Friday, March 05, 2010

Social media: the less successful stories

Yesterday I facilited a session for the context masterclass on draagvlakversterking (draagvlakversterking is hard to translate but is something like 'strengthening your supporters base') on the topic of social media. It was fun. After a presentation we did a card game in small groups talking about dilemmas. Then we talked about tips and tricks and we ended with three participants showing some of their work with social media and sharing the intricacies. Here's the presentation if you're interested and here's the link to the wiki.

A big lesson is that the social media people (including me) tend to focus on the success stories, which makes it look like an easy thing. See how people collaborate on Twitter to raise 119.000 euros for Haiti. Look what Lego is doing to get customers to participate in the design. Often the same stories circulate. But when you look at actual practice it is hard to replicate because the circumstances in these examples were right, people were interested in the cause. One video going viral (we watched where the hell is Matt) doesn't mean your video will go viral too.... Fortunately we had enough space to swap the hard stories. Next time I'll try to include some less successful stories.... A few of the stories I've heard (I am making sure that the organization is not recognisable; I believe it is good to share these stories but understand why these stories don't get shared easily):
  • One organisation got excited to start an online community when they heard about all the advantages from an external bureau. The site was built but then nobody had the time to engage with it. The site is (almost) empty.
  • After an exciting event a facebook group was created for the participants of the event. However, the purpose of the online group was not discussed and nobody felt responsible. Nothing happened.
  • An organisation wanted to collect people's signatures for a petition. Hoping it would go viral. It never did, few signatures were collected and the petition never materialized.
  • One organisation built a site where people can make profiles and exchange on a forum. People do make a profile but are not exchanging on the forum.
It is very attractive to set up something like an online network, online community or group on a social network like facebook. But it is another thing to think through what is needed in terms of facilitation and support and what you really want to achieve with it. It seem a pitfall we are all falling into.

I noticed from participants' reactions that information overload is a big issue for non-profit staff. Not everyone is happy to get an online community to facilitate or to twitter for the organisation because they are already overloaded with information. This reduces the enthusiasm and makes that working with social media is perceived as a burden and time consuming. I don't know what the solution is. On the one hand I think people do need to develop the skills of working with huge amounts of information, on the other hand it might be best to work with the people who are capable (and even excited) to do this. Apparently it is not for everyone.

Lastly it is powerful to be able to do something for the second or third time. We used the evaluation and the interaction with participants from last year's session. I prepared this session together with the facilitators of the course and we were able to keep the elements that were highly appreciated and added some wishes like the need to have more hands-on tips en tricks. Often we move on and new people take over. Having the chance to keep a team pays off (hope participants will notice that too..).

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