Category Archives: Nonprofits

How Your Institution Can Create Awesome Viral Content

There are some creative examples here of info graphics, videos, and more.


Cameron Pegg (@ghostwhowrites) is executive officer for the deputy vice chancellor (engagement) at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

dont plan to be viral badge

What would happen if you suggested that your institution’s homepage be taken over with kittens or an animated squirrel?

You wouldn’t get far. Or would you?

Oberlin College in Ohio devised a daring homepage heist in time for April Fools Day in 2012—it was so successful in driving traffic and social media interaction that they upped the ante last year (with added kitten cuteness).

Oberlin’s antics display a rare understanding of how our constituents behave online and what we can do to make them click.

In the February edition of CURRENTS, I explore how institutions can do a better job of developing and distributing “share worthy” content (see full article).

The Science of Sharing

Aim to create stronger emotional communion in the content you share Aim to create stronger emotional communion in the content you share

In 2009, University…

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How to Think Like a Brand Journalist

Don’t let your blog bully you. Telling your organization’s story is easy, if you define your objective and map how to get there. Shed your frustration. Start with some basic questions that will get you out of the starting gate every time.

Who is your audience? The first question every writer must ask themselves is “Who am I writing this for?” It might be visitors to your website: potential customers, returning clients, marketers, other businesses, journalists. It might be a combination of these but you should have a primary audience in mind for every piece you publish. Write content for each of your audiences. They’ll thank you for it.

What are the core products or services you provide and how are they improving your client’s lives? What do you know about your customers’ experience with your organization? Ask yourself, What do I do best? What do I do better than my competition?

  • Do you sell the world’s best back scratcher? One that has helped your long-suffering clients avoid awkward moments at work rubbing up against the nearest coatrack?
  • Or maybe it’s your guaranteed 15-minute customer service response to questions that come in day and night by phone, email, and Facebook comments about which back scratcher is right for them.

No organization is good at everything. Again, choose what sets you apart. That’s fertile ground for cultivating brand journalism stories.


Once you know your audience and the topic, answer the journalism 101 questions: who, where, what, why, when, and how.

  1. Who is the story about? The best stories are about people, not organizations.
  2. Where did the story take place?
  3. What is the story about?
  4. Why are you telling this story (What’s your goal: clicks, shares, purchases?) Why should your readers read this story? What do they get out of it?
  5. When did this story take place?
  6. How did the subject of your story accomplish something (hopefully using your product or service)?

Incorporate basic story elements, an introduction, the storyline development, the conflict, and a resolution. In addition to people, the best stories are about conflict or solving a problem. Remember, you want your readers to cheer for the subject of your story so tap into emotion.

Readability & truth-telling

Two traits that set brand journalists apart are their commitment to readability and truth-telling They ruthlessly cut out jargon, qualifiers, and industry acronyms. If you’re grandmother can’t understand what you’ve written, then recycle that page and toss it in the round file.

Brand journalists are also committed to truth telling. (That’s not “truthiness,” for you Colbert fans). What’s that mean? When someone in your organization tells you they’ve created a new app that scratches backs virtually, be skeptical. Ask hard questions. Find third-party support. Download the app and test it.

Yes, it’s marketing. But customers and the public will launch a digital blitzkrieg of complaints and bad reviews against your organization, if they feel jilted or lied to. All of the trust you’ve built around your organization’s work, products, or services will disappear. In fact, that’s a story — one a journalist might like to write: “Back scratcher maker ‘Itch’ defends itself after allegations that app scratcher scarred customers.”

Your product is an extension of your customers

Once you’re churning out branded stories, pause to think creatively. Imagine in product or service in all its roles. Back scratchers sunning themselves on vacation beach with their families around the world—Jealous much? Decoratively knitted back scratcher grips like tiny socks—The epitome of style. Pitching in to reach the spoon lodged under the refrigerator—Daring rescue!

What about you? Send me a tweet or email a link about how brand journalism helped you?

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

When data journalism meets hyper-local — Oakland Local launches Police Beat

Wow, Susan et al have outdone themselves. Way to go @OaklandLocal!


Most of the attention that gets paid to the growing field of “data journalism” gets focused on ambitious, national-level sites like Ezra Klein’s Vox or Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight — but data exists in all kinds of places, and can be used in different ways. One example of an interesting attempt to use public data to highlight an issue of social importance is Oakland Police Beat, a new project created by the non-profit news outlet Oakland Local in California.

In a nutshell, Oakland Police Beat uses publicly-available statistics and records from court filings to create a database of violence and alleged impropriety involving the police department in the city, a growing metropolis on the east side of the San Francisco bay that has seen a number of high-profile cases in which critics say police violated the civil rights of Oakland citizens.

Abraham Hyatt, a former managing editor at ReadWrite and…

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All You Need to Know About Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’

Get thee to Instagram

Round 6

Shelfie Comedy Central

#shelfie via Comedy Central

Gary Vaynerchuk goes out of his way to say that early adoption of new social media platforms is in our own interest, in “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.” True, he doesn’t explain how to do that on a shoestring budget or if you’re a team of one, but that’s where strategy and priorities come in. Right? Right.

Marketers should be on new social media platforms determining what works and what doesn’t before the masses arrive. Remember when companies had no interest in Facebook? They didn’t understand that things had changed. “The days of stopping people from what they’re doing to look at your ad are, at best, diminishing …” Marketing 2.0 is about integrating “your content into the stream where people can consumer it along with all their other pop culture,” @Garyvee says.

Instagram is a good example. With 130 million monthly users and 40 million photos uploaded everyday, the platform has taken off.

Upside: Like Pinterest, it’s visually compelling and doesn’t require much time (compared to reading). You can connect Instagram to other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Downside: Unlike Pinterest, you can’t share others’ images i.e. curate. You can’t hyperlink images; all roads lead back to Instagram, which is good for Instagram but not so good for marketers. includes several suggestions for Instagram in #JJJRH.

  1. Native Instagram content is artistic, not commercial. No ads or stock photos.
  2. Instagram is where the young generation is, even more so than Facebook these days.
  3. Multiple #hashtags are encouraged.
  4. The best content is picked up by Instagram Explorer where it is shared beyond those who follow you.

Comedy Central is not only in the game but shows it’s ahead of most with this simple pic. The image gets the most out of a solo hashtag, “#shelfie”, which plays off the most ubiquitous  Instagram hashtag of all “#selfie”.

Tumblr (because the “e” made it too long? or did it get lost?)

Round 7
If you find Instagram to be too artsy, then you’ll want to weigh whether Tumblr’s for you. It’s dominated by young people and used by artists, photographers, musicians, and graphic designers to showcase their work.

@Garyvee admits to having a soft spot for Tumblr. He’s swears it’s not because he’s an investor. I don’t know, I suppose he’s looking at what it could become for marketers down the road. Tumblr is customizable to a degree few, if any, existing social media platforms are. There are tons of themes to choose from and you can change just about anything and everything to brand your Tumblr your own.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Tumblr is about your interests not your network. “Produce the right eye candy for your audience, and they will find you,” @Garyvee says. Curation is also a major part of the platform. But what @Garyvee really likes about Tumblr is that it’s GIF friendly. Those are the 2-3 second looping videos that have started showing up everywhere. The best ones are funny. The lame ones are of some poor sap staring into a pool of water while and animated waterfall does its thing in the background.

On this one, I have to disagree with @Garyvee. I know he’s a marketing god and all but I think he’s screwed the pooch. Even he acknowledges Tumblr is about publishing and not purchasing (at present). It’s not like Pinterest. People don’t go there to shop, and it’s not a platform filled with “storefronts.” This could change, of course. My take, as if you cared, is that the artists who populate the platform would flee if that happened? But it’s a bigger miscalculation by @Garyvee, I’m most concerned about. Google+.

GQ loves Mad Men

GQ loves Mad Men

“Aside from Google+, there is no social media site that allows you to take advantage of this gorgeous, powerful storytelling format the way Tumblr does,” @Garyvee says of GIFs. Overlooking his obsession with GIFs (what GIFs, anyway?), isn’t Google+ a rather large “aside”? Sure it’s only getting its legs but people go to Google to shop millions even billions of times a day. It’s built. And it’s already were you are.

A great post that anyone who’s going get ready to Tumblr (yeah, I did it) should emulate is one by GQ magazine that throws its hands in the air for “Mad Men’s” season six premier. Great photo. Great pop culture reference. Simple yet affective text. An embed link in the text and the photo itself to “The GQ Guide to ‘Mad Men.’” Plenty of appropriate tags: “Don Draper,” “Mad Men,” “television” … Lookin’ good GQ.

Emerging networks

Round 8
When Vaynerchuk looks to the horizon, he sees a social world everywhere. What he says is hard to argue against. “That’s why it’s smart to consider the jab-and-right-hook potential of platforms that aren’t particularly social … Whatever isn’t a social experience now soon will be,” @Garyvee says.

Ed Carpenter's on LinkedInLinkedIn — is on the verge of great leap forward and will soon be a daily check-in for most folks, @Garyvee says. He predicts that different social networks will serve different functions in our lives: Facebook will be the dining room, for entertaining; LinkedIn the library for getting deals done. That’s an interesting way to think about it. (Except that I’ve just summarized a book about how to make Facebook, LinkedIn, and all other social networks the center of your “get the deal done” businesses. Hmmm).

Google+ — doesn’t get any love from @Garyvee. It’s a question mark when it comes to being a marketing tool and it’s numbers, 500 million, according to Google, are inflated because users automatically get an account if they use other Google services like YouTube. He’s right about the latter but, if Google can figure out how to allow people to manage multiple accounts from a single sign-in or tab, then the game will change. Right now, the biggest impediment to using Google + for marketing is that marketers and businesses generally have separate accounts and separate Google + pages. Wrangle those cat into the same barrel and no one will be able to hear over the ensuing cat fight of marketers rushing in.

Vine — Snapped up recently by Twitter, Vine’s promise of six second videos encourages more people to watch video. “This platform could do to YouTube what Twitter did to Facebook,” @Garyvee says.

Snapchat — Oh, snap. It’s too early to say how Snapchat, the photo- and video-sharing network that kills it’s content seconds after it’s created, will fair. Vaynerchuk admits he hasn’t figured it out. How modest of him. But he says he might. Of course, I might too.

E is for effort (I found the ‘e’)

Round 9

Holyfield v Douglas

Holyfield vs. Douglas 1991 (l to r)

This chapter is about boxing and how Buster Douglas beat Evander Holyfield in a famous fight that many people reading the book won’t know or care about. The point is: If you are big or if you are small, putting in the effort to know your client base and jab natively on social media makes all the difference. Also, don’t go into a heavyweight title boxing match looking like you’re smuggling four pounds of meatloaf in your gut.

I’m a media company, you’re a media company, wouldn’t you like to be a media company too?

Round 10
This chapter is two pages. But to my way of thinking, it’s one of the most importaMicheline Guide SFnt. @Garyvee illustrates his point in a way that brings it home. All companies are now media companies. And if all companies produce their own stories, videos, photos, and so on, is there a need for the media? Is there a need for, gasp, marketers?

When Micheline started reviewing restaurants to encourage people to drive more and wear out their tires, there was little hint that the Micheline Guide would become the yardstick of fine dining that it is today. The same can be said of the Guinness Book of World Records, although it doesn’t apply to fine dining so much.

Conclusion, Round 11 & Knockout, Round 12

There’s not a lot to these chapters. @Garyvee mostly wraps things up by recognizing how much time is required to go native on the seven major social media platforms but argues that it’s time well spent in the long run. When he’s turned in the final edit of #JJJRH and is busy pressing the flesh at the Cannes Film Festival, Instagram opens up to 15-second videos. It’s big enough that he’s on it that night for four hours and his team is working to figure out the best way to tell stories on it. Oh, and he added a chapter on it in his latest book.

Next up? Google Glass, @Garyvee says.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Video: 3 Steps to Web-Ready Photos

If you’re looking for a quick and simple way to edit your photos for the Web, look no farther. Check our my 5 minute tutorial that shows you how to edit your photos in three easy steps:

  1. Crop
  2. Reduce size
  3. Save for Web

Slow-loading pages are something we’ve all encountered on the Web. Most of the time it’s because images or video haven’t been prepared properly before they were uploaded. Well, it’s not as complicated as you might think to fix that, even if you’re a novice. And you can do it with any photo editing software. I use Photoshop 6, but it’s just as easy with iPhoto or Picassa.

Find what’s most engaging

We all know that a good image means more viewers. The key is good cropping. I recommend that you think of the photo you downloaded from Creative Commons or your favorite stock photo outlet as a starting point, rather than the end product. Look for opportunities to improve the image. This means cropping the image to bring out or enhance the action or some detail, such as the expression on the subject’s face. The video shows you how.

Was this helpful? What right-sizing techniques do you use?

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Curating With!

USF Scoop.ItI’m lucky to work with an innovative social media team. They’ve led the way in turning an anemic online social community of about 50 at the University of San Francisco into one with hundreds of contributors and an audience of more than 60,000. How great is that!?

What used to be a few campus faculty, media folks, and interested students is now open to almost anyone who publishes content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other channels with the #USFCA hashtag. The university’s social media team track the #USFCA content and then choose the best to “scoop” — publishing what they find on the curated platform to be read and shared.

Be the #hashtag

So what is this newfangled curation platform? founder Guillaume Decugis visited campus to talk more about it. He praised #USFCA and highlight other brands like Ashoka Communty’s Change Making Today campaign. Check out Guillaume’s Slideshare and watch USF E-communications Director Thomas Listerman talk about the difference has made at USF.

Not only has improved the social community on campus, it has advanced USF’s brand and it’s only been in use for about six months. What do you think of

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

4 Rules 4 Reposting Others’ Content

BlogUpdate2WebOne common problem for bloggers is finding time to write fresh content. Yet, keeping a blog fresh is critical. If you’re still building contacts and recruiting collaborators, your blog will likely to have gaps. You might be tempted to re-post a cool piece you read by someone follow. It’s all about editor as curator these days right? Well…

I recently found myself weighing the benefits of original content vs. curation, the manta of “work smarter not harder” ringing in my head. I did some research. It turns out, there are some hard and fast rules to re-posting other bloggers’ works. Here’s what I found.

How to use other people’s content

1. There is no acceptable excuse for plagiarism. You aren’t Robbin Hood and writers and editors aren’t part of the 1 percent. You’re better than that.

2. Courtesy dictates that you ask a writer if you want to re-post their work in its entirety, according to Adam McLane, blogger and author of “A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media.

3. Rather, choose a couple of sentences that summarize your point. Then, add your own analysis. Consider two paragraphs a maximum to re-post in its entirety.

4. Link back to the original content, of course. And give credit where credit is do.

Original content improves your SEO

“But by re-posting, I’m helping the author by spreading the word,” you might contend. In fact, you could be hurting the content you’re claiming to promote, according to Google’s Matt Cut. As ProBlogger Darren Rowse points out, Google’s algorithm gives bonus points to sites that are the first to publish something. It dings those that merely re-post.

“The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.” — Matt Cutt

Susan Surdan of Social Media 101 Artizone Digital suggests adding an opening and closing paragraphs that tell readers why you think the topic is worth their time. What rules for re-posting do you follow (Tweet @EdInOakland)?

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

10 Reasons I Hate Ektron

Ektron WebA sordid tale

I feel like strangling my computer whenever I have to publish something to my university’s website, which is most days of the week. Granted, it’s not fair to the computer. You see, I’m one of the university’s primary content creators. You’d think it would be something I like to do. But there is a problem. The university uses Ektron CMS.

How that happened is a sordid tale, only part of which I know the details of. I can tell you that it was a classic bait and switch. Ektron was one of two finalists that were shopped around the university to groups of users in hands-on demonstrations. In my group of 20, only the tech support guy liked Ektron better. Colleagues who attended other demonstrations reported the same result in their groups. Yet, Ektron is what we ended up with. Go figure. Truth be told, before Ektron the university used Serena Collage — so it could be worse.

Still, I count Ektron among the poorest applications I’ve ever had to work with. Even worse than Comcast’s search engine, hard as that might be to believe. If you’re someone considering Ektron CMS, consider yourself warned. There are much lighter, nimbler, faster systems, including, Joomla, and Drupal.

Tonight’s top 10 list

1) It’s SLOW. (I’m talking gear grinding, wrack your head against the monitor slow just to do a simple task — “save,” for instance).

2) Organized in a folder structure that makes search within the CMS impossible unless you know the folder you’re looking for (Isn’t that what a file cabinet is for?).

4) Constantly inserts spaces and (behind the rich text format) html, throwing off the page and inserting errors.

5) Frequently requires editing in html as part of simple cut and paste tasks

6) The HTML reader has no line numbers, so when Ektron indicates there is an error in line 644 — start counting.

7) Tagging’s so complicated as to be useless.

8) Does it come with any standard features?

9) Has anyone at Ektron been introduced to social media and its benefits? Their CMS hasn’t.

10) Did I mention, it’s incredibly SLOW!

What CMS do you use? What option is better? Leave a comment or Tweet me your thoughts.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

‘Earned Media’ With Online Content

earned media cartoonBuild it Before you Need it

When it comes to getting the word out about your issue, cause, or organization, there are three types of media you can use: owned, paid, and earned.

Paid media is, simply put, advertising. Owned media are the channels, tools, and content that you control. At one point, that meant your brochure or newsletter. These days, those tools run the gamut from your website, blog, and e-newsletter to the latest social media fad (Vine, anyone?).

The third type of media, earned, is considered the holy grail of media. Traditionally, earned media has been defined as the visibility you earn when a journalist reports on your issue, cause, or organization. It is coverage in newspapers, on the radio, on TV. Typically, you or your organization orchestrate a strategic news moment, which you share with reporters through news conferences, press releases, or just targeted pitches. It’s not free media. You earn it — not only through the newsworthiness of your story, but through the sheer work it takes to land coverage.

In today’s digital age though, the definition of earned media has expanded. It’s no longer just what reporters are saying about you. These days, you also earn visibility through blogs, email, shares, and social media interaction and engagement — in other words, online content. This is earned media 2.0, and it’s more powerful than ever, accelerating visibility and conferring third-party credibility on your news.

We’re all media publishers now

There are two reasons for the evolving nature of earned media. One is that we are all media publishers now. At one point, only media companies and journalists generated content that people could consume. Now, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog platforms, and so much more, everyone can amass an audience. The only distinction these days between traditional media companies/professionals and everyone else is audience size. Mass media reaches a larger audience size, but even that has shifted. Remember when everyone made a big deal about Ashton Kutcher having more Twitter followers than CNN? And that was 2009.

The second reason is that technology and the web have dramatically changed how we consume news. The days of sitting in front of the television for the evening news or waiting to read about the news of the day from the morning paper has passed. Now, we encounter news pretty much all day long, on multiple platforms (our smartphones or tablets, our desktops or laptops, via search) and from multiple sources (our favorite podcast, our high school friend on Facebook, or our favorite niche blog).

5 steps to remake your earned media strategy

If the definition of earned media has been redefined, we now have to rethink our media strategies as well. Traditional media relations is no longer enough. Organizations and causes have to embrace the power of their own media channels in order to tell their story and engage their stakeholders.

Our media strategies must integrate owned media outreach with media relations. That means 1) developing email content or blog posts along with press releases and targeted pitches to media. It means 2) prioritizing a social media strategy with graphics or other content that encourages sharing and engagement. During the media monitoring phase, it means 3) tracking not just the hits we get in papers or on the news, but also whether we’ve sparked conversations on social media or on blogs. And it means 4) using owned media or paid media to create an amplification loop that feeds off of any earned media 2.0 coverage that was generated. A great example of this type of integrated strategy is United We Dream’s “Operation Butterfly” campaign, which successfully combined traditional media outreach with great use of owned media engagement for maximum impact.

Build it before you need it

Finally, it means 5) building it before you need it. A segmented email list, a website with a blog or a section on your website that can be continuously updated, and consistent engagement on social media channels are now necessary owned media ingredients of an organization’s ongoing communications strategy. By spending time building engagement across your owned media channels, you’ll be well positioned to score with earned media 2.0 when strategic news opportunities hit.

Bilen Misfin Packwood is a 13-year media veteran who has worked as a journalist and PR professional, including a stint leading communications for Kamala D. Harris, San Francisco’s former district attorney, before founding Change Consulting. Bilen turned her observations about earned media into a Ted-style talk at SPIN Academy South 2012. Follow her blog at and on Twitter @bmisfin.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

Are 75 Words Killing Your Website?

Gandalf, web content, road sign, obstacle

Content should be a road sign to “go,” not an obstacle.

Don’t waste the first 75 words on your homepage introducing yourself and explaining who you are and what you’re about. Readers won’t make it to where you want them to go. Imagine you’re visiting the website of a hospital. You don’t care about the CEO. You want to schedule an appointment, see what the office hours are, or connect with a physician about your ailment.

Save introductions for a side column or an “about” page. If you want more visitors and for visitors to stick around longer, that prime real estate should be about them and their needs not about you. The Internet is backward that way. What can I say? If it could, it would eat its salad before its entree.

A grizzle veteran of the Internet wars (akin to the “late night” wars) once told me that as content creators our goal should be to map the road signs for our guests. If that’s true, then introducing yourself on the homepage tells visitors to “Stop. Do not pass.” at the precise moment we want them to “go” and find the product or service they came for.

Out with obstacles

If you’re a business: long introductions can kill sales. You don’t want to plant obstacles in customers’ paths. The more hurdles customers’ have to overcome to find a product the more will lose their way or give up. What if you’re not a business? The rule still applies.

If you’re a university or nonprofit: publishing the dean’s or executive director’s message on the homepage is a “No, no.” Prospective students and clients who visit the site know they’re unlikely to ever meet or interact with one of these top administrators. They want to know about the students and faculty in the school’s programs and the good works the nonprofit does.

Offer visitors a road sign

If you’re a city, county, or state: skip to the services that people want like paying parking tickets, filing a home remodel application, or tracking down a phone number or email address. Visitors will come away feeling that a bureaucracy can be a breeze, which means they’ll be more likely to come back. When a city was founded and why it’s so great is interior page information for “about,” “history,” or “visit us,” pages — or, even, fodder for the chamber of commerce’s website.

Too often, I see homepages filled with distractions, false links, and barriers fit for a Tough Mudder. Think of it as bad customer service. Instead, let the first words on your page be about the top tasks and topics visitors come to your site for. Intuit what visitors need. Everyone is flattered by that kind of attention. Do they want to search? Get married? Make a reservation? Offer them a road sign.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

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