Buzz Director: the spacewalk metaphor

November 16th, 2007


Confused by the title? It’s just another metaphor I’ve started using to describe how brands should distribute more trust to their communities.

I slipped it into this interview, which Geoff Livingston has published on his influential Buzz Bin blog. It gave me another chance to flesh out my previous buzz director posts.

Geoff has kindly shipped me a copy of his new book, Now is Gone, which I began to read on my commute today. I’ll post a review here in due course, but I can tell you I like it already… especially its emphasis on community building. Thanks, Geoff!

It’s good to be back blogging… more about that later.

Technorati buzz director, net2, online communities

Buzz Director: help me write a job description

June 7th, 2007

Buzz Lightyear. Photo: Thomas HawkI thought it was about time to re-visit the role of the “buzz director” – flesh out the role I first floated last October.

This is especially urgent given that much of the action is now taking place away from your own (increasingly irrelevant) website, ‘out there’, in social networks and online communities.

A good example of this is the dispersed hoohah generated by the London 2012 Olympic logo. An immediate ‘loss of control’ if ever there was one. Ben Whitnall asks whether the powers that be will be happy to engage with the debate where it is already happening (e.g the 100+ groups set up on Facebook in the last few days)… or will this be a job turned over to the suits and bean counters in the Ministry for Herding Cats?

Through this post, I’ll ping Jeremy Gould, who hints that heads of “e-communication” in government departments regularly re-assess their “roles and skillsets” now the goalposts have moved. But I reckon this awareness is unlikely to have yet ‘trickled up’ to the accountants.

Another favourite blogger of mine, Jeremiah Owyang, has also chipped in with some suggestions.

Last month I noticed that Shane Atchison included elements of the buzz director role in this post describing what a “Social Network Analyst” might do. I emailed Shane via the ClickZ website. Hope he received it.

Perhaps the “buzz director” label (which was always just a working title) sounds too marketing-centric; I don’t mean it to be; buzz directors need to be able to apply this thinking to online communities and activist networks. I’m talking ‘people’ rather than products.

Anyway, I’m going to quickly throw down some further thoughts. I fear they’ll come out in no particular order, but you’re invited to help me knock this into shape by commenting below. I’ll also set up a wiki (Update: here’s the link).

Oh, by the way… when you do come to recruit for this role, consider putting the word out like this!

Job description

You will:

  • Learn how to be in more than one place at once!! i.e. not just a space ranger but a ‘ranger of spaces’.
  • Co-create targeted engagement strategies with appropriate colleagues, especially social reporters and community technology stewards (if you have them), brand ‘ambassadors’, and ’cause evangelists’.
  • Bring the senior management team with you; earn their respect and backing.
  • Photo: Steve BridgerDevelop and coach on tactics, seeding networks, ‘brand’ positioning, etc.
  • Expect the unexpected, and be resourceful in responding in the moment. Improvise.
  • Funnel organisational strategy into focused activity.
  • Be pivotal in mapping the organisational structure onto web innovation.
  • Be generous. Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant.
  • Recruit virtual volunteers and sprinkle confetti liberally, so that you yourself can leave a ‘light footprint’.

Photos: Marta Motti & Anna Pleteneva
Photos: Marta Motti and Anna Pleteneva

  • Identify and define new measures of engagement, social capital and social impact.
  • Encourage culture of collaboration and joined-up thinking and confront ‘silo’ thinking wherever you encounter it.
  • ParachutistsCall on ‘peace-keepers’ (strictly non-combatants) to follow guidelines (which you yourself have drawn up co-created with key stakeholders.
  • Pull the highlights from the ‘dashboard’ [see below...] and prepare monthly reports of activity and impact. Distribute widely within the organisation and beyond.


  • Be able to see the wood from the trees and ideally have an eye for visualising data.
  • Be the consummate diplomat and demonstrate the ability to slip into the role of chameleon or conductor when appropriate… and very very occasionally don an invisible cloak (but leave dagger behind).
  • Show good judgement.
  • Some legal nous would be desirable, as would be the ability to conduct risk assessments around ‘user-generated content’.
  • Know how to take calculated risks.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be inspired and inspire others.
  • Coach.
  • Possess a sixth sense.
  • Be as light on your feet as a prizefighter. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
  • Instinctively recognise when serendipity occurs; capture it, bottle it… and pass on the recipe.


Back in the 1980s we had the press cuttings service (as well as the telephone tree). New functions and responsibilities require new tools and devices.

Ed Mitchell, Nigel Dunn and I have been discussing the concept of a “dashboard”. Now, none of us is absolutely certain yet how or what to measure – well, not everything – although I think we’ve got a pretty good foundation.

Bear with me. I visualise this dashboard as a ‘virtual’ mixing desk… with levers and buttons, dials, green and amber lights, a few scary red ones, a built-in early warning system. Basically, this ‘thing’ would be so cool that nobody will want to be without one. Not if you’re a buzz director, anyway.

Mixing desk

The dashboard would reflect the different activities and behaviours around ‘your’ cause. It would aggregate all the conversations (see Pageflakes, Netvibes, and coComment), but be much more than that.

Check out London-based Onalytica who have updated their website. It now features live graphs offering – as they put it – “an unprecedented X-ray of the stakeholder universe”.



Right, need to set up that wiki…


Caveat: this is a work in progress.

Technorati buzz director, community dashboard, net2, nptechuk, social media measurement

The trends that will drive charities in 2007!

January 4th, 2007

Photo of crocs courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt (Pink Sherbet Photography)I’m sticking my neck out with some of these (sort-of) predictions.

If I’m honest, I share Bertie’s view that next year, 2008, will be the real breakthrough year when charities get ‘social’. This is partly because budgets have largely been fixed for activity this year.

Never mind, there will be plenty of elbow room to experiment and innovate in 2007.

As always, comments (especially additions to this list) and challenges (be nice) are positively encouraged!

  • 2007 will be the year of the widget. Charities will benefit from the downloadable fundraising widgets offered by Justgiving (launched just before Christmas) and Bmycharity (on its way).
  • The desire from donors (especially major givers) for more involvement and information will intensify and the need for accountability will further erode the sacred cow of the general fund. Note: most charities will be dragged kicking and screaming down this road. Initiatives like the ImpACT Coalition seem more concerned about reputation management than championing transparency. This is disappointing.
  • Social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists will have an even higher profile this year.
  • The page view is dead, long live, err… something else! Hmm… web metrics just do not cut it (and just when you’d got to grips with it!). But what should we be looking at now? In 2007, the sector needs to identify new measures of ‘engagement’ online. This work is urgent, especially as charities need to show accountability for everything they do. Engagement + accountability = effectiveness. Note: numerous conversations in recent months tell me that there’s a lot of head scratching going on around this one. Get in touch and maybe together we can figure something out.
  • A blended media approach will gain ground and charities will reach and engage stakeholders where, when, and how they want to be communicated with. This means greater cross-departmental collaboration.
  • More charity employees (and virtual volunteers) will identify with the roles of buzz director / community steward / social reporter. Charity managers will sit up and listen (and even start blogging). Note: I’m thinking of co-organising an open-space event for those championing social media tools (and change management) within their organisations.
  • Charities will get better at reporting their achievements and aggregated update reports via RSS feeds will become standard. Podcasts will become commonplace.
  • 2007 will provide some high-profile stunts and more cause-related avatars in Second Life, but remain a peripheral activity.
  • Some well-equipped charities will learn to use these tools for storytelling and weave user-generated content into their own content, thus giving stakeholders more of an authentic voice.
  • The distinction will become more apparent between those charities wishing to build hosted communities for supporters and activists and those who have accepted the inevitable loss of control of ‘their’ cause and become active in existing communities and social networks.
  • Furthermore, by the end of 2007, many charities will register that they need to slim down their websites, and create a more personalised, targeted, atomised (but consistent) presence on the web.
  • One Laptop Per Child imageOne or more of the popular social networking sites will tap into the desire for members to identify with a cause and create a “My Causes” tab.
  • We’ll end 2007 with some excellent case studies (I’ve high hopes for Red Nose Day in March), some disappointments and a great deal of learning in the process.
  • The novelty of ethical gifts will begin to tire by the end of the year (there are too many copycat catalogues out there).
  • Not really a prediction as the One Laptop Per Child project looks set to really happen this year. Interesting to read about the look and feel of the UI.

Technorati buzz director, net2, nptech, olpc, predictions, trends

You’ve been promoted to “Buzz Director” (what, you don’t have one?)

November 3rd, 2006

It’s a particular crusade of mine to encourage not-for-profits to identify an internal champion (or recruit a virtual volunteer) to take on this role. Call it what you will, and David Wilcox and Beth Kanter, have both had a go at (re)inventing job labels. I like Beth Kanter’s “Social Media Coach”. But how about “Cause Evangelist”? Anyway, you get the idea.

Interest in social media among not-for-profits right now is high. A good many are researching good practice and developing their strategies for participating in and monitoring social networks and the blogosphere.

With this in mind, I thought I’d have a stab at unpicking the role of “buzz director” (or whatever). What follows reflects my belief that social media is more of a creative discipline than a technical one:

  • Before you get your feet to comfortable beneath your desk, remember that you should maintain a 360-degree joined-up view of your organisation at all times. Work across teams and departments.
  • Research the key blogs that cover the issue areas in which your organisation works, the related policy arena and other relevant topics. Find out what others are writing about your organisation.
  • Talk to everybody. Listen. Make it easy for colleagues to find you, or manufacture the conditions by which serendipity is more likely to occur.
  • If you see the never-ending strategic review dragging your new colleagues down, remind them of the reasons they joined your organisation in the first place. Get them passionate (and close) to your cause once again. Share their passion. Be energetic. Be useful.
  • Your role is to create a buzz around your cause (and secondarily, your not-for-profit ‘brand’). But resist any desire (or pressure) to “own” the cause. Far better to identify the communities where your supporters and activists are already and join in the conversation. After all, whose cause it anyway? Again, David Wilcox hits the button:

    Many of the first round of tools – Web 1.0 – were linked to existing social structures and ways of doing things. Web sites would be like magazines online. Forums online would be places you went to, just like physical events. It was quite costly and difficult to create online places, so they tended to be collective rather than personal. You now need to be in all places at once.

  • Get into web widgets. While you’re not in the world domination business, your own website can still be a magnet. Create something useful (e.g. your events calendar, appeal running totals) that your dispersed supporters can add to their own blogs. Beth Kanter can tell you more about widgets
  • Work with legal to write your blogging guidelines. Anticipate more scrutiny into your organisation and its work (which you should welcome) and identify the possible pitfalls. Balance risks vs the opportunities. Get ready for some tough love.
  • Coach your colleagues on blogging. Help them through the inevitable rough patches. Continually give feedback on how to write, and how to be generous.
  • Talk to the press office/pr/media dept and work with them to identify key bloggers and build relationships with them to get your news and stories out. Explore the options for podcasting and video from emergency locations to get across your side of the story. Blogs can be a good way to break news that the mainstream media can pick up on and amplify. Try letting people post comments to the press releases your organisation publishes online and introduce colleagues to the concept of the social media press release.
  • Set up a group photo pool in Flickr to upload, tag, and share photo stories online with your activists and fundraisers. Create a unique tag and invite your fundraisers to post photos on Flickr using this same tag. Build a visual archive your organisation’s work. This will all have a cumulative effect over time.
  • Take baby steps and start small by blogging around an event. Josh Hallett tells you all you need to know.
  • Include blogs and social media in your next supporter survey.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t neglect those traditional methods that have served your organisation so well. Appearances can be misleading: the average age on MySpace is 35.
  • Develop social media optimisation across all your online communications. This means working tirelessly with communications, fundraising, campaigns…
  • Your role is to help colleagues to plan, deploy, monitor and refine your blogs and social media activities just as you would for any other communications and engagement tactic.
  • Share what you learn with colleagues and network with people in other organisations who sit in seats like yours to identify new ways to calculate the benefits, costs and risks of blogging. Work with them to create a framework for measuring the ROI of your blogging efforts. Join the search for a new metric for engagement.
  • Explore ways to keep in touch and to share ideas and insights and share links to new developments. Embrace opportunities for collaboration.
  • Don’t stall on starting to use this stuff until you “know the ROI of blogs”, but continually refer to your organisation’s mission and ensure that this activity aligns with your strategic goals. Plan for 6-12 months time, but start experimenting sooner. Set realistic expectations.
  • Don’t get too big for your boots and call all this a ‘project’ because it will run into the rails. Don’t call it a pilot as no one will take it seriously enough.
  • Do prepare a monthly report of activity and ensure it is distributed widely within the organisation.
  • Not-for-profits unwilling to consider some or all of the above, risk becoming irrelevant. How will your organisation be different in three years time?

Of course, this is only a start. Comments most welcome.

Technorati buzz director, net2, nptech, social media optimisation

Cause and Effect

October 9th, 2006

[This is rather a long post - some might say ramble - but think of it as an introduction to some of the themes I intend to cover on this blog.]

It’s right that a charity mobilises and directs (donated) funds where it identifies there is greatest need. The ‘general purposes fund’ is something a charity will fight to protect at all costs. But this position is becoming more difficult to sustain.

The general public do not always understand how their donations are used by charities. Young people now prefer to fundraise for a cause, rather than donate to an organisation (do challenge this view if you think it incorrect). Increasingly, more discerning donors (or those with a lot of cash anyway) like to channel their donations through specific (and more glamorous) projects to measure their impact and effectiveness, in much the same way as they would any commercial investment.

These shifts in the ‘giving landscape’ will only accelerate. The image and reputation of charities will increasingly depend on their ability to demonstrate value and impact. Blogs and other forms of social media bring new opportunities (and some risks) to charities who are willing (and well equipped) to take advantage to further their mission.

This was the broad topic under discussion at a thought-provoking workshop held at NCVO on Thursday. We were brought together by Megan Griffith from NCVO’s Third Sector Foresight project. Some of the other contributors have already blogged about the session, including Molly Webb (Demos), Nick Booth (Podnosh), and David Wilcox.

I expressed a few opinions last week, which will attempt to share with you here.

We can all agree, I think, that the web has empowered individuals and invited more scrutiny into the work of organisations.

Charities are not immune from this evolution but they do have a secret weapon: compelling stories.

Some fifteen years ago, I frequently travelled around the UK for Oxfam talking to often quite large groups of the charity’s dedicated supporters about ‘third world debt’ and ‘structural adjustment’. Inevitably, I weaved in human stories from the ‘field’ to help illustrate the impact of these reforms on those living in poverty, the intended beneficiaries of Oxfam’s projects.

Intrinsic to good storytelling is the conversation that it generates. Dialogue always (or nearly always!) followed my ‘debt’ workshops.

Blogs and social media provide the best tool set yet to continue the conversation.

Let me return to the issue of donations and accountability for a moment. Back in the summer, Justgiving announced on their blog (aimed at their charity clients) that they had amended their terms and conditions “to make it clear to our individual users that their chosen recipient charity reserves the right to use the funds raised through our site for its general purposes, not a particular appeal.”

I found this interesting, not least because Justgiving has transformed the process of charitable giving in the UK. (Declaration of interest: I was on the Justgiving payroll, albeit very briefly, in 2002).

The public must know whether they are contributing to a particular project, or to the general work of the charity. Why does this matter? Crucial to answering this question is understanding what makes people tick.

Some have a personal connection to a charity or cause (e.g. cancer prevention); others of us will have been ‘emotionally engaged’ through images beamed back to us from a disaster zone.

Interestingly, despite younger people normally being the least likely to give to charity, polls taken soon after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy indicated that a whopping 86% of 18-24 year olds said they gave money to a charity in response to the disaster.

Certainly the epic scale of that disaster pulled at heartstrings and loosened purse strings like nothing else since Bob Geldof’s Band Aid phenomenon a generation earlier.

I would still argue that most people now have a much looser affinity with an actual organisation – and “Generation Y” (or Generation “Why” as Oxfam would have it) use online social networking (and their mobile phone) as their primary method of communication (See “Email is for old people”). Causes and single-issue campaigns are arguably what build a movement and put ‘fire in the belly’ (but more about that another day).

Actually, I’ve just purchased the domain name – – but will willingly give it up to any organisation which promises to use it wisely. Or I might sell it to MySpace if they agree to establish a “My Causes” tab on their social networking site!

I’m not suggesting charities ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and pull their existing fundraising campaigns. The old-fashioned collection tin remains the most popular way of giving to charity. I’m talking ‘baby steps’ here, poco a poco… although within a few years I do expect job roles and budgets to have been juggled around.

For example, I would encourage you to recruit a social media champion. This individual may already work for you. Find out who it is, tell them that he or she is now the charity’s ‘Buzz Director’, and ask them to identify where your key audiences gather online and join in the conversation.

I’ll be exploring how you do this on this blog.

Technorati buzz director, discerning donors, justgiving, my causes, net2, oxfam, storytelling