Over the last year or so I’ve been asked to do an increasing amount of Facebook consulting. Most weeks I get a couple of emails asking for help and asking how this sort of consulting works so I thought I’d explain my experience.
In early December 2009, I got a call from a prospective client who wanted me to build a website for her husband’s home improvement business. The catch? She wanted it to be a surprise Christmas present! She started collecting pictures from his clients and I went to work with a simple but expandable WordPress site. Reports are that Brad was thrilled!
See it live: http://www.bradleywinkler.com/
Michael Oliveras is a long-time union carpenter making the entrepreneurial jump and starting his own business: Mike’s Precision Carpentry, serving the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware from his shop in Hammonton, NJ. He came to me looking for a webpage to advertise his new enterprise.
It’s a simple design, a typical small-business site of half-a-dozen pages. The color scheme matches his business cards for a bit of branding. Oliveras faced a problem typical for new businesses: a lack of good photos. The work he’s done for many years is not technically his own (per the employment contracts) so for now the pictures are a mix of the few jobs he has done on his own and a few stock images. I’m sure he’ll have a well-rounded portfolio before long and we’ll be able to fill out the site with his own work. In the meantimes, he added a couple of great pictures of him and his family on the “About Us” page to give it that personal touch.
See it live: www.mikesprecisioncarpentry.com
Popular children’s entertainer/educator Slim Goodbody is one busy guy: most weekdays of the school year find him spreading the message of good health in his trademark body suit (“When a Body needs somebody there’s nobody like Goodbody!”).
He’s been doing this work for decades now and has a vast storehouse of videos, products and fans.
Slim came to me to build a branded Facebook presence.
A typical workload for a Facebook branding project is:
- Set up the Page;
- Coordinate with the client for a good profile graphic;
- Adding a number of photos and videos;
- Help set up a posting strategy;
- Provide phone support to answer questions on best practices;
- Give feedback on campaign (like Facebook’s “Insights” stats)
For Slim, we decided to rely on Facebook’s native apps as much as possible. This became especially important when Facebook shifted it’s feed layout (yet again) to focus less on user streams and more on an algorithmically-determined best posts. The more integrated your site is with Facebook, the better chance your pieces will have of showing up on Fan’s user streams.
We used Facebook Markup Language (FBML) to create custom Page tabs for integration with his existing online store and listing of tour dates. We would have liked to use FB’s Events application but it doesn’t allow for the volume of tour dates necessary to cover a busy entertainer like Slim Goodbody!
See it live: www.facebook.com/slimgoodbody
Elisabeth is a painter and artist who specializes in original acrylic paintings and giclee prints of nature and South Jersey beach scenes. Her existing site was attractive, but it didn’t have online ordering and she wasn’t able to update it herself.
We put together a features list and then went through a round of concept screenshots which I built in Adobe Fireworks and Photoshop (you can see our work here!). Design in hand, I built a customized Movable Type site. A specialized template allows her to enter information about the each piece: medium, theme, price and the URL to it’s image (most of which are hosted on Flickr). Movable Type pulls these together into various category and individual art pages, with automatically-generated Paypal “Buy” buttons for available pieces. We stressed search-engine visibility so there are many categories and they all cross-link with each painting.
Visit: Elisabeth Olver
The NYTimes has a piece by an IBM employee who has largely freed himself from email by consciously using whatever social networking tool would be better at moving the conversation forward, whether it’s IM, wikis, or even (gasp!) the telephone. This line stood out for me:
I have had continuing support from my management in this effort, because I’ve been able to prove how much more I can accomplish by answering a question, and posting it on a blog, for example, than I can by answering the same question over and over. I still help people, but in a more open and collaborative fashion. Other people can join in the discussions — maybe they will have a better idea than mine.
This is exactly how I try to describe the blogging philosophy in the business world. Don’t think of the blog as another chore that needs to be added to your already overwhelmed to-do list. Instead, think about it as another communication tool so it becomes a seamless part of your ongoing work. This will no only help work flow, but help give your blog an honesty and approachability it wouldn’t have if you thought of it as simply another marketing piece.
Web 2.0 tools have changed the boundary lines between techies and program staff in many nonprofits over the past few years. At least, they should have, though I know of various organizations that haven’t made the conceptual leap to the new roles.
OLD SCHOOL: Webmaster
The other was content: when program-oriented staff had new material they wanted on the website they would email it to me or walk it over. I would put in my work queue, where it might sit for weeks if it wasn’t an organizational priority. When it came time to add the material I would boot up Dreamweaver, a relatively expensive program that was only accessible from my laptop and I would put the material onto the website. Needless to say, with a process like this some parts of the website never got very much attention.
At some point I start sneaking in a content management system for frequently-changed pages. This seemed very hackish and not good at first but over time I realized it greatly speeded up my turn-around time for basic text content. But the organizations I worked for still relied on the old model, where staff give the webmaster content to put up.
NEW SCHOOL: Web Developer
Nowadays I’m a web developer, a freelancer with an ever changing list of clients. I typically spend about a month putting together a site based on a content management (like this) or automatic feed system (like I did for Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School). I do a certain amount of training and while I might add a little content for testing purposes, I step back at the end of the process to let the client put the material up themselves. I’m available for questions but I’m surprised about how rarely I’m called.
Here’s two examples. Steadyfootsteps is a blog by an American physical therapist in Vietnam. When we started, she didn’t even have a digital camera! I gave her advice on cameras, started her on a Flickr account, set up a fairly generic Movable Type blog with some custom design elements and answered all the questions she had along the way. She went to town. She’s put tons of pictures and embedded Youtube videos right in posts. Here’s a non-techie who has contributed a lot to the web’s content!
They’re very different sites, but in neither instance does the client contact me to add content. They rely on easy-to-use Web 2.0 services: no specialized HTML knowledge required.
NEW TOOLS, OLD MODEL
I got an email not so long ago from an old boss who manages a monthly magazine. Her site has been radically rebuilt over the years. Dreamweaver is out and content management is in. They use Drupal, which my friend Thomas T. of the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance tells me won the recent popularity contest among nonprofit techies. This is great, a definite step forward, but what confused me is that my old boss was asking me whether I would be interested in returning to my old job (the successor who oversaw the Drupal upgrade is leaving).
They still have a webmaster? They still want to funnel website material through a single person? Every staffperson there is adept at computers. If a physical therapist can figure out Flickr and Movable Type and Youtube, why can’t professional print designers and editors?
My hourly rate ranges from two to five times what she’d be likely to pay, so I turned her down. But I did ask why she wanted a webmaster. Now that they’re on Drupal it seems to me that they’d be better off switching from the webmaster to the web developer staffing model: hire me as a freelance consultant to do troubleshooting, staff training and the occassional special project but have the regular fulltime staff do the bulk of the content management. I’d think you’d end up with a site that’s more lively and updated and that the cost would about the same, despite my higher hourly rates.
I’ve heard enough stories of places where secretaries have come out of the shadows to embrace content management and have helped transform websites. I’m the son of a former secretary so I know that they’re often the smartest employees at any firm (if you walk into an office looking for the expert on advanced Excel features you’ll surely find them sitting right there behind the receptionist desk).
FINALLY: WHAT’S UP WITH DRUPAL?
I’m trying to join the bandwagon and use Drupal for a upcoming site that will have about a dozen editors. But there’s no built-in WYSIWYG editor, no little formatting icons. Sure, I myself could easily hand-code the HTML and make it look nice. But I don’t want to do that. And it’s unrealistic to think I’m going to teach a dozen overworked secretaries how to write in HTML. The interface needs to work more or less like Microsoft Word (as it does in Movable Type, CushyCMS, Google Docs, etc.)
Most Drupal sites I see seems from the outside like they’re still old school: staff webmaster through whom most content funnels. Is this right? Because if so, this is really just an institutionalization of the content hack I did six years ago. Can anyone point me to lively, active Drupal sites whose content is being directly added by non-techie office staff? If so, how is it set up?