Friday, 4 August 2017

Suffering From The ‘Curse Of Knowledge’?

Take a dose of story telling, write from your heart, and adopt the inverted pyramid.

If you had a choice between reading an engineering and hydraulic account of the construction of Three Gorges Dam in China – which is the largest dam in the world – or Arundhyati Roy’s “The cost of living” – which is about the impact of infrastructure projects on people’s lives in the subcontinent, which one would you opt for?

My bet is that if you are not an engineer or hydraulic specialist, you would probably pick up Roy’s book. And this is because Roy’s account is a story about how infrastructures such as dams can positively or negatively impact people’s lives. It’s because while peppered with relevant facts, figures, and historical accounts, it is about real people – it has a plot, it has a hero, a villain, a turning point and a call to action. And this is why it makes it a compelling read.

As development workers, while we excel in writing concept notes, progress reports, case studies, we struggle to unpack the impact of our work in form of compelling stories. This is because we suffer from a chronic disease called the curse of knowledge.

Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber coined the term “Curse of Knowledge” and described it as the “cardinal sin of finding it hard to imagine that others do not know what you know”. It is when we’re unable to recreate what we know in someone else’s state of mind.

Steve Pinker, Harvard cognitive scientist says, “Anyone who wants to lift the curse of knowledge must first appreciate what a devilish curse it is. Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it.”

He then continues to explain, “I think the curse of knowledge is the chief contributor to opaque writing”. “It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that readers haven’t learned their jargon, don’t seem to know the intermediate steps that seem to them to be too obvious to mention, and can’t visualize a scene currently in the writer’s mind’s eye. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the concrete details — even when writing for professional peers.”

The good news is that if you are open-minded enough to acknowledge you are suffering from the curse of knowledge, there is a cure for it.

And the cure is pretty straightforward: simplify your “complex reality” by creating a common picture which everyone can relate to. Tell human and impact stories featuring real people. Use metaphors and analogies. Know your audience and make your content relevant to them by catering to what they need and want.

For example, if you are writing for a policy maker, have a strong call to action; if you are writing for the general public, tell a compelling story that touches both their heart and head, a story that is inspiring, raises awareness, has a message of hope and a call to action.

Make your story fun and shareable. Be direct and write your story in a way so that your reader has an “aha” moment.

Below are a few tips on how to go about writing a compelling story. Let’s not forget that a story is different from a report.

  • Use the inverted pyramid paradigm
  • Tell the story from the heart, showing impact of the activity on people’s lives
  • Write with passion
  • Craft catchy titles
  • Use quotes
  • Write short and simple sentences
  • Use headings and subheadings
  • Write maximum 500-800 words
  • Stories are not reports
  • Complement stories with pictures and captions
  • Make sure your message is clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent and complete.

When you reach the point of sacrificing, without too much grief, your darlings – or your jargon and insider language – that is when you can consider yourself cured of the invasive “curse of knowledge” disease.

If you are amongst the brave ones out there willing to embrace “curse of knowledge rehab” and adopt story telling paradigm while at the same time sacrificing the intrusive darlings – keep track of your progress and share it with the rest of the community.

May the force be with you!!!


I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Say no to spamming: Engage with others as you would like to be engaged with #socialmedia #spam

Photo credit: Ben Brown
Who amongst us has not been a victim of unsolicited mail, telephone calls, emails or posts showing on our social media timelines?

While there may be few lucky people out there who are oblivious to spamming, many more have  either experienced or practiced one or more form of spamming.

Bulk messaging
When was the last that as a communication professional or social media strategist you sent out messages with the same or similar content? When was the last time you cross-posted or received the same message from different networks?

Sharing undesired or excessive content
When was the last time you received unsolicited content? And when was the last time you pushed out unsolicited content to your network(s)?

Clickbaiting 
When was the last time you clicked on a link because the headline caught your attention to then be totally disappointed by the content of the article? When was the last time you created the coolest headline to entice your readers to click on the embedded link which did not quite match your headline?

We’ve all been victims of spamming and in our digital journey, may have also practiced spamming.

As social media strategists, to maximize the reach of our content, we may have:
  • pushed out similar type of content over multiple channels for a more or less prolonged period of time
  • created pre-canned tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts asking our networks to share these with their respective audience
  • reported live from events inundating cyberspace with podium images and content which is the contrary to soundbites
  • repeatedly promoted dull content

After practicing the above sins, we’ve sulked as our intentional or unintentional spamming resulted in a sharp fall in:
  • engagement - hardly any of our followers, let alone our influencer(s) engaged with the content
  • audience - many of our followers unfollowed or unfriended us and as a result
  • reach - if our average likes or retweets were in the hundreds, our spam content yielded no more than 10 likes or retweets

The digital space is not different than real life…… As such the saying “Do to others as you would have them do to you”….. holds true here as well……

Remember, “Engage with others as you would like to be engaged with”. 
  • Quality over quantity
  • Create compelling content, as this travels miles and miles and at speed of light
  • Nurture your solid and trusted followers/networks

So instead of spinning your wheels in creating content for the sake of creating content and pushing it out indiscriminately, invest in your network(s). 

To expand your digital foot print, create content that allows you to reach out to new unconverted groups and communities.

Remember at the end of the day, it is PEOPLE who make your content go viral. FOCUS on PEOPLE and less on process.


Next time someone spams you, remind them that for their content to go viral, it needs to resonate with the audience - you being one of them. Work with them and make their spam content salient and relevant. And once you’ve done so, celebrate putting another nail in the spam coffin!


I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Sunday, 13 November 2016

#Socialmedia metrics: Trashing “vanity metrics”, embracing engagement and behavioural change indicators #UNMetrics

Source: https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-metrics
In this month’s blogpost, I’m reaching out to the community to see if we can brainstorm to find relevant and meaningful indicators to assess the impact of our social media efforts.

We all know that in the development space, our success is measured by the impact we have on people’s lives. If you are an economist, you probably measure this in terms of income; if you are a sociologist you measure it in terms of well-being of a household; if you are a governance expert, you measure the effectiveness of institutions; and if you practice sustainable development, you measure all of the above and more.

Throughout my social media journey, I’ve been struggling to find a meaningful way of showing the impact of development-related social media efforts.

I’m not fully convinced that number of fans/followers, number of mentions; number of retweets and/or social shares tell the full impact story.

I consider the above as quantitative indicators – or what others call “vanity metrics”. These are not hard core engagement indicators. They do not shed light on behavioural change nor do they show the action of the user on any given piece of content.

Maybe there are folks out there who have cracked this nut. If so, please share your insights.

Bearing in mind that we can never get away from metrics, I would love to hear from our very own community whether the following indicators could help us have a better picture of the impact of our social media efforts:

  • how are the influencers in our field engaging with our content
  • are our followers taking action and/or inquiring about our work as a result of “reading” and “interacting” with our content
  • how are our followers curating our content
  • how is our audience complementing our content to generate new knowledge
  • how is our audience advocating on our behalf and/or advocating our cause
  • what is the evidence of behaviour change as a result of interacting and engaging with our content
  • who is providing salient, substantive and constructive comment, thus sparking new conversations
  • is the community raising issues and pushing us out of our comfort zone
  • what is the quality of original content we’re producing to respond to our follower’s needs and request

I am sure our collective wisdom and experience can help us crack this nut. So please, share your ideas and input. Let’s try and come up with a set of comprehensive indicators which really measure engagement and behaviour change.

To share your thoughts all you need to do is tweet with the #UNmetrics

Looking forward to your insights. Until then goodbye…..


I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Friday, 21 October 2016

Recreating the golden age of “Letters to the editor”

Do you remember the letters to the editor? The missive that we used to write to express an opinion and our views, hoping that it would get published…..

These missives, which were the print version of on-line commenting, tweeting and blogging  and often works of art, would get published in reputable newspapers, magazines and weeklies.

They were works of arts, because of their rigor, because of the fact that they followed a protocol in expressing views and opinions, because they hardly ever used profane and/or offensive language, because they were combatant in a respectful manner.

Today the internet and social media have become preferred communications channels for many as they allow us to easily connect and engage in conversations. The “social” web has fundamentally changed how we consume news and content in general. We are using digital tools to insert ourselves in conversations and connect with other people.

As our news consumption pattern evolves, we have developed the urge of immediately reacting and expressing our opinion and ideas.

While there is nothing wrong with this urge, however, in doing so, we need to remember the protocol, the rigor and the respect of the “old century letters to editor”.

As development workers, UN officials and civil servants we have an obligation to express our opinion and views in the most respectful manner. While each and every UN organization has its own code of conduct and ethics, there are certain things that are universal and applicable across the board.

When commenting and engaging in an on-line conversation, you may wish to consider these common-sense guidelines which I had put together sometime ago:

Be a good ambassador: Be aware that your behaviour and opinions on social media channels directly or indirectly reflect on the organization. Make sure your profile picture or avatar reflects your professionalism.

Be honest, transparent and open: If you are blogging about your work, identify yourself. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out by making it clear that you are expressing your own opinion. Bear in mind that transparency does not mean disclosing confidential and/or proprietary information. And remember not to disclose confidential information in your on-line conversation. If you make a mistake, admit it and correct it.

Be passionate, enthusiastic and engaged: Share the passion you feel for your work and talk about your successes and challenges. If you are writing a blog, encourage your readers to provide feedback and comment. Read the contributions of others and see how you can contribute to the conversation.

Be responsible: You are responsible for what you write and how you behave on social media channels. Participate in online social media, however,  do so properly and exercise solid judgment.

Be conversational: Talk to your readers and avoid being pedantic. Do not be afraid to bring in your personality. When communicating on social media, consider content that is open-ended and one that solicits response, so that you can engage in a conversation. Cite others when you blog and solicit comments.

Be respectful: Respect your audience’s privacy, respect your colleagues and peers. Respect your “competitors”. Disagree in a respectful manner.

Be conscious when mixing professional and personal: Sometimes the professional and personal may intersect. While respecting freedom of speech, as  international civil servant, we have certain obligations and need to abide by our organization’s code of conduct.

Be aware of global implications: Your interactions on social media channels can have global significance. The way you answer a question online or write may be appropriate for some parts of the globe, but considered inappropriate or illegal in other parts of the world. Therefore, keep the “world view” in mind when engaging with social media tools.

Bring value: The best way to get your thoughts and words across is to write things that people will value. Write informative, interesting and thought-provoking content. Help build a sense of community by sharing and discussing your experiences and challenges.  Do not forget you are responsible for what you write. Aim for quality and not quantity.

Build relationships: Engage with your audience and build trust to develop “relationships” rather than just exclusively using social media as an advocacy tool.

Correct mistakes: If you come across a misrepresentation of your organization’s work, identify yourself and correct the mistake. In most cases people do not mind being corrected. However, if you get the feeling that someone is deliberately misinterpreting what you are saying, ignore them. On the other hand, if you have made a mistake, do not hide it, be open and admit it.

Give credit where credit is due: Do not claim authorship for something that is not yours. If you are using third party content, make sure you have permission to use it and provide appropriate attribution. Do not use copyrighted and trademarked content without asking permission.

Know that the internet is permanent: Once information is published online, it becomes a permanent record. Remember on the internet everything stays on Google!

Respond to constructive criticism: Turn negative comment into positive discussion. Thank the commenter and engage them in a conversation. Take time to read between the lines and understand the arguments. In correcting factual errors and responding be respectful, sincere, confident and truthful.

Separate opinions from facts: When interacting on social media, make sure you separate opinions from facts.

Spread the work and connect with people: Do not talk about yourself exclusively, but also share the successes of your colleagues, peers and the organization you work for.

Think of CNN, your mother and your boss: Do not say anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing quoted on CNN or other television networks, discussing with your mother or explaining to your boss! Remember, there is nothing private on social media and all your posts and comments may be traceable.

Use a disclaimer: If you publish on a third party website or on your personal blog, use a disclaimer similar to:“The information posted on this blog and/or website are my personal views and opinions and do not necessarily represent my organization’s positions, strategies or opinions”

Write what you know: When writing about development-related issues, write in first person and stick to your areas of expertise.

The above are excerpts of what the social media guidelines I had prepared for IFAD. Hope you find the above useful and if you are interested to know more, here is the link to the full version of the guidelines.


I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

#Hashtag or not to #hashtag, that’s the question….



The advent of social media is making the once “off-limits”, highly exclusive meetings less exclusive and more participatory.

Take the World Economic Forum…. Back in 1971 when Professor Klaus Schwab kicked off the then “European Management Forum”, this event was an exclusive meeting for a select few. As the event and the institution evolved into the World Economic Forum (WEF), it continued to remain pretty exclusive, until the early adopters in the room started tweeting.

That was the beginning of democratization of WEF. The live reporting allowed those of us “outside the room” to know in real time what the world movers and shakers were up to. It also allowed “those outside the room” to take part, share their views and dare I say influence the future.

With the advances of technology and more specifically thanks to live webcasting, live reporting, SnapChat, Facebook Live, Google Hangouts, the once exclusive events are becoming more and more participatory.

I consider this democratization as an excellent opportunity for influencing policies and politics. This said, I also acknowledge that for it to work, we all need to be engage and embark on the journey in a responsible way.

As social media strategists, the opening up of meetings to “those outside the room” demands that we decide whether it is best to set up event specific social media channels and/or use event specific hashtags.

There are many opinions out there and it goes without saying that folks need to assess and go with what suits them best. In this blogpost I am offering my take based on my own personal experience.

Personally, I would not create an event specific channel. And here is why…..

Think about it – an event has a start and end date. While you may be able to populate the channel with compelling content before and during the event, think of how you’ll go about maintaining it after the event is over. Also, think of what is required in terms of time and effort to build a solid follower base so that your content reaches those who need to know about it.

Here is an alternative to creating event specific channels…. Why not use your already well-established social media channel – that is to say your corporate account(s). By doing so you are not starting from ground zero. You already have a solid follower base and more importantly you can count on all those folks who care about your work and who are willing and able to advocate on your behalf.

This means you do not have to go through a lot of trouble to drum up interest provided you share compelling and engaging content. In doing so, you can leverage your followers networks to raise awareness about your event. At the same time, by using an existing and well-established account you’ll be able to mesh your event content with other type of content, thus providing the necessary depth and breadth.

Keep all of that in mind and let’s add another element to the equation to make your event super special…. And here comes the almighty HASHTAG.

Hashtags are your best allies. They allow your content to standout and allow you to aggregate your content across platforms. A good hashtag is as good if not better than a compelling content.

You know the saying “a picture is worth than a thousand words” Well a good and well-thought out hashtag is worth a thousand words…..

When you embark on crafting your event hashtag, you may be tempted to have your own proprietary hashtag…. Take a minute and check to see if there is already a hashtag that you can use. Check out some of the trending ones and see if any one of these can fit your bill.

Remember, you want to engage with the audience, therefore building on a hashtag which has a solid presence and where there is good conversation going on will only increase chances of your content travelling across platforms and allows a wider audience to engage with your content.

Creating hashtags is a fun exercise, as it allows the team to put on their creative hat and come up with cool stuff. Below are some tips on how to go about to create a memorable and “viral” hashtag.
  • First and foremost, sit down with your team and brainstorm.
  • Secondly, make sure the hashtag is consistent with your brand.
  • Thirdly, make sure your hashtag evokes emotions and is action oriented.
  • Fourthly, make it short and sweet.
  • Fifthly, since you are having fun in creating it, make sure it is clever and humorous.
  • And finally, test it to make sure it resonates with your audience and leaves no room for “misinterpretation”.

With your super awesome hashtag in the back pocket; you are now ready to rock!!!!

Start using your hashtag two weeks before your event. Ask your audience to post relevant content using your cool hashtag. Use it as part of your live reporting, be it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or if you are blogging.

In reporting live from your event, use text, photos and videos to share with the folks “outside the room”:
  • the mood in the room and what’s happening in the room
  • the backstory
  • great soundbites

Use the hashtag to keep an eye on the conversation and at the end of your event, use Storify to compile the best soundbites across platforms.

As a final act, thank your followers for taking part, inform of them on what’s next and/or your next big event. Remember to share your Storify compilation using the ALMIGHTY HASHTAG!!!


#ThatsallFolks! Do let me know if there is a specific topic you want to learn about and we’ll indulge. See you next month.


I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The human face behind your avatar: Getting up close and personal with your audience


Last month's blogpost focused on the importance of engaging with and figuring out the time zone of your audience. 

Continuing with the theme of how best to engage with your audience, I am sure you'll agree that the most compelling content are those that show the human face behind the avatar. It is content that tells something personal about you, it is content that endears you to your audience and allows you to forge a trustworthy relationship.

While we have our areas of expertise and topics that we talk about most, at the same time we also have our pet projects and other interests. To boost engagement, you may wish to consider embracing the magic blend between the professional and personal and master the art of weaving the personal with the professional.

For example, as  development worker, I tweet about ICT4D, agriculture, rural development, rural poverty, food security, knowledge management, climate change, environment and most recently about illegal trade in wildlife.

What I've tried to do in my social media journey is to spice up my professional presence on social media channels with personal a touch to show the human face behind my avatar. Quite often I share my personal views about topics that are close to my heart and share snippets of information about my hobbies and pet projects such as  Formula 1, travel itineraries, bucket lists, news about my home country and my adopted home country. I also tweet about a handful of world leaders and personalities.

One of my most rewarding moments, is when someone comes up to me - and this is typically at a meeting - and tells me, "Oh, you are @rsamii who tweets about @Pontifex, @Potus and you are an F1 fan". YES!!!! That is the real me!



I am writing a series of guest blogs for @unsocial500 on how to boost engagement on social media. The purpose of the series is to share best practices and tips. The above blogpost first appeared on UN Social 500 site. If there is a specific topic you want more information and guidance on, please let me know so that I can put it in the pipeline :)


Sunday, 7 August 2016

#MumbaiBeachClean, biggest beach clean up in history, featuring @LewisPugh, @afrozShah1 and @versovabeach #cleanseas

Afroz Shah and Lewis Pugh at the end of a hard day work. Photo credit UNEP
Back in 2009 when Lewis Pugh shared his story of how he swam in the waters of North Pole at a TedTalk, he got a standing ovation. Since then, he has received many more standing ovations. 

His latest feat, was this weekend, when he joined Afroz, a lawyer by profession, who has taken upon himself to organize the biggest beach clean up in history.

Some 40 weeks ago, Afroz, the Versova beach hero and his beloved mentor Mr Mathur took it upon themselves to clean up the this beach in Mumbai.

Thanks to their will power and conviction, they managed to rally 200+ volunteers who have since been relentlessly engaged in the most massive and historic beach clean up and have collected 1.3 million kilogrammes of trash.


Lewis Pugh joining Afrouz and his team to clean up the ocean of litter on Versova beach in Mumbai. Photo credit: UNEP
The civil action and efforts of these responsible citizens caught the attention of Lewis Pugh, United Nations Environment Patron of Ocean

Lewis, who is the personification of a champion and a true ocean advocate took it upon himself to lend a hand to Afroz and his team. 

Armed with his usual will power and knowing that if you train your mind and have a clear vision of what you want, you can achieve no matter what, yet again, through his deeds managed to "really shake the lapels of world leaders to get them to understand what is happening".

What I found most admiring and inspiring about Lewis, is how he followed his heart and conviction and how in the most unassuming and "non-diva" manner he literally rolled up his sleeves to help Afroz and his team. He is one of those few folks who does not need a world stage to do good deeds. And as a leader he makes sure that those around him rise to the top. 

Lewis and Afroz have set the bar high for anyone who wants to get involved in a good cause and bring about change. They showed us all, that to do a good deed, you do not need to create too much fanfare.

When there is a will, there is a way..... The ocean of litter made way to a clean beach
They showed us that to bring about change and raise awareness about issues that matter to us, we need to follow our heart, remain true to our beliefs and champion our cause in a responsible manner.

And at the end of the day, when a cause is worthy, it will have many followers and the results will materialize in tangible manner without millions of spotlights shining on an individual.

Here is a glimpse of Versova Beach after the clean up...... Some may call it a miracle.... It just shows when there is a will, there is a way.

Thank you Afroz and Lewis for staying true to yourselves and thank you for inspiring us to pursue our dreams and all the things that are close to our heart.