Tanzania: 6 Days Away

Sunset - Zambia
That fast! I am six days away from flying across the world again! It seems like I literally just got back from Zambia. I’ll be in Tanzania for ten days as an International Reporting Project fellow learning about and reporting on agriculture, poverty, food security, and hunger. My heavy emphasis will, of course, be on women and children. Women make up the vast majority of the agricultural sector in Tanzania and nearly fifty percent of Tanzanian children are stunted. I am particularly interested in digging into these statistics and hearing stories from the ground. I am particularly interested in learning why the stunting rate is so high in a country where seventy-five percent of the population works in agriculture.

Read my work as an International Reporting Project Zambia fellow.

I look forward to also delving into reasons why the agricultural sector needs improvements in private investments, stronger infrastructure for farmers to take their crops to market, irrigation, better seeds, and economic development and empowerment for farmers. I also look forward to reporting on how women fare as farmers. Although women do most of the farming across sub-Saharan Africa women still lack access to capital and are left out of the decision-making process.

I leave on Saturday for a long trip to Dar es Salaam. For those who know me best, you know I relish a long flight. It gives me a chance to get away from the dinging of my devices for a while. As someone who lives on the Net and on all of my mobile devices, it’s hard for me to set them down and close the laptop. I must always be on, but when I’m 30,000 feet in the air it’s nice to just let them rest.

Of course, while I am in Tanzania I will be sharing a ton of photos. So many people have preconceived ideas about Africa that always tend to be negative – that it’s dusty, full of child soldiers, bloody gold and coltan mine battles, corrupt governments, and children with flies in their eyes. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Africa is an amazing continent with a wide expanse of good and bad, just like any other continent on the globe. I always want to break stereotypes if I can. Photos go a long way in doing that.

As before when I was in Zambia, I will be using video, audio, photos, and text to share my work in Tanzania. I will also throw in a few other new media tricks I’ve been tinkering with as well. Follow me on Twitter for updates from my travels. You can find all of my work in the following places:

Impatient Optimists
Huffington Post
Social Good Moms
Twitter (@jenniferjames | @socialgoodmoms)
Pinterest Board

Why I’m Traveling to Zambia Next Month

Tree on South African SavannaI’m headed to Africa again next month and I cannot wait to get there.

I will be in Zambia for ten days in July! I need to soak that in for a moment. The trip has been on my calendar for a few months, but it’s quickly becoming real now that I have less than twenty days to go before I travel to the southern part of Africa for the first time.

I’m excited!

In May I was selected as a new media journalist by John’s Hopkins’ International Reporting Project to report on global health, specifically HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in Zambia. So for now on every post I write before, during, and after the trip to Zambia I will identify myself as an International Reporting Project Zambia Fellow. It does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? While this isn’t my first fellowship, it’s the first that has allowed me to travel outside of the country. For that, I am extremely grateful. I was so happy when my Zambian Visa arrived earlier this month. And I am even more thrilled, probably more thrilled than anything, that all of my vaccinations are up to date.

While in Zambia I will be in excellent company traveling with brilliant freelancers and journalists who write for publications from Nature to Al Jazeera to Mashable. You can see the ten of us here on the International Reporting Project Zambia page. We’ll all be diligently writing while we’re in Zambia so be sure to follow our coverage. My focus will center on these three communicable diseases and how they acutely affect mothers and children. I can’t wait to tell some amazing stories from the ground through video, audio, photography, and posts. I’m going to play around with a lot of different sites and mash them up to make one big cohesive narrative. I have some ideas rolling around in my head. I’ll just have to execute them when I’m there.

I leave mid-July and will be back just in time to make it to Blogher. Oh, and by the way, if you would like to apply to also be a new media fellow with the prestigious International Reporting Project, applications are now open to travel to Tanzania to cover poverty, hunger, and food security. I know that’s going to be an amazing, informative trip. Go! Apply!

Getting Your Hands Dirty in Social Media

New York City
Last week I traveled to New York to speak on the Women and Philanthropy panel at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy. Coordinated by NYU NYU Heyman Centerprofessor, author, and journalist Marcia Stepanek and moderated by NYU professor, journalist, and President of CauseWired, Tom Watson, I was honored to share the panel with author and social media expert Allison Fine, Vanessa Valenti, founder of Feministing, and filmmaker and app developer Nancy Schwartzman. We had a lively discussion about the ways in which women use social networks and their personal, authentic voices as free agents to push agendas, make their voices heard about issues that matter to them, and spur change both online and offline. We talked about some of the bigger issues from last year like the Susan G. Komen debacle and the rise of Malala’s voice through social media.

The audience that cold, wintry night was a mix of students and those working in the nonprofit sector in some capacity. One point that was hammered home, especially by Allison and me, is that in order to reach “real” people nonprofits have to be willing to get their hands dirty a little. They must be willing to try new communication approaches and not be afraid to fail. Everyone who works in social media has been dinged up a bit by trying something new and failing miserably. Oh, yes, we all have cuts and bruises from putting ideas out on social media and they don’t resonate. It’s all a part of the new media landscape. You win some and you lose some, but you’ll never learn if you don’t try.

Social media has democratized conversations on the Web and has completely changed the power structure of online communication. Many organizations especially those that are still used to talking at and down to people  – are now least effective at talking to people. It’s not about over-thinking strategy. It’s about getting down to the basics. That is, going to where people are and talking to them whether that’s on Twitter or Instagram. In this day, walls must come down in order to reach new audiences.

After our panel – which was exhilarating beyond measure – I reminisced on how much I miss talking on panels. I used to speak at all of the major mom blogging conferences and I must say the exchange of ideas was really great. Now I look forward to speaking more about social media for social good, the digital space, and how causes and nonprofits can best utilize new media to open conversations about what they’re doing.

Photos of New York

Going to New York would, of course, be useless without walking the streets and taking a few photos. When I’m in the city I soak in as much of the Big Apple before I’m off again for home.

New York City

New York City

New York

Going Home

And then, like that, the very next day we were on our way home traveling south on 1-81 to take in the scenery. It was gorgeous after a fresh snow.



Oh, Snap! I’m Featured on @Memolane With the Likes of Loic Le Meur and Robert Scoble

I heard about Memolane a few months ago and thought WOW! how smart is this? If you haven’t signed up yet, be sure you do. It’s a fascinating way to keep a timeline of all of your online activity. Here is my personal Memolane as well as the Memolane for the Mom Bloggers Club. Make sure to friend me when you sign up!

I was delighted to receive an email from Memolane asking to feature my Memolane because they have opened them for brands. Lo and behold I am featured on the front page of Memolane with the likes of Robert Scoble and Loic Le Meur. Squee!

Thanks, Memolane!

In other news I decided to screenshot the BlogWorld Expo list of 2011 speakers before it’s gone. Look who else I’m in great company with. Pinch me!

I have no idea how or why I have become more visible this year, but I’ll sure as heck take it!

Social Media Consultation in Exchange for Wine. Works for Me

I love shopping local. It’s my thing.

I live in a thriving downtown area in my city. I want it to stay thriving. That’s why I eat at local restaurants, get my coffee at local coffee shops and shop at local stores.

There is a great boutique store that opened a few months ago that’s a few blocks from me. I frequent it a lot these days because the owner is hilarious and she’s such a savvy businesswoman I love dropping by and hearing her talk.

Today we discussed her social media and web presence. She has as a Facebook page but her social media presence isn’t robust. I can help her change that very easily. And in exchange I’ll get wine for free.

It’s not every day that I agree to an exchange like this, but it certainly works for me.

Do You Know Your @PeerIndex Score?

As many of you know, last month I curated two lists of 50 mom bloggers who have Klout scores of 40 or higher. I didn’t realize they would generate so much interest, but they have. Moms now have Klout on their radar and are diligently keeping up with their scores, including me.

Now that most of us understand Klout I have a question for you: do you know your PeerIndex score? Mine is 36 and can be found here: www.peerindex.net/mombloggersclub. One of the things PeerIndex does is calculate your blog, which I think is smart. Plus, they measure LinkedIn as well as Facebook and Twitter engagement.

I may (and may is a very strong word here) create a PeerIndex list in December. Leave your score in the comments and if I decide to create a list, I’ll be sure to include you!

Azeem Azhar, the founder of PeerIndex, left a comment on my “Free Advice to Brands and PR Firms Looking to Work With Mom Bloggers” post, so I decided to interview him about PeerIndex, what it is, and how it will affect us as bloggers.

1) What is PeerIndex and why is it different than other social media measuring companies out there right there?

I think first off it’s important to understand our take on the world–which is that people build up their personal and professional reputations in many different ways, but increasingly online. And that it is important for people to have the tools that let them assess that and ultimately benefit from that. (Benefit from it in the same way that if Jane Doe publishes excellent research into cancer, she might be invited to lecture at Harvard Medical School.)

For us this isn’t about hunting around and saying, “Twitter is growing, what app can we build over the top?” Rather it is a problem that I’ve certainly been thinking about for a better part of a decade. And the problem is this: with the spread of digital networks of people, how can we start to understand people better? How can we benefit from the network structure that exists out there? How can they benefit from it?’

From a product standpoint, here are some things we really care about. We care about what you talk about (i.e the topics you talk about) and we care about how well other people evaluate what you do. To the first point, we know that someone who talks and cares about organic baby food is not necessarily someone who knows or cares about aircraft maintenance. Or that someone who talks about brain cancer knows anything about osteoarthritis. And likewise that the networks of influence that these people have would even be the same.

So the starting point for PeerIndex is to build a model of the world based on people’s real interests and to then observe what goes on and apply some math to identify who resonates with the audience, who triggers actions in the audience.

To the second question: we don’t want to be arbiters about what is good or what is valuable. We can look at social signals (i.e. that other people behave like you) as a week of soliciting an assessment of your activity.

What do we aim to tell you? Well, we aim to tell you some things that you couldn’t (without doing the data collection across millions of accounts and having some good maths) do yourself. And these are mostly ‘relative’ numbers.

On a topic-by-topic basis, today we tell you how well you resonate with that topic community. And this is scored 1 to 100. On a given topic more than 50% of people will have a score of 25 or less. It is hard to get scores into the 80s or 90s.

We will also give you an estimate of your activity in that topic (how active are you on organic baby food? And how active are you compared to the rest of Twitter?)

We’ll also start to tell you how much of your overall audience engages with you on that topic. We also blend these scores to give you a single PeerIndex which measures your overall authority or digital eminence. Once again score 1 to 100 with fewer than 20 people having scores above 90.

What we don’t tell you at this point is how many tweets you’ve made, or how many retweets you’ve had. Of course, we capture this information, we just don’t expose it to you. There is a lot of data that can be pulled out of social networks but we don’t know how useful or actionable it is to be told how many retweets you have had or how many lists you are on. We have had people ask for this, so we may roll it out in a product update next year, but it isn’t a core focus for us.

Take some work we just did around mom bloggers, by which we mean people active on social networks who were interested in early-years childcare in all its forms. (Yes, we considered Dads too).

We were able to identify 48,000 people who would categorise as being interested in early-years childcare, across all its domains. When we focussed on the top 660 of these people, and we found several distinct groups of people on this topic. We could take our analysis further, but it’s more for the client to do. I did a little Wordle of some of the terms used to definet he topic:

2) You mentioned PeerIndex will launch officially in December. What differences can users expect to see in December.

Well, I don’t know if we’ll ever officially launch but our first three months has told us a lot about what we have got right and what we have got horribly wrong.

We will have a platform refresh in December which will introduce some things which I am super excited about. In particular, we’re going to be able to show you much more data about what you talk about and how well it resonates with other people. We’ve also been public with a restricted topic model for the first phase of our beta. This meant that we only showed off 40 topics, most of which were heavily skewed towards tech. We’ll be providing access to a much wider range of subjects through a pretty cool interface.

3) Who do you think will be able to use this PeerIndex information?

Anyone wanting to find out a person or a topic of interest, or wanting to understand more about how they themselves are perceived will be able to use PeerIndex.

We are already helping companies in sectors like publishing, financial services and enterprise software identify opinion leaders in their fields–and helping those opinion leaders receive special insights and benefits from those companies.

4) What are the future plans for PeerIndex?

To be successful, we’ll have to offer more utility to authorities (that is people like you and reading your blog), so we’ll continue to invest in that. That utility will come both from data about your behaviour, understanding you communities and through making it easier to find relevant folk.

More social networks / data sources : yes–as long as they meaningfully add to our analysis.
More languages : of course. We’re already doing things in Dutch, German and Portuguese.

5) Where are you based? Does PeerIndex have venture funding?

We are based in London, with a development group in Slovenia. We’re backed by angels includined Anthemis Group, Shamil Chandaria, Sherry Coutu, Stefan Glaenzer and Bill Emmott.

Can I draw attention to a few things we don’t yet to do well?

It’s worth noting that our focus is the fat-middle of people–that is people who are not already well-known and super identified, but who have some identifiable authority or influence.

So you’ll notice we don’t too a terribly good job of say @dooce – whose twitter footprint far underweights her blog footprint. We also don’t do a particularly great job on @kimkardashian or @barackobama – there are reasons for that and we know how to fix it. But right now, my take is that if you are a mom blogger who doesn’t know @dooce or a business person who doesn’t know @barackobama, you have bigger issues than PeerIndex could solve.

The main reason for this being that these people have such large audiences that when we start to factor them into calculations their scale drowns out everyone else, they way bright sunlight makes it hard to seen your mobile phone screen.

Where we do work very well is in the fat torso. In other words, I am extremely confident we can answer questions like: ‘Who are 250 people interested in ‘education at home’ or ‘student funding’ or ‘solid state physics’. I would claim to be able to find the single most important person in each of those domains. We’re working on that problem because it is an interesting one, but it isn’t, we believe, as valuable as what we provide today.

As for helping your readers – the best thing they can do is come and register on Peerindex (www.pi.mu), as well as encourage their readers to register. It takes us about three days to first index you and about two weeks to get really robust about it. The more people we have in a given subject area, the better our results tend to me, so just inviting your friends improves the platform for everyone.

Free Advice to Brands and PR Firms Looking to Work With Mom Bloggers

Since publishing my lists of mom bloggers with Klout there has been quite a bit of interest in them. For brands, media, and PR firms who are looking at these lists I caution you to understand that one’s Klout score is only a minor dimension into someone’s overall influence. In order to really understand a mom’s influence you have to get to know her by reading her posts and conversing with her either at conferences, events, or on Twitter. It takes more than reading lists to best determine who will be a perfect fit for your brand or campaign.

One of the most poignant comments left on my blog regarding Klout and influence was written by Katy who blogs at Bird on the Street. She said, “We tend to think of the digital space as a pyramid, but that’s hardly true. Everywhere you look women (and men) are creating and influencing in their particular niche.”

And, that is brilliant and so true!

In my last post, I mentioned there are pockets of influence throughout the mom blogging community instead of there being top mom bloggers and then everyone else.  That is what I sought to illustrate with my Klout lists.

In my chart above I have two mom blogging scenarios. The first is true to a certain extent, but for brands, it is important to understand that the second scenario is more true.

Scenario 1 : When you think of the mom blogging community certain names always bubble to the surface. These moms are the ones who dwell at the very top of the pyramid.

Scenario 2: What is more true of our community, however, is there are a lot of little niches like green, luxury, and travel mom bloggers and in each of those niches there are pockets of influencers. As a brand, this is the scenario you have to think hardest about.

A lot of the brands who are serious about the mom blogging space already understand this. But, if you are new to the space this is a lesson you have to learn quickly if you want optimal outreach with mom bloggers.