140+: In the Moment


My Picks for The 2011 Edublog Awards #Eddies11

Edublog AwardsIf you know me, you know I love technology. I thrive on social media. And, most of all, I am passionate about the intersection of early childhood education and social media. Technology makes it easy for me to learn more about the field and connect with people I might never have otherwise known and learn from ECE leaders with a simple click or two.. I can also broadcast what I learn to thousands of others in our field with just a little bit of initiative and know how. And, there is so much to share! That’s why I’ve  nominated a few of the best resources for Edublog Awards this year.  Hopefully, you will do the same. Unfortunately, there are only a few more days in the competition, but it’s never too late! Voting ends December 2, 2011! HURRY!

Since 2005, Edublogs has been hosting blogs and providing custom blogging platforms to teachers, school districts and  students, and the folks that operate the platform have a yearly competition to recognize the best resources as nominated by users. The awards are presented the resources that receive the most votes. Early education is underrepresented, mostly because our field has taken a bit more time to embrace social media and the Internet as sources for professional development. I think we’ve arrived now, so it’s time for us to collectively nominate and vote for the resources we think are most valuable. We’re going to have to do a lot of voting, because we, collectively, are a fraction of the overall field of education.

I nominated many outstanding early childhood educators on the Early Childhood Investigations Blog, but because it’s so important to cast nominations often and because I left out some important people, I’m casting again, here on my personal blog.

Fran Simon’s Edublog Award choices:

* Best Individual Blog: Dr. Michele Borba’s Reality Check

* Best twitter hashtag : #earlyed

* Best individual Tweeter: Karen Nemeth @KarenNemethEDM

* Best group blog: Early Ed Watch by New America Foundation:
http://earlyed.newamerica.net/blogmain

* Best educational use of a social network: Early Childhood Education, Child Care, and CCR&R Professionals Forum, Hosted by Adrienne C. Barr

* Best teacher blog: The Grass Stain Guru, by Bethe Almeras

* Best educational use of audio / video / visual / podcast: Bam! Radio Network

* Lifetime achievement: Ellen Galinsky- Ellen blogs everywhere and has been for a long time. Check her out:
On Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-galinsky

On Mind in The Making: http://mindinthemaking.org/

On MomsRising: http://www.momsrising.org/blog/author/Ellen-Galinsky/

On HBR Blog Network: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/05/learning_to_taking_on_challeng.html

On Families and Work Institute http://familiesandwork.org/blog/

And, so many other blogs… to many to mention! You go, Ellen!

Make your choices! It’s easy to nominate… Just follow the directions on the Edublog Awards page!

Have you heard? Death to PowerPoint! Aweee…Really?

The endThere’s a lot of buzz that PowerPoint should be abolished. In fact, in Switzerland, the trend has borne an entire political party, the Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP).  The call to end the use of PowerPoint presentations is not a new phenomenon.  I can understand why people love to hate presentation software… it’s a convenient way to explain why presentations stink. It’s not about their slides or their presentation style!

Does the “death to PowerPoint” movement make you feel inadequate? Uncool? Uninformed, and out of date? Stop feeling like a hack and think logically. It’s not the software!

Repeat after me: PowerPoint and the other presentation software packages like SlideRocket, Keynote, and Prezi  are not really responsible for mind-numbing presentations.  It’s like saying a fork is responsible for a horrible meal.

Come on now,  folks… Let’s be rational. Could it be that presenters often use presentation software poorly? Of course. Often presenters don’t use best practice in adult learning theory . They don’t think about how they would like to be engaged if they were in the audience. And they don’t take the time to seek out any of the easy-to-find tips and tricks that can help them deliver powerful presentations. Oh no… they just slap up bullets and charts and proceed to read from them. BORING.

By the way, webinars would be pretty hard to do with flipcharts, and using webcams for talking heads gets old after a while. Virtual presentations require even more skill to engage participants, so it’s critical to learn more and do more when you present virtually.

Stop blaming the tools and buying the hogwash from people who are trying to sell you another method. Brush up on your technique and learn a little bit about best practice. Think about how to communicate authentically with the people who come to hear you share your expertise. Here are some great resources to help you avoid the pitfalls of heavy dependance on bad slides:

The Virtual Presenter Blog by Roger Courville

Make Better Presentations – The Anatomy of a Good Speech by Chris Brogan

Great Webinars by Cynthia Clay

Presentation Zen, the Blog

Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds

17 Examples of Great Presentation Design on Hubspot

Really Bad Powerpoint by Seth Godin

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, by Carmine Gallo

There are literally thousands of really great resources to help you use PowerPoint (or your favorite presentation software package) well. There’s no reason to feel badly because you use slides. But you should feel terrible if you use slides poorly. Don’t be lazy and blame the tools, get off the stick and learn something new to dazzle and engage your participants.

7 Reality Tips: The Care and Feeding of Websites

“We just launched this website 16 months ago! What do you mean you have to do more development?” says the CFO/CEO/President/Business owner to the marketing geek.  I hear it all the time.  It’s a common misconception that investing a lot into a website means you will only have to add new content in the future. You may think once you develop the site you won’t ever have to think about the website again. Wrong. Read on!

It’s true that if the design of your pages is robust and flexible, and you have an awesome content management system, you will have to make fewer major revisions to your site. And, the more you money and time you invest in designing a flexible design up front, the fewer changes you will need to make over the lifespan of your site. However, the bottom line is that websites are a bit like homes…They need regular maintenance.  After all, your lifestyle changes, appliances and fixtures break, and advances in household products come out every day. Your home has to accommodate those inevitable changes. Your website also needs to adjust to reflect the changes in your business, rapid technology changes, and minor hiccups along the way. For example, the introduction of social plugins from Facebook have sent businesses back to their website developers to adjust their websites to accommodate feeds and like buttons. Adjusting pages to accommodate those changes required rethinking many websites.  Regardless of external technology changes, business goals and priorities often change, and your website has to reflect those changes.

The fact is the average lifespan of a website is only three to (and this is pushing it) five years. If your website is more than 3 years old, and you’ve done nothing to it over those three years, chances are you need to start thinking about a major overhaul.

7 key recommendations about website development and maintenance:

  1. Invest as much as you can into your website design on the front end so you can:
    • Build in a great content management system.
    • Automate as many related marketing processes as possible.
    • Build in a very flexible design that allows you to adjust along the way.
  2. Pick developers who you like, trust, and can work with over the course of the lifespan of your site. (Your developers will be your new BFFs, so you better respect them.)
  3. You will need to budget for website maintenance, enhancements, and tweaks every year over the lifespan of your site.
  4. You will need to revise or overhaul your site in 3-5 years.
  5. Think through your goals, target audience(s), and aesthetics.  Be prepared to tell your developers as much about your needs as possible.
  6. It takes a small village to build a boffo site:
    • Print designers and web designers are not interchangeable.
    • Developers are not the same as web designers.
    • These folks may know a bit about  SEO, but are not search engine optimization experts.
    • None of these aforementioned peeps are marketing experts.

    A good development firm will be able to bring these skills to the table, but if your budget is limited and you can’t work with a firm with all the expertise you need, make sure the people you hire consider these factors in your website. Be sure to assign one person from your company or organization the role of project manager of the site development and someone (perhaps the same person) as the content manager who regularly updates the site. If you have a small company, or you are a one person shop, that person might be you. Plan to either carve out a significant amount of time to oversee the development, and a bit of  time every week or two to maintain the site, unless you plan to outsource those activities.

7. Don’t forget that you will have to keep the content fresh and up to date, so if you don’t have a big team, you may have to either pay someone, or find time in your schedule. Websites that are not maintained are a poor reflection on your company.

Does Social Media Open Doors or Distract Early Childhood Educators?

I’ve always marveled at early educators’ ability to focus so intently on the children, families, and staff in their programs. To me, it’s a huge blessing. It’s also a curse.  We are so mission-focused that we often don’t have the time or inclination to step back, look at the bigger picture, and decide how our work fits in to the overall scheme of where we’re going. Don’t get me wrong, I know from firsthand experience that operating programs that offer high-quality early learning experiences takes 100% of our energy, focus and passion. By the end of the day, there’s often little energy left over for much else. But, is our laser focus on our programs a help or a hindrance? And, does engagement through social media distract us or help us do more?

Laser Focus: Help or Hindrance?

Think about a laser for a moment: It shines a very intense light on a small area.  Lasers do a great job shining through a swath, but leave other areas untouched. Are we so focused on our missions to make a difference for the children in our care that we fail to make important conceptual, political, and professional connections that can have more impact? I know when I operated programs, I often thought, “leave the political and networking stuff up to other people. I have my hands full, and I am doing important work.”  Once I left the  my programs for other related early education jobs, I saw that I missed incredible  opportunities that would have benefited the children in my program and the direction of the field in general.

Why is it taking so long for us to engage?

Why am I writing about this now? I’m lamenting the void of engagement and sources of timely, relevant information in early care and education. I’m frustrated by how long it is taking for program practitioners to look up from guiding our lasers to see that there is a country and a world in which we operate, and it’s full of opportunities and insight. I’m also surprised to see how slow our community leaders are to add blogs and other social media as strategies to engage their members, supporters, and advocates.

But, I know I am  preaching to the choir. Given that you are reading this post, you probably  read other blogs, and engage on social media sites. YOU are probably NOT one of the hundreds of thousands of early childhood practitioners who are don’t  purposely set aside time to learn more, network, advocate, or exchange ideas related to their work. (And, I ask you, what are you doing to encourage your colleagues to test social media?)

There is a dearth of social media interactivity and engagement in our field. Stop to think about the size of our field. It’s hard for me to fathom (and harder to find the real data) about how many early childhood educators there are in the US. (Statisticians, if you can wrap your head around this one, give me a shout!)  I do know that there are only a handful of  commonly read reliable and credible blogs and journals in our field to serve (conservatively) hundreds of thousands of educators.  And, having been actively searching for early educators on social networking sites and listservs for many years now, I can estimate that less than 1% of us are engaging online. Contrast those (admittedly rough) stats with those related to business, and you can see how technically and engagement-challenged we are as a field.

We need to connect to learn from and partner with others in our field. That is not a new concept. We all connect through community or committee meeting every once in a while. We take a workshop or go to a conference a couple of times a year. We already read Young Children, Child Care Information Exchange, or one of the few journals for early childhood education. Awesome!  Those IRL (techno-speak for “in real life”) experiences and activities are absolutely vital.  Adding social media to those activities widens the circle of influence by allowing you to connect with others exponentially. The folks at CommonCraft illustrate the point so well. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at Social Networking in Plain English. Do you see how using social networking before or after meetings and conferences can extend the benefits well beyond the walls? This is just one example of the power the Internet has to help us influence and educate one another.

So, is social media a distraction for early childhood educators or an accelerant?

I assert that we need more to do more. We need more blogs. We need more interconnectedness.  What do you think? There’s a lively conversation about just this issue going on in the Internet4ECE group on LinkedIn. Of course, you need to be a member of LinkedIn and a member of the group to read it. (Oh, am I secretly trying to illustrate engagement on the Internet? I would never be so sneaky.)

Resources:

I have a nice list of ECE blogs on slide 22 of my presentation from NAEYC’s Professional Development Institute: Supercharge Your ECE Program With Web 2.0. There’s a lot of additional information about social media in our field in that presentation, and you will find other resources on the Social Media for ECE on my website.

I’m dying to convince you. I’m dying for you to convince others, Check out some of my other presentations, resources, and the Social Media in ECE Directory I am compiling*, and share them if you find them helpful. Let me help you convince others that social media is a professional development, advocacy, and outreach accelerant, and an isolation-buster, bar none.

*If you would like to be included in the Social Media for ECE Directory, register! It only takes a couple of minutes!

Conducting Webinars to Engage: The Good, The Bad, and The UGLY!

good webinars, bad webinars, and just plain ugly webinarsYou’ve probably attended a webinar or two along the way in your career. If you’ve had good experiences, you may have thought: “I can do that!” You’re right, you can! Webinars are great for business of all kinds, but there are some important things to consider before you jump in.

Over the past 10 years or so, webinars have grown increasingly popular and increasingly effective for marketing and training because they work. You can find thousands of articles and webinars about how great webinars are for lead generation. Many of the webinar software vendors offer webinars about various related marketing topics to generate leads for their companies, and include pitches for their software. But, they might not give you the nitty-gritty behind the scenes reality show version of the story. That’s where I come in.

In as much as I am an evangelist for webinars, I’m also a realist. I have presented and produced webinars for the past 10 years. I attend at least one and sometimes up to three webinars per week. However, as a producer and as a consumer, I have to be realistic: There’s good, bad, and ugly news about webinars that you should know before you build them into your marketing plan.

The GOOD

Webinars generate leads, begin a cycle of engagement, and can help you nurture relationships. Presenting on the Internet is a great way to introduce people to your organization, your products, and to your expertise. Webinars are also great for:woman celebrating a great webinar

  • demonstrating products
  • technology orientations
  • professional development
  • building your brand by demonstrating your thought leadership

Online presentations are like a virtual handshake in the beginning of what will hopefully become a deepening authentic relationship with those who attend. Depending on the content you present, they can help you nurture leads into sales, advocates into donors, and constituents into conducting. And, obviously, the convenience and cost effectiveness of attending or presenting a presentation in your jammies or at your desk is hard to beat.

Great. We’ve established that conducing webinars are a strategy worth exploring. So, what’s not-so-great about webinars?

The (Potentially) BAD

Well, there’s nothing inherently bad with webinars, but there are some potential problems that might not make them the ideal tactic to use without some planning, practice and preparation.

Producing and delivering online presentations can be time-consuming because:Thumbs down: webinar problems image

  • You absolutely MUST HAVE great content that is relevant, meaningful, exciting, and delivered exceedingly well. Developing content that will attract the right kind of audience can be time-consuming.
  • Typically, it takes time to build up a critical mass of people who want to consume your webinar content and are willing to invest their time in your webinars. Having just one will not have as much impact as having a series or multiple series. Be prepared to generate a lot of content.
  • You must research the webinar software vendors and pick the one that strikes a balance between the technology you need and your budget.
  • While you are getting started, researching best practice in webinar production, and practicing your presentation (A LOT) are paramount.
  • You will have to make sure the graphics are compelling and exciting and are not cluttered with a lot of text.
  • The key to success is filling the seats! You will need to spend time marketing and promoting the webinars.
  • You will have to be prepared to follow up with webinar attendees with meaningful practices.
  • Initially, you will need someone to help you practice, prepare and monitor the session while it is live. (When you become more experienced, you may not need the help, but you will initially.

Well, so far, the bad isn’t bad. It’s all just a matter of preparation, right? You’d think so…

The UGLY  

Even with the best software, great content, lots of practice, preparation, and promotion, things go wrong. There are many variables to being successful with webinars, only a few of which are addressed here. Even though I have a lot of experience producing and presenting webinars, I’ve had a bad experience or two. It happens. Once you’ve made a poor impression on attendees, it’s hard to recover. You might not get a second chance.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the pros and cons of delivering webinars. For more detailed information about webinar software vendors, best practice in webinar production, and presentation tips, you might want to:

Join me for a presentation on

11/9/2012 from 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM

NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo, 2012

in Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia World Congress Center, Room B308

Despite the drawbacks, I strongly encourage the use of webinars for many businesses. As a matter of fact, I offer webinar production services that are designed to help the uninitiated get started, and for the business that don’t want to be troubled with the technical details. If you would like to chat about webinars, give me a call or drop me a line. I’m here to help.

The Top 3 Dirty Little Secrets of Social Media Marketing

Money on social media hype image

You’ve heard it all from passionate presenters and evangelical bloggers…There’s tons of hype about the power of social media.

Let’s get real. Social media  offers a lot of potential for marketing. Companies and nonprofit organizations are experiencing success using social media for marketing, outreach, advocacy and fundraising. Lots of us internet marketers think it’s the best way to engage with and establish relationships with customers and constituents, and perhaps (if we have done a good job) get them to transact with us. BUT…In the heat of the moment when social media passion has taken over, there are (at least) three secrets social media marketing evangelists might fail to mention:

1) Social media marketing is just not right for every business. Face it: If you are marketing niche products or services into a very traditional sector, it just might not make sense.  Using any marketing medium effectively requires putting the message where the target audience is, and where they want to engage with you.

Are farmers really going to make Facebook their first stop for information when they need to buy a tractor? Are they going spend a lot of time engaging in an exchange of ideas information about equipment on social networking sites? (Hold on there, farmers! I know you use social media. Stick with me for a minute!)  I’m just saying social media should not be the primary tool in the marketing mix for some businesses. The fact is, there are better ways to market some products and services. To be effective with any marketing strategy you have to  pick the right mix.   Social media marketing is a powerful tool, but true geeks like me must be strong enough to admit when social doesn’t make sense.

Don’t buy the hype if the person offering the advice  is not thinking specifically about your products or services and your core market.

2) You simply cannot push your message. I know this is not really a secret. Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki and lots of other smart social media marketers constantly tell us social networking is about all the things we learned in Kindergarten about making friends.  But if you follow social media it seems like a lot of marketers are treating the medium like advertising, alienating their audiences, and making it obvious that their brands are not really customer-centric.

Social networkers expect two-way or many-to-many conversation and real engagement. That means you must share interesting conversation, establish value, and give your audience a chance to chat. You have listen to them and you must respond, just as you might if you were in their living rooms at a party. Because, indeed, this is SOCIAL (as in the companionship of others) media.

Would you invite people to a dinner party and start pitching the minute they arrived? Even if it was a business-related event, you would have to at least engage in a conversation or two. And if you feigned interest, the other guests would consider you a phony. HELLO! Social networking is where your company will be tagged as relevant and interesting or doomed to be like a narcissistic outcast because the content is just pitch after pitch. Boring. Useless. Irrelevant. Crass. Just like a bad party host.

3) Social networking is not easy and immediate. I’m sure you’ve seen the books and blogs that Get more followers imagepromise dramatic and immediate results from social media in just a few minutes per day.  Those plans use technology and tactics that can automatically build an audience, but the technology cannot deliver the right audience or build meaningful relationships with them. Onceyou’ve found your core audience, engagement with those people must authentic– a real person must respond authentically.  It takes a lot of time and patience to build followers, friends, and fans.  It requires authentic interest in your audience and commitment to sharing.

If you do not have at least 10 hours a week (that’s a .25 FTE)  to spend on social media and no money to hire someone, you probably should not plan to use social media as a primary tool in your marketing strategy. You can set up a presence on a social media site with less of time investment, but you can’t expect significant results.  And, even with someone devoted to social media for a quarter of their time, you should expect it to take at least 6 months to build up meaningful results. And, ROI? Bonus Dirty Little Secret: It’s not your mother’s ROI any more! ROI in social media is gauged differently now… But that’s a post for another day. Stay tuned!

So, what? I know it seems like I am a social media Scrooge, but I’m one of the social media-crazy evangelists who sometimes gets so carried away that I forget to offer these important footnotes.  But I do think it is important to know how and when to use the tools that fit the job.  You deserve pragmatic advice.

So, what do you think? Am all wrong? Leave a comment and tell me why!

Social Media? Give it to the Intern! (NOT!)

Today, just for fun, I searched the job listings in online for “social media.” 9 out of 10 of the results were for Interns. I was pretty surprised, and a little bit ticked off.  Do managers think social media is something to relegate to Interns?

WAIT: I am pro-Intern!  As a matter of fact, I routinely hire Interns and have found incredibly talented, insightful, and productive young people who are capable of producing amazing work . But…

There’s a common misconception that just because young people are often use social media to connect with their peers and organize their social lives, they are perfectly suited to take on social media for companies. That’s like asking a 16-year-old licensed driver to drive an 18 wheel tractor-trailer on a highway at rush hour.

The skills needed to devise a well constructed social media plan and execute it every day are more complex than just putting out a few tweets and posts on Facebook. It is true that some Interns do understand how to use social media tools with great depth, but they probably are not:

  • subject matter experts on your organization’s mission, products, and services;
  • aware of the competitive landscape in your field;
  • familiar with the buzzwords and language that are specific to your field;
  • capable of writing well-constructed posts that will cause readers to take action;
  • marketing experts  with understanding of engagement;
  • able to craft the goals for your social media plan and implement them without supervision.

These are critical skills needed for any social media program. You should seek those skills in the professionals you hire to manage your social media.

Don’t get me wrong, Interns are often very talented and are capable of executing the day-to-day basic tactics. But you should not expect to turn over the keys to social media to Interns without careful direction and supervision by a professional with more in-depth understanding of marketing basics and your products and services.

So, rock on, Interns! Direction is the key!

UPDATE: For more information about how to select the right candidate for your organization’s social media program, read:Is the Right Person Doing Your Nonprofit’s Social Media?” on the Wild Apricot Blog