Using technology to be better trustees

In 2010 I wrote a blog post about using social media/ online tools to be better trustees. New technologies have emerged since then and, reminded by a similar post from Karl Wilding, I thought it might be time to revise the post.

What’s the usual structure of your trustee meetings?

You get sent the papers a few days before, everyone has been too busy to look at them, you waste time reading documents and going over old ground, there’s disagreement about who was meant to be doing what and in the end no major decisions are made?

If that sounds like your board then there is help out there and technology might offer a solution. Continue reading

Happy 5th birthday blog!

I can’t believe it’s 5 years since I started blogging here!

I started writing it while working in the ICT Hub at NCVO and it was pretty much a record of me getting to grips with “new media” technologies. I wrote about finally understanding what RSS feeds where, downloading my first podcast, experimenting with social bookmarking and even having my first Skype call.

There was a bit of lean spell through 2009 and 2010 but I picked it up again in 2011 with (what I hope are) more useful posts describing how charities can use these tools, such as an introductory guide to blogging, using technology to be more effective trustees and social media for campaigning.

2012 is my year for blogging. I joined up to Weekly Blog Club, a loose group of bloggers who not only write interesting posts themselves but also read and comment on mine, which is so encouraging. The Twitter body that is @weeklyblogclub always nudges to get a new post every week and I think I’ve only missed about 4 or 5 this year (mainly due to getting married). Regular writing makes you a better blogger, at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Even after 5 years I haven’t got it right yet. I tend to only post links once which is ridiculous, I don’t spend time finding similar blogs to comment on and cross link, I don’t listen out for conversations to share my relevant content with… but I should. And this year I am really trying hard to make it work.

My top 5 posts in this time have been:

  1. Creating your own data visualisations
  2. A recipe for the perfect database (AKA how not to get undercooked data)
  3. Hosting a Google hangout for charity freelancers
  4. Social media campaigning on my own doorstep
  5. Dealing with the impending cookie monster

And if I can get 172 of you to have a look at my blog today I will hit 10,000 views on my blogging birthday!

(For the rest of the year it’s not about the numbers but just for today, it definitely is).

How would you tell someone to get started with social media?

Last Sunday I was involved in a Twitter conversation with watfordgap, kanter, magicroundabout and others about how much time voluntary organisations have to devote to using social media.

Twitter screengrab

Paul Webster (watfordgap) made a comment that perhaps we should be encouraging organisations to start out in social media by introducing them to things like Google+ or Pinterest. I find myself disagreeing with Paul on that point and I wanted a few more than 140 characters to say why.

Before writing anything I want to make it clear that I’m not saying I wouldn’t advise organisations to use Google+, Pinterest or anything else. I hope that after working through what an organisation wants to achieve, who they’re trying to reach and what resources they have available then I’d help them to pick the best tools for the job, whatever they may be.

I’m also talking specifically about working with staff at organisations at the start of their social media journey and not individuals interested in social media for personal reasons.

The thing that I always focus on is the tools that will give them a thorough understanding of how social media works and what will give them the biggest return for the amount of time they’re able to give to it.

In my experience of working with organisations, when you get hold of someone to show them what social media’s all about you don’t have very long to grab their attention. If they don’t get some kind of benefit from it – either connecting with someone, sharing a piece of information or finding something out – very quickly then you’ve lost them. Sustained benefit from social media comes out of the personal connections and conversations with people you meet through the sharing and talking.

The other thing to consider is that they need to use a tool that will give them a return on the precious time they have to give to social media, whatever their indicator of success might be.

In my mind the answer to this is almost always Facebook and Twitter. Facebook works because of its ready made networks and with a well set up page, regular updates and clear promotion it can bring big returns for organisations. Twitter similarly is very quick to get benefits if you jump in and start talking to people.

My issue with sites like Pinterest and Google + is that although there are undoubtably benefits to some people, there just isn’t the established audience yet to make it a good use of time for organisations with limited resources. Pinterest particularly misses out on that key element of just chatting.

Anyway, that’s what I think. I’m sure you’ll tell me what you think.

Beth Kanter has also written up her thoughts on whether charities should jump onto new tool bandwagons

Sifting the online wheat from the chaff

[19/06/12 ETA – I suspect my getting organised was prompted by this Twitter conversation with @commutiny]

If this is a blog post of the bleeding obvious then I really do apologise in advance.

I was just taking half an hour to do some much needed sifting of my RSS feeds and it occurred to me that maybe some people – even one person – might find it useful to know how I manage my information. Would it?

In case it is, here’s how I do it:

Focussing first on blogs and websites, it all comes from RSS feeds.

About five years ago I started collecting interesting looking websites and blogs and to keep up to date with them I added their RSS feeds to my feed reader. At the time I was using Bloglines to do this but now I use Google Reader. I’ve already written about RSS feeds on this blog.

Although I can access updated RSS feeds from my laptop I mainly use the app on my Android phone. When I have a spare few minutes either on a bus or in a queue, I scan the new updated feeds.

I’ve already got them categorised into my different areas of interests so I can pick out the ones that are most important or relevant to me at the time.

When I’m looking through the feeds I don’t read everything. There’s absolutely no way I’d have time to do that, well, not as well as having a job.

What I do is look at all of the feeds in a category in one place – with just the headlines showing – and scan to see what catches my eye.

I’m not overly bothered about missing something as I know if it’s really worth reading it’ll find its way back to me at some point.

When I’m scanning the headlines I mark ones that I want to look at in more detail with a star.

When I get to the bottom of the list I mark them all as read and they disappear from my Google Reader.

I find the process of scanning all of the headlines a good way of getting a sense of what’s happening, particularly in the tech world. If there are a lot of mentions of a tool or service then I tend to pick up on it that way.

Scanning RSS feeds

The next stage for me is actually dealing with all of the items I’ve starred. It doesn’t necessarily happen straight after I’ve scanned all of the feeds but at some point I need to decide what I want to do with this information.

Starred RSS feeds

Probably about half of the entries I just read quickly, remove the star and move on. The ones that I think are actually useful to me and other people, I set up as scheduled tweets using Hootsuite.

The act of scheduling is another way of helping me to absorb the information but also selfishly as a freelancer it’s a way of showing people see I’m interested and keeping up with the latest developments.

I’ve linked my Twitter account to a service called This allows me to post links and hashtags to Twitter and save the links to my Delicious (social bookmarking) at the same time.

Even at this stage I might not have read a post from beginning to end, but once it’s tagged in Delicious I know that I can call it back up if I need to research a tool or topic.

So, to quickly summarise,

  1. I use Google Reader to capture updates from my favourite blogs and websites
  2. I use the Google Reader Android app to scan through the headline updates
  3. I star any updates I want to read
  4. I look at all of the starred updates together and decide what I want to do with them
  5. If I think a link is worth sharing I set up a scheduled tweet using Hootsuite
  6. I make sure the tweet has a link to the information and any relevant hashtags
  7. The link gets saved automatically to my Delicious account for me to access later if I need it.

I have pretty much the same process for information on Twitter. I let the stream of updates pass by me, favouriting anything I want to look at later. When I have few minutes spare I go through my favourites, sharing anything that I think would be of use and replying if I have something to say.

And that’s it. Did you already know that? Is that how you do it? Am I crazy? Am I spending too much time on all of this? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Me and my Twitter

Whilst biking around London yesterday for a game of Brompton Monopoly I found myself reflecting on how many people I’ve met and how many opportunities I’ve had because of Twitter.

Brompton Monopoly

Since I moved to London I think pretty much everyone I know – outside of work colleagues – I’ve met through Twitter.

It seems easy for people that don’t use Twitter to dismiss it as a pointless tool and I find it quite difficult to articulate what it means to me but at the same time I just know that my life would be very different without it.

Some of the things that have been possible because of Twitter: I met all my great Stoke Knittington friends, I volunteered at Stoke Newington Literary Festival, I found out about Brompton Monopoly, I sponsored Ross Fisher to grow a moustache, I went to the opening of Paul Clarke‘s photography exhibition, I took (take) part in Arthur‘s awesome Friday afternoon Twitter quizzes, I went to Robert Brook‘s birthday party, I got lots of freelance work, I went to Rich Watts‘ leaving London party, I met Roxanne Persaud, which led me to the Sidehustle Gang, I got some free Otley beer when Melissa Cole launched a new collaboration with the brewery, I had a short conversation with Jeremy Dyson about what one of his books meant to me, I rode the London Classic, I’ve had lots of beers and coffees with people I’d never met in real life before (and I survived), I kept in touch with Paul Webster after we stopped working on the same project together, I’ve helped two little girls to find out about bees and I’ve tweeted along to many episodes of Question Time, Match of the Day and The Archers.

There is so much more that I’ve been able to do because of Twitter but this was all I could think of for now.