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The holiday season is officially here, with just a month until the new year, and less than a month until Christmas Eve. It’s a time of year when many families are thinking about charitable giving and what organizations need help.
It’s also the time for holiday giving advice, and over the last few years, we’ve seen a push towards a more informed, personalized giving. We’ve been told to give strategically and to treat giving like a project, looking for outcomes. In general this isn’t a bad way to look at things, and can help in terms of deciding on a charity of choice, but it’s not about a return on investment.
Recently, the Globe and Mail came out with some holiday advice in terms of giving, as treating your gift like an investment, and focusing on the tax break you get as a result. And they included the idea that since businesses don’t always highlight personal stories in quarterly reports, charities shouldn’t either.
This is similar to the Kickstarter effect where charities are advised to show a real goal and bring people together to meet that goal. Not a bad idea, and often the big payoff of a number is a long-standing success metric for specific campaigns, especially around the holidays.
Here’s the problem: most of the charities who need your help don’t need one big thing. They need operating costs covered, they need additional space, they need to hire another resource, they need new plumbing, they need building repairs and maintenance, they need the things that every organization needs, and it’s not sexy.
A Focus on Things, not Service
Let’s use an example: a hospital in your area needs a new MRI machine. That piece of equipment comes with a price tag that can be easily turned into a goal for lots of people, who then get to say at the end ‘look, I helped get that machine!’ This is obviously useful and will help lots of people who need that machine. It’s an unqualified win for you, for the hospital and for the community. The perception is fantastic! People all helped to buy a new thing, and having that thing will help loads of people. And it comes with prestige to boot.
However. The same hospital also needs 12 additional beds for mental health care, a new admin hire to keep the outpatient clinic open late and two extra nurses. The hospital could wrap those things into a package and run a campaign to upgrade the mental health unit, but it will be harder to get people into the idea of donating funds to salaries and laundry service and other operating costs. So a good idea to get people interested is to tell stories about families helped by the unit. It’s not an ‘exemplary employee’ situation like you’d see in a business’s success report, it’s a preview of the real value an organization can offer.
Here’s the other perception problem:
It’s too easy to conflate the salaries of badly needed hires and increased hours of operation with ‘administration’ and assume it means that the organization that needs your donation isn’t properly funding ‘projects’ or ‘equipment.’ And I promise you, hospitals, libraries, women’s shelters and animal rescues need funds to stay open. Funding operating costs is incredibly important, and isn’t sexy in any way. But even worse, it can be seen as some kind of proof that the organization isn’t running well and can’t keep itself open. This is easy to deal with by looking for organizations that have been operating for a long time or have recently expanded.
Give to an organization.
Help the shelter that needs to increase their hours of operation. Buy a membership to a public art gallery. Spend on a day care who’s funding has been cut. Donate to a hospital’s general fund. Contribute to the YWCA’s urgent needs. If your budget includes global charities, find an organization in good standing with a long history of helping others. Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International come to mind.
One piece of advice from that same Globe and Mail article makes a lot of sense to me: volunteer your time to organizations you care about. If you work with them and see how things operate, you’ll get a strong sense of the values and commitment of the organization.
This season, use your gift to keep things moving. Find an organization you care about and fund their greatest need. Give the gift of staying open, expanding the offering, and of continuous service.
And remember, it’s a gift. Not a loan, it’s not a business plan. Give expecting nothing in return, and volunteer expecting only to improve your own community.
Speaking of keeping things short…
Marketers: start hiring viners to produce your YouTube video ads. Viners create hyper-short, shareable stories in very simple and sometimes very memorable ways.
YouTube has in-stream ads (pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll) that show an ad that can be skipped after 5 seconds. As a result, brands have been wringing their hands trying to make ‘unskippable’ ads, while users engage ad blockers more and more often.
Interruption is the problem. Even if your ad rocks, I didn’t search for it. I searched for something, found it and then clicked on it, only to then see your message about dish soap taking up my time, and, here Canada, my pricey pricey data.
This is where Vine beats YouTube. Vine can tell a whole story in just enough time for the skip button. You can then go on to additional storytelling, or just shorten your ad and call it an act of audience goodwill. Don’t ask me to not skip your ad because it’s so good. Make your ad so good that all you need is the five seconds you get. Hire a Viner, someone adept at making feature films that are only 7 seconds long.
Think you can’t get your point across in less than 30 seconds? Take inspiration from these brands who get it:
An advertorial from Buffer, cross-posted in The Next Web called “A scientific guide to posting tweets, Facebook posts, emails and blog posts at the best time” was shared widely this weekend, and emailed to me directly by several different people, some of whom are working on the same project with me.
Before I get going with why I disagree with the article, let me say that Buffer is an amazing app, as is the Hootsuite auto-scheduler, a tool I use daily. I really like using them for convenience, and to get an idea of what seems to work well for the communities my different clients are engaged with. When I read the article, all it really told me was that I need to look at my own audience, split-test all my posts, record the engagement rates and then move forward with more decisions. If you’re delivering a social media service to a client, you should be doing this anyway. If you’re posting for yourself, it’s a good thing to do to help you succeed.
Buffer did a great job of explaining what their product does and how you can use it effectively. What it didn’t talk about was content. What it didn’t talk about was context. By calling the article ‘scientific’ it ended up being reductionist to the point of exclusion for any other impact your posts might have. (It also didn’t talk about promoted posts or ads, which directly affect impressions on various networks.)
Rule: Kittens on Thursday, Jokes on Fridays
The article was fine. It was broad, it had some standards, but they weren’t even broken out by industry. For example, there is a general finding that engagement is higher on Facebook on the weekend and at the end of the week. In the case of one client I have in mind, engagement is dead on the weekend and right back up Monday morning. There are specific reasons for this that have everything to do with content and audience preferences and nothing to do with general rules. They are unique and interesting, as is their audience. The advice I give them could include sharing more or promoting more on the weekends if they want to go in that direction, or it could focus on the audience who has implicitly declared a preference and share even more at the top of the week. This is just one example, there are many more available, each one different and skewed towards your community and their preferences.
It would be really nice to plug in your audience demographic, your time-zone, and your goals and then just press ‘go’ and instantly end up with a zillion loyal followers commenting and sharing your posts. In reality, you need to listen to your audience. You need to see what else is happening in the world and then do the opposite of whatever Kenneth Cole is doing with that information. You need to create lovely, fun, memorable items that people want to share. And sometimes you need to pay to boost it – particularly if you’re sharing something time-sensitive.
Buffer is an excellent tool. So is Hootsuite, ThunderClap and any number of other tools that can help you share your messages more. But the best tool you have to knit your community closer together and really reach the people who need to be reached is an iterative analytics and content suite called: your ears, your hands and your brain.
Start listening. Start sharing. Start measuring.
How many business op-eds have you read lately that talk about doing what you love? It doesn’t feel like work if you really care about it you know; just find your inner passion and really unleash it on a hungry business market and all things will flow from there.
It’s Labour Day. And on this day, I think it’s worth pointing out that the people who share this ‘advice’ are often people who have the exceptional privilege of doing so. Yes many of them ‘started from nothing’ and business people are certainly not the only ones to share this enthusiasm for ‘doing what you love.’ You might hear it from activists, artists, people who can claim some kind of higher calling for the work that they do.
What interests me though, is what these messages do to our perception of work and of value. There is a sense that because you like to do what you do, you don’t need to be compensated as much because it’s somehow a reward in itself.
No entrepreneur worth their salt would ever accept your haggling down the price of their product or service just because it’s what they’ve committed their whole life to doing. In fact the very opposite is true – they become expert at doing something they care about, and so they can charge more than those who are just putting in the time, because their product is better.
Why then, is it okay to haggle with musicians over the cost of their labour? Is it because music is fun? Is it because you can easily get some part-timer who practices perhaps once a week? Or is it because we all agree that no-one would pursue music unless they wanted a fun and easy ride? At an average income of 8K a year (yes, eight thousand a year, on a good year) this does not wash.
Oh, well it’s about talent.
Yes, the question of talent, a silly notion propelled by our addiction to biological determinism that suggests some inherent, foundational explanation for the ‘calling.’ Whether or not anyone is more adept than someone else at a certain task has no bearing on what you ought to pay them. None.
I’m just going to repeat that because we apparently live in a meritocracy (news: we don’t) and lots of people seem to think that pay scale should be related to talent. In fact, pay scale should be related to the amount of investment that goes in to a product. It is likely that someone with talent will still need decades of training to actually do anything with their skills. Musicians aren’t born knowing chord progressions, nor do they Socratically understand how to hand-make a reed (shout out to my Oboe pals!) it’s possible that they learn slightly faster than others, but ultimately, ‘talent’ helps guide life choices, such as which school to go to or what to do for a living far more than it predetermines success.
If a surgeon expressed a natural aptitude for dissection and anatomy (I leave to your imagination the grizzly details of how such an aptitude would be discovered) would you be more or less likely to pay that person for surgery, knowing that they practiced with their friends, every once in a while. Less? But this person is a genius! a Maestro! still squeamish? Good. We pay for experience, training and confirmation of excellence from peers.
Musicians who make a living at music study fucking hard. They work their asses off on weird schedules. They play until 1am and then drive all night to run music camps for your kids at 9am. The happy go lucky lifestyle you imagine comes much closer to opening a bakery at 4am and then leaving to serve cakes at a wedding – suit, tie after sweating all day near hot ovens – until 9 or 10 at night.
“Well my kids’ music teacher told me once,”
Don’t even continue that sentence. When I tell work stories, I share the funnest ones. The time I got to tour a place that manufactures Cyclotrons (they make pharmaceutical isotopes without nuclear waste) was a cool, fun day. It was also a really long, hard work day. It would bore you to tears to hear about my sitting at my computer or in meetings and then the traffic in getting there, it’s exhausting for me, so I don’t tell you that. Instead, I focus on the accomplishments, the fun stuff and it’s assumed the hard work comes with it.
On this day, take a moment to consider what goes in to a Master’s Degree in anything, let alone a specialized activity that requires it’s own muscle-memory, notation and ear-training. If you absolutely NEED a non-fiction proof-text, go with Gladwell’s Outliers. Think about what you’re paying for, and if you’re really reflexive, try thinking about the damage done by an industry that tells you a pop song is worth 99c or less, and that a whole album should only cost you less than ten dollars. Comparing that valuation with live music is definitely a mixed message, but it’s not up to the artists to bear the brunt of our sick way of valueing the arts.
Go to a show tonight. Pay for the music. If the club is passing a hat, put money in and then tell the manager to pay the musicians. If they’re not passing a hat, buy a few drinks and put your money where your mouth is.
We all deserve to be paid to do what we love.
Even musicians. (and writers)
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
A short while ago, a good friend of mine posted a link to a story on his Facebook wall, and in the comments section, he shared a related link from another source. The followup link was long. I mean LONG. It was a long url anyway, and it still had all the tags from his reader, which basically doubles the length of the url. A platform like Facebook is imperfect for link sharing, it reads some links and gives you a thumbnail, but it also publishes the whole link just above it, putting lots of filler in the sandwich – your comment, the link and responses from others.
The thing about this is that the friend of mine works for a major political party at the federal level. He works in Parliament and his Facebook wall, though entirely personal and of his own making, often discusses party news and articles about legislation.
He needs to use an url shortener.
Anyone, anyone who wants to use Facebook and twitter for conversations, to promote their ideas, to syndicate their articles (I’m looking at you journos and SEO pals) needs to use url shorteners to keep their links concise. This is not just a rule for my good friends working in our nation’s capital trying to make a difference, it’s for anyone with a content strategy. It’s for anyone who should have a content strategy and doesn’t!
Url shorteners do three things for your links:
1. They make your posts more readable. We want to understand your commentary on the topic. If all you have to say is that you agree without reservation or inflection, just point straight at it. But if you want to add a level of understanding, do so.
2. They make your posts more shareable. The more room you have in your twitter message for retweeting, the easier it is for lots of people to forward your message along. On Facebook, they make that tiny, faint, non-intuitive share button way easier to see.
3. They make your content more searchable. Search engines see those links on curation blogs and prominent sites like Business Week which embeds links from twitter. If you want to get really technical, the good url shorteners are treated by search engines the same way they treat a 301 redirect – or the ‘not-spam’ redirect. So all those posts and reposts and conversations and links go to where you’d like it to go.
Making your content – or just your favourite links – more readable, shareable and searchable is basic to any conversation. It’s not only for websites trying to sell ads and boost their authority, it’s for anyone who wants to have a conversation, short or long. If you want to get people to an event, the link to that event shouldn’t overpower the invitation platform. Same with driving directions on a Google map, a photo slideshow (these are at times the worst offenders AND top innovators in short and clean urls. For some reason, there’s very little middle ground) a neat thing you want to buy or that you want to suggest to a friend.
Whatever it is, make it readable, shareable and searchable.
Now the bad news: the main argument against url shorteners is link rot. By using a third-party between your main link and your audience, the possibility that they might shut down someday puts your links in jeopardy. There’s a really good reason to assume that these third-parties won’t last forever, just look at Tr.im. It’s a totally valid concern and there’s no real consensus on how to avoid it, other than refreshing links often – which everyone should do anyway – and embedding full links in more than one place (did I just hear an echo of cross-linking in regular content? I think I did!)
The other issue is spam. If you want to be sure of what you’re clicking on, you’ll have to take for granted that you’re clicking on something safe. This is really no different than some of the assumptions we have to make about long urls as well. Even if they look legit, they could be covered in malware and other garbage once you get there.
So link shorteners are far from perfect and don’t work alone to support your content. But if we’re talking about conversation between people, especially on social media platforms, it’s worth it to shorten your url anyway. And the benefits of the link shortening tools like analytics, shorteners built into publishing tools and even vanity url shorteners could outweigh the costs of potential link rot. You can even get technical and use url shorteners as a search interface. (awesome!) This concept is great, and they actually use their custom short url as a calling card!
Keep your conversation about your conversations. Share ideas using short links couched in your context and topics, don’t weigh down your convos with long strings of overwhelming gibberish.
Language is what we use to create our reality. So create something convincing, that flows and interacts; don’t wall yourself off behind unreadable gibberish.
PS: now that you’re ready to shorten your links, here’s where you can start:
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” ~ Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
The word Utilize has a meaning.
It means: to use an object (or idea, or device, or word, you get the drift) for something other than its intended purpose. In 19th Century English, they’d say “put to use” which does not equal “use.”
Here’s how it works:
You can utilize a phone as a flashlight. You can’t ‘utilize’ a phone to reach out to your customer base. Because phones were made to contact people who also have phones.
Let’s try another one.
You can use a travel mug for a delicious boost during your commute. And you can utilize a travel mug to collect drips under a leak while you go and get a plumber. You can’t ‘utilize’ a travel mug for carrying a perfect latte to an offsite meeting any more than you can ‘use’ a travel mug to bean someone on the head with when they overuse the word utilize without knowing what it means.
Here are some synonyms for utilize: hack, MacGuyver, improvise, repurpose, upcycle, makeshift, appropriate, apply, exploit, put to use, take advantage of, exploit, turn to profitable account.
I’m certain that last one will seem tricky because the people most likely to misuse the word ‘utilize’ are in the SEO writing community. They are my people. I love them dearly, but due to our industry standards for keyword density, I have to read them misuse ‘utilize’ way more than any supportive friend ever should. Do you hear me SEO peeps? Stop hurting me!
Just because you can ‘turn a landing page to profit’ you don’t also by definition get to ‘utilize’ the latest techniques and tools. Most of the tools and tips you’ll see on a page about SEO and content creation will discuss how to ‘utilize’ some damn thing to its ultimate potential. Which is impossible.
WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE.
You can use something to it’s fullest, or you can utilize something to solve a problem.
Which is great! Utilize is a great word. It speaks to creativity, lateral thinking, innovation, ingenuity and problem-solving. We should be holding up this word as a standard for hackers, makers and innovators everywhere. When we suggest that sales managers ‘utilize’ sms technology to sell $0.50 coupons, we devalue a word that should mean the very best in human invention.
So now you know what it is and why it’s important. Go forth writers, and use the word utilize sparingly, and with the reverence language deserves. Language is the tool with which we create our reality. Don’t utilize language to ruin our expectations of one another. Use it to make something incredible.
For everyone who’s ever designed a grocery store loyalty program, please note; it’s loud in the store. It’s too frigging bright, someone’s kid is always screaming, the lines are too long and since it’s a grocery store, I probably won’t be comparison shopping all over town. I want to go in, buy what I want and get home. Especially in winter.
So please don’t shove a scratch card in my face when I’m paying. Don’t foist a barcode keychain on me that makes me pay over 200$ for a four dollar coupon. I promise you, I don’t care. Yes yes, the economy this, recession that, but honestly, keep the four bucks. Seriously. (oh, and as a former cashier, don’t give these people a quota to push this stuff. When the cash out takes longer because of these steps, they have to deal with irate me.)
That’s the thing about loyalty programs.
If you sell basic necessities in a residential area, you don’t need to boost loyalty. You need to earn the respect of the community around you. Innovate your delivery service, support community events, showcase local suppliers, whatever.
And as for every brand out there that doesn’t sell basic necessities, let me enlighten you: I don’t want a coupon. I really don’t. Unless it’s on an e-purchase that automatically populates during purchase, it’s just another piece of junk in my purse, which will eventually – and inevitably – go into the recycling bin. And leave the stamp cards, please. I have a hundred, I’m not using them. I know you saw it work for airlines, but their product is expensive and the brand choices are few enough that loyalty programs actually make sense. When I need dishsoap on the other hand…
Can I just pay and go?
I’d really like to do that. I’d like us both to agree that we don’t know each other. We aren’t friends, and our relationship is based on you having something that I’m going to pay for. Please make the process as easy and professional as possible. Stop trying to tell me how great everything is, stop piling ‘added value’ on top of my toilet paper or my travel tea infuser. Just make it easy for me to find what I want and then just go. And if you really really want to be friends, please:
Give me something I can use.
No, don’t layer it on during purchase. Don’t make me buy a membership card, and please stop putting coupons on reciepts. I don’t keep them. Offer students a discount. That’s it. Waive the shipping fee once in a while. Knock it off with the ‘admin’ charges and the ‘courtesy’ fees. We don’t need more junk to wade through. We just need a break. There’s an old adage that can serve anyone well if they’re planning on throwing a loyalty program at busy consumers with lots to deal with: less is more.
I met Jack Layton just once and I’ve often wished I could have sparred with him again.
A good friend of mine has been with the NDP for many years, and when Mulcair was introduced in Quebec, he invited me to an event on avenue du Parc. I showed looking for some lively debate and microbrews and I wasn’t disappointed. I still had an election hangover from the most recent Federal election nearly two years prior, which had boosted the eminently reckless and vicious Stephen Harper to the highest seat in the land and I was looking for blood. Many of the campaign tactics and nonsense strategies I saw from the Greens, the Grits and yes, the NDP had left me supremely disappointed.
I also had a favourite, and to this day I still do. Gilles Duceppe is a devout separatist, but he is also one of the strongest socially progressive candidates out there, and as a party leader with a huge voting block who doesn’t actually want to win, he often said what he really meant without concern about alienating an audience outside Quebec. I knew that the NDP shared similar social values though from a Federalist perspective, but in my view they had failed to hit hard on the crime bills, on women’s rights, on the environment, taxes and myriad other issues. I was looking for these hippie-dippy yahoos to answer me when I demand why they wouldn’t do the obvious thing and start bitch slapping the Harper radicals up and down the Canadian shield.
I mooched around for a while, like any good proto-journalist, listening to conversations, sipping my lager. I nosed around with my friend and finally got a chance to talk to big J. I congratulated Tommy and introduced myself and asked if we could talk about the last federal election. Now remember, I’m a Quebecker. We have a shall we say, les relations complexe with religion. So I asked, completely aghast, why didn’t the NDP see what I saw? How is it that the disgusting and underhanded way that the Harper radicals used the machinery of the church in Quebec to gain ground wasn’t all over the front page of the NPD website and further, how is it that alternate religious groups weren’t engaged by the opposition?
Jack was very good natured and at first tried out some cheerleader boilerplate talk. Though I was focused on how many seats were lost to Harper in Quebec;
Jack: Well we won unprecedented seats in Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Me: Yeah, but there’s more of us here in Quebec than in Manitoba and Saskatchewan
That’s when he and I really got into it. He was being more than polite by standing there at his own event and really listening to me raise my voice (okay, I was yelling by the end) about the distinct need for a social democratic party that isn’t afraid to get savvy and vicious and religious. To get personal and really delve into communities that aren’t Evangelical Christian and who deserve representation, and to seek out Evangelicals who aren’t happy with the folks who want to represent them. I got really agitated and passionately decried the laxness of the last federal election strategy, and the failure of anyone on the left to call Harper out on what he was doing. I demanded to know why the social contract of this country is not treated like a moral issue, why attacking healthcare via penny-pinching accountancy or domestic violence by way of nonsense preserving-the-family narratives aren’t a serious moral failing of the blue-in-the-face-psycho-cons.
He looked at me and started talking about a growing network of religious groups, from Sikhs to Hindus, to Orthodox Jews who all care about social justice and want strong representation in Parliament. He really listened. And when I asked him where the hell this initiative was in the campaign and why the hell no-one was shouting from the rooftops about this network, he handed me a card and said we should talk about it. He asked point blank what he thought I should do about it. I said, “I think you should get on it. Start talking about this stuff on camera and online, not just in meeting rooms.”
I never forgot that. He didn’t try to weasel out of the conversation, he didn’t try to out-manoeuvre me. He gave me a lot of time from what I’m sure was a demanding schedule and he responded honestly. It’s kind of sad when something as simple as that is extraordinary, but there you have it.
He was a giant of a man. I confess, not my favourite politician, and not someone I regularly voted for, (as a woman in Quebec, I knew Gilles, the Silver Fox was a stronger advocate for me than anyone else), but he was present. He didn’t have some deranged vision of a strange new country, and he didn’t dismiss what I consider vital. He was there and he heard me.
The landscape now is vastly different than it was. Crazy things are happening and our parliament – not our country – is far more polarized than it was. Quebec is exposed and deeply vulnerable, Danny Williams is no longer a voice from the East and a deeply radical religious community has unprecedented access to the House of Commons. I mourn a person of deep conviction and immutable vision. A person of character and skill. A man of class and generosity. I’d love nothing more than to drive back to Ottawa, stop in at Darcy McGees and debate with Jack about the best ways to move our country forward, maybe over a glass of smoky amber…ah but now I’m romanticizing.
Canada has lost a strong voice and a tireless leader, but not the vision and not the insistence that we can be a stronger, better, more intelligent, creative and caring nation. Whomever holds these values, take some good advice from our dear friend: don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
Jack’s final words to all of us.
Please donate to the fight against cancer, in honour of Jack.