes.
  3. Offering to post more on Social Media, because it simply was not being tended to daily – and what was being posted were simply announcements, e.g., there was no “social” in the media, and being told no, because it meant stepping on the social media person’s toes.
  4. Offering to add member spotlights on the membership portal, but being told no, because this might step on the membership director’s toes.
  5. A discussion about annual meetings and new members: “Let’s give new members a badge that shows they are new, so we can say hello to them and introduce them to others at the annual meeting!” “Only if I’m stuck in the elevator.”

This is an incredible Society that does very important work and is filled to the brim with scientists and professionals who are making a difference with their work. Unfortunately, these members did not see the day to day lackluster that took place at headquarters. Instead of the office culture changing to accommodate the members, more directors were hired. By the time I left, the Society had just around 20 employees and 6 directors.  In fact, that was the reason I did leave.

It’s frustrating for an employee who wants to fill in the holes with good stuff for members – and who has a proven track record to fill those holes – to be told that what the staff needs is more important than what the members need. And, yes, okay, staff is important – but there are ways to make a staff feel even more important.  How? By creating an environment where people feel rewarded for what they do for members. By creating an environment where people want to work as teams to accomplish very cool objectives.

But hiring more managers can’t do this.

This can only be done by hiring a director who can make all staff feel secure enough in their position, so they feel enabled to work together with other staff.  Competition between staff should not only take a back seat to an eagerness to work together to do what is best for members, but it should be packed up and put into the trunk of the car and driven away.

Spending money on managers to oversee employees automatically indicates that the staff isn’t trusted enough to do their job right. If staff is allowed to do their job correctly, they don’t need to be managed.  Instead, that money can go into scholarships and prizes and education that will serve and grow and highlight the importance of the membership.

Members deserve their membership money to be spent on a staff that – hands down – puts the membership needs above office territorial divisiveness. Don’t believe me? Just ask the members.

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Not Integrating Content is a Scary Thing!

259hWhat are you trying to say and how are you saying it?

Most communication gurus talk about the top four things when it comes to communication branding: message, audience, goal and delivery.  But there’s more to content than just that.

In order for a business or a society to be effective, their message must be made with a holistic, integrated approach in mind, where all content focuses on the following top ten must-do’s:

1) What is your message?
2) What is/are the ultimate purpose or purposes of your message?
3) Who is/are the audience for this message?
4) Do you have the contact information for your needed audience?
5) Do you have competition for this message, and, if so, what part of your message stands out from that competition?
6) What tool or tools will you need to deliver your message?
7) How will the message be tailored for that tool?
8) Who will be in charge of creating the messages?
9) Who, on your team, will be in charge of delivering the messages?
10) Who, on your team, will be in charge of assessing how the messages were received?

You need to make sure your brand is on everyone’s mind – your team and your audience – with every message made.

Creating unique content can be an enjoyable task that allows your entire team – yes, even the receptionist – to own their work in a rewarding way. Your employees spend 1/3rd of their life behind desks you own – and working to create together as a team will have at least the majority of your employees happy to get in the car to drive to work. When people make content – be it in writing articles, blog posts, social network posts, or filming videos, or illustrating graphics, or taking photos – they become, in a sense, owners of that message. That makes them proud and will make them want to be the best they can be.


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Which is Easier? To Create Unique Content or Make a Dagwood?

If you have a loaf of bread and a whole lot of meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, mayonnaise and patience, go for the Dagwood.  But creating unique content can be a lot more exciting and won’t require nearly as many paper towels. The trick is in finding the passion. Here are 5 steps to help you along your journey:

  1. Enjoy the content you are creating, or else your visitor will not. If you aren’t feeling good about the content, then stop. Go back to the place where you were feeling good – or start from scratch. The best content was made with passion.
  2. Deliver up content with a useful tip or trick. We are human beings. We love to learn things. We love to feel smart.
  3. Visual content is a must. Some ungodly percentage – something like 87% of posts – aren’t even clicked on without visuals. Be it a video, photography, illustrations, infographics – these are all visual content that matter.
  4. Make a list. People like to read lists. What are the top ten things you need to do to prepare yourself for your neurosis-filled family beach week trip? What are the seven most disgusting things you have in your house right now? What are the fifteen best things you have ever done for people you did not like?
  5. Find someone to interview.  Everyone loves to read a good Q&A. Humans love to read about themselves and love to send those interviews around for others to see. This is a passive – but smart way – to get original content out of someone else and to make that content go viral.

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The Ten Best Ways To Get Noticed By Media

shadow-shotWhen I look at how P.R. companies come to me with product information during these hard economic times, I’m often left scratching my head, because what I’m being sent is information that’s not helping me to help them.  And then it occurs to me that they, too, must be scratching their heads as to how to get their product noticed by media. Everything changes so fast these days that any industry standard that held steady in the past is just gone, gone, gone —- we are, all of us, scratching our heads.

So what’s a P.R. company to do?

  1. Keep up with social networking.
    Take advantage of Twitter.  If you ignore Twitter, you are walking away from excellent, free marketing.  The question is, how do you incorporate Twitter into a company when your to-do list is already overwhelming? Tap into the workaholics. Or, better, divvy up the posts, equally.  How to use Twitter?  The very best way: communicate with your followers as if you were at a cocktail party. Don’t corner them with a hard sell.  Give them a compliment. Quote them. Send them to other sites that might be of interest to them.  People appreciate getting information and are very loyal to good sources.  Then, from time to time, talk about your product.  It’s really that easy.  Twitter is a place for communicating.  If you think of it as solely a place to brand, you will lose your way.
    Facebook offers a different, just as important path.  For hard core branding, consider building a Facebook Page.  To interact with your customers, a Facebook Group account can be even better – if you keep it active.  See how your competitors have used them.  See who is the most successful with their fan pages and groups and copy, copy, copy that technique.LinkedIn is the most professional source, although not considered the most enjoyable. Don’t overlook Linkedin.  You’ll find journalists on LinkedIn.  But if they see you have other social network avenues with plenty of people socializing and talking about your product, that will help impress them to write more about your product, too.Tip: Don’t forget that with all of these social networking tools (don’t overlook Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, StumbleUpon, etc.), your company will come across as more professional if it creates a unique looking page (don’t use the default look). Creating a unique look does not have to be costly.  Grab someone from the team who understands simple HTML and Photoshop and put them to work.

    An important disclaimer — everything regarding social networking that is written in this article or any article you read about the Internet right now should be readdressed in 6 months.  The Internet is changing too rapidly for anyone to be able to stand back and say, “This is what works for me,” or “I’ve always done it this way.” The only constant in the Internet business right now is this: there is no such thing as a person with a long background of expertise.  There are only experts of the moment.

  2. Understand journalists. Hard to believe, but many print journalists are still only print-centric.  They don’t understand the Internet yet.  In fact, many resent the Internet, put their faces in their hands, and shake their heads at the mere mention of “working the Internet.”  While they stand in the corner with their arms crossed, refusing to jump on the bandwagon, they are being left behind.  Nobody knows where print is going, but one thing is sure: the Internet is where money and new customers can be found, fast.  This doesn’t mean you don’t continue to tap into print journalists.  Having a product spotlighted in print is still the highest priority; no medium has more authority. In the meantime, though, place your day-to-day focus on the cross-breed journalists who write for both print and the web.
  3. Understand cross-breed journalists. Journalists who write for both print and web are your real gold mines.  Focus on them.  They have to write a lot more for the web than for print, e.g., they need more product information, as they are working in day to day media, as opposed to monthly columns.  Also, if a journalist likes a product enough to review it on the web, the product has a bigger shot at being incorporated into their print publication later.  However, understand that most cross-breed journalists are finding themselves doing way too many things at once.  With so many incoming press releases coming in daily, cross-breed journalists have a hard time focusing.  So help them.  Getting them the correct information about your product will go a long way into getting your product noticed by them.
  4. Send affiliate information with your product information to bloggers. If the product has an affiliate link, send the affiliate company link along with the product information.  What does this mean? If a reader clicks on a blog link and is taken to an online store and purchases that reviewed product, the site that sent them to that link receives a commission.  You know all those sites on the web that write about beauty products?  That’s how they make their money.  Searching for affiliate links is time consuming for them.  Bloggers have to keep an eye on monetizing their blogs.  If the company you are representing doesn’t have an affiliate link for their product, suggest they get one.  Then send that information with your press release.  Any writer is going to be more inclined to write about a product that has all the information ready to go.  Disclaimer: no good journalist will write about a product that they don’t respect, but for good writing and reviews to continue to be produced, freelance journalists and corporate journalists must keep an eye on bringing in dollars.  Why write about product “a” that is just as good as product “b”, when product “b” can be monetized?  There is nothing wrong with journalists creating income when they can, as long as they remain faithful to journalistic standards.
  5. Build an online media library. Don’t make journalists ask for photos.  The library should have high resolution photos for print and low resolution photos for web.  The link to your online media library should be in your email signature, always.
  6. Give non-press release details. Write up 5-10 unique details about the product.  We all love details.  Press releases can be so dull to read.  Start your press releases with The Top Five Cool Things To Know About This Product… and then make those details interesting.  Using beauty as an example: so and so celebrity wears this; secret – we used this in-house and everyone was talking about how big the foam grew!; a little info and history on why lemon grass is good for the skin; yeah, you’re probably right about wearing yellow eye shadow, but here’s the trick to pull it off; how not to use this product – sparingly. Use it with abandon because it’s a product that will make you feel happy!
  7. Give more than one unique angle on a product. With so much info overload and the need for blogs and sites to be updated daily, unique angles are always going to be of interest to a journalist.  You may have only a few products to push, but journalists can be writing up to 365 plus product reviews a year.  Help them with a fresh angle — this can go a long way into sparking an “aha” moment for a cross-breed journalist.  One example: You’re pushing an eyeshadow, and Twitterers have been Tweeting about it… send those tweets to the journalist along with the product.
  8. Consider video. You can do quick video presentations talking about the product.  These in-house videos don’t have to be filmed by a professional company.  The video just needs you giving good information about the product, quick.  One minute or less will go a long way in helping to get a product spotlighted.  Also, video is so much better for the environment than paper.
  9. Help local and regional magazines with store info. If you’re writing to a local or regional magazine, let the journalists know where the product is sold in their area. Big print hint for you: if the product can be purchased at a local boutique, chances are that local boutique is an advertiser (or future advertiser), and the magazine will be more interested in spotlighting the product.  If you leave out this info, the journalist might not have time to look this up and you might just have lost that spotlight shot.
  10. Be personable – become an “online” friend. Send some non-press communication. Journalists remember when you write to them personally to thank them or to find out how they’re doing; and for the journalists who have proven to pay attention and write for you, send them an item out of the blue to try.  And, from time to time, just send them a little candle or something.  Journalists don’t forget these human touches.

Sarah Gilbert Fox is a novelist, journalist, travel writer, with a history of writing print and digital copy for commercial and non-profit magazines. 

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