Good for me as I have work to do!
Google+: View post on Google+
Good for me as I have work to do!
Google+: View post on Google+
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:
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?
It’s been a fascinating education learning about institutional Catholicism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good picture of the culture inside the bishop’s inner circle and I’m pretty sure I understand his long-term agenda. The current lightening-fast closure of sixty-some churches is the first step of an ambitious plan; manufactured priest shortages and soon-to-be overcrowded churches will be used to justify even more radical changes. In about twenty years time, the 125 churches that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half million faithful will be herded into a dozen or so mega-churches, with theology borrowed from generic liberalism, style from feel-good evangelicalism, and organization from consultant culture.
When diocesan officials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sentence and nod their heads approvingly. The conspiracy is real.
But I don’t want to talk about Catholicism again. Let’s talk Quakers instead, why not? I should be in some meeting for worship right now anyway. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbringing after eleven years with us because she wanted a religious community that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a corporate “we.” It seems that Catholicism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the Eastern Orthodox church? For that matter should I be running off to the Mennonites? See though, the problem is that the same issues will face us wherever we try to go. It’s modernism, baby. No focused and authentic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.
We can blog the questions of course. Why would someone who dislikes Catholic culture and wants to dismantle its infrastructure become a priest and a career bureaucrat? For that matter why do so many people want to call themselves Quakers when they can’t stand basic Quaker theology? If I wanted lots of comments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ultimately the question is futile and beyond my figuring.
Another piece to this issue came in some questions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few others this past week in preparation for his upcoming presentation at Woodbrooke. He asked about how a particular Quaker institution did or did not represent or might or might not be able to contain the so-called “Convergent” Friends movement. I don’t want to bust on anyone so I won’t name the organization. Let’s just say that like pretty much all Quaker bureaucracies it’s inward-focused, shallow in its public statements, slow to take initiative and more or less irrelevant to any campaign to gather a great people. A more successful Quaker bureaucracy I could name seems to be doing well in fundraising but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more interested in donor-focused hype than long-term program implementation.
One enemy of the faith is bureaucracy. Real leadership has been replaced by consultants and fundraisers. Financial and staffing crises–real and created–are used to justify a watering down of the message. Programs are driven by donor money rather than clear need and when real work might require controversy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quaker readers who think I’m talking about Quakers: no I’m talking about Catholics. Catholic readers who think I’m talking about Catholics: no, I’m talking about Quakers. My point is that these forces are tearing down religiosity all over. Some cheer this development on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for position and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a better word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.
So where does that leave us? I’m tired of thinking that maybe if I try one more Quaker meeting I’ll find the community where I can practice and deepen my faith as a Christian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feeling: Fox and the Peningtons and all the rest talked about isolation and about religious professionals who were in it for the career. I know from the blogosphere and from countless one-on-one conversations that there are a lot of us–a lot–who either drift away or stay in meetings out of a sense of guilt.
So what would a spiritual community for these outsider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our structures look like? If we let the generic churches go off to out-compete one other to see who can be the blandest, what would be left for the rest of us to do?
I guess this last paragraph is the new revised mission statement for the Quaker part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meeting library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out volume one of “A portraiture of Quakerism: Taken from a view of the education and discipline, social manners, civil and political economy, religious principles and character, of the Society of Friends” by Thomas Clarkson. Yes the 1806 version, stop the grumbling. Get out the ribbed packing tape and put its cover back together–this isn’t the frigging Library of Congress and we’re actually going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time checking it out in the meeting’s logbook: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Really stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.
Update: PennCharter redesigned their website in August 2009 and the Media Page is unavailable.
“Martin has worked for our school to integrate Web 2.0 technologies
into our communication materials. Martin is highly-personable and his
is an expert in current technological approaches. This is a hard match
to find in consultants.” April 30, 2009
Michael Moulton, Technology Director, William Penn Charter School.
Hired Martin as a IT Consultant in 2007, and hired Martin more than once.
Top qualities: Personable, Expert, High Integrity.