Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Twitter for organisations

I follow some organisations and some individuals on Twitter (I follow northern NGOs like @oxfamnovib, and some southern NGOs like @alamad_NGO). Generally, I find organisations' slightly boring, slower and less engaging on Twitter than individuals, but keep on following them because they do have some useful new information at times (or out of politeness?). I'm always curious who is behind the account, especially if I know the organisation!

Several people have asked me how they should organize their Twitter account for their organisation, how to name the account and who should Tweet? I respond that it's best to combine organisational with personal. Recently, I have asked this question in the Facebook group with non-profit consultants and also found this blogpost by Steve Bridger talking about the same issues.

How to use twitter as an organisation?
  • Naming the account after the organisation or the person? - There are three different options: an organisation account (eg. UNICEF @unicef), a personal employee account (like Arjen Mulder @arjencito), or an account combining a name and organisation (eg. Colin Butfield @Colin_WWF). Ofcourse you may both, have an organisational account and encourage your employees to be active on Twitter with their personal account, talking about their professional lives. It is nice to know who is tweeting from organisational accounts. You may add that information in the profile, or as in the example of @handsonnetwork use the image on the homepage (see picture). One person mentioned that the twitter account on behalf of the organisation didn't work till she added her own name. Also, if you are sending a Direct Message, you might add your name at the end to make it more personal. For other organisations, like UNHCR it seems to work well (with more than a million followers!). Slightly more creative is setting up a Twitter account with a specific purpose, like one of my favourites, the African Proverbs.
  • What to tweet? Try to develop an idea of your followers and why they would like to follow your organisation, are they volunteers, clients, partner organisations? Is it to offer webcare (a booming new approach to customer care) or something different? Christian Kreutz analyzed accounts of 10 development organizations and found they performed poorly on interaction with their followers. On the other hand, you may set up an twitter account like an information service, and as long as you are clear about it, for instance with tips or quotes (see again African Proverbs). Be creative! And you may organize an occassional poll amongst your followers using twtpoll or another polling tool.
  • How to leverage employee accounts? More and more new employees may already be active as professionals on Twitter and may like to keep their own accounts. What you can do as an organisation is to offer a phrase to add to their profile information. You may make a list of the twitter accounts of the persons in your organisation and put in on your website for instance (check whether they are into this or whether is more of a private twitter account!). You may offer some guidelines to employees. Steve Bridger offers a nice list with example guidelines on his blog:
    * Include a disclaimer in your profile;
    * Common sense should always prevail;
    * Don’t tweet what you wouldn’t want to see in print – or your mother to read;
    * Keep it clean (a few people advised against swearing);
    * Try to stay clear of controversial topics – or at the very least refrain from using inflammatory language.
    * While your views are your own, bear in mind what you say could reflect negatively on the charity’s reputation
    * Take care not to announce a new initiative before the ‘official’ word is out, and if in doubt leave it out, or seek advice (even though embargoes are so last century);
    * Do not say anything that may damage relationships with corporate partners, suppliers, and other charities
    * Be transparent – if responding to any work-related social media activities always make a disclosure.
  • How to avoid fragmentation? If many employees are Twittering in your organisation, it might be a good idea to stimulate employees to follow each other. Create for instance a company list. This already helps to create some uniformity and inspiration. And may help for internal knowledge sharing purposes too!. Make twitter part of the internal agenda: ask who is inspiring, ask people to collect tweets they liked. Make sure there is an ongoing conversation.
Do you follow organisations doing a great job on Twitter? Please share it through the comments!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Learning by coincidence on Twitter

(cartoon via Rob Speekenbrink)
I get involved in lots of discussions whether Twitter- is learning (or nonsense). People are sceptical on what you can learn through 140 characters. Often I answer that you definitely learn through twittering because you can link through to blogposts, articles etc. Basically defending the 140 characters.

Probably the main difference is in the theory about learning that people hold. Is learning what you do in school or in a training or is it something we do continuously? From a social learning point of view, Twitter is an important medium in which people converse, and build relationships. For people who are not active on Twitter this may be quite invisible. If you look at an individual twitter message, it makes no sense. But if you follow people over a longer period of time, you notice the influence it has, on the way you think and act. Like the day I decided to put up the christman tree because many people were twittering about it :).

Last week a conversation made me think about a different angle. (Nb: following is a rather longish story, if it is boring to you you may skip the rest of this paragraph). We have been very busy searching for a good secondary school for our daughter and it took up quite a bit of our time. We visited open days, evenings for parents, classes. There are many things to consider in your decision-making. In the Hague there are also too many pupils per school, so you have a chance to be rejected. In our case, many friends started to apply for a school, and we were about to apply too. Then I talked to a friend in another part of the country and found out there most people wait for the test results (CITO), so that you know the exact school type. This suddenly made a lot of sense to me. So you see how you get influenced by your environment and may overlook the obvious. So we decided to wait for the test results first.

Back to Twitter. I see a twitter network having the same function. Seeing new perspectives, widening your choices. Seeing new solutions to problems you didn't even know you had. Simply by reading a lot of stories. Ofcourse you need to be able to link it back to your own situation, and that depends on the quality of your network. Another example: through my twitter network I learned about prezi as an alternatve for Powerpoint, even though I wasn't looking for it. You may call it serendipity too.

Do you want to do more with twitter? Here's a great handbook: free download!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Social media: a new type of hammers for change facilitators in organisations

This is a column Sibrenne Wagenaar and I have written for the management site. I thought it might be worthwhile to translate it. The translation is mine (with a start by Google translate). We wrote this for the change facilitators working in and with organisations on change.

Many change processes fail because there is too little attention for the sub-public discourse. Social media can play a role in connecting the public discourse and the sub-public discours in organisations. Change management has to improve and we see social media play a key role.

The need for change as an organization is hardly disputed, but we observe that many organizational change projects that are not successful. Homan mentions in his book, Organization Dynamics (2005) that 70% of the change processes do not yield the desired result. The culture of interaction which you can create using social media has powerful features that are supportive to change processes. Through social media you can easily overcome silos and organisational boundaries and focus on the issues that people feel passionate about. Online silence is also an indication that people lack interest.. whereas in a meeting people may feel they have to respond politely.

Many change programs put the main emphasis on the formal side of change but without a new meaning in local communities there will not be any organisational change of substance. Homan refers to this as a 'sub-public' discourse. Employees may agree at conferences, but hold their own informal opinions which may not be expressed. Back at work they continue in the old way. There is little real movement and change as a result. A good facilitator is aware of both types of discourses and works to connect both. We believe social media can play a role because of the possibility it offers employees to contribute their own opinion as to interact with others.

Examples of creative use of social media in change trajectories

Here are some examples of creative use of social media to encourage you as change facilitator to experiment with different media:

* Prepare for the change trajectory using an online discussion to hear how people perceive the need for change and use this to form a core team. Invite people who care for the cause, or just people with different ideas and give them a role in the organizational core team that will closely follow and be engaged during the trajectory. This way you focus on creating a core group based on involvement and intrinsic motivation, rather than by function. Where a good representation of all departments in the core are important remains.

* Focus on online interaction rather distribution of (electronic) newsletters during a change process. Often an online or paper newsletter published to keep everyone informed. With social media you can make this much more interactive. You have the media to run more quickly into contact with the true opinions of people: linking the sub-public and public discourse. A manager decided to be available every Friday on an internal channel called Yammer (a Twitter-like a service on which you can send short messages). Everyone in the organization could ask him questions which were answered immediately. Thus a completely different dialogue than the employees were used to.

* Encourage an "outward-looking" view by using social media
dashboards. Many organizations suffer from an "inward-looking culture. Employees keep each other so busy with internal politics and procedures that there is little room for looking outward. In a strategic change project a social media dashboard setup can be a powerful intervention, which can be followed by number of employees. Let them periodically summarize what they notice and what this means for the organization. Or stimulate number of different departments to be actively following certain trends on Twitter. What do they learn from this?

* Make the individual network of people in the company visible and ensure that these networks can be used more effectively. This can be either via an online platform or use of each other contacts on LinkedIn. Many employees have a profile on LinkedIn, but do not use the opportunity to contact new people in their 'second ring'. Winkwaves describes an interesting example of a company that wanted to invest in Portugal, and through an online knowledge cafe found out that the wife of a employee was Portuguese, with good connections. A valuable link for the company.

* Neutralize power relations that communication about the changes influenced by the use of social media. In every organization there are formal and informal 'communities'. Such a community is formed by so-called 'carriers' of a particular vision of reality. This accounts for differences in power influencing face-to-face group dynamics. By using an online medium (eg, a private group on Facebook or a private Posterous group) communication gets leveled a little more and you can try to break certain power relations. There is ample room for everyone to express themselves online, unlike in a meeting where the boss speaks first or shows his body language. Interesting example: an organization where several employees on Facebook complain about the quality of personnel. The organization has taken these signals serious and started to talk to these workers.

* Let people see the problem from other angles by using youtube-like movies. Ask outsiders or departments for their opinion film it and put it online; whether in a password protected environment or openly on youtube. The advantage of a protected area is that people will talk more freely about problems. Because everyone in the organization will have access to the movies, the impact is much greater. Allow space for comments.

Is working with social media than the panacea to all change processes? Certainly not! The design of a good, flexible process and the quality of process management are still important success factors. In some cases it may be that the trust among employees is so low that they do not wish to express themselves through social media either. But there is a world of new approaches open to facilitators of change processes. We have little insights in the level of experimentation with social media in change processes. What are your experiences? Let us know by posting a comment!
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Stimulating informal learning in organisations

It is estimated that professionals learning informally for 80% or even 94%. Personally I'm convinced of this principle though semi-formal events or workshops can play a crucial role in directing learning. As Harry Vos states in his dutch blog "more formal or workshop learning supports informal learning and not the other way around". At the one hand, it is surprising how we focus on formal events, on the other hand it is tempting, also for myself, because they are so much more visible. Informal learning on the other hand seems invisible and a natural process that doesn't need a helping hand, after all people group around the coffee machine automatically. However, you can stimulate informal learning, bringing you as a facilitator in the grey area in between formal and informal learning.

So far I've focused on learning in communities of practice and networks, but there is more to it and I would like to explore the other forms more (including social media ofcourse!!). Together with Sibrenne I've facilitated a learning network for two years. After the two years nobody wanted to continue facilitating it. Interestingly, I have the feeling the informal netwerking and exchange is still going strong. Many of the people I'm still meeting and exchanging with, though not as structured and there are no meeting any longer. It is 'underground learning' and not as accessible to everyone. So facilitating a community of practice or learning network is a great example of the way you can stimulate individual learning to become collective learning- and at the same time, it catalyzes individual learning by the participants (in a dynamic network ofcourse).

But what else can you do to stimulate informal learning processes in organisations? The European PILIP project has created a website about informal learning. It has a quickscan to map informal learning processes which allows you to zoom in on factors that stimulate or hinder informal learning. You might work on those, to catalyze more rapid and effective informal learning processes. You can find a toolbox with tools like intervision, best practice storytelling, etc. I haven't used it yet, but I'm planning to go through it for an upcoming session with a development organisation.

A nice example: I experienced one that a worker was very active in formulating her learing questions, mobilizing relevant colleagues and inviting them for a lunch about the topic. A stimulating factor and positive example! What you can do is name this (literally, give it a name like peer-assist-lunch and stimulate others to copy this practice, for instance by creating a budget to cover for the lunch costs.