I attended the NetSquared Year 3 Conference on May 27-28, 2008 in San Jose, CA, right after Memorial Day weekend. I had spent the weekend in Berkeley, CA at my friend Sammy’s wedding so I was a little shaky for the meet and greet on Monday night, but Jean Russell from Nurture Girl stepped in as my unofficial political adviser and helped me network within minutes.
By Monday at 9am, I had gotten a full night’s sleep and I was ready to meet the over 300 socially responsible and technologically savvy people NetSquared had assembled, all of whom were smarter than me.
Michael Metz from Cisco was the day’s first speaker and he focused on web marketing. He started off citing statistics like how 137/160 households have requested not to be contacted by telemarketers and 80% of tech purchasers said they found the vendor, the vendor didn’t find them. "The world has changed," he said, "marketing must change too."
His advice to web marketers is not to bother people, just let them know you’re there. And when they’re ready to talk, be ready to engage. Cisco tracked where customers went on their website and used the data they learned about their customers to create opportunities for customers to engage in the site.
Data + interaction= engagement
The first breakout session I attended after lunch was called Measuring Impact in Online Communities. Scott Monroe, who works with Schwab Learning, recommended four approaches to measuring impact:
- Define your impact (in our case, changing how people invest). What is it? What does it look like?
- Measure boldly. Measure however you can. If you can’t measure impact directly, measure indirectly, in pieces rather than as a whole, for example. Look at measuring as reducing your uncertainty about something instead of as an exact science.
- Ask for help. Look outside your own specific industry, to academia, for example. Other people in or outside of your sector have already solved your problems.
- "Fail informatively" – If the measuring doesn’t work, share that information so that everyone can learn form it.
Resources he suggests include:
Douglas W. Hubbard – How to Measure Anything
Susan Colby – Zeroing on Impact
I then heard Vinnie Lauria and Kristine Molnar talk about "How to ‘Use’ Your Users: Getting the Most Out of the Community Supporting Your Organization." Focusing on non-profit organizations, the duo talked about creating an online community by using tools that work for you. Newsletters and emails with a call to action, as well as blogs, Wikis, video, forums, surveys, widgets, groups and events (like an office happy hour) can stimulate involvement on the part of donors in an organization. Before asking for money, the pair stressed involving donors in the preliminary idea, and sending them "me-mails" not emails, which are personal appeals and thank yous. They also talked about the importance of a short mission statement in plainspeak and trying to get the brand out through word of mouth (such as an "Invite your friend" link or stickers).
Then everyone got ice cream.
After that, I heard talk by Erik Moller from Wikipedia entitled "Collaborating for (a) Change: The Wikipedia Model." He delineated a number of lessons for people aiming to create similar websites:
"Lesson zero," he said, "scale your volunteerism." Many of the most successful communities started out as volunteer-only efforts so he advised lowering barriers for participation.
Lesson One: Languages matter (less than 25% of Wikipedia articles are in English). Volunteers who speak other languages can help the site reach a larger audience, as well as help with fundraising, grants, software development, etc.
Lesson Two: Open your code. "Your cause is not proprietary," he said, "release what you have even if it sucks" and use a standard license like GPL (but investigate Affero GPL to protect your site from commercial exploitation)
Lesson Three: Open your online work. Use wikis, make internalization possible and easy, give people server and database access and generally encourage collaboration.
Lesson Four: Empower the grass-roots with face-to-face meetings, local chapter organizations and blogs (like planetplanet.org).
Lesson Five: Use open tools (like Linux, Firefox, OpenOffice.org, etc.) This allows you to share experiences and software with other social organizations.
He ended by saying that working with Wikipedia requires a neutral point of view and that the site has an aversion to spam and self-promotion, external services, and massive and disruptive editing.
Did I mention that thepanelist.net sponsored the event?
Disclosure: You know you’re at a techie conference when the speaker says "Is anyone on Second Life?" and everyone but you raises their hands.