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.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Ever considered how removing physical barriers can help hold effective meetings? #HappyValentinesDay #kmers

Management literature indicates that on average we spend 35-50% of our time in meetings.

A 2014 Harvard Business Review research shows how a company spends 300,000 hours a year in meetings. And this is not an uncommon "feature" for most organizations.

The same articles states that "research shows that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings—a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. No amount of money can buy back that time. It must be treated more preciously."

Others such as Atlassian estimate that "the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. business is $37 billion." Wall Street Journal estimates that "CEOs spend 18 hours of 55 hour week in meetings."

Management literature and reality shows that running unproductive and inefficient meetings seems to be a staple of modern working life. And perhaps this is why you can find 130 million web articles providing guidance on meeting best practices and 35 million articles on effective meeting best practices.

This plethora of "wisdom" seem to impart fundamental and common sense advice  for running effective meetings - things such as:
  • have an agenda and share agenda ahead of the meeting
  • invite the right people
  • keep time
  • distinguish between information sharing, decision making and brainstorming meetings
  • wrap up with action points and track decisions
  • make sure everyone knows what to do when they leave the meeting 
  • establish ground rules
  • make sure everyone participates
And the list goes on and on and on.
Amazingly enough hardly any of these articles talk about the physical setting of the meeting venue, nor how configuration of conventional board and meeting rooms could constitute an obstacle to and hinder a multi-directional and productive conversation. At the same time, none of them weigh the pros and cons of formal versus semi-informal meetings. 

Close your eyes and think of your meeting room.

Count the number of barriers in the room.

I can think of the long meeting table, the chairs and how when people walk into the meeting room there is a seating hierarchy. I can think of the meeting room without windows or meetings rooms without natural light. 

Now, imagine holding meetings in an environment where you can minimize the physical barriers. To start with:
  • no seating hierarchy
  • no "head table"
  • natural light
  • green scenery
  • physically outside of the office setting
Yes, I know it may be unconventional to hold a board meeting in a park, but I would challenge a brave and bold CEO and board members to take on this challenge and to do so.

I came to the understanding that meetings held outside of an office environment are most productive as I embarked on my new adventure. My first day in the office, I went for a working coffee with a colleague.... And guess what the working coffee was physically outside of the office environment. It was in a beautiful setting. There was fresh air, green scenery, natural light, a pleasant breeze and more.

As we sat at the table, I realized that there were no barriers, no hierarchy.... It was  truly as if we had gone out to a cafe on a Sunday morning.

The physical act of leaving the formal office space and walking out to this neutral land created a different dynamic and helped to set a different tone. The simple act of "walking away from formality" meant there was no one in power, there was no authority. It meant everyone was on the same footing, everyone was a peer.  It meant that we actually talked with each other and not to each other. We had a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way monologue. No one imparted orders, rather we discussed, shared ideas and learnt from each other.

As a knowledge management practitioner we raise awareness about the benefits of removing barriers to create a safe environment for multi-directional conversation. We advocate for alternative meeting methods and techniques so that we can  have better  and fruitful conversations.

While I had practiced and facilitated a number of these KM methods, I must admit that only a month ago did I see in action the benefits of removing physical barriers to have fruitful, effective, efficient and productive meetings and came to the realization that perhaps this is the most common blindspot.

How about next time you organize a meeting or walk into a meeting you consider the following:
  • Hold your meeting in a "neutral territory"
  • Remove physical barriers
  • Engage in a  conversation as opposed to dictates
  • Set the tone and create a safe environment
  • Share information and guidance in a conversational tone
If everyone feels like peers, then everyone is in control of and everyone has power over their actions for the bigger common good.

This is not utopia nor an impossible feat. Having seen the benefits - albeit inadvertently and unintentionally - I would definitely suggest you give a go. Next time you organize a meeting, consider the above and if you can "walk away from your office environment".

If you do give it a try, please share your experience so that together we can collect a solid body of evidence to show that removing physical barriers and holding meetings in "neutral territory" can lead to removing barriers in our head, which can lead to bringing about change.

"If you have an idea, you have to believe in yourself or no one else will."

Sarah Michelle Geller

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The beauties of embarking on a new adventure #lifeisbeautiful #everydaynairobi

Embarking on a new adventure comes with a magic mix of excitement and apprehension.

You are looking forward and excited to explore and discover new territories, break new grounds and come out of your comfort zone.

At the same time, you have to deal with the little voice in your head that nags you with its annoying questions such as "Are you sure about what you are doing?"  "Is this the right thing to do".

Overtime I have learnt that if you want to grow, if you want to live your life fully, if you want to expand your horizon, if you want to make the most of your life, you need to take control of your life and pursue your passion, convictions, ideals and most importantly follow your heart. 

Living life fully means coming out of the “comfort of security” and embracing the unexplored, embracing the adventure, embracing the new encounters and the new experiences.

Embarking on a new adventure while having its share of apprehension and anxiety helps you become more of a complete person. It allows you to see things with a fresh eyes. 

It allows you to see the beauty of what may otherwise may have been “normal” and explore the beauty of novelty. It allows you to live every day as a new day. 

Embarking on a new adventure with an open mind and heart, allows you to live your journey without prejudice, thus enjoying the luxury of creating something new without the burden of a past. 

Embarking on a  new adventure is like being a kid in a candy shop. Everything is new and fresh. You look forward to the unexpected, new flavors, new faces, new sentiments, new challenges, new scenery and new dilemmas.

At the end of the day life is nothing but a journey. And by definition a journey means not staying put, but traveling, moving around, being a nomad, changing horizons, gaining new experiences, meeting new people, learning from different experiences, people and cultures.

I’ve learnt that to make the best out of any new adventure, you need to:

  • Go with the flow
  • Keep all options open
  • Keep the door of your heart and mind open
  • Say yes to opportunities and people
  • Get out and explore
And I commit to do so as I embark on my new adventure. 

One week into my new adventure, I cannot but fully subscribe with this quote from Hunter S. Thompson.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Is technology killing communities? #kmers #socialmedia

Last month I attended a meeting entitled "What are we talking about when we talk about community?" We started the conversation by sharing our ideas and views about a wide variety of congregation of people - which for ease of reference we called communities. These ranged from tribes to cooperatives to kibbutz.

We then shared our perception and understanding of different types of communities, such as, community of practice, community of interest, stakeholder community and social community and talked about the importance of nurturing strong and weak ties.

As we engaged in the conversation, it dawned on me that communities have the power of uniting and dividing....

They unite, when people who share a common interest or value come together to learn, share and innovate. They may divide when people who share different interests and values end up going head-to-head. At the same time, while fostering discipline, they are a great conduit for innovation and collaboration.

As we delved in and starting unpacking the subject matter, I thought to myself when was the last time I was part of a community together with a competitor. For example, as a Ferrari fan,  would I be considered a traitor if I joined the McLaren or Red Bull community?

This made me realize that for communities to stay at the cutting edge, they MUST have a disruptive element. I realized that perhaps the dividing factor is as good, if not better than the unity factor. This is because having competing interests will help us come out of our comfort zone, challenge the status quo and as a result transform, create something new.... in short innovate.

If you've had the privilege of being part of a community, you may have joined it because you shared a common interest or passion. You may have joined a community to survive or you may have joined a community because you were in search of diversity or wanted to get close to your traditions and roots.

What ever may have been your drive to join a community - once you embraced YOUR community and no matter whether you ended up being a fervent contributor or a lurker - you probably benefitted from a sense of belonging and established some sort of an emotional bond.

The concept of communities is nothing new. They have existed since the beginning of time when groups of people sharing something in common came together to pursue a common goal and/or passion.

The new element today is technology. Some argue that technology - could be a double-edged sword - as it is contributing to loosing sight of the PEOPLE component of community.

As Henry Mintzberg eloquently outlines, in his article We need both networks and communities,before the advent of technology, the city center, the village square was the heart of the community. Today, the village center has an on-line rival.....

In the past, communities were made up of people who knew each other, met each other at the market, talked with each other, came to each other's help in moments of need. The advent of technology has changed the way community members interact with each other.

Mintzberg argues that since members of virtual communities may not necessarily know each other in person and may never get an opportunity to talk with each other face-to-face, these are more of networks than communities. Others argue that networks are better at communication than collaboration.

Where does this leave us?  I think we all agree that nothing can and will ever replace the nuances that a face-to-face interaction offers. At the same time, I believe that the affordances of technology  have helped to bridge the time and space barrier. For example, we now can have face-to-face interactions and collaborate with each other virtually. But we cannot break bread virtually, we cannot enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine virtually ..... We cannot do the social stuff, the very things that bring people together, help create a bond, thus foster collaboration.

So, are virtual and face-to-face interactions mutually exclusive? I am afraid there is not a black and white answer to this question. It goes without saying that when you know members of your virtual community in person and have opportunities of interacting with them face-to-face, this definitely has an impact on the quality of the conversations and undoubtedly facilitates the virtual interaction.

This does not mean that you are at a disadvantage with it comes to engaging with members who you do not know in person. I am firm believer that you can establish collaborative relationships with people who you have not met in person. At the same time, I also know that when you have had the luxury of meeting them in person and have an opportunity to "socialize" with them, this will end up having a night and day impact on the quality of the relationship.

While I cannot agree more with Mitzberg statement that we need both networks and communities, as a technological determinist I am not sure how to internalize his conclusion "The new digital technologies, wonderful as they are in enhancing communication, can have a negative effect on collaboration unless they are carefully managed. An electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that's all" as I believe that technology is nothing but a tool. It is up to the user - that is US - to make the best use of it.

I am putting the question and perhaps my personal dilemma to my KM and social media communities and I look forward to hearing your your view and ideas. I am sure your informed views will help take this conversation forward. Let me thank you in advance for your contributions.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The bitter sweet story of #migrants: how about considering the receiving nations as venture capitalists

The influx of migrants to Europe is a story that has dominated not only the headlines but also featured prominently on political and diplomatic agendas.

It's been a bitter-sweet story... one of solidarity and humanity on the one hand, and harshness and grief on the other hand.

As a migrant and an immigrant I can tell you that leaving your country of origin, leaving behind your family, your friends, your connections, networks, your identity and sense of safety and security and going to a foreign land is never anyone's first choice. 

So when people migrate from a place and immigrate to another it is because of necessity. It is because they find themselves in a dire and desperate situation, it is because they find themselves between the rock and a hard place. It is because the only choice for a better and more dignified life is to move on... to migrate.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the perils of migration and immigrants. I am be utterly naive and ask for your indulgence to pause a minute and look at this challenge as an opportunity.

Consider the countries who welcome and accept migrants as venture capitalists or angel investors. Consider seeing the influx of migrants as an influx of talent, experience and expertise. 

Imagine a world where nation state venture capitalists continuously and constantly create the right environment to unleash migrant's  talents. Imagine a world where we continuously and constantly read about the achievements of sons of a migrants.

As a migrant and an immigrant, I can tell you, our journey is one that starts with an upheaval and uprooting. It is one of loss and pain. It may be one of humiliation and loss of dignity. 

No matter what is the spark that ignites our journey as migrants, we all aspire and hope that the rest of the journey is one  of hope, acceptance, solidarity and accomplishment. Every smiling and welcoming face we encounter along our journey is one that sows the seed of hope. Every opportunity, sows the seed of accomplishment. Every hurdle that we overcome, sows the seed of acceptance.

While we all hope to be able to go back to our countries of origin, we make the land that welcomed us our home. We integrate, contribute and join forces to make our new home a better place and in doing so, we embrace what Pope Francis said to the  Latino immigrants in Philadelphia, We try "not be ashamed of your traditions.”  His Holiness reminded us: “Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your lifeblood. You are called to be responsible citizens and to contribute, like others who with so much strength did before you . . . fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live.”

As migrants,  we become citizens of the world and have many homes. We thank the warm and welcoming smiles and embraces, we thank the opportunities offered to us and we look forward to be able to give back.