Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dealing Effectively with Online Critics

I was inspired to blog on this topic when I received an email update from the Yelp directory.  The blog is for owners of businesses listed on Yelp (yes, including yours truly) and their most current post focuses on when a business receives negative feedback. 

Review the Yelp post here

The Yelp blog was inspired by a post on the New York Times Boss Blog regarding a negative review of a restaurant.

We're all human.  Humans have human reactions, including negative ones.  The Internet and websites that allow reviews are not the cause of these reactions; they are merely tools to convey them.  The difference is a keyboard is faster than a speeding word of mouth comment and hosting servers have longer memories than people.

If Yelp hadn't said it first, I would have advised the following on negative reviews.  I'll just quote it and give credit where it's due:

Give yourself a cooling down period. When someone is using a public forum like Yelp to attack something you’re pouring your heart and soul into, a very natural response is to get emotional. Don’t. The last thing you want to do is overreact to someone online (See: Streisand effect).
One of SDOC's more prominent website clients is the Atlanta Alumnae Panhellenic Association.  This is the Atlanta chapter of the National Panhellenic Conference, a group of 26 Greek-letter sororities.  Atlanta's chapter was founded in 1927 to promote sorority life among collegians and alumnae alike.  The website and its information and features are a nationwide destination for women looking to learn about sororities and get updates on activities in North Georgia.  Dunwoody has been its meeting home for years.
In spite of a documented track record of community service and emphasis of supporting women in advanced education, Greek-letter sororities are, at various times, the butt of jokes, the subjects of outlandish urban legends, and a tasty target for legal action.  In the 1950s, Life Magazine called NPC sororities "a growing societal problem"!  Many in the public have negative impressions of sororities either from a personal experience in college, or from movies and TV.
The leaders of AAPA are more than aware of this negative mojo.  It would be easy to turn up one's nose and become indignant at those who express their impressions.  But they don't take the easy route.  Atlanta Panhellenic has taken a bold and proactive approach to rumors and negative information:  they invite it and address it head-on.
AAPA holds an information called College Sorority 101 every spring.  High school girls and their parents who wish to attend RSVP online in a form I publish annually.  In that form there is an opportunity for questions.  Any questions.  About anything.  Some I've seen included "Is being in a sorority only about drinking and partying" and "Is it true that when you're in a sorority you can't wear the same dress twice".  (In case you're wondering, the answer to both of these is "no".  )
No matter how crazy some people may find these questions, they are all considered valid and are taken at face value.  No taking offense.  No getting frustrated.  No judgement of those doing the asking.  No speculation on their motivation for asking.  Just straight, honest answers - in person, looking the public right in the eye.
The discussions continue on the AAPA Facebook group.  Like the informational session, it is wide open.  News is discussed and questions get answered directly and professionally.  No one is going to get huffy and have other members "stand in agreement", squaring off for a flame war.  AAPA is looking to improve opinions, one person at a time.  That's why a well-run web presence is the best tool for the job:  it can foster positive communication where otherwise there would be none.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Smart People - Smart Business"

Some animals hibernate in winter.  I seem to hibernate in spring.  Not really sleeping, but holing up in a cave working on a big project that is just bursting to get out.  Such was the case with the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce

With the debut of Dunwoody's branding initiative, all of the marketing materials - including the website - needed an overhaul.  I had originally planned to reevaluate the site's structure and content after about 2 years.  Instead, we had to start looking at an overhaul about 8 months in to the previous design.

The original site was one that I organized, but didn't have much to do with in terms of design.  I was handed a Drupal platform, a pre-selected template, and an assortment of modules and told that I WILL make this work.

Within a few months, the staff were reporting difficulties in making their required content fit the format.  We already needed a different type of layout.  Further, the City Branding Committee had assigned a completely different color scheme to the Chamber's identity.  Because the scenario wasn't complicated enough, the site's very hosting was about to fall through.  So the job was now, host, update architecture, and redesign.

First things first:  SDOC established a new server host.  This happened right before New Year's Eve 2010.
Next, build a layout.  The only guidelines were a standardized style guide issued by the Branding Committee and a new logo.  I was finally free to design the perfect showcase from the ground up!  All of the graphics were custom-made to find the balance between a modern, up-to-date aesthetic while staying true to the intent of the standardized guide.

Finally, additional modules were added for functionality - including custom "block" appearance, custom block placement, ability to host numerous sites at once (compare the Dunwoody Business Expo 2011 site within the site) plus others that are still in the testing phase.

The new site launched officially on February 26 at about 6 PM ET.  From the time I was greenlighted to assume hosting the site to the final launch, I logged about 70 hours on everything, including graphic design, module installation and troubleshooting.

The physical construction of the site was a one-woman show.  The office staff signed off on the project in stages before the big reveal but it was my 10 little fingers doing the work.  Again, the content is mostly turned over to office staff and approved volunteers for updating, while I remain available to the IT Committee for functional updates and inservicing for volunteers.

Come on by!  While you're there, check out the Dunwoody Business Expo.  It's shaping up to be a major event with a lot of people showing their wares, breakout discussion sessions, and award presentations.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Website Design And Development by SDOC Publishing Supports Taste of Dunwoody and Friends of CHOA

SDOC is proud to announce that we are an official corporate sponsor of the Taste of Dunwoody at the W Atlanta Perimeter TONIGHT, benefitting Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.

Tickets are completely SOLD OUT.  So if you have tickets, please come say hello!  If you didn't get tickets before now, the Aha! Connection has a website post where you can connect with others looking for tickets, or looking to sell.  Post here to sell tickets or announce that you're looking for them.

It looks like the weather is not going to slow this event down.  My other half and I will be there even if we have to slosh in our rain boots!

This cause is near and dear to my heart, and not just because I'm a parent.  Years and years before I started developing small-business and not-for-profit websites, my career was in medical research at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.    My first position was in a translational research lab in the Pediatrics Division (Today it's called the Childrens Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson)  Our lab's key project was to develop a way of diagnosing leukemia relapse before the symptoms recurred using custom-made DNA probes, designed to match each patient's unique genetic signature.

It took a lot of cooperation.  The patients, their parents, the clinic nursing staff, the medical staff (including my boss) and a slew of other "lab rats" like myself all had a different task.  My task was to take biopsies of bone marrow and grow them in a culture bottle.  Then I handed them off to my partner so that she could analyze the DNA and design the diagnostic probes. 

This process was exta work for everyone.  The patients were already getting their bone marrow analyzed as part of their treatment and maintenance.  That didn't make the procedure less painful.  I made the process easier by being the extra pair of hands everyone seemed to need.  If it didn't require an MD  or RN, I was there.  I found prep trays, wiped anesthetic bottles with alcohol, and made sure drapes were at the ready.  If the Lab Medicine department got slammed and wasn't able to come down to the clinic, I made the histology slides that the technicians would read to determine if the cancer was in remission or recurring.  There were lots of trips to the clinical lab! 

I held lots of things.  Usually hands and ankles.  I helped hold the patient still and talked them through the sampling.  Having bone marrow aspirated is like having your soul pulled out through a little hole in your iliac crest, so say the patients I worked with.  Holding still makes the difference between getting it over with quickly and getting injured.  The only people more worried about bone marrow testing than the patients, were their parents.  If a parent is going to be an a procedure with their child they have to be able to emotionally hold themselves together.  Otherwise the child is even more frightened and chaos ensues.  Most times, the parent couldn't bear to be in the room; a few got sick and spit up.  I held their hands - and sometimes their heads.

But it wasn't always a bad experience working with patients in the clinic.  I saw many of my teenaged patients at summer camp where I volunteered as a counselor.  I saw first loves, "summer prom", and even busted a few making out behind a cabin.  We saw high school and college graduation photos, and wedding photos.   Some have even returned as volunteers, or gone on to medical school. 

I have three children of my own today, so I can't imagine returning to this kind of job.  A lot of life-long lessons came from it.  First, it is critical to have a child-centered health facility.  Caring for children is different than for adults, from the size of the equipment to the dosing of various medicines, to managing their emotional state with the decor in the room. 

Second, communication is an art form.  Very complex information about the child's disease and how to treat it has to be delivered and perceived at the level the patient and their family members can understand.  On top of that they have to understand all of this complexity during the worst stress of their lives.  This lesson is one I use  every day in writing text copy for a website.  It's a unique art to make information that readily accessible that quickly.  I mastered the art of communication talking to patients and families.

Finally you can't have a childrens' health facility without the support of the community.  Fundraisers are not a hobby, they are critical to supporting the patients and their families that often roll into town on their last tank of gas to save their child's life.  But then they need to purchase incidentals to survive in the mean time.  I'm proud to support Dunwoody Friends of CHOA, and I am equally proud to join my Phi Mu sisters in the Star94 Radiothon for Childrens' Miracle Network in November.

That's the story behind the story of SDOC's support of Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.  I'll be glad to tell you more about our support of local charitable causes and other work - both websites and other - at tonight's gala.  I'll be there with rainboots on!