Whitney's big hair and social media success. Image courtesy of Huffington Post

Guaranteed success on social media

Did I just write guaranteed success on social media? Can I guarantee it? A little part of me was scared to write it, but yes, I can. You can too. It is simple and proven and you already do it in other parts of your life. Now, all you have to do is take those tricks and do them on social media.

Big hair

What do you remember about the 1980s? I remember, as a child, standing in our garden after being told we were emigrating to America. When I got there, I remember big houses, Whitney Houston’s big hair, big cars and an outdoor swimming pool at the end of our road.

I also remember the five-storey school I went to. I remember feeling like I had landed on a different planet. I remember not knowing how to do joined-up writing like the rest of the class. I remember the tension and bullying in the class when the teacher left for a few minutes.

Get involved

But, there was a valuable lesson learnt. Being shy, at first, I kept quiet and life was hard in school. Then, I started to open up, talked to a few people. They were interested in Ireland and we became friends. More friends emerged and the tension disappeared.

I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences of new places and a new crowd. The way we often handle that – talking to people and building relationships – is the same way we need to approach social media.

Immerse yourself

It seems simple, but many organisations ignore it: we must become a real member of that social community. This is how you do that.

Daily diet

Here at Concern Worldwide we’ve had some great success on social media. That is because we learnt that lesson: talk with people, not at them. Initially, we thought it only worked on Twitter. Then, we applied it to Facebook. Now, we’re applying it to Instagram, YouTube and beyond. The results are always the same: deep engagement and wide reach. It is not just us. Last night, I talked with Lawrence Ampofo, the founder of Digital Mindfulness, and they have started to use this technique too and have seen big improvements on Twitter and SoundCloud.

I’ll give you an example of how it works. Every day on Twitter, the web team in Concern has a list of tasks that we have to do. We call it our daily diet:

  • We reply to at least five tweets
    • (This can be hard at first, read this to find out how best to approach it)
  • We re-tweet at least five tweets
  • We try to keep the number of times we tweet low – maybe three a day

Listen first

The reason this works is because it slowly builds relationships with people. You listen and talk with them and they respond. Then, their followers will notice and get involved. It seems simple, but lots of organisations think social media is there to push their views on people. But, most people prefer you to talk with them rather than at them.   

This focus on listening first, talking second, has guaranteed us success on social media.

Now it’s your turn

Pick your most important social media site. Resist the temptation to talk first. Instead, listen and enjoy your daily diet. Success guaranteed.

A sunset courtesy of Wiki Commons

The Digital Mindfulness Manifesto

Since the turn of the millennium, I have spent most of my working days staring at the web through a screen. That is not unusual. You too probably spend a lot of time staring at screens. In order to survive and thrive in this culture of constant distraction, we must rebel against digital devices. We must turn off. This is the Anti-digital Manifesto – a guide to being successful, happy and healthy in the digital age.

In the past week, it has happened twice. During my conversations with colleagues here in Concern Worldwide I was called the anti-Head of Digital by two people. What the hell does that mean? It means people are surprised when they discover that I don’t have a personal Facebook page. They’re a little shocked that I try to avoid the web on days off. That I don’t check all social media sites constantly – only one account a day. Today is my day for LinkedIn. And so on. Until I explain the method to my madness.

In his renowned book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr described how:

By moving from the depths of thought to the shallows of distraction, the web, it seems, is actually fostering ignorance.

Have you noticed how the web has changed your behaviour? Concentration for long periods becomes harder. Flick, flick, flick. Flashing, beeping, vibrating devices dominate our attention. Tap, tap, tap. Instinctively we reach for our phone during quiet moments. Click, click, click.

Let’s be clear, the web is a wonderful tool. It is how we choose to use it that is damaging us.

So, if you are like me, working with the web all the time, here are some ways to help you work more creatively, strategically and contently:

Fresh air

The smokers used to make me jealous. They looked serene as they puffed their cigarettes outside. Then I realised, it wasn’t the cigarettes I wanted, it was the chance to stand outside in the fresh air. So, here in Concern, our digital team tries to step away from their screens regularly during the day. A few minutes outside in the fresh air clears the mind, refreshes our senses and makes us better when we return to our screens. We also try to have as many meetings as we can outside on benches in the car park.


Who would have thought that after millions of years of evolution, we would end up sitting down for most of the day? Sitting down is killing us. So, stand up and walk around as much as you can during the day. People have different ways of doing this in Concern. Some take calls as they walk, people have stand-up desks, while others have stand-up meetings. Get up and move around in whatever ways suits you. Remember: “walking is man’s best medicine,” according to Hippocrates.

Single tasking

What is the most important thing you should be working on at the moment? Do it and nothing else. Turn off your social media and email notifications. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, turn off your emails altogether and focus on getting the most important stuff done. Now, everyone’s circumstances are different, so you might not be able to ignore everyone all day. But, work with your team, set expectations of when you will be available and give yourself the luxury of doing a single task for a while.


Our nervous system, brain activity and much more are linked to our breathing. If you’re breathing quickly and shallowly, you’re going to feel nervous and stressed. On the other hand, if your breathing is smooth, deep and slow, then you will feel calm and focused. Watch how you breathe as you work today. Take a few moments to breathe deeply. Do this throughout the day.

This is about working better with the web, using it to help you and your organisation. The options are clear:

  • We continue to slip into the shallows of distraction
  • Or, we practise some digital mindfulness

I know what I am choosing.

The Sea Troll by Theodor Kittelsen via Wiki Commons.

Let’s go hunting internet trolls!

People shout abuse at Concern Worldwide’s web team. Well, let me re-phrase that, they tweet abuse at us – often in capital letters. It happens regularly. But, we decided to turn these internet trolls to our advantage. Join us as we go troll hunting!

Twitter can be invaluable. You can use it for lots of great things. It has changed how we consume information. But, lurking in this galaxy of information are many trolls.

According to Wikipedia, a troll is “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.”

Here is an example of what they say:

What about looking after poor and hungry children in Ireland first! Don’t see any African nation ever helping us!

 That’s mild. The tweets we receive are often racist, targeting the people we help in the world’s poorest countries.

Years ago, we weren’t sure how to handle stuff like that. But, then we realised that each comment presented us with an opportunity. We set ourselves an objective: to engage with trolls and try to convert them into people who supported our work.

This is how we did that:

Pick your battle

Our policy is to engage with (almost) all trolls. But, if it is clear from their profile that they are incapable of a conversation, then we don’t engage. That’s a rarity though.

Be prepared

You know what issues people might have with your organisation. So, think about them beforehand and prepare your side of the argument. Given the brevity of Twitter (140 characters) you might want to create some content on your site that will support what you’re trying to say. Then, you can link back to it. Here is a page we often link to these days.

Questions please

Make sure you answer the question you’re being asked. Often with trolls though, there is no question, just a statement. So, use this as an opportunity to ask the troll a question. Engage them in a conversation. Send them a link to one of your videos and ask them what they think. The first step in converting a troll is starting a conversation with them. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

People are watching

People are curious to see how you will react to trolls. Keep this in mind when you’re replying: there are other people watching. So, use it as an opportunity to highlight your content – link back to your site or other social media. Use something like bit.ly to track the number of people who click on your link. You’ll be surprised how many people are watching the conversation.

Detractor to supporter

Turn your trolls into an opportunity to talk with more people in a more meaningful way. View these exchanges as a positive way to tell your side of the story. Happy hunting!

This blog post was originally published on Just Giving Blog


John Sweeney of Suspended Coffee - a social media genius

What I learnt from a social media master

A lot of people talk drivel about social media. But, every now and then, you come across a person who has a pure instinct for it; someone who naturally understands people and naturally understand social media. Yesterday, I talked to a master of social media. This is what I learnt.

First, the numbers

In less than three years, Suspended Coffees has gained more than 288,000 likes on its Facebook page. Its engagement with its followers is both deep and wide. All of this was done organically with no ads or promoted content. Most companies would kill for a committed and rapidly-growing community like that.

Master at work

The master behind its growth is a former plumber, “with no social media training” as he said himself. That man is John Sweeney. A few years ago he had a revelation: that kindness matters. By being kind to each other, we can create a more balanced, a more humane and a more understanding society. So, he started Suspended Coffees and it has become a world-wide movement.

We talked yesterday about his work and our work here at Concern Worldwide. This is what I learnt:


We must follow our instinct. Often that means taking a risk, doing something without all the information we’d like. But, to grow we have to try new things. So, take your idea for a new Facebook post and give it a go. Review the results and then try to improve it.


This may seem obvious, but lots of organisations fail on it: people react to personalities. People do not react as positively to bland, mundane branding and messages. What is the personality of your Facebook page? Find one quickly, if you want to be successful.

Universal cause

Suspended Coffees focuses on kindness. We can all understand that. It is a universal human behaviour. Think about your audience on Facebook. Think about the people you are trying to reach. Then think about your organisation. Think about what you’re trying to do. What common value do you and your audience share? Find that and start to talk about it.


People can sense a fraud. So, be honest. Does the image you are trying to portray, match your behaviour? It should. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to either change branding or behaviour. You decide.

Real social skills

If you understand how to listen and talk with people in real life, you’re at an advantage on social media. Long before John Sweeney heard of Facebook, he was good with people. Facebook has just given him the chance to reach more of them.

Time well spent

I learnt a lot from John in our brief conversation. You’ll see some of these ideas shortly on Concern’s Facebook page. Could John help your organisation? Everyone can learn from a master.

This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.