Wednesday, February 25, 2009

3 Ring Circus Balancing act for web content

Writers block is an understatement when people are asked to write something for the web site, it is more like run the other way fear.  But I think a lot of this may rise from a feeling that when you right something for the web it has to be perfect and appeal to everyone, but in my opinion that is backwards of reality of the new web.


I picture writing for the web like a delicate balancing act in 3 rings:

Engagement balance between those that already know you and those who stumble upon you.

Audience balance between getting huge volume of traffic and reaching those who care.

Message balance between saying what you want people to hear and what your audience actually wants to hear.

I state those like they are a simple fact and it is easy to accomplish, yeah well good luck with that.

Engagement – We are addressing this issue by deliberately providing two ways to use our site browsing and utilizing it.  For those who don’t know who we are we will provide numerous ways and varying types of content (text, video, stories, interaction, etc) with the key focus of gradual engagement and small steps to get involved.  For those who are already engaged we will provide them the fastest possible way to get to the things that are the most important to them.

Audience – We are doing a complete overhaul of our architecture to improve our SEO (search engine optimization).  We are also revamping how all content gets created and written for the web to make it more search friendly.

Message - Many people try to manipulate their web site based on the message they want to send without taking time to consider what the audience wants to hear or how they want to get that message.  It is a tricky balance to keep the content focused on your message while still meeting your audience needs.

This isnt an all encompassing concept and has a bunch of holes probably, but hopefully brings up some thoughts for you.

After this post, my blog is going to switch focus for March-April off of the web and onto IT Alignment, which is a good friend of mine from the recent past. I am doing this in honor of the book that I wrote chapter 1 for NTEN called Managing Technology to Meet your Mission.  You can learn more on the wiki at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What to do when people think they know your brand but are WRONG

Lets play a short game. I will show a brand logo, you tell me what they do.

My Answer - Fast food, good, cheap but very bad for you.

Great cars but very expensive and many people think for only older people.

Ok, I could go on forever with the little game, but I wont.  My point is that a brand not only reminds you of who they are but carries every stereotype with it.  And as a brand that is very hard to change.

McDonalds has tried for years to change its image that it offers healthy choices and actually they do.  But I still order the biggest, fat filled cheeseburger bacon usually.  Cadillac tried for a little while to offer some more lower priced models and tried to appeal to new audiences, but I dont think that worked out to well for them.


In the midst of many strategic conversations lately I keep coming up against one thought, people think they know who and what the YMCA is, but they are wrong. No I dont mean to imply they are dumb or that the small peice they know is incorrect, rather they never know the whole picture. They jump to gym/swim or pictures of old facilities or a place for kids.

I will admit that most of this is our own fault as an organization, we dont tell people who we are and what we do enough.  Plus to make it worse, when you have seen one YMCA, you have only seen one YMCA. None of us are completely the same.  To add complication to complication, we do so many different things that I dont even know all of them.

It almost seems easier to spread the word about a new cause that is very focused and new, than it is to get people to change their impression of an existing organization like the YMCA.

That is my challenge in a one sentence format.

So I think I may have to spend a couple Blog posts later on this topic as I move through our web presence strategy, but for now here are some of my thoughts.

  1. First we will be spending time making our own staff aware of the image that is out there and make sure they have a better understanding of how we want to be seen, what we do and how to share that with members. Many of staff (including me) dont know about all of the services we offer.
  2. We are working to completely change the content and structure of our website and online resources to make it easier for people to learn about us.
  3. Eventually we will find those members, participants, communities and staff that are already our word of mouth champions and give them the tools, content and ability to tell our story for us.
  4. User generated content - need I say more?
  5. Craft messages for the specific audiences, we always try to appeal to everyone, just stop it.  Get the right words to the right people who are ready to hear it.
  6. Leverage our volunteers (board and program) lets get them more involved and aware.
Anyway there are more thoughts in my head, but I cant get them out right now.  What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

5 ways to get staff wearing comfortable shoes (or using the web)

One of my first posts on this blog still gets some considerable traffic, 5 secret ways to trick your colleagues into becoming content creators for your website. So in that effort I am going back to another list of 5. This post was inspired by a comment from one of my readers (didnt even know I had any). Thanks Rebekah.

"I think easing them into using the intranet for communicating is a good way to start and I'm hoping it will work! We're thinking of starting an internal blog to introduce blogging and show them how easy and potentially useful it could be for us. Maybe my trickery will be as effective as yours." Rebekah

5 ways to get staff comfortable with using the web

One basic key is just like breaking in a new pair of shoes, wear them enough to get worn in but not too much to avoid blisters.

1. Start with your own shoes. As Rebekah says above, implement functionality and tools within your commited network of staff before launching to the public and expecting staff to understand and participate. So get a blog, tag cloud, RSS feed, photo sharing, discussion boards, comments, etc and get staff to try them in a safer staff environment.

2. Get some people showing off their kicks. Find some staff that are more excited than others and get them to try out some of your web tools. Build up some examples, stories and champions.

3. Look for the best fit. Dont just focus on those people that ar the most willing. Look for the groups that these tools will have the biggest bang or impact with an audience that is a natural fit for technology. For example, setting up a myspace page for groups that work with teens, have a swim team create a ning social network, Camps start a disscussion board for alumni, etc. Maybe dont start with a newer program where people dont know each other yet, program areas with wide topics like an aquatics social network (keep it focused), etc.

4. Leave some footprints yourself. Why even bother to try convincing others if you havent even tried the tools yourself?

5. Display the shoes. Before you make people try out the tools communicate several different times and ways that they are coming and post some demos or sand boxes for them to touch the tools or try them on. Here is a possible set of waves of communications, blast general announcement, run a webcast, run a training, have a colleague blast a story how they used it, send out an example of others using it, one on one conversations with key people, start the training all over, do another webcast, etc.....

6. Make it personal footwear. Dont focus on how the shoes were made or how they work. Make it fun and exciting, focus on what it means to the individual. Let the individual make the footwear their own, in their own time.

And yes, keeping with tradition, my list of five things includes 6.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Quick Tribute

Over the years I have had the pleasure of having some inspiring bosses in the YMCA.  Most recently I had a great boss in Mike Madden, even if it was short due to numerous reasons.  The departure of Mike made me think it would be nice if I took a quick minute to thank those bosses for what they have taught me.

Mike Madden (2008 YMCA Metro Chicago)

Mike has a presence about him that creates a real sense of calm and confidence.  Mike allowed his team the freedom and authority to come up with the plans for their respective areas of focus.  But then at the same time Mike pushed back and challenged each part to be sure you did your homework, guessing on a hunch wasnt the answer he wanted.  Then Mike's gift was to pull all of that into a bigger vision and plan that would create real impact, plus act as the champion for his team to make it happen.  I learned a lot about how to prepare for a planning session and team dynamics for business decisions.  The other big lesson from Mike was how to be honest and have true integrity.  Mike I wish we had the chance to work together longer.

Ann Edmonds (1999-2002? YMCA of the USA)

While it may be hard to believe you can learn anything from a Canadian... Just kidding, Canada please dont hate me.  Humor at the workplace at the appropriate time was one of the things I learned with Ann, though I'm not sure it was intended.  All humor aside though, Ann showed me what an unstopable force could look like.  Determination and dedication are two words that come to mind.  Ann was able to have some of the most direct and open conversations with leadership that I have ever seen.  Best of all, Ann was a real friend.

Linda Dean (way back in the day, YMCA Metro Chicago)

As a teen growing up in the YMCA, Linda was one of the staff that supervised the teen club I was in.  Then I did my college internship with her in the HR Dept.  She made me the trainer I am today.  Between working with her as a teen and the internship, I learned a lot about how to work with people, how to lead and how to communicate. Years later I still rely on those pieces of wisdom she gave me.

Deb DiPasquale (98-99 YMCA Metro Chicago)

Passion, plain and simple. Deb had a true passion for helping people.  I, on the other hand, tended to hide this passion after years of working in banking.  Deb was able to help me make this shine again.

Jeff Bundy (2002-2007 YUSA)

Try things and let them grow organically.  You dont have to win everyone's attention, get those that are ready and then let them spread the word.  Jeff gave me the freedom to drive and create much of my own work.  During those last years at YUSA, I think I really found what I was called to do for the YMCA.  Too bad YUSA thought it was not important enough to keep, but luckily the YMCA of Metro Chicago does think it is important.  Jeff also helped me prepare for ongoing and never ending transitions.

THANKS to all of these great people!!!!!!!!!!! You have helped make me the mess I am today.

And the ones I missed, like John Usmail, Don McCarthy... And those are just my supervisors, dont get me started on the friends and colleagues that have influenced me.  And dont expect me to get all mushy and continue to have such fluffy posts on my blog.  I usually stuff and hide all of my feelings, just ask my wife.

Take some time and think about those bosses that changed you, who are they, would love to hear about it.