Friday, 21 October 2016

Recreating the golden age of “Letters to the editor”

Do you remember the letters to the editor? The missive that we used to write to express an opinion and our views, hoping that it would get published…..

These missives, which were the print version of on-line commenting, tweeting and blogging  and often works of art, would get published in reputable newspapers, magazines and weeklies.

They were works of arts, because of their rigor, because of the fact that they followed a protocol in expressing views and opinions, because they hardly ever used profane and/or offensive language, because they were combatant in a respectful manner.

Today the internet and social media have become preferred communications channels for many as they allow us to easily connect and engage in conversations. The “social” web has fundamentally changed how we consume news and content in general. We are using digital tools to insert ourselves in conversations and connect with other people.

As our news consumption pattern evolves, we have developed the urge of immediately reacting and expressing our opinion and ideas.

While there is nothing wrong with this urge, however, in doing so, we need to remember the protocol, the rigor and the respect of the “old century letters to editor”.

As development workers, UN officials and civil servants we have an obligation to express our opinion and views in the most respectful manner. While each and every UN organization has its own code of conduct and ethics, there are certain things that are universal and applicable across the board.

When commenting and engaging in an on-line conversation, you may wish to consider these common-sense guidelines which I had put together sometime ago:

Be a good ambassador: Be aware that your behaviour and opinions on social media channels directly or indirectly reflect on the organization. Make sure your profile picture or avatar reflects your professionalism.

Be honest, transparent and open: If you are blogging about your work, identify yourself. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out by making it clear that you are expressing your own opinion. Bear in mind that transparency does not mean disclosing confidential and/or proprietary information. And remember not to disclose confidential information in your on-line conversation. If you make a mistake, admit it and correct it.

Be passionate, enthusiastic and engaged: Share the passion you feel for your work and talk about your successes and challenges. If you are writing a blog, encourage your readers to provide feedback and comment. Read the contributions of others and see how you can contribute to the conversation.

Be responsible: You are responsible for what you write and how you behave on social media channels. Participate in online social media, however,  do so properly and exercise solid judgment.

Be conversational: Talk to your readers and avoid being pedantic. Do not be afraid to bring in your personality. When communicating on social media, consider content that is open-ended and one that solicits response, so that you can engage in a conversation. Cite others when you blog and solicit comments.

Be respectful: Respect your audience’s privacy, respect your colleagues and peers. Respect your “competitors”. Disagree in a respectful manner.

Be conscious when mixing professional and personal: Sometimes the professional and personal may intersect. While respecting freedom of speech, as  international civil servant, we have certain obligations and need to abide by our organization’s code of conduct.

Be aware of global implications: Your interactions on social media channels can have global significance. The way you answer a question online or write may be appropriate for some parts of the globe, but considered inappropriate or illegal in other parts of the world. Therefore, keep the “world view” in mind when engaging with social media tools.

Bring value: The best way to get your thoughts and words across is to write things that people will value. Write informative, interesting and thought-provoking content. Help build a sense of community by sharing and discussing your experiences and challenges.  Do not forget you are responsible for what you write. Aim for quality and not quantity.

Build relationships: Engage with your audience and build trust to develop “relationships” rather than just exclusively using social media as an advocacy tool.

Correct mistakes: If you come across a misrepresentation of your organization’s work, identify yourself and correct the mistake. In most cases people do not mind being corrected. However, if you get the feeling that someone is deliberately misinterpreting what you are saying, ignore them. On the other hand, if you have made a mistake, do not hide it, be open and admit it.

Give credit where credit is due: Do not claim authorship for something that is not yours. If you are using third party content, make sure you have permission to use it and provide appropriate attribution. Do not use copyrighted and trademarked content without asking permission.

Know that the internet is permanent: Once information is published online, it becomes a permanent record. Remember on the internet everything stays on Google!

Respond to constructive criticism: Turn negative comment into positive discussion. Thank the commenter and engage them in a conversation. Take time to read between the lines and understand the arguments. In correcting factual errors and responding be respectful, sincere, confident and truthful.

Separate opinions from facts: When interacting on social media, make sure you separate opinions from facts.

Spread the work and connect with people: Do not talk about yourself exclusively, but also share the successes of your colleagues, peers and the organization you work for.

Think of CNN, your mother and your boss: Do not say anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing quoted on CNN or other television networks, discussing with your mother or explaining to your boss! Remember, there is nothing private on social media and all your posts and comments may be traceable.

Use a disclaimer: If you publish on a third party website or on your personal blog, use a disclaimer similar to:“The information posted on this blog and/or website are my personal views and opinions and do not necessarily represent my organization’s positions, strategies or opinions”

Write what you know: When writing about development-related issues, write in first person and stick to your areas of expertise.

The above are excerpts of what the social media guidelines I had prepared for IFAD. Hope you find the above useful and if you are interested to know more, here is the link to the full version of the guidelines.

I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

#Hashtag or not to #hashtag, that’s the question….

The advent of social media is making the once “off-limits”, highly exclusive meetings less exclusive and more participatory.

Take the World Economic Forum…. Back in 1971 when Professor Klaus Schwab kicked off the then “European Management Forum”, this event was an exclusive meeting for a select few. As the event and the institution evolved into the World Economic Forum (WEF), it continued to remain pretty exclusive, until the early adopters in the room started tweeting.

That was the beginning of democratization of WEF. The live reporting allowed those of us “outside the room” to know in real time what the world movers and shakers were up to. It also allowed “those outside the room” to take part, share their views and dare I say influence the future.

With the advances of technology and more specifically thanks to live webcasting, live reporting, SnapChat, Facebook Live, Google Hangouts, the once exclusive events are becoming more and more participatory.

I consider this democratization as an excellent opportunity for influencing policies and politics. This said, I also acknowledge that for it to work, we all need to be engage and embark on the journey in a responsible way.

As social media strategists, the opening up of meetings to “those outside the room” demands that we decide whether it is best to set up event specific social media channels and/or use event specific hashtags.

There are many opinions out there and it goes without saying that folks need to assess and go with what suits them best. In this blogpost I am offering my take based on my own personal experience.

Personally, I would not create an event specific channel. And here is why…..

Think about it – an event has a start and end date. While you may be able to populate the channel with compelling content before and during the event, think of how you’ll go about maintaining it after the event is over. Also, think of what is required in terms of time and effort to build a solid follower base so that your content reaches those who need to know about it.

Here is an alternative to creating event specific channels…. Why not use your already well-established social media channel – that is to say your corporate account(s). By doing so you are not starting from ground zero. You already have a solid follower base and more importantly you can count on all those folks who care about your work and who are willing and able to advocate on your behalf.

This means you do not have to go through a lot of trouble to drum up interest provided you share compelling and engaging content. In doing so, you can leverage your followers networks to raise awareness about your event. At the same time, by using an existing and well-established account you’ll be able to mesh your event content with other type of content, thus providing the necessary depth and breadth.

Keep all of that in mind and let’s add another element to the equation to make your event super special…. And here comes the almighty HASHTAG.

Hashtags are your best allies. They allow your content to standout and allow you to aggregate your content across platforms. A good hashtag is as good if not better than a compelling content.

You know the saying “a picture is worth than a thousand words” Well a good and well-thought out hashtag is worth a thousand words…..

When you embark on crafting your event hashtag, you may be tempted to have your own proprietary hashtag…. Take a minute and check to see if there is already a hashtag that you can use. Check out some of the trending ones and see if any one of these can fit your bill.

Remember, you want to engage with the audience, therefore building on a hashtag which has a solid presence and where there is good conversation going on will only increase chances of your content travelling across platforms and allows a wider audience to engage with your content.

Creating hashtags is a fun exercise, as it allows the team to put on their creative hat and come up with cool stuff. Below are some tips on how to go about to create a memorable and “viral” hashtag.
  • First and foremost, sit down with your team and brainstorm.
  • Secondly, make sure the hashtag is consistent with your brand.
  • Thirdly, make sure your hashtag evokes emotions and is action oriented.
  • Fourthly, make it short and sweet.
  • Fifthly, since you are having fun in creating it, make sure it is clever and humorous.
  • And finally, test it to make sure it resonates with your audience and leaves no room for “misinterpretation”.

With your super awesome hashtag in the back pocket; you are now ready to rock!!!!

Start using your hashtag two weeks before your event. Ask your audience to post relevant content using your cool hashtag. Use it as part of your live reporting, be it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or if you are blogging.

In reporting live from your event, use text, photos and videos to share with the folks “outside the room”:
  • the mood in the room and what’s happening in the room
  • the backstory
  • great soundbites

Use the hashtag to keep an eye on the conversation and at the end of your event, use Storify to compile the best soundbites across platforms.

As a final act, thank your followers for taking part, inform of them on what’s next and/or your next big event. Remember to share your Storify compilation using the ALMIGHTY HASHTAG!!!

#ThatsallFolks! Do let me know if there is a specific topic you want to learn about and we’ll indulge. See you next month.

I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The human face behind your avatar: Getting up close and personal with your audience

Last month's blogpost focused on the importance of engaging with and figuring out the time zone of your audience. 

Continuing with the theme of how best to engage with your audience, I am sure you'll agree that the most compelling content are those that show the human face behind the avatar. It is content that tells something personal about you, it is content that endears you to your audience and allows you to forge a trustworthy relationship.

While we have our areas of expertise and topics that we talk about most, at the same time we also have our pet projects and other interests. To boost engagement, you may wish to consider embracing the magic blend between the professional and personal and master the art of weaving the personal with the professional.

For example, as  development worker, I tweet about ICT4D, agriculture, rural development, rural poverty, food security, knowledge management, climate change, environment and most recently about illegal trade in wildlife.

What I've tried to do in my social media journey is to spice up my professional presence on social media channels with personal a touch to show the human face behind my avatar. Quite often I share my personal views about topics that are close to my heart and share snippets of information about my hobbies and pet projects such as  Formula 1, travel itineraries, bucket lists, news about my home country and my adopted home country. I also tweet about a handful of world leaders and personalities.

One of my most rewarding moments, is when someone comes up to me - and this is typically at a meeting - and tells me, "Oh, you are @rsamii who tweets about @Pontifex, @Potus and you are an F1 fan". YES!!!! That is the real me!

I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Sunday, 7 August 2016

#MumbaiBeachClean, biggest beach clean up in history, featuring @LewisPugh, @afrozShah1 and @versovabeach #cleanseas

Afroz Shah and Lewis Pugh at the end of a hard day work. Photo credit UNEP
Back in 2009 when Lewis Pugh shared his story of how he swam in the waters of North Pole at a TedTalk, he got a standing ovation. Since then, he has received many more standing ovations. 

His latest feat, was this weekend, when he joined Afroz, a lawyer by profession, who has taken upon himself to organize the biggest beach clean up in history.

Some 40 weeks ago, Afroz, the Versova beach hero and his beloved mentor Mr Mathur took it upon themselves to clean up the this beach in Mumbai.

Thanks to their will power and conviction, they managed to rally 200+ volunteers who have since been relentlessly engaged in the most massive and historic beach clean up and have collected 1.3 million kilogrammes of trash.

Lewis Pugh joining Afrouz and his team to clean up the ocean of litter on Versova beach in Mumbai. Photo credit: UNEP
The civil action and efforts of these responsible citizens caught the attention of Lewis Pugh, United Nations Environment Patron of Ocean

Lewis, who is the personification of a champion and a true ocean advocate took it upon himself to lend a hand to Afroz and his team. 

Armed with his usual will power and knowing that if you train your mind and have a clear vision of what you want, you can achieve no matter what, yet again, through his deeds managed to "really shake the lapels of world leaders to get them to understand what is happening".

What I found most admiring and inspiring about Lewis, is how he followed his heart and conviction and how in the most unassuming and "non-diva" manner he literally rolled up his sleeves to help Afroz and his team. He is one of those few folks who does not need a world stage to do good deeds. And as a leader he makes sure that those around him rise to the top. 

Lewis and Afroz have set the bar high for anyone who wants to get involved in a good cause and bring about change. They showed us all, that to do a good deed, you do not need to create too much fanfare.

When there is a will, there is a way..... The ocean of litter made way to a clean beach
They showed us that to bring about change and raise awareness about issues that matter to us, we need to follow our heart, remain true to our beliefs and champion our cause in a responsible manner.

And at the end of the day, when a cause is worthy, it will have many followers and the results will materialize in tangible manner without millions of spotlights shining on an individual.

Here is a glimpse of Versova Beach after the clean up...... Some may call it a miracle.... It just shows when there is a will, there is a way.

Thank you Afroz and Lewis for staying true to yourselves and thank you for inspiring us to pursue our dreams and all the things that are close to our heart.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Want to better engage with your audience: figure our their time zone #socialmedia #kmers

As communicators we strive to create and craft content that is compelling, content that touches heads and hearts.  And as communication professionals we know that if our content does not travel well and reach its targeted audience it will be nothing more than a king without a kingdom.

The evolution of the communication landscape and the advent of digital and social media have transformed the way the audience consumes content. To remain relevant in a crowded space, it is imperative to revisit the way we create, package and disseminate content.

As I embarked on my social media journey, I soon learnt that content needs to be crafted in such a way that allows you to engage with the audience. This means your content should be talking with the audience and not to them. At the same time, I learnt that “less is more” and the secret to keep the audience attention and keep them focused is to be short and sweet.  Thus the beauty of a tweet and the importance of mastering the art to craft engaging and compelling tweets.

One of the many other beauties of digital communication is the fact it is open for business 24×7. This means:
  • you can file your story as and when appropriate
  • you can raise awareness about issues close to your heart with a wide spectrum of people
  • you can talk with a global audience and not just the folks in your time zone

Last year while at UC Berkeley as a visiting scholar, I was posting content in a different time zone than my usual one. I suddenly saw a surge in number of interactions. Intrigued by this new development, I analyzed the content I was posting and soon came to the realization, that considering most of the active social media users and folks who cared about my content were in the America’s time zone, I was doing a better job reaching my audience.

With this new bit of information in my back pocket, I started to take full advantage of the power and potential of posting around the clock – thus better engaging with different audience groups.

To support you on this journey, I wanted to share a niffy tool which I came across a couple of weeks ago. Tweepsmap gives you a pretty accurate information on the geographic location of your Twitter audience. If you get a chance, give it a shot.

Next time you are posting content, take a minute to think who would be most interested in what you are posting – and schedule your post so that you can make sure you are reaching the right people at the right time!

I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

#Freedom, #peace and #silence..... Do we really know what they mean? Here is my ephiphany

Freedom - something that we all crave for.... something that we all aspire to.

Is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of press, freedom of this and freedom of that - the ultimate form of freedom?

Over the Easter weekend, observing these two lionesses walking in the Savannah made me realize that what we call freedom is nothing but a glorified form of civil captivity.

Watching these two beautiful creatures strolling with an air of sovereignty, made me understand that FREEDOM means openness. I understood freedom means having choices, means having autonomy. Freedom is all about nonconformity and inventiveness......

Having had this epiphany I could not but ask myself the question as to whether what  we call freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of press is real Freedom?

Peace.... is another value that the vast majority of humanity craves for....

Watching these two elephants playing and entertaining each other, made me realize that peace  is more than just the absence of war and definitely more than just tranquility.

PEACE is a profound experience. One that if everyone were to experience it, we would become better human beings.

Silence: The final gift of my safari experience was the realization that silence is more than just absence of noise and  more than just stillness,

SILENCE is beauty...., Silence is having the right frame of mind to spot, observe, take in and enjoy beauty in everything that we come across in our daily lives.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

To compete or to collaborate? Social media is the answer #socialmedia #kmers

Have you ever tried having your voice heard in a crowded and noisy environment? If the answer is yes, you know what it takes to do so!

Keep the image of making your voice heard in a crowded milieu in your head….. Now imagine having your voice heard in the development arena crowded with a multitude of development organizations, United Nations agencies, International Financial Institutions, multilateral and bilateral agencies, research organizations, think tanks, Non-Governmental organizations, farmers’ organizations, civil society and foundations.

I am sure you will appreciate the challenge. As development workers to have our voice heard, we need to show the relevance of our work. We need to show the impact of our work through human stories and hard facts. We need to show value for money, show that we are worth the investment and that for every taxpayer dollar spent in our operations there is multiple return and that this money is being spent judiciously, wisely and has the desired impact.

This means, that to have our voices heard, to make sure we access the finite development funds and resources, we have to compete with each other, pitch and position ourselves.

Now close your eyes and think of a scenario where the competition against each other becomes collaboration with each other.

Eight years ago the early technology adopters in the development arena by embracing social media discovered a way to turn the table and transform the competitive environment to one of collaboration. The advent of social media brought the development community closer and became a catalyst for knowledge sharing and cooperation. 

This semi-miracle happened because we suddenly discovered that this new communication paradigm not only allowed us to share our individual messages, but more importantly we came to the understanding that by amplifying each other messages we were raising awareness about the comprehensiveness and the integration of the various aspects of development agendas. By sharing a post or retweeting a tweet from a sister agency, we showed that we were not working in silos, rather that our work complemented each other and as a result managed to show the multidimensional aspect of development.

I think it is fair to say that social media is now part and parcel of our daily lives. And like any technology, it has, to some degree, changed the way we conduct business and interact with each other.

Over the last eight years, the early social media adopters and development workers  have collectively been advocating for mainstreaming this new communication paradigm in our business and core processes.  This has led to well established social media channels and more importantly resulted in bridging the gap between development agencies and the general public. 

For example, through live reporting of events, we have managed to bring our business closer to our traditional audience and as a result managed to extend and expand our audience base. By complementing the official channels and traditional means of communications - products such as our reports, publications, press releases - with telling the back story of a major publication through a blogpost, or pulling out the salient facts and figures of our dense reports in the form of an infographic or DYK (do you know) posts, we have managed to unpack the wealth of our respective organizational knowledge.

Colleagues across the United Nations Agencies, the International Financial Institutions, the NGO community and grassroots organizations have used these channels to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities facing people in developing countries. In doing so, they have put the THEME, the TOPIC, the ISSUE in the forefront as opposed to the organization. 

On the occasion of UN’s Sustainable Development Summit, almost all of the UN family mounted campaigns to showcase the universality and importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In doing sIo, we tried to show how all the SDGs are inter-related, how all of them carry equal weight and why delivering on them is not a "nice to have", but rather a commitment and an obligation. The skeptics may argue that the cacophony of #globalgoals, #2030agenda, #post2015 and #sdgs  campaigns fell on deaf ears. This may be true a prima facie, however, five months later, seeing citations and references to these campaigns shows how collectively we managed to raise awareness about a theme, topic and issue and not necessarily about our individual organizations.

This radical change in our mindset led to well designed and well choreographed social media strategies and campaigns which allowed the development world to raise awareness about, and fundraise for crisis such as the Haiti earthquake, drought in the Sahel, Ebola, etc. It allowed us to join each other campaigns and provide a united, comprehensive and cohesive front for events such as #iyff, #post2015, #cop21, #parisagreement, #globalgoals, #2030agenda and more.

This change in paradigm allowed us to better engage with the audience, to harness the “wisdom of the crowd” and allowed us to learn from each other.

One of the many uphill battles that we fought together, was convincing our colleagues to use social media channels and their personal accounts to talk about and share snippets of their work. Thanks to the work and commitment of the wonderful folks who embraced social media, today the United Nations is more UNITED than ever. A decade ago, asking UN agencies to collaborate and contribute to each other’s campaigns may not have been a trivial undertaking. 

A decade ago, the development community would have embarked on campaigns individually. This meant that we hardly ever benefitted from each other’s experience, let alone the “wisdom of the crowd”. 

Today, when the development community embarks on a campaign, the various agencies chip in and participate.  This is made possible thanks to well-crafted social media strategies, including the license to adapt the messages based on individual organization’s mission and goals. 

This means our activities and campaigns are indeed GLOBAL. They are global because we share and cooperate, because the “lead” agency brings everyone together and equips all concerned to share facts and figures about specific issues. As a result, each agency is able to show their contribution to the issue at hand and consequently we are in a better position to amplify each other’s messages, avoid doing propaganda and reach out to a diverse audience.

As a result, in a time and age where we need to deliver more with less and where there is a pretty tight competition for resources, mainstreaming social media in our core business has allowed us to amplify each other messages, raise awareness about different developmental issues, broaden our scope, engage with existing and involve new audience.

By cooperating with each other to raise awareness about issues, we’ve managed to show how the work of the entire development community is relevant and how we all depend on each other to achieve the complex, complicated and challenging overall development community’s goals. And in doing so, hopefully we can also show how development is not about providing resources to EITHER this or that agency, rather it is about providing resources to ALL agencies so that together we can tackle all and the many complicated, complex and challenging dimensions of our beloved business.