Archives for the month of: December, 2009

I know it’s just another arbitrary day, but I like to begin the new year looking forward. That usually means I spend the waning days of December reviewing things.

Fail by Flickr user Nimbu

"Fail" by Flickr user Nimbu

My tendency is often to gloss over problems and let myself off the hook more than I should, so I like to carve out some time to really ask myself some hard questions — so I can see where I need to grow.

Here are some of the questions I am asking myself this year:

  • What did I fail at? For projects that did not succeed, or are not fulfilling expectations, what part did I play?
  • Where have I made progress? Where have I not made progress?
  • What have I neglected this year?
  • Are my metrics honest? Do they really measure the outcomes and outputs that are important?
  • Where should I have spoken up? Where did I not act when I should have? What should I have done, and when?
  • To whom do I owe amends? Am I willing to make them? If not, why not, and what will I do instead?
  • What hard truths am I avoiding?
  • What grade would I give myself as a leader, as a service provider, as an employee?

Self-assessment doesn’t have to be a negative exercise, but to me it is only worthwhile if I focus on what needs to change and not just pat myself on the back. It helps to have a dedicated time to focus in on the hard stuff so I can enjoy the good stuff with a clean conscience.

What hard questions are you asking yourself?

Let me know in the comments.

I was just reviewing things as 2009 draws to a close. One thing I was curious about was my Twitter usage. Like many of my friends, 2009 marked a year of significant ramp-up with all forms of social media and especially Twitter, which I first started using in March 2007. So, how do things stack up?

First, I used Tweetstats and Twittercounter to get some basic analytics:

  • Average updates per day: 11.8 (pretty good)
  • Most updates in day: Friday, followed by Tuesday
  • Time of day with the most updates: 10am, followed by 5pm and 9am (I need to work on more early afternoon updates, when more people are using Twitter)
  • Perecentage of “retweets”: 3.8% (I really need to increase that)
  • Percentage of “@” replies: 17.3% (pretty good)
  • Followers: 1,360, was 1,202 three months ago (pretty good)
  • Twitter lists I’m on: 42

All in all, I am pretty happy with these numbers.

I do need to make progress on retweeting others’ material more, I was a bit disappointed to see such a low percentage. What does that mean? It means that, according to the analytics program, I do not share others’ work as much as I could. (Admittedly, it undercounts because it only counts instances of the phrase “RT” which is the convention on Twitter — but often I share material without using the RT term instead opting for “via” or “by” which I believe does not get counted.) As I have said many times, the essence of social media is sharing others’ work, so I need to work on that.

Tweetstats also gave me a rundown of the terms I use most often in my Twitter updates, which I plugged into Wordle to generate a nice word cloud. I was happy with what I saw:

What I Tweet About

What I Tweet About (click to enlarge)

See? The person I mention most is @andreajarrell — those who know me know why this is important! And those words “Thanks” and “Today” give me a nice sense of carpe diem.

Interested in getting ramped up yourself on Twitter? I have written a few how-to’s that might help:

  1. How to get set up
  2. Tips for newbies (what to do once you’re set up)
  3. Tips for intermediate users

Some tips appear on more than one list, as I wrote these all at different times.

How are you doing with your Twitter usage?

I have been working on some simple tools for nonprofits and other organizations to use to get set up with social media. (You’ll see more on that later.) As I do that, I’ve been making lists — checklists, resource lists, and more. Some of those seem like they might be useful to share on their own.

Twitter me this 119/365 by Flickr user SashaW

"Twitter me this 119/365" by Flickr user SashaW

Lots of organizations get set up with a Twitter account and then say, “Now what?” So here are eleven things your organization can do to use Twitter effectively. These aren’t necessarily “best practices” and they certainly aren’t the only things. But, if you are hitting these bases, you can be fairly confident that your Twitter account is at a minimum at “respectable beginner” stage. From there you can grow it even more.

So, without further ado:

  1. Use an avatar with a face or logo. This is the first and most important thing you can do once you sign up for Twitter. No one trusts, likes, or pays attention to a Twitter user who uses the stock “bird” image. Here’s what I mean. Use a logo or a head shot? It depends. If the account is the main account for the whole organizations, use its logo. If the account is for a manager of the organization, and there is also an organizational account, consider using a head shot. (Make sure the head shot has a “snapshot” feel and not a professional feel.)
  2. Create a Twitter background with key information including Twitter names of staff. Under settings/design you can upload an image to use as your background. This can be worthwhile. Use an inexpensive image editing program (like Paint Shop Pro) to create a background that includes key contact information. Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) has a great example.
  3. Create a Twitter list for your organization. If there are other staffers at your organization, create a Twitter list that lists all of them. For instance, here is the list of all writers for the Chronicle of Philanthropy who have Twitter accounts. That does two things. First, it lets people know who’s in your organization. It also encourages the followers of those people to click on the list (“Huh, Joe Blow is on this new list. Who else is on it?”) and find your organization’s Twitter stream.
  4. Create and use a hashtag. A hashtag is just a word that begins with the pound sign: “#word.” In Twitter, people use them to mark subjects. For our blog about Rockville, MD, we created the #rkv tag to denote news about anything happening in (natch) Rockville. Now other people are using it too. This has created a community on Twitter, and also gives us something to monitor to find new and breaking information.
  5. Find and monitor relevant hashtags. By the same token, in your field there are probably already hashtags that others are using. (For instance, #philanthropy.) It is useful to monitor those to keep up on what others are talking about.
  6. Reply, retweet, answer – don’t just publish. Do not, do not, do not just use your Twitter account to publish blog posts or press releases. You will find it very difficult to gain followers that way. People want a human feel, they want interaction. Use the “@” symbol to reply to other Twitter users, add in light hearted comments here and there. “ReTweet” the posts of others. Social media rewards sharing, and it penalizes selfishness. How to retweet? Just add “RT @name” to the beginning of someone’s tweet!
  7. Make your tweets retweetable. It is to your benefit when others share your content. Make it easy on them! Make sure your updates use punchy headlines, and are no longer than 120 characters, to leave room for others to add their own info when retweeting.
  8. Create a spreadsheet to track over time, weekly or monthly: Followers, following, references, @replies, retweets. This can help you stay on track. It’s really easy to set up. It’s also useful to use Twittercounter to keep track of stats.
  9. Use Tweetgrid to monitor your organization and space. There are lots of monitoring tools available, but Tweetgrid is my favorite and it’s free. Dead simple to use. You pick your layout, and then put a search term into each window. Tweetgrid creates a little real-time search on that term. Look for mentions of your name, your competitors, and keywords related to your space. For instance, here’s a grid I set up for myself.
  10. Use keywords to decide whom to follow. Using the Tweetgrid you set up above, you can see who is using the terms you are searching on. Consider following them. Eventually, you will be following too many people to keep track of easily. Create Twitter lists of people who are the real influencers you need to watch.
  11. Use URL shorteners. When you share links in Twitter, don’t use the full link. Shorten it first by using or another url shortener. Why? Two reasons. First, it saves space (see suggestion #7 above). But — just as important — people tend to frown on full links because they are the mark of a newbie.

Watch this space for more tips for other types of social media, as well as more information on my upcoming eBook wrapping it all up.

As many of my readers know, each week I have an email newsletter that I use to update folks about my latest posts. (You can to sign up at this form.)

sharing by Flickr user platinumblodelife

"sharing" by Flickr user platinumblodelife

But today it struck me that, while many of us are very active in social media, our newsletters are often not very social at all. They’re just vehicles for me to push my content to you. Yet, in social media, it’s all about sharing and using shared content to build relationships and trust.

So I decided to change strategies a bit, and make sure that within my email newsletter, I am still sharing the work of others. Here’s how I put it in today’s edition:

The essence of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is sharing – of your own work as well as that of others. Yet, for many individuals and organizations, our subscriber emails, like this one, remain avenues solely used for self-promotion.

How can I ask you to share this newsletter without doing the same myself? Why should this only contain my own work? Obviously, those are rhetorical questions.

From now on I will include some of the more interesting links and articles – by others – that I have posted in my various online streams over the past week. I hope that you might find one or two interesting.

Other Interesting Links By Others

Without further ado, here are some of the links I’ve shared this week:

  • Australian Telecom giant Telstra trains every one of its employees in social media use. They’ve made their training manual available. Read it at Mashable.
  • Community benefit organizations need to stop thinking “fundraising” and start thinking “financing.”Read it by Nell Edgington.
  • A highly successful blogger revealed that he is really a woman who has taken a man’s pen name. Before the pen name, she was scraping for revenue. After donning a male moniker, success after success rolled in. Read it at Copyblogger.

The Facebook data analysis team recently finished taking a hard look at the diversity statistics for the more than 94 million users who live in the United States. (Fun fact: There are more than 350 million users worldwide, making Facebook a larger “country” than the U.S.)

Ethnic Makeup Of Facebook Users

The data team dove deeply into the numbers and used a range of tools to make sure that they were doing their best to remove bias and error. The chief tools they used are statistical breakdowns of ethnicity and last names. Their report goes into detail about the methods they used and while one can quibble with things here and there, it appears overall reasonable.

The upshot: “We discovered that Facebook has always been diverse and that the diversity has increased significantly over the past year to the point where U.S. Facebook users nearly mirror the diversity of the overall population of the country.”

The graph illustrates this. The dotted lines represent the distribution of various (nonwhite) ethnicities in the overall Internet population, while the solid lines represent U.S. Facebook users:

From Facebook

From Facebook

You can see that each solid line is trending toward its corresponding dotted line — implying that the ethnic distribution within Facebook is moving, over time, to match the distribution of general Internet users.

Ethnicity Of Internet Users Vs. All Americans

Note that the Facebook analysis team is comparing  their statistics to Internet users, not U.S. population as a whole. That raises the question, how do the Internet penetration rates map onto the ethnic makeup of the U.S.?

The answer is that with overall Internet adoption reaching 80%, Facebook’s statistics tend to roughly mirror the U.S. population that is  online, but that the digital divides persist. That’s because Internet use does not distribute across the population in the same way for each ethnicity.

According to the latest data from the Pew Internet And American Life Project, penetration rates are higher among whites (80% of Non-Hispanic Whites are online) than among Blacks (72% are online) and Hispanics (61% online).

Here’s another way to look at it, using data from NetRoots Nation and from the U.S. Census:

Internet Penetration Compared To Ethnic Distribution

Internet Penetration Compared To Ethnic Distribution

In other words, White Non-Hispanics are slightly over-represented online, while other ethnicities are slightly underrepresented. Hispanics show the widest gap.

(Note that I am comparing households and individuals here, so the numbers aren’t precisely comparable, but they illustrate the point.)

The Real Digital Divide

While there are very real divisions in the United States when it comes to race and ethnicity, when it comes to the “Digital Divide,” a larger driver is economics and education (which itself is in large part driven by economics).

For instance, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 94% of college graduates are online, while just 72% of high-school only Americans are. And for adults with less than high school the online rate is just 37%.

And, while 95% of people who make more than $75K per year are online, the number drops to 62% for those who make less than $30K.

The suggests an interesting avenue for the Facebook team to pursue, which is a study of economic and education data as it relates to Facebook users.

My friend Peter Levine is, in my estimation, the gold standard when it comes to blogging about civic engagement in general and youth civic engagement in particular. His content stream includes a terrific combination of big-think ideas, small observations, and off-topic seasoning to make sure it all holds our interest. When I started blogging in 2003, I viewed him as an icon that I hoped to try to emulate (I still do).

Occasionally Peter writes a piece that wraps up a number of thoughts into one clear statement. I treasure these. Today’s article is one of those sorts of pieces.

In pulling together his thoughts to make a presentation to a number of Boston high school students who are part of a program focused on engagement.

He outlines a handful of the key issues facing our society today, and he does so in a clear, compelling, non-ideological way:

Peter Levine, from his website

Peter Levine, from his website

We have put 2.3 million of our own people in prison, far more than any other nation in the world. (China comes second with only 1.5 million incarcerated people.) That is incredibly expensive, and it represents millions of tragedies for all those convicts and their victims. Yet imprisoning all those Americans doesn’t make us safe. Our homicide rate remains at least three times as high as the rate in any other wealthy nation in the world.

We spend more per kid on education than almost any other country, yet one third of our young people drop out before they complete high school. Considering that almost all stable and well-paying jobs today require more than a high-school diplomat, the dropout crisis is a human disaster.

We spend far more on health care per citizen than any other country in the world, yet unlike any other wealthy nation, we provide no health insurance at all for many of our people. Something like 45,000 Americans die every year for lack of medical care. Even if Congress passes a reform bill this year, we will still have the most expensive system in the world, with some of the worst outcomes for poorer people.

Most scientists believe that humans are causing the atmosphere to warm by taking stored carbon out of the earth in the form of oil, gas, and coal and burning it. The consequences of global warming may range from intense human suffering in the poorest parts of the globe, plus the extinction of animal and plant species, to a worldwide catastrophe. The United States burns more carbon per person by far than any country in the world except the tiny kingdoms of the Persian Gulf.

Plainly, our institutions do not work. Their failure is not just wasteful; it is deadly. They are not just broken; they are corrupt–making some people rich and comfortable while failing the rest of us. These are the institutions that we older people are handing over to you.

While it is tempting, for each of these problems, to want to throw money at it or to write a new law to fix it, Peter points out that this response is insufficient. “To make schools and neighborhoods and hospitals work better, you have to get inside them and change people’s hearts and minds–not reform just the rules or provide more cash,” he says.

In general, our politics is governments-centered. Liberals want the government to accept new tasks, such as health insurance; whereas conservatives believe that problems would be mitigated if the state were shrunk. . . . [A] state-centered view of politics leaves citizens little to do but inform themselves and vote. Generation Citizen [the program these youth are a part of] is an example of citizen-centered politics, in which people form relationships with peers, express their interests and listen to others, and then use a range of strategies, some having little to do with the state. . . .

Programs like Generation Citizen model open-ended politics. . . . We give [citizens] opportunities to deliberate and reflect and then act in ways that seem best to them. In a time of increasingly sophisticated manipulative politics, these opportunities are precious.

I do not normally quote at such length, and I hope Peter will not mind. You should read the whole piece, as he makes many more important points than the few I excerpt here.

Thank you, Peter, for an important addition to my day.

Jerry Brown by Flickr user Freedom to Marry

Jerry Brown by Flickr user Freedom to Marry

In this week’s edition of my podcast, Public Life Today, since it’s holiday season and everyone’s thoughts are turning to the lighter side, I thought I would tell the funny story about the day that former California governor Jerry Brown came to visit me in my apartment.

I’ll always remember that day, in large part because of his hilarious quip upon entering the den of iniquity my room mate and I called home.


Click here to subscribe to Public Life Today using iTunes!

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

Philanthropy: Too Scared To Fail?

The paper of record for the charitable community, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, yesterday reported on a new study by the Cambridge-based Center for Effective Philanthropy. While the report itself focuses primarily on the ways foundations use strategic planning, the most dramatic finding has to do with how foundations evaluate whether their good works are working.

Ask foundations if they are having impact, and almost eight in ten (78%) foundation leaders say they are. Ask them if they actually have measures to determine whether this is true, and just 26% say they measure all of their work. (Thirty nine percent say they measure the effectiveness of some of their work.)

That’s bad enough. But push them a little harder and ask them to point to the specific measures they use to determine how effective their work is, and only 8% of foundation leaders can identify their metrics.

As a person who has managed grant-funded projects, I have watched the field of philanthropy actively embrace strategic planning and measurement. Every new grant proposal these days has to have a “logic model” (that is, a credible reason to think that it might work) and some way of assessing or proving impact. That latter gives community benefit organizations fits, because for many programs it’s hard to figure out what to measure. A soup kitchen can measure number of meals served, but what about a civic engagement effort? Just looking for an uptick in voter turnout is a ham handed approach.

Indeed, evaluation and assessment is the current Holy Grail throughout the independent sector. There have been very promising advances made in actually measuring the kinds of things that used to be seen as unmeasurable. (For instance, the National Conference on Citizenship has developed a very well-rounded measure of engagement.)

brokenmirror 012 by Flickr user Paul J Everett

brokenmirror 012 by Flickr user Paul J Everett

But it is disconcerting to learn that foundations, who are fundamentally beholden to no constituency and so ought to be able to take the most risks – are the most risk averse. So risk-averse, it seems, many would rather not look at the data to find out how well their programs are working. They don’t seem to want to look in the mirror.

Philanthropy philosopher Sean Stannard Stockton has written recently about how ironic this is in general, and has pointed out a few foundations that are bucking the trend: the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation.

As a member in good standing of the nonprofit community, I urge foundations to apply the same metrics they demand of others to themselves – and, at the same time, to take on more risk. Foundations can withstand failure and they ought to embrace it. Nonprofit community benefit organizations, on the front lines and dependent on others for funding, cannot so well afford the same kinds of risks without a safety net.

Much has been written about the Obama administration’s early commitment to create a more open and transparent government. In May the White House announced the Open Government Initiative, whose mission is to make all of government more open.

Yesterday, in a move watched closely by many in the civic participation field, the administration released the Open Government Directive. (pdf)

OG (Open Government) gang sign by Flickr user joebeone

OG (Open Government) gang sign by Flickr user joebeone

The Open Government Directive is the result of much internal work as well as comments from people across the transparency and civic participation fields. It contains the basic instructions to every agency for how they are to comply with the overall mandate of “being more open.”

The basic mechanism is that each agency must create a web space (“”) that is devoted to the Open Government Initiative. At this “/open” site, the agency must house at least three high-value datasets that are not now available.

The timeline for all this is (thanks Intellitics for this ):

  • Within 45 days: establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. …
  • Within 60 days: create an Open Government Dashboard on  The Open Government Dashboard (to include each agency’s Open Government Plan, aggregate statistics and visualizations)
  • Within 120 days: each agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities.

Of interest: According to Politico, “Each agency [also] will be required to post its annual report to the Justice Department on Freedom of Information Act requests, including the total number of requests granted and denied and the reasons given for the denials.”

While the move was applauded by the transparency community (for instance, the policy director of the Sunlight Foundation referred to it as “enormous,” and indeed the list of commitments from agencies when it comes to transparency is already impressive), many in the civic participation field are less sanguine.

“I was underwhelmed,” wrote Fielding Graduate University professor emeritus W. Barnett Pearce in a post to an influential mailing list run by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. “[I]t seemed very much like the ‘town hall meeting’ concept – the government shows/tells/lets us look on the website to see what they are doing, and then we can line up for our three minutes/send in our comments to their email inboxes or a listserve.”

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

It’s An Extrovert’s World, But Technology Allows Introverts A Toehold

I recently spent time in a group with a public leader who is very clearly an introvert. Whenever it was her turn to speak, she would pause to think about what to say. People would hang on each sentence, waiting to see what was said. It was clearly a struggle for some in the room not to jump in and interrupt.

dave with a megaphone by Flickr user NatalieHG

"dave with a megaphone" by Flickr user NatalieHG

This experience drove home to me the fact that we live in a world organized and run by extroverts. By “extrovert” I mean the term according to the definition used by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a widely used psychological profiling tool. An extrovert is not necessarily loud and boorish – an extrovert gains their energy from interactions with others. (Here is a video about how this all works.)

By the same token, an introvert is not necessarily shy – an introvert gains their energy from being alone. Think of it this way: An extrovert recharges by being with people; an introvert recharges by seeking seclusion. Most studies I have read show that there are more extroverts than introverts in the world. Some peg the share of introverts at 25%. (To be fair, some studies say it’s more 50-50.)

Regardless of the numbers, extroverts have set the social norms in society. Jonathan Rauch has written the definitive column on this subject. Being outgoing is seen as friendly and positive. Being silent is seen as being “aloof” or arrogant. An outgoing extrovert has to cross a definite line before they are seen as irritating; whereas, for an introvert, not speaking creates a presumption of disinterest.

But, a major change is afoot. Social media has leveled the playing field somewhat. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be outgoing.

This is opening up public leadership to new people. Success does not need to come with schmoozing and glad-handing, it can come through effective sharing and diligently working online networks.

It will not work for everybody, but it is already beginning to work for some.