2013 in review

December 31, 2013

I am so grateful to the long-term and new readers who stopped by my blog this year. I always enjoy reading the year-end report that WordPress sends out to its writers. I thought I’d share this with you and tell you how much I appreciate you being part of this experience. Sometimes I blog for myself, to archive resources or materials, but mostly, I blog to share those resources, ideas and materials with you. This year, the blog had almost a quarter of a million visits. If that isn’t inspiration to keep blogging, then I don’t know what is!

Thank you for being here with me, along this journey of learning, leading and living. Wishing you a fulfilling 2014, full of challenges that make us want to be just a little bit more than we were in 2013, stopping just short of exasperation or frustration… and enough to remind us that every day offers an opportunity.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 230,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 10 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


3 Reasons you’ll find me on Facebook when I’ve called in sick

December 9, 2013

Recently I received an e-mail from a co-worker that basically said, “Sorry you missed the meeting because you were not feeling well. I see from your Facebook page that you were not too sick to be using social media.”

While the Internet is rife with news articles and cases about people who post photos of themselves partying after having called in sick, there is a counter-side to this argument that employers, colleagues and others might take into consideration:

Status updates can be scheduled.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use services such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck to pre-schedule status updates, Tweets and so forth. Often the update will be posted with a note such as “via Hootsuite”. The savvy reader will look to see if an update was posted using an automated service.

Earlier this year, I found myself in hospital for a few days, suddenly and without warning. All the while, my Facebook status and Tweets were auto-updating. No one but a few family members and close friends knew I was hooked up to an IV line in a Calgary hospital.

Social media is a mindless activity.

When I’m home sick (legitimately), I sleep, watch TV and yes, I sometimes go to my computer. In today’s digital world, that seems pretty normal, no? You’ll notice that reading wasn’t even on that list. Why? Because for me, social media takes less mental energy than reading a book. That is probably because the kind of books I read tend to have a hefty dose of educational leadership or management theory in them. Reading means I have to turn my brain on. Social media lets me unplug my brain for a while. Clicking “Like” can hardly be correlated to reading (much less writing) a strategic plan, in terms of intellectual activity.

Engaging in social media activities certainly takes less concentration and mental acuity than doing my work. My professional activity usually means my brain is in overdrive, solving problems and processing complex information, including academic, policy and research materials. Saying, “Thanks for the ReTweet” does not.

Social media helps us to feel connected.

Much of my work is online. I teach using e-learning technologies. I consult virtually. I conduct research mostly online. I can go for a week without seeing anyone outside my home.

Let’s face it, when you are sick and feeling miserable, loneliness and feelings of isolation can set in more quickly than most of us would like to admit. Signing in to Facebook or Twitter allows you to connect virtually with friends, family and others you care about — and who care about you. Loneliness subsides and feelings of being disconnected from the outside world diminish. You might even see something that makes you laugh.

Not all employees or colleagues who engage in online activities while taking a sick day are fraudulent, lazy or lying. There is a phenomenon in human resources known as “absence management” that aims to measure and track absenteeism. In some organizations, monitoring employees’ social media channels is increasingly being seen as a valid and reliable manner of assessing genuine illness. Personally, I think it’s hogwash; that is, if the person’s job involves them needing to use critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities or higher levels of cognition. (Wait, isn’t that most jobs in the 21st century?)

When I work, I go full tilt. I usually have three or more projects on the go at any given time, working with clients in at least two different cites and possibly different countries. I’m consulting, teaching, researching, strategizing, writing or speaking. But when I get sick, I pretty much hit a full stop. I hate downtime and even more, I hate not being there for my students or clients.

There will always be employees who try to abuse the goodwill of their employers, but as we move more and more into the digital world, we still need to put caring for one another as human beings first.

When you see some one online engaging in social media activities when they have called in sick, take a deep breath before assuming they are simply skipping out of work, shirking their commitments or otherwise “crying wolf”. You might even offer a supportive comment, ask if there is anything they need or just say hello and let them know that you are thinking about them.

Consider this: Being hooked up to an IV doesn’t prevent you from hitting the “Like” button on your iPad.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 3 Reasons you’ll find me on Facebook when I’ve called in sick http://wp.me/pNAh3-1FX

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


10 Tips for Creating Successful and Sustainable Online Communities

August 7, 2013

NingI have set up a number of online communities throughout my career. Here are my top 10 lessons learned over the years:

  1. An initial time investment of 25 hours to get your online community set up is not unreasonable. It’s easy and fast to sign up, but there’s more to it than setting up an account and a profile. In the beginning, you need to build a foundation for ongoing and sustainable social interaction between your members. You need to create a community that provides value, resources and a sense that time there will be well spent.
  2. You also need to collect and add some quality content to populate the site from the very beginning. Do not wait until you have a critical mass of members, assuming that high quality content will simply appear. Set the example for what type of content you expect by populating the site with some initial contributions yourself.
  3. Most popular content includes “how to” information, tips, lesson plans and very practical hands-on type information. Avoid lengthy diatribes, theory or “heavy” philosophical material. Multi-media content is also popular.
  4. It’ll work best if you “seed” the community with at least half a dozen (or more, if you can get them) key individuals who are well-known in the social group. These “founding members” should be hand-picked by the administrator. They are folks who will be seen as trusted authorities or influencers. Get at least half a dozen founding members fully signed up (including their profiles and photos) before sending out a mass public invite. You may have to follow up with them once or twice to nudge them, but it’s worth it. Seeding your site with a few key influencers can help build the online community quickly and effectively.
  5. People will have a look to see who else is part of the online community before they sign up themselves. If they see people they know, trust and like on the list of virtual community members, they are more likely to sign up themselves.
  6. Ask each of your “founding members” to contribute one piece of content — an article, a blog post or something that will bring value to the community. Part of the success of your Ning will depend on having quality contributions from a variety of members.
  7. Plan on updating your online community at least once a week. One of the biggest downfalls of online communities is that they stagnate because no one contributes.
  8. Approve new members. Human spammers or spam bots may try to sign up for your online community. Some services that offer online communities give you the option to require that new members be approved. If your service offers that option, I recommend accepting it. It’s a little more work upfront, but it keeps the quality of your online community high… which will keep your members happy.
  9. If you do get spammers in the community, eject them immediately. No apologies and no questions asked. If necessary, you may need to apologize to community members for spammer activity and let them know that you have taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Invite contributions from members on an ongoing basis. Send out periodic and personalized e-mails to members letting them know that you have showcased their work or you’d like to invite them to contribute. Avoid sending form letters or messages that are not personalized. Sending occasional personal e-mail communications will be more effective than mass mailouts or “blasts”. By the way, this goes beyond a form letter that simply has the person’s first name in the salutation. That no longer counts as genuinely personalized communication. Add a comment about the person as human being. Ask about their spouse, kids, pets or latest project or vacation, using specific details that lets the sender know it is not really just another form letter.

Over the past few years, I have noticed a curious trend. Five years ago, fewer people knew what online communities were all about. Those who knew signed up without much resistance and contributed generously. Now, more people know what online communities are and understand how to participate in one, but at the same time, people are getting pickier about what they sign up for. Even though more people have higher technology literacy levels when it comes to understanding both the concept and the “nuts and bolts” of online communities, that does not necessarily correlate to a willingness to sign up for one.

The trick to creating a sustainable and successful online community is continually providing value to members, without overwhelming them. You must respect their time, their privacy and their willingness to engage. Time and energy are valuable personal resources. If you want someone to spend time and energy in your online community, make it worthwhile for them.

An online community is not a sales platform and nor is it a space for one person to broadcast their ideas or opinions. A community — whether it is online or in real life — must be interactive, engaging and supportive for everyone.

Ning is my favorite online platform for online communities, especially for education and non-profit. There is a cost, but it is minimal. The Ning name is also trusted and well-known. I don’t think you need to budget tens of thousands of dollars to have a custom-built platform.

(Note: I have no affiliation to Ning and receives no financial or other benefits from promoting them. I just think they are a good service that’s worth recommending.)

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 10 Tips for Creating Successful and Sustainable Online Communities http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Do

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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