December, 2006

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…

December 23rd, 2006

Brownie Treats for Santa!

Thanks to everyone who’s read this blog since October. For a personal photo perspective back on 2006, see this Flickr set.

Have a great Christmas / multi-denominational midwinter festival and I’ll see you soon.

Oh, and don’t forget to turn off your PC (the Billblog via Nigel Dunn).

By Steve Bridger filed under community

Technorati blaugh

What does Second Life success look like for non-profits?

December 21st, 2006

Continuing my Second Life thread, Kathryn Parsons at Ogilvy has tipped me off that “LittleToe Bartlett’s” Two-Headed Yak (pictured) has been selected as the winner from last Saturday’s “Yak Show” (see my earlier post).

LittleToe Bartlett's Two Headed YakDavid Thompson of World Vision also got in touch with me this week. The relief and development charity has now joined SCF in Second Life.

Second Life ‘inhabitants’ can see and interact with some of the gifts in World Vision’s Alternative Catalogue, which this year supports 53 of the charity’s community projects around the world.

These include a school building with classroom desk, chair, books and pens, and a tractor (for hire) pledged to a bridge construction project over the River Thondwe in Malawi. You can milk a cow destined for Kenya, pat a sheep needed by a community in Senegal, and even sit in a toilet latrine, required to improve hygiene facilities in a school in real-world Armenia.

Clicking on these items, or the sign boards next to the gifts in the ‘village’, will display more information and take you to the charity’s catalogue online.

Hire a Construction Tractor - World Vision in Second LifeJason Suttie of London-based Copper Industries is working with World Vision on this one. He hinted to me that while there is definitely an interest in Second Life among charities, the “uncertainty and newness” is a barrier to many actually making a commitment.

I guess we’re at the “proof of concept” stage. Second Life may take your charity to infinity and beyond. Then again, it may not.

Last week Allan Benamer wrote a curmudgeonly post (not my words, but one of the commenters) giving some reasons why Second Life “is a waste of time for not-for-profits”.

Well, that may be so. It’s simply too early to tell.

I recall a recent post by Mark Chillingworth; he describes Geoffrey Bilder as saying Web 2.0 is “the edge is the new centre… with content being generated around the edges.”

And there’s much to be said for this assessment:

Bilder describes the deployment of tech as having to pass through processes that includes a hype, failure and then re-emergence phase. The trouble with this, he says, is that we focus on one instance of a technology during the hype time.

I’m still not sure what to make of cause-related avatars myself. For instance, I have particular concerns about their sustainability. I (just about) remember the hype surrounding VRML2.0 after attending a couple of meetings of the London VR Group ten years ago.   At the moment (and I may change my view) I identify with Susan Wu’s comments about Second Life:

Second Life is interesting to me – I truly respect the service, but I don’t love it. That is, I have a lot of intellectual respect for the way they’ve run their business – they’ve been bold, innovative, and relentlessly experimental. But the service doesn’t grab me emotionally. I also think that their high technical barriers to participation and the fact that SL is a closed standards system ultimately deters them from reaching mass market adoption. Yes, they get a lot of publicity and their logins are growing at a fast clip – but I suspect there is a significant amount of churn. I spend a lot of time in the area of virtual worlds – because I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here.

So, the first wave of trailblazing charities have taken the plunge. The majority watch and wait. But what are we waiting for exactly? What will ‘success’ look like? How will we measure it? The number of clickthroughs to the charity website? Number of gifts purchased?

Hmm… we’re back again to the conundrum of how to measure ‘engagement’, something I’ll return to in a future post.

Technorati cause-related avatars, net2, nptech, second life, world vision, yak shack

Job tagging as a recruitment tool

December 20th, 2006

I’ve often considered how online job search could be made more effective for recruiters and job seekers. Perhaps tagging is the answer. Employers could add tags to opportunities that would be used to power job searches.

I want this job screenshotSo, check this out. Breast Cancer Care are looking for a Web Content Manager to join their New Media team and have created a web page using tags to convey the nature of the role.

I like the way that they have made the tags active links to appropriate sections of their website (and external sites). This could be extended to include links to photo sets on Flickr illustrating the charity’s activities.

When you think about it, this technique is also common sense; as more and more tech-savvy, socially-orientated graduates enter the marketplace, Breast Cancer Care are making themselves stand out from the crowd.

Technorati breast cancer care, net2, nptech, recruitment, tagging

Blogging the effectiveness of direct mail

December 11th, 2006

I recently exchanged emails with Anna Crofton at direct marketing agency Whitewater. I should give them a plug since I’m a regular reader of their blog.

Whitewater deserve a lot of credit, not just for allowing the team to “share what’s on their minds”, but for tackling some tricky issues head-on, such as health warnings on direct mail and the sacred cow of the general fund. The blog is a great way for clients and other fundraisers to get closer to their thinking.

While we’re on the subject of traditional media, kudos to Jean-Luc Walraff and his creative team at McCann-Erickson in Belgium for devising this brilliantly effective Little Premature Christmas card. Every year, the premature baby unit at Edith Cavell hospital sends cards to the other departments and to former patients. This year, they sent this card in mid-October. When opened, the message inside reads:

It’s a little premature, but Happy Christmas

Little Premature Christmas card. Agency: McCann-Erickson, Belgium

Spotted in the Ads of the World blog.

Technorati accountability, direct mail, fundraising, mccann-erickson, whitewater

Bertie, Blogs and Breast Cancer Care

December 11th, 2006

I recently conducted an email interview with Bertie Bosrédon, Head of New Media at Breast Cancer Care. Bertie’s responses make for interesting reading and I’ll be picking up on a number of these themes in future posts. Is Bertie a buzz director, I wonder?

How do you see social media (e.g. blogs, flickr, social tagging) blending together to the benefit of charities?

MySpace, Flickr and YouTube (among others) will become increasingly important tools for charities in the next 6-12 months to connect with existing supporters and reach new audiences. This will make us work in a different way – publishing more content directly to those websites, instead of expecting visitors to visit our own site. There will be benefits, but it will also become more difficult to gauge effectiveness.Breast Cancer Care pin badge

Do you think large charities are making the most of the opportunities offered by these tools?

Large charities tend to go for bespoke solutions. For instance, I’ve been asked on many occasions to create photo galleries. I am convinced it is more effective – and obviously cheaper, to set up a group on Flickr where everyone can upload their own photos and share their stories – real photos taken by real people. There is so much that can be done. Having said that, I have recently seen some powerful campaigning videos on YouTube, e.g. this video for the purple ribbon film festival in Taiwan to raise awareness of violence against women and this one produced by WWF Canada for their Save our Climate campaign.

What do you think are the main factors preventing charities from more readily adopting social media?

The first factor is budget. Many charities have redesigned their website in the last two years or so and it is difficult to justify investing in new systems.

I have been working in this sector since 2001 and I speak regularly with other web managers. I am always impressed by the level of creativity and the desire to do more… and almost always disappointed to hear repeated stories of lack of resources, the difficulty of getting internal buy-in and lack of recognition of in-house skills. Too often, web teams are not seen as experts but more as technical people whose job it is simply to “copy and paste” printed content onto a web page.

Have you found it challenging to persuade colleagues of the opportunities?

Not at all, and I feel very lucky for that! I was given free reign to set up my [New Media] department. Six months before I joined [in April 2006], the web team at Breast Cancer Care comprised two members of staff. I now have fourteen people in my department (6 percent of all staff). I have two staff working on content development, another two on technical development, and one on web analytics and traffic management. The rest of the team work on ‘interactive services’ – managing the forum, live chat and developing interactive tools for users. We are also recruiting a clinical nurse specialising in new media who will advise the content team on clinical issues.

Admittedly, the New Media department at Breast Cancer Care maybe unusual in our sector. But other staff also embrace the potential of new media, and so does the senior management team. Even the board of trustees express a keen interest.

We know how many people receive our publications, how many patients attend our courses, how many helpline calls we take and how many visits we receive to the website. The website is our most accessed service by audience reached. Consequently, half our time is spent developing tools and information for these visitors, while the other half consists of responding to internal queries. We operate like an internal agency, like a consultancy. We also do a lot of internal PR. For instance, we set up an internal new media blog where we keep our colleagues updated with what we’re up, and to signpost other websites and campaigns we find interesting. We hope to make this blog more widely accessible in 2007.

A new media conference to promote our discipline to staff colleagues is planned for next year. It will take place in our Head Office but staff from our regional centres in south London, Sheffield, Cardiff and Glasgow will hopefully be able to attend as well.

What role do you think blogs can play?

There are two aspects to blogs. Blogs that charities write for their supporters and blogs these stakeholders write about the charity. The latter can be very effective, although a note of caution is necessary: a charity’s ‘brand’ does not have the same protection as a commercial company because your supporters feel strongly about the charity they support and feel they have some ‘ownership’ of the brand. They don’t think there is anything wrong with changing your logo… after all, they are raising money for your cause. So you don’t have 100 percent control over what they say and this can sometimes become an issue. So yes, blogs can be powerful but they must be carefully managed and resourced.

At Breast Cancer Care, we also have an very active discussion forum. We employ five sessional moderators to maintain the quality of the forum; five ‘hosts’ work ten hours a week each on the forums. They are paid staff and trained to deal with specific issues related to breast cancer.

Can you tell us a little about the strategy behind “Kelly’s blog”, the response and plans for development in this area?

The strategy was simple: there wasn’t one. After we started our internal blog, we were wondering if we should offer a blogging facility on our website. That’s when Kelly emailed, asking if she could start a blog. We thought we’d give it a try. We have been surprised by the traffic and the interest generated by Kelly’s blog. It has been one of the most popular areas of the website for weeks.

We actually met Kelly for the first time yesterday. Following her feedback, we have decided to ask more people to blog for us. Other visitors to the website will be able to comment. But for the reason I mentioned above, the posts will first be checked by our ‘New Media Nurse’.

Will 2007 be the year charities integrate social media into their engagement strategies?

Well, more charities will certainly experiment with blogs. But in many charities, you have to convince several departments across different directorates and that takes time. Because the web is essential for all of them, there will be a need for more cross-departmental projects. The boundaries between your fundraising, campaigning and core business (e.g. support, information) won’t be as defined as they are now.

Therefore, I’m not quite as optimistic! I would say that 2007 should be a year of ‘self-promotion’ for web teams… and 2008 the year they lead with e-strategies.

Any advice for other charities – large and small – who may be about to dabble?

Use the expertise of your team and allocate time to experiment.

I strongly believe that a charity which hasn’t yet invested, or is not seriously thinking about investing in digital communications, and the necessary resources, will struggle in the next 2-5 years.

Bertie Bosredon, Head of New Media at Breast Cancer CareBertie Bosrédon was Online Manager at the British Heart Foundation for five years until April 2006 when he joined Breast Cancer Care to set up a new digital department.

Technorati bertie bosredon, breast cancer care, net2

A billboard of protest

December 6th, 2006

As I was posting yesterday about Save the Children’s ‘Yak Shack’ venture into the virtual world, Beth Kanter was writing about awareness raising in Second Life.

Beth quotes Rik Riel and his criticism of the ‘billboard’ put up by the World Development Movement (WDM) in Second Life.

What is ironic is that WDM has not learned to apply what they presumably have learned from their other campaigns into virtual space. Namely that it isn’t enough just to shame people. “Don’t forget the real world” contains such a superior, pejorative tone.

WDM's billboard in Second Life

Rik offers some sensible advice:

  • Get to know the community first
  • Educate about your cause
  • Mobilise: give people something to do
  • …and not just fundraise
  • Provide hope

You can read WDM’s rationale for their campaign here. But I agree with Rik. I’m not sure this call to action will be well received “in-world”. Shouting rarely gets the message across, however just the cause.

Technorati community, second life, world development movement

Save the Children offers yak a Second Life

December 5th, 2006

Owen Gibson writes in The Guardian that Save the Children today becomes the first UK charity to participate in Second Life, a virtual world accessible over the web via software installed on your computer.

Having ‘sold out’ of yaks for a programme designed to provide the animals for Tibetan families, Save the Children has turned to Second Life in an attempt to raise more money and awareness.

From today, participants in Second Life will be able to travel to its “Yak Shack” and pay 1,000 Linden dollars (the game currency, named after the company that conceived it) for their own pixillated yak.

The money is then transferred into a Save the Children account at the current exchange rate of US$3.50 to 1,000 Linden dollars.

Save the Children's Yak Shack in Second LifeIf you think this reads like a shaggy-dog hairy-yak-story, then think again; a recent survey conducted by the US-based Center for the Digital Future suggested that for many people, online or virtual communities are as important as their real-world counterparts. The results of the survey were released last week and reported by the BBC.

Another study identified that the way we behave physically in real life is mirrored in a virtual environment. So, your virtual self can feel just as strongly about causes as the real you. But would you ‘connect’ with a cause, or organisation in the same way? The jury’s still out for me.

The Yak Shack concept was created by Ogilvy Advertising and works well as an extension of the charity’s “Wish List” virtual gift catalogue.

Ogilvy’s Kathryn Parsons traces her interest in Second Life back to the Picnic06 conference where she heard Philip Rosedale (the Founder of Linden Labs) make a specific reference to Second Life’s potential as a fundraising community. (A report of Philip’s talk is worth a read in itself.)

The agency was already working with SCF and Kathryn told me the connection with ‘virtual gifting’ seemed to good a creative opportunity to miss. Of course, using Second Life as a platform to fundraise will also enable SCF to connect with an audience usually considered difficult to reach.

Kathryn added that “it was important for us to create something which both respected the charity and also the ‘residents’ of Second Life”.

So, during the build, Kathryn worked closely with the Second Life community (seeking advice from Linden Labs, “in-world” avatars, and from Aimee Weber).

“We wanted to make sure we created an experience which is valued by the community and which will eventually become a fundraising success,” she said.

SCF is following the lead of US charities that have recently begun to take advantage of Second Life’s popularity and booming virtual economy. Aimee Weber also contributed to a sponsored virtual ‘walk’, which raised $40,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

If your interest has been piqued, Beth Kanter writes frequently and passionately about this stuff, which has coined terms such as ‘avatar marketing’. Beth has also posted links to Second Life resources and discussions aimed at not-for-profits.

Aimee kindly offered to give me “a teleport and a tour” of the Yak Shack, but I had to decline (I don’t yet have an account!). However, I’m still keen to monitor how successful the Yak Shack proves to be for SCF.

Apparently, yaks and their new owners can return to the ‘Shack’ on 16 December to show off their individually customised yaks (woolly jumpers, etc.) for the chance to win an interview in a Second Life magazine.

If you’re a Second Lifer, dig deep into your virtual pockets.

Technorati aimee weber, avatars, net2, save the children, second life, yak shack

Going (RED) for World AIDS Day

December 1st, 2006

Photo: Saúl Granda I noticed that The Independent went (RED) for World AIDS Day today.

MySpace is also supporting World AIDS Day and (RED) by encouraging people across the globe to submit still images, illustrations, or animated sequences themed on the colour red.

Elsewhere, Sarah posted photos of Sheffield street art event on Flickr.

Photo: Saúl Granda on Flickr

By Steve Bridger filed under causes, myspace

Technorati red, world aids day