Posts tagged ‘communication’

October 22, 2010

Evolving and Adapting: from regional to international

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Perhaps the best part of electronic publishing is the ability to change quickly. Yet once a commitmnent is made, it is usually a bad idea to redirect midstream. The test of a strong concept is the flexibility to expand or shrink, choose related forks in the road, or redefine parameters—and still carry out the original goal.

When I embarked on this Sebastian Study a few years ago, I envisioned a national study of nonprofit graphics—illuminating the best and those that could be great but aren’t. I have a large developed database containing 1500 nonprofits—the largest organizations based in the U.S.

Breaking down this mountain of analysis after my initial categorization (viewing 1500 websites took over two years), I chose to focus just on the Midwest (half of the total) first. Then I would follow up with the national evalutation. However, this planning was before I joined  Second Life. I have no choice but to set aside the national version in favor of reviewing the 80 international organizations with presence in Second Life. Last Friday, I attended their weekly meeting, and there were 50 avatars who showed up. Concerns discussed are real life concerns—they complain about the business perceptions that inhibit the acceptance of virtual business—the same tune sung by every new medium. But different than any other media, virtual reality brings all of the others together. Plus it is truly an international marketplace. I was surprised to learn that only 40% out of the 2 million avatars come from the U.S.

Jumping past the planned national study, I am going right to one that is international! Super-excited about the possibilities, I see virtual reality as the next evolution of not only communication, but of commerce. There are many bridges to cross before virtual reality really penetrates everyday business exchange. I hope to do my part in making sense of it. I just added a new page and category to this blog for the upcoming evaluations: “Virtual Reality: Birth of a New Evo(revo)lution.” Here, I outline the current uses of Second Life and how organizations are adapting.

Back in 1983, I felt this same way about desktop publishing—and paid dearly to be on the bleeding edge. Then in 1994, I knew that the internet would not only take over my world, but the world of all businesses! Then, with the development of web 2.0 over ten years ago, I knew that connectivity, forums, blogs, and social media would transform communication and business practices. And now, I feel most srongly about virtual reality. As it becomes harder to get people away from their computers, it has become easier to engage them online!

With growing virtual eperience, I begin the next phase of this blog to embrace a new frontier. Watch how I mold and expand… and help others navigate the terrain.

Look for me wandering about the Nonprofit Commons, wearing a cute hounds-tooth suit with long blond hair!

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The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

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October 11, 2010

Extend Graphics, Expand Experience

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Although Second Life is now about five years old, the jury is out on its penetration and impact. As a new platform, I am now examining its 80 resident nonprofit organizations. It also opens this Study up more into the national arena.

Second Life is at a crisis point. The early enthusiasts are exhausted and impatient with its acceptance level. New users easily get frustrated and overwhelmed. Yet Nonprofit Commons (acting as an information portal) receives over 1600 visitors a month. Second Life combines websites, blogs, publications, video, social media, and resources all in one place with the added feature of fun. Such great functionality means the interface has a high learning-curve that the world’s designers prioritize as their greatest challenge to solve.

What does this mean for nonprofits? As a professional communicator, I believe that virtual environments are the future of presentation, education, publication, events, and conferences. Virtual advantages offer a new landscape of opportunity:

spiral bullet1. Development is inexpensive. Granted, development is time-consuming, but it is free to register and partake of activities.

spiral bullet2. A donation system allows organizations a vehicle for increasing revenue. A virtual bank handles transactions and can translate SL money into RL (real life) money. Showing how revenue is used is easier than in any other media.

spiral bullet3. Travel is possible both in time and in space. Historical simulations (sims) allow creative and meaningful settings. Shared experiences as tours and in imaginative settings add to the overall enjoyment of participation.

spiral bullet4. Ambient experience of prospects and members can be magnified exponentially. Because all other media feed in and influence presentation and graphics, the user interaction gives an unparalled access to serving them. Libraries have staff that can help the “newbies” get set up and situated—individually and with a high level of customer service. Docents conduct tours, give lectures, run discussion groups, and teach classes.

spiral bullet5. Education is exploding. Discussion groups and classes are growing and cover everything from learning software to support groups to expeditions to exhibitions. Pioneering universities ave curricula and events with a greater geographic reach than real life (RL) venue.

spiral bullet6. Everyone is appealing. Because the user creates an avatar, it is pure self-expression. Second Life’s status report indicates that it isn’t a place to create a fantasy as much as it is an idealized sense of self. For example, I am a younger and thinner version of myself, dress a little more adventurously, and always have clean clothes! The people that I meet often post their RL photo and their avatar tends to be a slightly more fanciful depiction of themselves—demonstrating individualized taste when practicality isn’t an issue.

spiral bullet7. Real money can be made. Donations to organizations are real. Bookstores can offer presentations and events that can attract a national audience versus a regional one, without a cost for travel. Artwork can be shown in low-resolution and sold to be shipped. Memberships can be signed with growing customization.

spiral bullet8. New ideas can be tested before investing resources. An event can evaluate interest levels, surveys can reach a known constituency, and niches can best target. If there are several ideas, variations are easy to niche.

spiral bullet9. Accessible for discovering who is doing what. There is an endless amount of resources, tutorials, instructions, and self-seminars. Then, those who authored these resources can be reached easily and they are surprisingly helpful!

spiral bullet10. All the graphics needed in RL are necessary, plus there are new design components required. Now, organizations actually have a PLACE that is a room or a building. Architecture and interior design becomes necessary on an entirely new level. Posters, instructions, and information presentations also possess new dimensions. Blogs and wikis can be more useful as they augment a major presentation versus carry the information load themselves.

spiral bullet11. Second Life is not the only virtual realty world. There is growing competition. How these platforms complement and integrate versus dilute and complicate remains to be seen. They will probably shake out to niche audiences which would be a shame, for it inhibits the rich cross-disciplinary cultivation happening now. My friends are a teacher in Arizona, professor in Boston, nurse in San Diego, and artist in Phoenix.

spiral bullet12. Mistakes and typos are tolerated. Everyone interacts spontaneously. Information goes up and down quickly. There is a Second Life pace that, like RL, is organic and unpredictable.

spiral bullet13. Brevity is necessary. Those with writing skills have an advantage. But all users must learn to convey ideas in small chunks. Two sentence responses in a chat are the limit to have a good exchange.

spiral bullet14. Presentations can be more polished. As with a website, it is easy to correct, constantly changing, and never finished.

spiral bullet15. It needs to be staffed. Beyond a webmaster, a docent is a tool to welcome, answer questions, and guide. Newbies have a new friend and are easier to pull in than through a piece of literature or a video.

spiral bullet16. Social media has a greater potential for commonalitiy and understanding. For each person met, his or her name is obvious (virtual version of wearing a name tag) and a profile can be reviewed. Public forum are often filled with those hanging out wasting time (not serious potential members or colleagues), so those who get the most from the platform learn to avoid “info hubs.” Many are doing business and not interested in building a social life. Conversely, most users are interested in making friends to compare notes, travel with, and get to know in a completely safe and unthreatening setting.

spiral bullet17. Communication takes on new dimensions: while there is a public chat forum going on, there can be private side-conversations at the same time. This offers a way to personally attend to each attendee or visitor question while addressing the group at the same time.

spiral bullet18. Involvement can be easily phased—from having a sign or a kiosk of links, to running discussion groups, to holding events (of any scope), to renting a storefront, to hosting an entire island, the possibilities are greater than in RL where physical barriers slow down or limit accessibility. All users begin by being a visitor, discover a new pace to interactions, and develop a personal purpose.

spiral bullet19. A new discipline becomes necessary. Second Life is seductive. Wasting time flying around the Roman Forum is too much fun! The busiest time is in the evening when users all over the country are winding down their work days. So late nights having conversations with fascinating people happens frequently. It is especially exciting to meet professional counterparts in other places. So deciding before-hand how much time there is to spend can help. So can a specific Things to Do List as a concrete plan to keep from wandering.

spiral bullet20. Accessibility is redefined. In RL, voice mail and e-mail have added new insulations between people. To cold call in sales is considered spam and inhibits reputations and sales methods. But in SL, contacting anyone is easy. That will have to change, similarly to how blogs are struggling to be responsive as popularity and demand increase (for those that are successful).

spiral bullet21. Collaboration and connection transform competition. Defining niches becomes mandatory. SIM adventures allow organizations to take members on journeys not possible in RL. Those with disabilities can find a more even playing field and new assistance. Those separated physically can still exert significant influence and assistance.

Excited about the possibilities, I will embark further on understanding how these pioneering nonprofits are expanding through Second Life opportunities. It requires that I revisit the criteria I have been using for evaluating graphics.  Because all the traditional components of logo, banner, site, publications are present, I am excited to learn more about environments, video, and interactivity. If you wish to find me in Second Life, check out the Nonprofit Commons—I’ll be there a lot for the next few weeks. For the more adventurous, join me in the Chicago Roaring 20s  SIM where you’ll find my entrepreneurialism in new expression!

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The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

September 3, 2010

Interactive Integration

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Overall, organizations put more resources into websites than any other graphic category. Requiring an ongoing budget and sustained attention, an association’s website compiles and represents their largest projects. Allocating resources to the pages that are read the most, using templates for informational pages, and featuring visuals to augment versus dominate, the best sites are engaging.

A small percentage of organizations pair a strong website with a strong logo. A standard has been formed that places the logo in the upper left corner. Commercial sites can deviate but nonprofit sites are wise to follow viewer expectations. Having a site even provides the opportunity to closely study viewer participation. A marketing tool like no other, the interactive quality can build a cyber community. The best graphics create a personality and an experience, combining relevance, mystery, point-of-view, style, clarity, and focus.

Of the nonprofits that possess memorable logos (27 out of 700 Midwestern organizations), only 6 have truly exciting websites(view three currently reviewed). Then there are those with good logos but don’t realize the potential begun.

NOT THE BEST BUT COULD BE:

spiral bullet Chicago Symphony Orchestra
A moving target, this site changes often—a recent one has gone from warmer to more aloof. Of all sites that should be welcoming and demonstrate the personalities of their musicians, CSO could enhance online offerings.

spiral bullet Mainstreet Organization of Realtors
Illustrations used in logos run the risk of looking cartoonish, are stylistically dated, or become too complicated. MOR finds a great balance in their aesthetically pleasing and classically appealing symbol. But they don’t carry this exciting beginning into their website design which?

spiral bullet Strategic Account Management Association
Making a great use of icons, SAMA offers a website with easy navigation. But what it has in intriguing visual elements, it lacks in finesse. Confronting the viewer with many choices, the structure is average and the most interesting graphics underplayed.

spiral bullet Urban Gateways
Many websites depend on engaging photography to give the site a personality. Urban Gateways demonstrates the conceptual rift between photo image and the rest of the site. Though the information presented is appealing, how it is presented could match but doesn’t. Of particular interest that has potential to increase the online experience: meet the artists, use the blog for more than a news vehicle, and develop a graphic theme that supports the photographic images versus the opposite.

spiral bullet Word of Mouth Marketing Association
This site offers warmth, engaging content, and demonstration of their own expertise of using technology to connect. However, the parts are greater than the whole: individual elements are fun and upbeat, comprehensive offerings include guides, blogs, videos, and social media. It is unfortunate that the graphics don’t represent the vitality of this group.

Please see reviews of several other organizations with have graphically communicative elements that could be better integrated:

Giving Institute and Foundation: PreviewReview
Green City Market: Review
Madison County Chamber: Preview; Review
Metal Construction Association: Review
Water Quality Association: Review

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The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit www.wofw.com and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

 

May 31, 2010

Nonprofit design mirrors business

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Every organization depends on presenting a visual face to express value. Similar to the shopkeeper in the middle ages who hung a sign visibly outside, today’s logos, websites, brochures, and publications have a job to do. But recognition levels and what actually attracts remain illusive—though crucial to study for progress.

With a career designing communications and as one of the few designers to both study and publish about business practices, my credentials position me as a unique judge. The Sebastian Study launches here with analyzing the top presentation through reviewing 800 Midwestern nonprofits and presenting design that works best.*

Through the lens of philanthropic organizations, all sectors of business are reflected. The nonprofit mirrors its members: their motivations, reactions, and behavior.
Although every savvy organizational director knows that communication design is essential to reach potential, few have a resource to explore for inspiration or to hone skills. Ideas from these nonprofit organizations collectively have patterns and conclusions that can help all businesses better use talent-based resources.

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* The Sebastian Study 2010, national study will be available at the end of the year. If you want to be sure that your organization is considered in the study, please click here.

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