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Over the weekend I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of one of Canada's largest companies speak about values, transparency, and self-awareness. Impressed by his outlook on business and responsible leadership, I was motivated to send him a note this morning, to explore interests in working with SoJo. This could be a very big deal - or nothing at all. I was excited and nervous all at once.

With no pre-existing relationship or shared contacts, I very carefully drafted a cold-email. A cold-email is an email where you reach out directly to someone of interest, without an introduction. Introductions are great, as they allow you to lend off the credibility of your mutual contact and can give your email priority among all the nameless messages; however when there is no mutual contact a cold-email is the way to go. Cold-emails can often feel like you're sending a message to the black hole - but if done right, can be incredibly successful.

Over the course of the last year and during my academic research that led to SoJo, I have sent hundreds of cold-emails. SoJo has been relatively successful with cold-emails. More than half of the content on http://theSoJo.net have come as a result of cold-emails. When going on our first cross-Atlantic networking trip, some of my most engaged and meaningful connections came as a result of cold-emails.

I am obviously a big advocate of cold-emails, and as such, SoJo has implemented a policy where we respond to all new incoming emails within a timely manner. However if you are not cold-messaging us, here are some insights that may help you overcome this fear:

Practice, Practice, Practice
Daunting initially, it gets easier with time. The more cold-emails you write, the better you get at articulating your message in a way that resonates with your audience. With no human contact, it can be very difficult to get the attention of your reader and compel them to take the initiative to respond to your message.

Be clear with your intentions
Everyone is busy. Be honest and state your intentions upfront. If you don't have a clear idea of why you're messaging this person, then perhaps wait until you confidently feel like you can lead a meaningful conversation that will offer value to the other party. You'd be surprised of the number of people willing to help, but it's your job to ensure they understand what you need.

Opportunity cost of waiting
You miss 100% of the opportunities you don't take. Ask yourself, what's the most you have to lose? The time you spent writing that email and disappointment that comes when you receive no response? The more you send, the better your probabilities of a positive response. Often we don't send a cold-email, because we're waiting for a warm introduction, or for the right time to sell our vision. Its ok if your product is not perfect or if you don't have all the answers. That's why you're reaching out to others to get involved.

Its OK to be nervous
While it gets easier with practice, if you're sending an email to someone whom you're excited to connect with, the nerves will still kick-in when you're about to click "SEND." That's ok. It serves as a reminder that you're still passionate about the work you do, and have the courage to put yourself out there. This is a good thing!

Write with no expectations
If I had to guess, I think my success rate on cold-emails is about 40%. Although I put an incredible amount of effort into drafting good cold-emails, with time, I've learned to let go of the expectations of a response. In my opinion, it is better to be pleasantly surprised, then sadly disappointed. People are busy. Some people don't acknowledge or read an email if it is not from someone they know. I personally don't think this is smart business, as we must be open to opportunities that present themselves in many forms -- but we must be mindful of the reality that exists.

Twitter is also cited as a highly effective way of building meaningful connections with strangers, and some of the suggestions above can be adapted for other forms of communication.

 
 
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Now that we've developed an initial version of our product (http://theSoJo.net), it is important to understand different applications of the product, potential users and channels through which SoJo can be made accessible to our target audience.

Within the next month, SoJo will be involved in three major events: National Business and Technology Conference, Youth Making a Difference, and the Canadian Undergraduate and Technology Conference as a Post-Conference Engagement Sponsor. We launched at the SociaLIGHT conference in the Fall and will provide similar type of support to these conferences.

Why do student-run conferences need SoJo?
They expended a great deal of effort convening bright young leaders from across the country, inspiring them with amazing speakers and developing their skills. It is imperative that the momentum continue once the conference is over. Currently, there is no organization that supports delegates after conferences, to help them develop their ideas. SoJo is an online resource that provides tools, knowledge and guidance to young people who have ideas and are looking for support to take their ideas into action. Through our sponsorship agreement, SoJo will be sharing usage data with the organizers of these conferences. This will allow them to better understand the needs of their delegates, which can be very valuable to inform future programming.

Although the value exchange is quite compelling for both parties, these conferences remain an experiment for us. We're putting our ear to the ground; interacting with the delegates, getting a sense of their needs and if SoJo can meet those needs. Big questions we're looking to answer: Is it worth our time and resources participating in conferences like these? Are conferences the best way to reach our target audience? Is there an opportunity to commercialize our participation in such events?

While we find answers to these questions, I personally am excited about having the opportunity to hear great speakers, meet interesting people and get inspired by the new ideas that emerge from these events.

If you are organizing a conference and would like to get SoJo involved, please read our Sponsorship Package for more details.

 
 
Last night three of our newest team members came together to brainstorm ideas and lay the framework for SoJo's second video. We've recently been asked by several conferences and events to partner with them, by providing SoJo to all participants to support them to take their ideas into action. Since it is impossible to attend all of these events, which are scattered across the country, a video seemed like the ideal solution, where we have control over how SoJo is presented to the audience, and once made, it can easily be reused multiple times.

The energy between our team members tasked to make this video was great. The ideas built on top of one another, everyone was open to listening to different perspectives and we were all on the same page when writing out the implementation strategy.

I'm very confident with skills and resourcefulness among this new team and am optimistic the process of making this video will be one that brings joy and excitement, and not angst. The last video SoJo made expended an incredible amount of organizational resources and by the end of that process almost everyone was frustrated and tired. We're more organized this time around and have an increased awareness of our abilities. I'm hopeful this is what is needed to make SoJo Video 2 a more enjoyable journey.
 
 
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SoJo officially joined the online world of social media one year ago this week. The past 365 days have been filled with lessons learned, challenges and proud successes.    

From the beginning, we placed heavy emphasis on understanding and effectively utilizing the available social media tools. With no prior knowledge of social media, efforts began with organically testing the waters to discover what conversations were being had, what kind of content was being shared and where SoJo might fit into the online ecosystem. Over the course of the Spring, we gradually moved up the learning curve by soliciting tips from some social media-savvy friends, experimenting with different messaging, and developed specific engagement routines.

In June, we drafted the first version of an online communications strategy. The evolving document would help us better understand our objectives and methods for developing SoJo’s online community. In mid-summer we changed our Twitter handle, as we were missing out of a significant volume of traffic. The move was important both a user acquisition and branding perspective.

In addition to learning to reigns of Twitter, we launched our first YouTube Video, and even created a custom-branded Facebook Page.

As we launched the private Beta in July, we began to more closely track some hard metrics from our online activity. The simple list included a weekly account of followers, friends, mentions, clicks and the like. In order to effectively measure our online efforts, we set a target to increase our Twitter followers by 5% a week. It was a reasonable challenge that provided a new framework for our community building efforts. Some weeks we succeeded, and many we didn’t; all the more reason to commit to fulfilling this goal in year 2 of our social media efforts.

A switch from using Twitter.com to the social media management platform, Hootsuite, made it more time-efficient and easier to stay on top of the interactions. In particular, the batch scheduling service allowed me set-up a roster of Tweets to reach different audience at different times of the day, enabling me to work smarter

Following SoJo’s public beta launch in November, we rode high on a wave of support from people across the world congratulating us on our soft launch and sharing content on the SoJo site. It was amazing to see the reach of our connections; something that would be near impossible to know without the likes of Twitter & Facebook.

Now, over the coming months, we expect SoJo’s interactions on social media will continue to grow, adapt to new changes in the online environment and continue to further our organizational objectives. We are keen to adopt new methods, explore new frontiers and discover the most effective ways to engage with our users, partners and supporters. Training a listening ear, finding a voice, building SoJo's online identity, and monitoring our efforts are each a unique challenge. It has taken time, but like each step in our journey, we are much further ahead than we were a year ago today.

If you’ve yet to connect with us online, please do so here.

Written by Trevor Gair, SoJo's Community Builder

 
 
Today marks the 101th International Women's Day. For the past 5 years, I've been advocating for the rights of young girls through Nukoko, and woke up to an inbox flooded with emails and messages from friends and family commemorating what today represents. I will be the first to acknowledge the barriers and inequalities that exist in our world in 2012, yet as a young female leader in an largely male-dominated industry, I'm very cautious of not letting my gender define who I am and what I am capable of doing.

Earlier this week, I read essays written by Frances Hesselbein, originally published in the Leader to Leader Journal. An accomplished pioneer in many respects, Frances Hesselbein was the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and the current Chairman and Founding President of the Drucker Foundation.

Here is an excerpt which resonated particularly well with me:
As we focus on task [the work we do], we move beyond the old assumptions, practices, and language that can be barriers to equal access. One barrier is placing women in a special category of gender.

The management qualities that might be labeled feminine are embraced by remarkably effective women and men: leading with the power of language, cultivating relationships, building teams and structures that release the energy and potential of others, developing flexible and fluid management systems, building an inclusive organization that, in the words of Peter Drucker, "makes the strength of their people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant." Some might call this feminine management, others would call it the way we must lead

The future calls us to lead beyond where we are to focus on a new level of appreciation, inclusion, and performance. To continue to make remarkable progress, leaders who are women must focus on performance always.

Today is a day dedicated to celebrating what women have done, what they are doing, and what they will accomplish in the future. While we celebrate, let us try to move beyond labels and rather focus on mission, values and task. We must actively create the world we want belong to, and this starts with how we view ourselves and those whom we work with. 

History of International Women's Day
Beginning in Europe in 1911, more than one million women and men attended rallies where they calling for the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and the right to work. Later adopted by the United Nations, the day is about remembering the battles long fought to build societies on strong foundations of gender equality (Nukoko)
 
 
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My efforts to control my inbox have failed and I've resorted to setting a concrete challenge to bring some order back to the chaos. For the month of March (and hopefully beyond), I've set a personal challenge for myself to not check any work emails on Saturdays. An entirely email-free weekend is not yet an option, as most of SoJo team member work over the weekends; and being able to respond to messages on Sunday is necessary to ensure I am not a bottleneck. As a rule however, no external emails will be sent over the weekend. Work-life balance is important, and we need to lead by example.

In addition to setting a good precedent, I'm excited to mentally unplug and have some space to breathe. I will still give myself permission to do SoJo-related activities, however having the discipline to not consult my inbox will allow me to take a step back, relax the mind, and disconnect - all of which will make this journey feel more human.

So what will I do on my first email-free Saturday? Do something I haven't done in a very long time -- read a book!

This is the first of many challenges. By setting a specific challenge with a very clear actionable task and publicizing it on this blog, I am hoping this will hold me accountable to delivering on this challenge.

Feel free to follow our challenges or set your own. When creating a challenge, be sure to share it publicly: whether it be online over Twitter, on your blog, or in an email to your team-members. Physically writing out the challenge (with a clear deliverable that is timebound) and sharing it will make you more likely to follow-through on it. 

 
 
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SoJo is a global organization, and while in our infancy we have very aggressively and courageously built a presence in the United States and the United Kingdom without any pre-existing networks. Over the past year, it's been important for us to identify and seize as many opportunities as possible, as that was what was necessary to build our presence in our early days. For the past week I've been in the Northeastern United States to attend the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference and a short networking trip in New York. While in New York there was absolutely no desire to stack up my schedule with meetings and actively pursue new leads. Previous trips in New York and London will say otherwise. With the exception of one new meeting, the rest of the trip was focused on strengthening existing relationships and meeting with established partners.

Over the course of this trip however, I've come to the realization that we need to shift our focus, which means not accepting every opportunity that comes our way. Re-prioritizing focus is a continual process. Past shifts included, building our presence, refocusing on building the product (multiple times), building the organization, launching in a meaningful way, listening to our audience, and global expansion. Our focus is now on building a solid and active community of users on the home-front and building the infrastructure that will allow SoJo to get out of Beta.

Recognizing that SoJo is here to stay, opportunities will always exist. With limited resources, we must now be strategic and selective in the events we participate in. I will be turning down an invitation to attend the Clinton Global Initiative U in Washington, DC later this month. Our seed funding will most likely come from Canada, and it is important that we demonstrate our impact locally. Over the next two months, we will be involved with a handful of events as a sponsor, partner, workshop facilitator and even keynote speaker. I'm excited for this next shift in focus and to bring SoJo back home.