Quality Content and Successful Networks

Upon signing up for Electronic Communications over winter break, I was not sure what to expect:  were we going to talk strictly about social media, focus on web design or more on how technologies are shaping the way the “real world” is run?  It turns out that the class has been somewhat of a combination of all these things, and the texts we have used have been a very nice supplement to the class work.  We learned about online communications in the first part of the semester and applied what we had learned to develop strategies for our nonprofit groups in the second half.  The latter was accompanied by the texts, Content Strategy for the Web (CSW) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach and The Networked Non-Profit (NNP) by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter.  Both of these books fit in with our non-profit project and supplemented our knowledge base created at the start of the course

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When considering what these books have in common, I would say that overall they both were most concerned with developing skills for the individual, business or non-profit that would help them reach a larger audience out on the web.  The titles of each text make it pretty plain how each sought out to do this:  Content Strategy focused on content and Networked Non-profit focused on using personal networks to expand reader’s outreach.  Both texts committed a lot of writing to understanding and committing to an audience; either by sharing content or showing appreciation to followers (NNP) or developing quality and easy to use web materials to reach followers on a personal level (CSW). The books also put their readers at ease with the underlying message that nothing extreme had to be done right away, challenging them but also keeping things at a comfortable level.   In addition to content, the authors of these texts also shared similar writing styles.  They wrote in a way that kept things simple, easy to read and to the point (bulleted lists: 1 point, lengthy paragraphs: 0). Further, the chapters of each book built upon themselves which, I could imagine was an appreciated characteristic to readers as it does not overwhelm with too much information, making it seem impossible to make changes to an individual’s social media or current website.book-angle

As I stated above, the titles of each of the texts we used in the second half of the semester reveal how each chose to assist their readers with their online strategy.  Here too, the books’ differences can be considered.  Although they shared the same common goal (broadening audience awareness and website/social media quality) their differences lie in the details of how this overall goal was achieved.  For example, Content Strategy for the Web focused on content (you don’t say), discussing how to organize and design but also how to develop a strategy in the first place; the starting block if you will, to begin the changes to achieve better online material.  Halvorson and Rach write that this begins with the development of a core strategy, something that should be in the back of every content designer’s mind, guiding all of their goals and keeping them on the same track.  Chapter 7 of CSW was dedicated to core strategy and was my favorite of the book as much of what was written her could be applied to everyday life (I even dedicated a blog post to this topic).  Even though it came somewhat late in the book, I felt that this chapter could be considered the basement foundation for developing and organizing quality online content.

On the other hand, The Networked Non Profit focused on utilizing personal social networks (both on the web and in everyday life) to help grow a non-profit’s audience base.  In chapter 3 of the text, Fine and Kanter refer to this as “social capital” and state that this is what non-profits should be focusing on and valuing in order to give their organization(s) meaning (NNP, 33).  This book differed from CSW in its focus on personal relationships and the ability of one positive experience at a non-profit to spread rapidly among volunteer networks.

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Say More with Less

00-shh-1.jpgBecause Austin Powers is hilarious

I think one of the key strategies that non-profits can utilize is keeping their message simple and therefore easily sharable.  The Networked Nonprofit highlights this in chapter 10, discussing charity: water as a nonprofit who has been extremely successful just by keeping things simple.  Their message is easy to understand and can easily be shared in under 140 characters, “charity: water creates clean water in developing countries”.

I think more important than the short character limit is its ability to create a meaningful message is a very short phrase.  Looking at the nonprofits we worked with this semester, I feel like many get caught up in the details of their history, how they got started, what they have done etc.  These are definitely important to the organization and should be shared but I think that developing a short mission statement-type phrase (like charity: water) in addition to a history would be most beneficial to get people interested. The history could be included on the non-profit’s page for those who are interested to go and read it but the mission statement would be used to spread the word about the work that the organization does.

My group shared a similar idea with our nonprofit during our project meeting suggesting that a more direct message be right on their home page and the more in depth content about their origins/history be moved to an “about” page.  I think this strategy works because it gets the point across straight away and viewers don’t have to even think about it…they already have read your message before they even have had the time to scroll past it.  Think about how many billboards you subconsciously read while driving…it’s not that you are making an effort to read them but your brain processes the message basically without thinking about it!   Therefore a long, flowery mission statement is much more likely to be missed because we cannot easily scan it to get a message.  To read more about advertising and its affect on the subconscious click here.

I think this strategy would also be helpful when inviting others to “like” a page.  If someone can easily understand the group and what they do, they will be more likely to like or share their content.  I sent an invite to all of my personal Facebook friends to like my non-profit’s page but only around 4 responded.  Would this number have been higher if the page had a clearer more direct mission statement?

Progress…one small step at a time

As I sit down to get caught up on the last couple weeks of blogging, I am wondering what was happening with my group’s nonprofit project during the week of April 26th and what we have learned since that time.  Also, what have I learned from the second half of the semester regarding my individual work?

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Two weeks ago my group was wrapping up our project, making small revisions here and there (after receiving feedback from Dr. Brooks) and getting ready to send the final product to our organization to review.  I cannot speak for my group members but I found it very challenging to walk the line of constructive criticism and offensive content.   Our organization has been around a very long time and in many respects, is set in their ways.  Due to this, I was afraid that they would take any criticism hard and become defensive or unwilling to change when we met with them to review the strategy.  It turns out that our nonprofit was very appreciative of all the changes we suggested and were very interested in how they could further improve.  Our meeting with them went very well and a lot of good discussion went on regarding their social media strategy.  I almost wish we would have been a little more direct in our proposal knowing how open they were going to be to it!  Our initial meeting did not give that impression however, so we did end up erring on the more cautious/suggestive side of things in our plan.

The other aspect of the project that I found confusing was defining an audit verses a strategy.  My group and I kept referring to our social media plan as an “audit” in our proposal which was corrected several times by Dr. Brooks who stated that what we were writing was more of a strategy plan.  We tried to fix this discrepancy in our final project but I am still confused as to what the exact difference is between those two.  I think we would have been more committed to our revisions if this was clearer to us.

Even with these challenges, I am happy overall with how our project turned out and was very excited that our non-profit director and social media person were so appreciative of the project and felt it was well done.

When considering my own work the second half of the semester, I still feel as though I am a much stronger academic writer than “blogger” but at least have developed some sort of comfort level with it since I had none back in January!  I don’t harbor as much distaste for social media as a literary form as I did at the start of the semester either so there has been progress!  Perhaps blogging is something I will continue to play around with this summer!

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Roadblocks and Persuasion

In our meeting this week with Dr. Brooks, we talked briefly about how we might convince our non-profit group to actually implement some of the suggestions we have outlined for them in our project.  The organization we are working with has been around for more than twenty years so obviously many aspects of their personal/organizational network have been working.   Their social network however, is an area that they could improve upon as they simply are not reaching very many people to inform them about their great organization!  Since they have been around so long, it is a risk that their director will be more stubborn when it comes to accepting some of the changes we have come up with for her non-profit.  So how can we convince her?

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Conveniently enough, Chapter 10 in Content Strategy is all about persuasion and how to get clients to take on a content strategy.  It is written that the most important method of persuasion is catering your message to your specific audience: “Put content strategy in the context of their world—why should they care and what will they get out of it” (163)?  For my group it will be valuable to use other similar organizations as a model to show our non-profit; taking care to remain tactful.  Showing our organization how a similar event at another group raised money or had a larger turnout due to their effective social media strategy may help to convince them to consider our suggestions more carefully.

Another method of persuasion suggested in Content Strategy is highlighting how updated content will make the organization more efficient.  I believe that most non-profits would say that they are constantly busy and wishing for more volunteers- that their work load is spread too thin.  Perhaps through a temptation of how smoothly the organization would run with a few content strategies implemented, we could convince our non-profit once again to consider our proposal.  In chapter 10 Halvorson and Rach write, “Getting good processes in place simplifies everyone’s lives, saves time and money, and is conductive to workplace sanity” (164).  It’s hard to argue against the possibility of a more efficient and sane work environment to be sure!

It is likely that our social media person and non-profit director will be very open and willing to the changes we suggest to them in the coming weeks.  As I noted above however, there is always the possibility that we will be met with resistance, especially from such a traditional organization.  It is helpful to know some of the hints given in the text so that we might face these problems as they come, but also effectively

Core Strategy and YOU

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The more I read Content Strategy for the Web the more I feel like it can be applied to our own lives.  Maybe this is asking too much of a book designed to organize non-profits and other online organizations but I can’t help but notice how many of the concepts can be applied to each of us.  Perhaps as I drawer nearer to another graduation from NDSU I am looking for something like core strategy that will serve me better than my current life plan has done…or perhaps I am just in a philosophical mood.

I am beginning to believe there really isn’t such a thing as a “life plan” that actually goes to plan since MY plan has not been cooperating with my actual life for quite some time (if my 18 year old self could see me now: “what do you MEAN you took a leave of absence from veterinary school and you’re getting an ENGLISH degree…what for?”).

I like the opening lines of chapter 7 of Content Strategy which reads “It [core strategy] provides the all-necessary guiding light that keeps you moving in the right direction, no matter what might happen along the way”.  Now to me, it seems pretty glaring how each of us might benefit from a “core strategy” applied to our lives.  Many of us sat in our rooms as adolescents dreaming about the future and all that we would accomplish.  We (or at least I) saw a straight and narrow path to our goal and impatiently awaited the time when we were finally done with college and could be a “real grown up”.   Different events in life however cause us to take detours and maybe a different route entirely than our adolescent selves envisioned.   This is where keeping a core strategy would be most beneficial.

The text explains that successful core strategies are “flexible, aspirational, memorable, motivational and inclusive” and the same could be said for a successful life:  we must be flexible, continually aspire to be better, strive to have a positive impact on the world around us, keep a positive attitude and allow others to help us along the way when we need it.

By following these key elements in our core strategy, we will always have in mind a general goal or aspiration (i.e. this is who I want to be) that is more accepting of life’s twists and turmoils than a rigid 5 or 10 year plan:  surprisingly the world will not end if you don’t own a house and have 3 kids by the time you’re 35…so they tell me.

This post is at risk for becoming too philosophical so I leave you here with the hopes that we all apply a core strategy to our lives:  achieve…Be…. DO!  (97)

The Value of Capital

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Whenever a big company begins strategizing ways to re-vamp their business plan, no doubt capital makes it into some part of their discussion. Capital in the business sense is defined as “the amount of funds that represent an ownership stake in a business or new venture that can be used to create wealth–the accumulated wealth such as cash, stocks and other investments” (www.yourdictionary.com).

After meeting with my group’s non-profit this past week, I found that there are many correlations between running a successful business and running a non-profit.  The type of wealth that each group wants to accumulate however is where things begin to diverge.

In contrast with non-profits, large corporations/businesses are concerned with having the most profit while maintaining the highest level of distribution of product as possible.  Non-profits on the other hand are more concerned with developing and maintaining a network that allows them to spread their mission and help others.  In a way I suppose they too are concerned with high distribution of product; their product in this case being their message (understanding cultural diversity in the case of my group’s nonprofit: Cultural Diversity Resource Center).

This is not to say that non-profits don’t wish to raise money for their organization but I feel as though the success of the group is not as reliant on funds as businesses are—as long as non-profits have enough money to stay afloat, they are usually still considered successful.

Chapter three of The Networked Nonprofit had some interesting insight regarding capital and non-profit groups.  This section introduced the term “social capital” as the type of wealth that nonprofits should be valuing and wanting to accumulate, defining it as “the stuff that makes relationships meaningful and resilient” (33).

As I have discussed in my previous blog posts, I think that the linkage between interpersonal relationships and social media is a great balance between the networking of the past and the networking of the present- we are able to maintain human connection while still utilizing social media to communicate information quickly.

I agree with the authors of The Networked Nonprofit when they write that “organizations need to build, nurture, strengthen and use this capital [social capital] for social change to occur” (33).  In this era, I do not believe that a non-profit can be successful by relying solely on social media or solely on their personal networks. It needs to be a collaborative effort in order for non-profits to find success.

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The Power of Personal Connection

 

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Personal relationships and networks have always been an important part of getting ahead in life.  As the saying goes “It’s not what you do, it’s who you know”- a little reaching in some aspects but as far as careers go I have definitely found this to be true.  In this week’s reading I realized that the world of networked nonprofits and web design is no different- what is most important is the relationships organizations make with their users and the network those users have that may support the organization.

 

The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine discusses at length the importance of these relationships in its first chapters, “They [networked nonprofits] engage in conversation with people beyond their walls to build relationships that spread their work through the network” (3).   Each individual volunteer shares their experiences with an organization with their own personal network of friends, colleagues, etc. to donate their time/money to the cause.

 

Since I am a little bit more old school, I like the idea that a single person who has had a meaningful experience with a nonprofit can share this experience with their own personal network to encourage followers/other support for the nonprofit.  It seems to maintain a happy balance between our lives on the web and our lives connecting with one another face to face.  True, that an individual could be connecting with their network via some social media but I feel like network nonprofits leave more room for face to face connection.

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This being said, there was one quote from The Networked Nonprofit that did not sit quite right with me.  It read, “Technological wizardry shouldn’t overshadow the truly revolutionary power of social media, which is its ability to connect people to one another and help build strong, resilient, trusting relationships” (5).   I agree with the first part of this statement, that social media and its ability to connect people will be more powerful than understanding how to use social media effectively; however I do not believe that “trusting relationships” can grow out of social media connections alone.  I find it difficult to comprehend that you can meet someone online and develop a relationship that is at the same level of friendship that you have with your college roommate for example.  Maybe some will disagree so if you have had a close friendship grow from an online connection please feel free to comment!

 

During the first half of the semester, we were learning more on specific social media strategies to gain followers (what and when to post, design, links, etc.) that had to do much more with the sites themselves than with the people who are a part of the organizations.  Don’t get me wrong, I still see the value in having an efficient social media strategy as far as content goes, but I think that networked nonprofits have the right idea—incorporating personal relationships to promote your nonprofit is much more meaningful than promotion through successful social media posting strategies alone.

 

Keep it Simple and Know Your Audience

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Short form communication has become a constant part of our lives.  There aren’t many people who don’t know the meaning behind “lol” or “omg” (probably the most basic short form abbreviations) and the list of those who use this type of communication every day is growing.  As I have talked about in previous posts, I feel like short form is negatively impacting the way we learn to read and write.  So much of our time is spent on social media that the language we use there can easily infiltrate into other forms of communication where proper grammar is needed.  I’m afraid that someday we will no longer care if someone uses the correct sentence structure even on a resume as long as it is still readable.

This being said, I can realize that short form is the best way to get a message across to the most people quickly and appreciate how it “allows for virtually unlimited creativity” (Sagolla, 1).   To be sure, in order to be a successful nonprofit, organizations must be able to master short form communication.  After re-reading 140 Characters, I have identified the following five characteristics as the most important short form strategies for nonprofits to follow:

  1. Say more with less

This is something that I struggle with tremendously when it comes to posting on Twitter.  As Sagolla writes however, the essence of short form writing is to “leverage context and expectation to produce an instantly larger result” (15).  I think thought should always be put into what we write on any social media site but agree that a three word phrase can raise a lot more curiosity about a nonprofit than a detailed tweet that will most likely get skimmed over.

  1. Start small and serve a special niche

“The language you choose both defines and limits your audience” (19).  For instance, the use of chat room slang in a post will appeal to an audience that is familiar with that type of communication- if a nonprofit is not interested in this group of people, then they should find an abbreviated form that works for them and not force themselves into a certain form just because they see others using it.  In addition, nonprofits should be sure to keep up to date with new vocabulary to maintain the freshest flow of viewers/followers.  As Sangolla points out “each new word unlocks access to a different nook of readers” (19).

  1. Understand your audience

Building off of principle #2, identifying the type of audience you want to cater to as a nonprofit group is crucial in gaining followers.  Once this has been established, understanding this audience is just as important because it will allow you to determine how to best reach them and therefore best get your nonprofit noticed/shared/talked about.  “Your relevance is ultimately determined by the reaction of your audience to your message” (52) so it is important to make sure your message is as relatable as possible.

  1. Reinforce, don’t replace real life

This is especially true for nonprofits who are trying to want to maintain a positive social media presence.  Going along with principle #1, it is always better to say less on social media and save venting or frustrations for your personal/private life:  “It is better to have written and canceled than to write and regret” (33).  The traditionalist in me hopes that everyone will take this point and use it as advice to savor the few moments of actual face-to-face interactions with close friends we have in our real lives.

  1. Design your mark

As with most things in life, developing a key trait that stands out against the masses will help get your nonprofit noticed or at the very least recognized in a sea of tweets on a feed.   It will also help users find your nonprofit more easily.  On Twitter, this unique characteristic will first be applied to your nonprofit’s username and URL.  Eventually the use of certain sentence breaks or emoticons may help define your style and help your nonprofit be recognized.  Sagolla advices users in 140 Characters, “be distinct but crisp with a new name…think of it as a custom license plate” (59).

Social Media and Me…are actually getting along so far

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At the beginning of this course, my social media experience was limited to my personal Facebook account. I had tested the Twitter waters but ultimately felt it was a waste of time and read a couple blogs related to the veterinary field (my area of interest) but in general was very inexperienced in the social media world. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t aware that nonprofits used social media as a tool for marketing/ spreading their message (or maybe I just never really thought about it), nor did I recognize its potential as a personal tool for expressing a particular passion or protest. As the semester has progressed, I have become more familiar with social media being used in this way and hope to incorporate the lessons I have learned both in my own work the remaining semester and as I work more closely with a local nonprofit group.

 
Facebook:
After following my assigned nonprofits, I think it is safe to say that they all feel the most comfortable using Facebook to promote their organization. It was by far the most widely used social media website and most of my nonprofits followed the basic guidelines Mansfield points to in Social Media for Social Good (SMSG). This being said however, a few of these points should always be kept in mind to maintain success/followers on a nonprofit’s Facebook page. For example, Mansfield states that, “As the admin of your nonprofit’s page, your number one priority should be to find out what kind of content from your nonprofit your fans want to engage with” (75). It is important to find a voice that is engaging and sits well with a nonprofit’s fans since they are the ones that will promote the organization the most!

 
Another important point Mansfield mentions is to encourage nonprofit members to be active on the group’s Facebook page. This will maximize exposure the nonprofits’ status updates and their news feed potential (78). I would even take this a step further and allow access to the site by a few trusted nonprofit members in order to add variety to the page. As long as the basic tone is the same, I don’t see the harm in having multiple voices posting content.

 
Since joining the Electronic Communications course, I have seen how Facebook can link together a specific group of people for a purpose other than old friends keeping in touch. I have enjoyed learning about my classmates after they share their blogs and value how our Facebook page provides a laid back environment for asking questions about the course. I would like to become more engaging the second part of the semester and have set a goal to comment or post at least once per week on the class page. Before spring break I had begun sharing my blog posts to my Twitter and Facebook and will try to maintain this practice throughout the semester. I think it is an important way to make my website (wordpress) more engaging and more likely to earn shares/likes/comments which is the name of the game!

 

Twitter:
Although used, Twitter was a site that I did not see utilized as much as Facebook by my nonprofits. When giving advice to nonprofit Twitter users, Mansfield says “If you don’t take your twittering beyond the level of push marketing, your followers will start to tune you out or unfollow you” (94). Perhaps this is why I saw a shift away from Twitter users—they didn’t want to scare away followers so simply avoided tweeting at all and relied more heavily on their Facebook. Whatever the reason, I would encourage nonprofits to work past this fear of tweeting and experiment with different types of tweets/shares to find out which works best with their fan base. The quicker they become comfortable with Tweeting regularly, the faster news of their nonprofit will spread!

 
As far as my personal Twitter usage, I would like to become more comfortable with hashtags and writing my own tweets throughout the semester. In SMSG, the author points out that “hashtags allow twitterers to discuss issues and events” (101)–something that in a communication course such as this one, is very important to master.

 
Blogging:
SMSG suggests allowing guest bloggers on nonprofit sites to add variety and expertise to a topic (168). I agree with this point and feel it would benefit a lot of local nonprofits but recognize that finding a guest blogger (especially in Fargo) might be a challenge. Posting calls to action was another strategy listed in the blogging chapter of SMSG (167-8) that I think the Fargo community especially would respond to well.

 
Categories and tags are two areas of my blog that need work. Every time I have tried to organize my posts I quite honestly just get confused and give up. HOWEVER…I am planning on giving it the real college try the second half of the semester! Mansfield explains this organizational strategy in her chapter and says “the easiest way to think of them [categories and tags] is that categories are file folders with general topics and tags are the contents of those folders” (171). It all still sounds a bit bizarre to me but I understand that a more organized page is more likely to be viewed. An award winning categorized wordpress page will be in my near future!

Social Media & My Nonprofits

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I followed Adopt-A-Pet, Cultural Diversity Resources (CDR) and the Anne Carlsen Center (ACC) leading up to Giving Hearts Day (GHD). I organized a spread sheet to keep track of each nonprofit’s activity on social media, sorting how many posts were made per month, week and days leading up to GHD.
Focusing on the Anne Carson Center first, I noted that they posted new material to their Facebook page about 3 times per week throughout January. These posts were generally about new materials donated to the nonprofit or other progress regarding their center. Towards the end of January and into February (getting closer to GHD) Anne Carlsen posted more frequently but still maintained the same type of content. I think it may have been helpful for them to post more about what they were doing specifically for GHD during that week of February but they clearly still did very well, raising over $350,000. I think this success was due to a good balance in the number of posts/ week and the enthusiasm the posts seemed to share about their nonprofit. In past readings of SMSG, Mansfield goes into detail about the appropriate number of tweets/status updates for nonprofits. The goal is to not over or underwhelm your followers and I think that the Anne Carlsen Center maintained this balance nicely.
The Cultural Diversity Resource Center was similar to the Anne Carlsen Center in that they found a nice balance of status updates and tweets posted per week. Overall I got the impression that their social media presence was at the same quality as the ACC, just on a smaller scale. Their frequency of posts increased during the week of GHD so in this way, they pulled ahead of the Anne Carlsen Center. I felt that the increase in posts related to an increase in anticipation and excitement about GHD!
Adopt A Pet was not involved in GHD but have a lot of social media coverage about other things regarding their nonprofit. Adopt-A-Pet is a huge organization that is broken down into several branches- generally there is 1 shelter per large community. Due to their large size, they are able to maintain all outlets of social networking in a really efficient way. They post about 1 video a week to their YouTube channel and post updates to their Facebook page about twice a day. Their Twitter is quite active and sends out variety of Tweets each week. In general, Adopt-A-Pet posts about “adopting days” and education about pet health and safety.
As I noted in my video blog last week, none of my nonprofits utilized their YouTube channel for GHD. In fact, the most recent video between the three of them was posted several months ago. It seems as though the nonprofits were instead choosing to post their videos to their websites or Facebook pages. Even though it goes against Mansfield slightly, I have to say that I do not see the harm in this strategy. Most of the nonprofits’ followers are on Facebook so I am sure they believe that posting a video on their page will get more views than a video posted to their YouTube channel. My suggestion would be posting a link to YouTube on the nonprofits’ Facebook page or website that encourages followers to check out a specific video on YouTube…and oh by the way, subscribe to our channel!
The reading this week focused on the advantages developing a mobile website may have on nonprofit’s success. The Anne Carlsen Center has a very mobile accessible website that is easy to read on a smartphone. The site fits onto the smaller screen nicely and all the tabs are easy to find and access. Cultural Diversity Resources has a less accessible website. When viewed on my Droid, the text is very small and the home page does not fit to size on my screen. As Mansfield repeatedly points out in chapter 8 of SMSG, we are becoming a very mobile society. For this reason, CDR would do well to make updates to their mobile site to allow easier access (and hopefully donations) from a smartphone. Lastly, Adopt-A-Pet is by far the most mobile friendly, having a completely different website design to accommodate a mobile device. This is due to their extremely large size and ability to hire an individual to design an effective mobile site.