As technology evolves at a rapid pace, the wide array of social networking tools often seems too risky or confusing for nonprofits to navigate, and organizations tend not to have the budget or time to allow for in-depth training or experimentation. Yet in an age when public communication puts the audience in charge of selecting what information interests them, organizations want and need to know how to build effective networks and use social media tools to enhance their social justice impact.
In August 2009, RCLA's Social Change Leadership Network hosted three in-depth trainings for nonprofit organizations to learn how to best use social networking tools given limited time and resources. The sessions were facilitated by social media experts Tom Glaisyer and Ted Perlmutter, who created a Wiki Page filled with tools, how-to resources and notes from the seminars.
The first session focused on understanding how to navigate an evolving society of networks rather than functioning within a traditional, hierarchical system of organization. The facilitators explained that geography and institutional identity become permeable when people are able to build communities around collaboration and alternative methods of communication.
But how can organizations decide who their priority contacts are and simultaneously keep their work at the top of the Web audience's radar? The shift requires a different culture - one in which organizations are constantly thinking about day-to-day steps they can take to expand their online presence while making their social platforms interactive.
The second session was focused on understanding and learning to use a range of social media tools:
Instant Messaging via Skype is a free program that allows people to share files, video-chat, group-chat and make phone calls in real time.
Wikis, like the well known Wikipedia, are useful sites for internal collaboration. Rather than relying on e-mail to share files, creating a Wiki Page allows for a more cooperative and transparent shared online workspace. A good example of a Wiki Page is wiki.celebrateoklahoma.us.
Blogs were explored using wordpress.com, a free blogging Web site. Instructional information is available on Ted's blog: tedperl2.wordpress.com. Organizations will often use collaboratively use Wiki Pages for resources and blogs as interactive spaces for people to comment on posts and information. Another free blogging site is blogger.com.
RSS Aggregators (Really Simple Syndication Aggregators) allow readers to subscribe to various Web sites and blogs and receive updates on new posts regularly, instead of hopping around to different sites to find content. One example is Netvibes.com, and even if the desired Web site does not have an RSS feed to click on, Netvibes allows users to save the entire Web page as a subscription link.
Tagging is essentially public bookmarking. Using delicious.com, participants were able to bookmark useful sites for each other by downloading the delicious.com add-on and tagging their sites with a common name. Delicious allows you to search for popular Web sites by exploring different tag names or lists created by taggers.
Twitter is a microblogging tool that allows organizations or individuals to post updates for 140 characters or less. Three tips to generate followers are: produce interesting content, engage others by asking questions and re-tweeting their posts, and follow others on twitter so they can follow you back.
The third session was focused on exploring implementation methods and understanding inherent challenges within social media. The facilitators explained the need for a shift from the old paradigm of planning outcomes before launching networking and communication programs to a more experimental system. They stressed the importance of accepting failure and using it to teach people. For example, participants were encouraged to spend ten minutes a day exploring social media tools to better their understanding of what's available.
Participants separated into groups to discuss two specific case studies and give each other feedback on issues they are currently facing.
Brooklyn Workforce Innovations is a nonprofit that wants to increase visibility with other organizations serving the same population as they serve yet also maintain two different online presences - one for case managers and one for the general public. Suggestions for them to do this included exploring existing coalition partnerships that they could link to, creating a Facebook page rather than a Facebook group to control the risk of inappropriate or irrelevant comments, and using LinkedIn to post upcoming events and inviting employees from targeted organizations to attend.
The Moral Courage Project has a well established blog but wants to increase traffic and encourage readers to leave comments. A proposed solution is to come up with ten new "tags" to spread visibility online and entice a broader audience of readers to visit. An important strategy shared to expand membership on social networking sites as well as blogs is to get members and readers to produce content in the form of posts, tags or discussions so they remain engaged.
Through the three learning sessions, leaders emerged with valuable resources to use social media to enhance their social justice impact.
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