Connecting the media lab with nonprofits

Last week, Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, presented "Digital Communication Tools" to the SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization.

Last week, Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, presented “Digital Communication Tools” to the SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization.


Through my outreach as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, I’ve had the pleasure of presenting and working with numerous nonprofits. In the last week, I’ve traveled to Oakland and Macomb counties encouraging nonprofits to use digital communication tools.

The SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization invited me to present on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Meetup and Eventful March 9 at the Mahany/Meininger Senior Community Center in Royal Oak. SEMCO talkIt was a little intimidating at first knowing I would be presenting to computer nerds, who are at a whole other level in their knowledge and understanding of technology. I feared they would look down on me and see my suggestions for social media tools to help take their nonprofit to the next level as elementary or pedestrian.

Boy, I was wrong.

For the most part, the group, ranging in age from about 55 to 75, was in awe of the knowledge I was imparting. They asked a lot of questions and really seemed quite fascinated with all the tools I presented on. They had so many questions that I ran over my two-hour time allowance, and had to push through Eventful pretty fast. In addition, I was running the PowerPoint from my GoogleDrive and livestreaming on UStream all off a personal hotspot that, as you can imagine, was running down my battery at breakneck speed.

As I wrapped up, many members asked if I’d be available to present to other nonprofits they are involved with, as well as return to SEMCO to drill down deeper on individual communication tools and teach a more hands-on workshop. I call that success.

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The following Friday, I paid a visit to the Macomb Literacy Partners at the invitation of Executive Director Ken Lampar. We had met a few weeks earlier at another presentation I had given to Macomb County nonprofits. Ken was looking for me to come in and meet with his assistant and himself so they could “pick my brain” about social media and digital media, and their current social media strategy.

It was a different experience than the earlier presentation to 40-plus people who had attended the SEMCO meeting. Working with them one-on-one in their office as an adviser felt rewarding. They looked to me as an expert and I enjoyed recommending tools and strategies after learning about their mission and main goals.

Among other things, we talked about adding a YouTube channel featuring the success stories of some of the people they are working with, the stories of volunteers and why they devote their spare time to Macomb Literacy Partners, as well as video updates from Ken and his staff, and tutorials. They also liked my suggestion of setting up Twitter lists to be better organized and facilitate more retweets and two-way conversations with their audience on the site. I also recommended the tool WeJoinIn for scheduling events and volunteers.

Their No. 1 priority, or task to accomplish, will be to launch a blog and write about their efforts at Macomb Literacy Partners, share success stories, recruit volunteers and announce special events. The blog will feature widgets or links to all of their other social media channels, and it will be linked to The Macomb Daily news site as part of a blogging partnership. In return, we will ask them to add our headline widget to their blog to help attract readers to our content, as well.

If you are involved with a nonprofit and you’re looking for a speaker to present on digital storytelling tools or social media, feel free to reach out to me via the comments section of this blog or tweet @CommunityMediaL.

We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab. Helping the community — including nonprofits, businesses, government and individuals — embrace social sharing and use digital tools to communicate a more engaging message is what we set out to do, and I love every opportunity that comes my way to do that.

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Teaching Tout, Twitter and Pinterest at the media lab

The last few weeks at the media lab have had me on the road traveling to newsrooms in Oakland and Wayne counties, and working with individuals at the media lab in Ypsilanti, located in Washtenaw County, teaching Tout, Twitter and Pinterest.

Since Digital First Media entered a partnership with Tout and we started using it in newsrooms across our footprint, from the East Coast to the West Coast, there has been a big push to get everyone trained — journalists, freelancers and the public. In the last week, I’ve trained Michigan sports reporters, Heritage Media-West reporters and Oakland County residents on Tout using three different presentations tailored to their specific needs.

I really enjoyed putting together the presentation for sports because it motivated me to look at what reporters were producing on Tout, checking into their successes (with top views coming from Detroit Lions reporter Paula Pasche and Detroit Tigers reporter Matt Mowery) and looking at what they could be doing better, such as writing better descriptions that are more Twitter friendly with mentions and hashtags, and narrating their videos, instead of just shooting action. I also suggested how their audience could get involved, creating their own Touts and feeding their videos into a widget on our sites.

I had similar advice for the news staff in Washtenaw County, but geared their presentation more toward breaking news and coverage of community events, and motivating their readers to get involved by shooting their own Touts and sharing them by using an established hashtag for breaking news, and individual hashtags specific for each community event.

We have found that more views come through widgets embedded in articles on our websites, rather than plays through Tout.com or the Tout app. It makes sense since you have a built-in audience already interested in the news, sports or feature story, and looking for complementary coverage. So, I walked the reporters through the process of building a widget, which takes less than a minute. It’s very simple and there really is no excuse not to do it. It’s definitely more efficient. It also delivers a better presentation with a video player, and provides more thorough coverage, bringing in video from a variety of sources using a hashtag.

I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout for Tout training for readers of The Oakland Press. We had about eight people sign up via our Facebook events page and Meetup, but twice as many actually attended as a news article online and in print enticed even more people to check it out.

Monica Drake, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, helped me with both presentations.

I think we make a good team. We had a PowerPoint that encouraged readers to start using Tout and Monica took it a step further by actually setting up the hashtag for them to use that will feed directly into the Tout widget on The Oakland Press home page. It was inspiring to see that many of the participants had either downloaded the Tout app before coming or did so shortly after they arrived. Many asked questions and were genuinely interested in contributing community news through short-form video. The fact that Tout provides video in real time and can be easily shared on social media makes it very useful.

While I feel very comfortable teaching Tout, I struggle a little bit more with Pinterest, but I am becoming more versed the more I use it. I’ve been working regularly with two women from the Professional Volunteer Corps in Ann Arbor, who are interested in creating a Pinterest page to share photos from the group’s volunteer activities. Before they asked for my help, I had started a Pinterest page of my own, but I wasn’t very active. Now, after exploring on my own so I could help them, and then actually setting up their page, adding boards and creating pins, and then showing them how to repin, I’ve become more comfortable with it. There is much more for me to learn about it and teach them, and I am enjoying the experience. Check out their boards here and let me know if you have some suggestions for them. They will be returning Friday for more help.

Linda Tubbs of the Professional Volunteers Corps works on her Pinterest page.

Linda Tubbs of the Professional Volunteers Corps works on her Pinterest page.

At The News-Herald in Southgate, I’ve paid two visits in recent weeks to work with newly hired reporter Anne Runkle. Anne had worked in the industry during the late 1980s and through the mid-1990s, and needs some catching up to do with digital media. So, we started with Tout and Twitter training.

I’d eventually love to see her graduate to creating timelines, audiocasts, locator map embeds, polls and data visualizations. But we’re starting with building an audience on Twitter, crowdsourcing and creating video to complement her storytelling.

I am curious, if you are a journalist, which social media tools do you use and why? Please leave a comment and answer my poll.

Tout Training for 21st Century Media journalists, editors

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab is on Tout. Follow us!

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab is on Tout. Follow us!

Tomorrow I will be holding a live chat and livestreaming video of training on the video platform Tout for our newsrooms. I am pretty excited about the potential this new tool has, from visual storytelling to community engagement, and I plan to promote its use at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab.

The video platform allows you to provide real-time video updates, known as Touts, and community contributors, bloggers and news consumers can do this alongside multimedia journalists at Digital First Media, which includes The Oakland Press, The Macomb Daily, Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, The Morning Sun, Heritage Media, The News-Herald in Southgate and other news websites across Michigan, as well as scores of others across the United States. Local reporters will be producing videos, up to 45 seconds long, and sharing them on our websites, embedded in articles and on our social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. Touts also can be shared through email, texts and links.

Viewers can follow individual journalists and news organizations on Tout.com or through a free application on their smartphone, or watch those videos on our websites. Touters can choose to download the application on their iPhone or Android or create a Tout using a webcam on their computer.

Advantages of being a Touter include the ability to share videos and reply with a video, whether it’s to comment on a video’s content, respond to a question posed by a reporter or add companion content. For us, this interactive element is appealing as we strive to connect with our audience on different levels. Our journalists are now using it to share breaking news, weather and traffic reports, teasers to upcoming coverage, share clips from interviews, video of local events, and to engage their communities in real-time conversations, as well as look for news leads.

I like what John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, told MercuryNews.com May 1: “Tout’s real-time video reporting platform gives Digital First Media the ability to show, not just tell, our audience what is happening in real-time. Our audiences want immediate news and information, and our partnership with an emerging technology provider like Tout is an example of our commitment to provide just that.”

So, if you’re not on Tout yet, I encourage you to sign up, follow our journalists and branded accounts, retout us, mention us and reply to our Touts, and we will do the same for you if you catch our interest. Be sure to mention us (@heritagenews, @macombdaily, @theoaklandpress, @newsheraldMI, etc.) so it comes to our attention faster. You can follow the media lab on Tout by clicking here. I also encourage our bloggers to add their Tout stream to their blogs, like I’ve done on mine (see photo below). This will make your blog more interactive and give your audience another platform to consume your content. You can also feed it int your RebelMouse page, as I have for the media lab.

Happy Touting!

Link Tout to your blog so your audience can easily access your videos.

Link Tout to your blog so your audience can easily access your videos.

Creating a social front page with RebelMouse

Our RebelMouse page embedded in our Southeast Michigan Media Lab blog.

Our RebelMouse page embedded in our Southeast Michigan Media Lab blog.

RebelMouse, a real-time social blog that can serve as your front page, is my latest obsession. I was on a webinar May 2 to learn more about it and it has sparked my imagination.

After creating a RebelMouse page to represent all of my activity on social media through my personal Facebook page, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and ideaLabHeritage Twitter account, I decided to embed it in my ideaLabHeritage blog on WordPress, where I write about my efforts as a member of Digital First Media’s ideaLab. I was confused at first, not knowing if I use the embed code or some other code RebelMouse provided, but an email to early@rebelmouse.com was promptly returned and I was in business.

Next I set my sights on my ideaLab project, the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, wanting to feature it on a RebelMouse page, as well. I have fewer social media accounts associated with it (just Facebook and Twitter), but I do have YouTube video and ipadio audiocast channels that I was able to add through RSS feed. I also embedded the page on my Community Media Lab blog on WordPress.

As a result, I have two live blog pages, where people, who may not be following me on all of my social media channels, can see all of my activity. From my Facebook posts about upcoming presentations in the media lab, videos on YouTube from our workshops, recommendations for digital media tools, as well as tweets — my own and those I retweet — are all featured in a single feed. The page is visually pleasing, showcasing photographs and video, with headlines and text. And, best of all, it’s not static like a blog. Every time you tweet, post and share, it’s there for the world to see — like your own personal front page.

After adding the RebelMouse pages, I spoke to a colleague about the site’s potential. On the webinar, Megan Berry of RebelMouse talked about how you can pull in a Twitter hashtag campaign, add RSS feed from numerous sources, including Facebook groups, customize your design, move things on the page, freeze elements, add posts to the page, and integrate it on your own sites as a social sub-domain, front page, social sidebar or front page for your blog. This was all very exciting to hear and got me thinking.

First, I thought it could be a valuable tool for our blogging partners, who often struggle to post a couple times a week. If they are more active on social media, they could make their RebelMouse page their blog’s front, which could take the pressure off as it would have fresh, active content as they interact on their social media channels. What’s also great is the page has infinite flow, meaning all of your posts can be seen without disappearing into archives.

In talking with Joe Gray, a colleague at The News-Herald in Southgate about the upcoming Downriver Cruise, I thought it would be fun to create a hashtag campaign around the event and pull in the community’s tweets and retweets about the cruise, and videos and photographs of the cars to capture the buzz on a single page we can host on The News-Herald’s website.

Megan said media outlets using RebelMouse have seen a 10 to 30 percent increase in page views. She also said time spent on RebelMouse sites is twice the average. It’s obviously a powerful up-and-coming tool and I am pleased to be one of the early users of it.

Adding visually-interesting elements, widgets and gadgets to blogs

Blogger Chris Watkins writes "Spiritual Voices."

Blogger Chris Watkins writes “Spiritual Voices.”


Some days at the lab I am lost in another world on my computer exploring new digital storytelling or social media tools — like Talkshoe on Monday and tame.it Tuesday — setting up live chats, recruiting workshop leaders and newsroom trainers and talking about events and interesting content on our social media channels. Other days, I actually have real human interaction — like yesterday and today.

On Tuesday, Roger Beukema, one of our blogging partners based in Oakland County, stopped by the media lab in the morning to learn how to spruce up his blog and use social media more effectively. In between stories about his family, his career as a cop and his connection over the last 30 years to The Oakland Press, we made some headway. It was a purely enjoyable experience for me and didn’t even seem like 2 1/2 hours as I got lost in his stories, along with the fun of learning new digital storytelling tools.

I talked to Roger about adding hyperlinks to content he references in his “Outdoor Notes” posts, sharing YouTube videos related to what he’s writing about, adding more photographs and maybe a podcast after he buys that smartphone he’s been wanting to get for a while. I also shared with him my PowerPoint, “Contributing Community Content: Visually interesting ways to help your content stand out and engage your audience.” The presentation is an introduction to a variety of digital storytelling tools that he could learn about at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and then incorporate into his blog posts.

Blogger Roger Beukema writes "Outdoor Notes."

Blogger Roger Beukema writes “Outdoor Notes.”


On Wednesday, Chris Watkins, who writes the “Spiritual Voices” column for Heritage Media-West, came in for a morning appointment. A few months ago, she decided to convert her print column to a blog to reach a wider audience and become more interactive. Chris and I had a great time, too, chatting about her past jobs, her personal life and life experiences, in addition to technology and what we could do to enhance her blog.

Chris uses the Blogger platform. We logged on and I helped her add a number of widgets to her blog to make it more interactive. Now followers can connect with her on social media, her most read entries will be highlighted, her blog archives are displayed and she is hosting the Heritage Media “Life” section headlines to help drive traffic back to the Heritage Media news website. I also suggested she shoot some photos to either add images to her blog design or add a photo slideshow. In addition, like I did for Roger, I suggested Chris aggregate content and add her commentary to it, as well as YouTube videos.

I also took a look at Chris’ Twitter account @OnBendedKnees. When I saw she only had six followers and she was following six, we had a chat about how social media can help drive traffic. I showed her how to shorten her blog post urls using Bitly and then tweet them out. I also explained the “connect” and search functions on Twitter, and encouraged her to retweet, reply to tweets, and start interacting with people on Twitter. While we were at it, we followed all of the Heritage Media publications in Washtenaw County, where her column appears in print and her blog is shared on the website Heritage.com, assuring her that editors and reporters would help her out with some retweets and mentions.

While my meetings with both bloggers were fun and I enjoyed helping them, what I look forward to most is our next meeting — after they’ve mastered the basic skills and we can advance to the more fun stuff. For a list of my favorite digital storytelling tools, visit my NewHive expression.

Presenting on the Community Media Lab and Twitter Basics

Today has been a busy day at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, our new name as of Feb. 18, when I took on my new role as director of community engagement and editorial training for the Journal Register Company’s Michigan Group. I am now based full time at the lab in Ypsilanti’s SPARK-East building.

This morning, I spent an hour or so as a presenter at the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. I shared a PowerPoint about the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and encouraged business owners to use our free services to encourage more content sharing. I told them I could help them draft a news release, put together a photo slideshow or video, or get them set up and using social media if they weren’t already.

Later in the afternoon, Tim Patino, general manager at Quarter Bistro restaurant in Ann Arbor and president of Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary, came by to learn more about Twitter. He is

TimPatino (1)the official tweeter for @GLrabbits, and he has a personal account, but he’s new to it and wanted some basic instruction. We spent a couple of hours exploring Twitter and going over social media etiquette, how to set up lists, direct messaging and how to engage followers in conversation, and share news and information. I also showed him Bitly so he could shorten links and track analytics.

In between, I helped promote one of our new blogging partners, Nate Jessee, who is writing about the environment, tweeted, retweeted and clicked on a few interesting links on my own Twitter account.

Another fun day in the lab.

Helping the Saline Chamber of Commerce set up a Twitter account

On Friday at the Community Media Lab, I had the pleasure of helping the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce set up a Twitter account.  I had met with Executive Director Art Trapp and Project Coordinator Mary Alice Smith a week earlier to inquire about presenting information about the CML to the chamber’s membership at a breakfast meeting. First they needed more information, so I talked to them about my ideaLab project, the Community Media Lab, offered examples of how we have helped local business owners write press releases and set up social media accounts, and showed them a video aChamberTwitterbout the lab. By the time it was all said and done, not only had I sold them on the idea that I would be an informative speaker at their breakfast meeting, but they were interested in coming to the CML in Ypsilanti to set up a Twitter account for the chamber.

Before they arrived, I had emailed a list of possible Twitter handles to pique their interest. I came up with @SACC_Michigan, @SACC_BizNews, @SalineMiBiz, @SalineMichBiz, @SACC_News, @SalineChamberMI, @SalineBizNews, @YourSACC and @MichiganSACC. Former Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Director Larry Osterling already has the @SalineChamber Twitter handle, but he has never Tweeted anything and only has five followers.

Art and Mary Alice arrived in the late afternoon and had selected the Twitter handle @SalineChamberMI. It took less than an hour to set up the account, import the chamber’s logo, start following local businesses, community leaders and stakeholders, and explain how to create lists. We also sent out the chamber’s first Tweet. As of Monday morning, they had 20 followers and were following 54. I suggested they look at those following their hometown newspaper @SalineMilanNews, as well as followers of @SalineSchools and others in Saline with Twitter handles, to build their following. Once people are notified via email that you are following them, they usually follow back, and that’s how you build an audience. Mary Alice also posted on the chamber’s Facebook page that the chamber was on Twitter and shared a link, so people on Twitter could choose to follow.

@TheSalinePost was the first Twitter follower of the chamber to Tweet back, welcoming the chamber to the Twitterverse. I then showed Mary Alice how to “favorite” that particular Tweet. I also showed her the Twitter application on my iPhone, which makes it easier to manage your Twitter account, and I showed her how to direct message someone, retweet, search using @connect and proper use of the #hashtag symbol. I suggested they may want to use #business when Tweeting business news or #SalineMich for Saline news, and always use the @ sign along with a local businesses’ Twitter handle when mentioning them or speaking to them publicly.

The process wasn’t without a few snafus, however. For some reason, even though we went through the steps, we couldn’t get the chamber’s Facebook page to link properly to Twitter, so that the message will be Tweeted out every time they post on Facebook. I told Mary Alice, it could be she  just needed to close the pages and reboot, so she will try later on her own. Also, the chamber’s logo with the name is rectangular and Twitter requires a square logo. We were able to use a square image of the swirl from the original logo, and I suggested Mary Alice ask chamber member DesignHub to create a Twitter background with the chamber’s full logo.

I was glad to help the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce establish a new marketing/promotional tool and, hopefully, I was able to share enough information about Twitter that they understand the value moving forward. I suggested they could Tweet out information about chamber events, community events, and feature a business each day.  They could share links to local businesses’ websites, Facebook pages and Twitter pages, as well as share photos via TweetPic, There are so many ways for a local chamber to build and connect with their audience on social media. I am excited for the chamber to embrace Twitter, start conversations on it and continue the chamber’s efforts as a cheerleader and advocate for local businesses.