Friday, April 11, 2014

CTA web2.0 and social media trainings - What have we learnt?

Over recent years, CTA web2.0 and social media training programme has become a flagship initiative of the organization, receiving positive feedback from participants and host institutions and being awarded the WSIS Project Prize 2013 in the category e-agriculture.

While we are in the process of finalizing the evaluation of the second phase of the programme (2011-2012), I was recently invited to present and discuss the initial findings of the evaluation with CTA staff and managers.

Web 2.0 and social media capacity building initiative - What have we learnt over the period 2011-2012? Results of an impact study from Euforic Services

A few of the headlines emerging from the evaluation are:

  • There is general, high satisfaction of how the training is conducted and its content; 
  • Participants describe the training events as an eye opener and they feel inspired by the potential of social media to support their work;
  • The trainings work for improving participants' social media skills and knowledge;
  • Face-to-face trainings perform better than online trainings in terms of adoption of different social media tools;
  • There is a clear ripple effect, with the training being replicated (in different forms and degrees) by participants in their workplace or with their own partners;
  • Institutional adoption of social media is increasing, but only a few organizations use social media in an advanced way.
  • Resistance to change and lack of management support are the most common challenges to social media adoption.
Some recommendations include:
  • Putting more resources into the documentation and sharing of success (and failure) stories of putting social media to work in the agricultural sector;
  • Investing in a training of trainers programme, to expand the formation of a solid base of trainers across the ACP countries;
  • Sensitize senior and middle managers on the advantages of social media.
The meeting provided a good opportunity for CTA staff to reflect on what has been done so far in the programme, and discuss how to take it forward.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Using ICT with older people - a workshop with HelpAge International

Help Age International (HelpAge) has been working with older people across the world for over 30 years. It’s far from being the sexiest end of development, so there’s little money and less attention from many major donors and Foundations. That perception doesn’t come from insider knowledge but is a supposition based on the way they’ve built their programme, focused on local level activities supporting, advocating, campaigning, mostly voluntary. The small offices are as full of creative, committed, wise people as you’d expect of long-lived NGOs. So it was a privilege to help facilitate a fascinating exchange with HelpAge staff in a session on the use of ICT to support their programmes. As well as the people in London, we had on Skype people from international offices, including Tanzania, Pakistan, South Africa, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a South Asian regional programme manager.

First, a facilitator’s note, especially for those working in ICT4D: don’t forget the obvious, which is that many people come to conversations about using ICT in programmes suspicious, often on the basis of experience, about whether or not good development practice will be trumped by talk of tech-led programmes or a belief that programmes and people’s lives can be transformed by new-tech. So it’s important to have assumptions and challenges out on the table at the beginning, to get as quickly as possible to a creative conversation about how to engage in the new context constantly being created by the march of ICTs. Some that could usefully have been stated at the beginning:
  • ICT4D isn’t (shouldn’t be) technology led: technology is a core enabler
  • New developments must be programme led, which means country and/or regional offices, in decentralised organisations
  • Don’t make assumptions without some data – do we know about uses of ICT by segments such as older people? 
  • Don’t simply focus on the obvious constraints (connectivity, cost etc.) that don’t take into account the existing spread of ICT like mobiles, even in the context of shared ownership. People came up with plenty of examples of engaged use by older people
  • Don’t use digital as the topic header, use ICT, otherwise the conversation is all about mobiles – important enough in itself – but ignores older ICTs like radio
  • Context is all important in determining what might be useful, based on what is already happening as well as the goals and capacity of the people involved
I gave a brief presentation about trends, drawn from four sources:
The presentation was intended partly as a collection of useful links but for an audience relatively new to the field, and with very specific sectional interests, more abstraction would have helped. I separated out two areas that I think need in depth investigation – the use of mobiles and trends grouped around Open….. and Crowd…..

The digital dimension

Part of the interest for me was comparing our conversation with those I've had in Oxfam GB over the years. In 2002 nobody was much interested in ICT4D, even as we showed how many international partners were starting to use computers. Our work in Oxfam in 07/08 was part of the the development of a Digital Vision. Having seen how much ICT4D and digital activity was already happening, and recognising the strategic implications of what were then the new Web 2.0 trends, OGB set up a series of work streams. The Regional Director for South East Asia, where a lot of ICT4D innovation was happening, took on leadership for OGB. The wheel came full circle in 2012, when an ICT4D coordinator was appointed.  

Before and during the HelpAge workshop a list was developed of current projects using ICT. Without a lot of effort, ten were identified, some historical but many live, many using mobile phones but others integrating radio and video. I think I am right that nobody had seen that list collated before, which is as it was in Oxfam GB when we did surveys in 2002 and again in 2008: there is a lot of innovation within the on-the-ground programmes, most of which is only known about only by a few, directly involved people. It was the same in the University of the Arts, London, when we explored what was going on across the University as part of work to develop a Digital Vision. Lots of innovation, little visibility and less money. One of the College Directors coined the term, digital dimension, arguing that the digital impacted, and could benefit, all of the creative and admin processes within the University. It's a useful concept for organisations like HelpAge  it's not so much a question of where ICT could be useful, but rather starting from the perspective that there is a potential digital or ICT tool or service that could be used in support of all programme - or organisational - aims.

Participants drew a useful distinction between aiming to build from and develop usage of ICTs by older people and ICT use by the organisations. We agreed that, while it’s important for organisations to get good at integrating ICT, which can be a basis for sharing that knowledge and capacity with others, that can also represent barriers to those less well connected or experienced. One of the major issues for older people in many OECD countries, for example, is precisely that ICT based-services and communication is becoming the default, meaning people need to gain control of the tools and channels in order to access services like pensions. That has, in turn, given extra impetus to digital inclusion programmes in countries like the UK. Digital access as a right has traction in such countries but is unlikely to be a priority with older people in most of the places where HelpAge works, was the general consensus.

The bottom line for HelpAge  and other similar organisations, is that this is - will be - an evolutionary process, exploring and adapting ICT tools as and when they fit, and generally staying well back from the bleeding edge of innovation. It will be enough to focus on simply being more efficient - focusing on the Information and Technology nexus, as in the GOAL Ireland project presented at the INTRAC workshop - and recognising that any kind of communication process or project is likely to be able to be access ICT that supports  collaboration, enables more effective communication, builds and strengthens networks and links into existing organisational communication.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Do more with your tweets - Social reporting at ICT4Ag

In my previous post about tracking the online buzz generated around the ICT4Ag conference I’ve mentioned a couple of the tools that we used in the social reporting of the event. At the ICT4Ag conference, blogs, workspaces, Twitter and the other ‘usual suspects’ formed the backbone of our technology infrastructure.

However, besides these tested and tried solutions, this time around I wanted to experiment with some new applications around the edges of the process.

In this and the following posts I’m going to zoom in and focus on technology, presenting some new (to me at least) applications that I’ve used and what I’ve learnt - and what I would do different next time to further develop my own practice.

Specifically, this post looks at different tools to do (much) more with Twitter.

Conference structure, KM and Twitter #tags

The conference programme was organized around 3 main conference streams, a Plug and Play day and a Hackathon running in parallel to the main event. While it was a no brainer to decide the conference tag and the tags for Plug and Play and Hackathon, the design of the conference in streams and sessions presented some challenges in terms of effective use of #tags in Twitter.

On the one hand, we were expecting (as it indeed happened) quite some buzz on Twitter - and we needed to have ways to aggregate and disaggregate tweets around different conversations. On the other hand, CTA KM team was also interested in finding ways to archive and search the different tweets - around the conference #tag and specifically according to the different conference streams. Finally, we wanted to have the possibility to display specific twitter feeds on each tabs of our social dashboard.

So once we had decided a basic #tag vocabulary, with specific #tags for each session, I was faced with the challenge to find ways to:
  • Extract information from Twitter a Search - possibly a feed search results for each session #tag; 
  • Aggregate this info to display twitter feeds around each of the three conference streams; 
  • Find a way to archive and search these Tweets.

Display and aggregate Twitter search RSS feeds

This sounded complicated to achieve when I first looked at it. With the recent changes in Twitter API policy, users are no longer able to obtain any of the Twitter streams – search results, timelines of users, users’ favorites etc – in an RSS feed.

After spending some time researching and testing online what tools I could use to get a Twitter RSS feed, I found that some smart folks out there had the answer I was looking for and I was able to use some simple Google Scripts to set up a Twitter RSS feed for each session #tag search result.

Once I had created these 25 odd Twitter search feeds (one for each session #tag), I was then able to aggregate them into consolidated feeds for each of the 3 conference streams, using Yahoo Pipes. So for example, out of the Twitter search feeds for each of the 12 sessions in the Emerging Innovation stream, I was able to produce a single, aggregated Twitter feed.

Never miss a Tweet!

Once I’d solved this challenge, I was still presented with the need to find ways to archive tweets - as after a while they disappear from the search results. Plus, this Twitter archive had to be searchable, to meet the needs of the CTA team to browse and use this content in the future.

The solution here came from a brilliant post by Martin Hawksey, where he presents TAGS5.0 - a way to archive AND visualize tweets, automatically pulling results from a Twitter Search into a Google Spreadsheet.

This was indeed a great discovery and using it has proved to be of great interest and value

The full Twitter archive for the conference hashtag #ict4ag13 is available as a public Spreadsheet on Google Drive. You can also explore the interactive visualization of the conversations on Twitter, mapping replies, retweets and mentions, and the relations between different users. Finally, it gives you a complete Twitter archive that can be easily browsed and searched by keyword or by username.

Together with one main Spreadsheet for the conference hashtag, I’ve also repeated the process and created different Spreadsheets for:
For each of them, you can visualize the interaction and search the online archive of tweets (see on Summary tab, then Public web views).

Back up if you can

While the whole setup was quite easy, I did encounter one main technical problem. The script failed to archive several tweets for two days of the conference - maybe due to the very high volume of tweets that were generated.

Luckily I had also set up a backup for the #tag search in Hootsuite and I was the able to reconstruct the full database in the days after the event. But of course this is not ideal, as it require quite some time in moving data from one spreadsheet to the other.

Despite this, the end result is quite useful I believe, especially as it enables the preservation of the tweets for future reference and research, and to compare different events in terms of online conversation and engagement on Twitter.

I’d also like to see if the visualization of the Twitter conversation can be improved and provide a clear picture of the connections.

Any expert out there that would like to give it a try and improve the visualizations from the complete dataset?


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tracking reach, understanding engagement - Social reporting at ICT4Ag

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy with the preparation and the coordination of the social reporting team for the ICT4Ag conference in Kigali. I'll blog separately about the process and learnings (actually, a lot!) in terms of both technology and people for a successful social reporting effort.

But if you are interested in discussing Twitter reach and online engagement around the event, please stay with me for a few minutes and keep reading.

The starting point for this conversation is the post that my friend and colleague Pete Cranston published few days back. I’m grateful for the questions he poses, as they couldn't provide a better framework for my reflection.

It’s two million, actually...

On one thing Pete is not not correct though. According to Keyhole, the tool we used to track the conversations around the conference hashtag #ict4ag13 (on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) the total reach is over 2 million!

Together with the reach (defined as "the number of unique followers that a users has - and so the unique number of people that a tweet could potentially get to"), Keyhole also tracks impressions, number of posts and number of users that have contributed content around #ict4ag13. So if we look at this full picture, the headline figures are even more impressive, with over 12 million impressions, from 11,900 posts contributed by 1,272 users.

(click to enlarge image)
#ict4ag13 real-time tracker with Keyhole - 12 Oct-11 Nov. 2013
So what does it mean to reach these people? And do these numbers really matter?

On the one hand, if I look only at these figures, I am very pleased with the results - and I am indeed including these figures in my report back to CTA! And not just because I believe in ‘vanity metrics’ (in fact I don’t, as you’ll read) but for the reason that these numbers could be enough for me to say that the objective of the social reporting project - in terms of raising online awareness on the topics/sessions of the conference, update the online audience on the conference proceedings and engage them in the discussion - were met.

But I want to move beyond the numbers or - as Pete put it - "avoid the risk posed by pure, refined white sugar."

Keyhole itself provides some useful indicators that go in this direction. Indeed, it gives you insights on the contents that are shared (at the level of domains and individual links). It also provides a useful map that show where the conversation around the hashtag are happening, the demographics of contributors and the share of posts between original posts, retweets and replies.

To me these are already very interesting analytics and they provide a much richer picture of the online conversation around an event - and how users engage with it.

However, if you want to understand more about the value of social media for events and where different users position themselves on the ladder of engagement, especially when we look at Twitter conversations, I think different approaches are needed.

Tracking engagement, mapping conversations

While preparing for the event, I spent quite some time researching online for tools that could allow me to archive all the tweets around #ict4ag13, and to do some more analysis beyond the usual suspect metrics. I was looking for a free tool, and after several searches - and testing some applications - the right query string finally landed me to this post by Martin Hawksey, where he presents a way to archive AND visualize tweets, automatically pulling results from a Twitter Search into a Google Spreadsheet.

I am not going into the technical details of how this works (Martin does a pretty good job himself in explaining how to setup and use this script). As for the technical problems I have encountered, this will be in follow-up posts.

Again, I’d like to focus here on the results, and show you how different the picture looks like if you add another layer of analysis to the data available.

(click to enlarge image)

(Note - An interactive version of this visualization is available online but sometimes it may take long to load. You can hover over a node to see a summary of the data recorded in the archive. By clicking on the node you can see the conversations that person had condensed into 30 seconds)

As you can see in the image above, this visualizations shows the conversations between Twitter users around #ict4ag13 - producing a network analysis where the different nodes represent users and the connections between them is determined by the replies and conversations between them - instead of just retweets.

While this is probably not perfect - the visualization for example could be improved to have a more clear picture - I think this is very useful to evaluate the conversation around Twitter. In the case of the ICT4Ag conference, while many users contributed content, not all of them had been engaging in conversations - rather this happens amongst a core, central group of users, while many more remain at the periphery, broadcasting, engaging with the content of the conference but not really exchanging with one another.

Show off but connect the dots!

So while I am definitely using some ‘vanity metrics’ in my report back to CTA I think that a fair assessment of social media engagement around an event like in the case of ICT4Ag needs to look beyond just these numbers. It needs to map the conversations and the contents that are shared. Most important, once you have these information, it is critical to act on it and spend more attention into enlarging the conversation, to making sure that each contributor does not talk to himself but engage with others - or to put it another way, that each dot has at least a line that connects to it.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Knowledge at ICT4AG

We were active at the ICT4Ag conference organised by CTA. It was a big event. About 400 people passed through over four days, and even by the end of the fourth day around 200
(thanks to Nancy White for this photo of groups at work)
people were still prepared to spend time thinking together about what they had learnt and what kind of actions would advance the different agendas that had been surfaced

Pier Andrea Pirani trained and led the social reporting team and we were also there to both support and try to enrich the learning and knowledge sharing and try to capture some of the processes  – the conversations, any outputs of individual and shared thinking, the formal presentations and, if at all possible, some of the informal exchanges that are always at the centre of conferences and workshops. It was a busy time, for participants and us. After an introductory Plug and Play day, which we helped facilitate, and of which more in another blog, the central three days of the conference were split up into:

  • Plenary panel presentations 
  • Parallel sessions, 24 in total, where three or four people presented case-studies, projects, studies and stories and, if the presenters were able to convince people to keep to time, some discussion; 
  • Two ‘open sessions’, where the aim was to encourage collective reflection, cutting across the thematic streams which were part of the organising framework, to surface fresh perspectives and emerging trends   

Learning and knowledge sharing 

So participants at ICT4 Ag experienced a rich and varied programme, that offered a broad span of opportunities to learn new things, to deepen existing knowledge, to meet informally and exchange ideas with other people, to take part in more organised group discussion activities, participate in processes aimed at encouraging reflective thinking and the emergence of collectively sifted ways to improve the use of ICTs in Agriculture. Participants had access to detailed programme and background information from a website, a mobile phone application, a printed catalogue, presentations during content sessions and brochure material distributed by those who were presenting. Those who use and engage in social media shared in the production of a huge number of content items including tweets (8,778!), blogs, video interviews and Facebook posts

A daily narrative of each day was published on the site, as was a short video story. And then there were the evenings – something happening most nights, for most participants, with one ‘reception’ well fuelled by alcohol (there is a blog somewhere about alcohol and development, how for people who meet rarely, and work virtually globally, it shortcuts to more intense connections and conversations and, of course, makes it more fun!)

If my own experience is typical, all of those channels will have enabled those who participated actively to leave with an enriched understanding of trends; new ideas; which older ideas work and which don’t; deepened relationships and extended networks, as well as a range of fully and partially formed ideas about doing things differently, or doing new things.

Knowledge – or information – management 

And that is all without having a look at all the output that we and others have gathered during and since the conference. We weren't able or resourced to provide a full record of the event: 
  • If we had videoed content session we would still only be providing a small proportion of the learning represented by the recorded sessions, since there wouldn’t have been the conversations before, during and after those sessions that provided context and material for comparison. 
  • We could have documented each content session in detail: harder to absorb, but possibly a basis for later analysis for major and common ideas. 
Instead the CTA team aimed to participate fully in the event and gather material from the inside, looking to surface and record learning:
  • Four people were employed to participate in and write syntheses of the key ideas and features of the parallel content sessions. Deliberately, we aren’t looking for neutral reports of proceedings but a personal take of the material and conversations, based on our own judgement, informed by experience and, of course, our own preconceptions, based on our own imperfect understanding and knowledge; 
  • The output of from the social reporter team was aligned to those content sessions using tags identifying three main streams of work 
  • Participants were encouraged to leave ‘what next’ reflections on wall boards, which we will be sifting and sorting; 
  • In the two non-structured 'open sessions' participants were first encouraged to identify themes which had emerged, cross-cutting the formal conference structure and then envision a future within the themes which emerged and note down what could be done to support progress, actions for themselves or by other stakeholders in agriculture. 
We’ve been capturing and analysing the material, sense-making as we go along. And we’re at the stage now of trying to work out what will be really useful, for both participants and other people interested in ICT4Ag. We don’t want to generate material that is only valuable to researchers and archivists. So who needs what? 
  • One of the main audiences is participants themselves, who have a shared experience and for whom syntheses, tweets, blog stories will serve to jog memories and start reflections. 
  • Another is CTA and its organising partners, who will all value more structured, forward-looking material, to support planning and programme development and to help shape the course of ICT4Ag, as well as attract more resources to support that work and those who work in it, all ultimately aimed at improving the well-being of populations in ACP countries. 
  • There are some lessons and ideas that will be valuable to people who weren’t at the event. Although without the conversations and atmosphere of the conference those will be thinner in terms of understanding. 
The challenge, I think, is that whatever we produce will be a pale reflection of the actual event, where participations had a kind of broadband experience, multi-dimensional and intense.

So what’s our K goal? I’ve been trying to use the triple-loop learning frame as a guide 

To capture for CTA, for reflection and planning?
To share more widely, selectively, to help people practically (e.g. trip reports) …..
…..and in terms of learning (double)?

To identify what we think are lessons that people in the sector could use to make their own work better?
To promote innovations that we think are worth watching or backing?
To reflect on our own learning?
To encourage/enable others to reflect on their own action….
and learning

Again, if my own experience is a guide, participants are likely to look at some of the final output, selectively, picking out those things that impressed or moved me. And while I do sometimes watch video-recorded events, I personally find that reports or summaries of action-points, however full and well-written, rarely move me to do anything. Whereas the energy from a good event continues to drive follow-up of various kinds for some time afterwards.

What about you? What kind of output from events that you didn’t attend do you find genuinely useful, and how much do you read?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why aren’t climate change-change issues mainstream in agricultural development?

I have recently joined a great email list from Prolinnnova, that provides a regular digest of content relating to my own interests in social learning and locally-held knowledge (thanks again to Ann-Waters Bayer of Prolinnova for the recommendation which came in a conversation within the Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) network , funded by the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme with which we have been working with since May 2012.

From the list I learnt of an excellent resource describing a range of approaches to providing agricultural Advisory and Extension Services (AES) that were captured at a USAID organised workshop. The summary that was circulated to the list is a great example of practical Knowledge Sharing – with a template for reports linking to a participative face-to-face meeting (speed-dating) and then shared on an email list. All the reports and much more material is available from the same site.

A climate filter

Oxford's Merton Border, seasonally dry
grassland seeds from across the globe, 
I was reading wearing a CCSL lens, assessing whether there is material that could be relevant to the network – our role includes network animation – but also because we have done a lot of work on Climate Change projects in the past few years. Seeking to learn more about how people are adapting to the increasing uncertainty and intensity of weather events that the climate change models predict has become one of my standard reading and browsing filters. So I was startled to discover on a first skim of the workshop report that there were no explicit references to climate change in any of the project descriptions. On one level, that is perhaps to be expected, since the event didn’t mention climate in the brief or in the template for reports. But I find it both odd and disturbing that connecting in some way with the realities of climate change isn’t simply a mainstream activity, something that is included as a matter of routine in discussions of agricultural development. It’s all the odder since USAID themselves have a big climate change programme, as do several of the other organisations represented. And climate-change is an issue permeating all sorts of agendas: even an ancient institution like the Oxford Botanic Garden, known for its lush English garden displays, is experimenting with "sustainable horticultural development", experimenting with seeds from semi-arid regions across the globe.

I think there’s a concern too, in that many of the approaches described in the documents focus on improving farm level inputs with externally supplied seeds and increased use of fertilisers, approaches that, on their own, may not be very adaptation-sensitive. Of course climate-change sensitive practices are included and promoted in many of the projects, with mentions of, “improved soil management methods”, “sustainable farming techniques”, “sound agronomic practices, including no till and minimum till agriculture” and “composting”. But one of the key questions in the report template was on challenges - shortcomings - limitations of the models, and another was on sustainability. It makes me gloomy to realise how far we have to go before the reality of climate-change is something that is unconsciously considered as part of the answer to such questions.

The CCSL lens focuses attention on participative and inclusive approaches, which I personally also link closely to issues relating of balancing exogenous and endogenous knowledge. This blending of locally held/endogenous with external knowledge is explicitly mentioned in only one case, a World Vision project. I acknowledge my likely bias but their project pressed all my buttons: “Emphasis on 1) experiential discovery and learning, 2) combining local and external science-based knowledge, and 3) farmer-to-farm diffusion, mediated by local experts (lead farmers) for credibility and sustainability”. Another programme that a CCSL lens highlighted is from who focus on, “Integrated Crop Management – the integration of Good Agricultural Practices with sustainable technologies to improve smallholder production quality, volumes and consistency”. As well as their emphasis on linking farmers to commercial value chains, Fintrac are actively addressing the issue of financial sustainability for the services they provide, although without a great deal of apparent tangible success to date.

Sustainability and social learning

On the one hand the integration of improved agricultural practices at a village or community level is, almost by definition, dependant on ‘socialising’ of those practices by all who are engaged in or affected by the systems. The seminar had had a narrower focus on financial sustainability. I was struck by the sharp and thought-provoking difference between three or four broad approaches
  • Commercial approaches, which tend to be associated with input suppliers, where extension services become integral to supply-chain management and promotion. These have a built-in revenue model and thus good prospects for longer-term sustainability, and there is plenty of evidence that farmers benefit financially, certainly in the short to medium term. There was less emphasis on practices which we could recognise as social learning or the importance of locally-held knowledge within the project descriptions from this category 
  • Paid-for services models, which provide start-up funding and/or training for extension services that are paid for on the farm. In terms of Social Learning, it’s interesting to see the challenge outlined by Farm Input Promotions in their summary: “VBAs tend to specialize in activities that earn them income e.g. chicken vaccination and neglect activities which only add them social capital e.g. advice on deep tillage”. 
  • Government programmes, which explicitly rely on continued central Government funds, much of which depends in turn on continued aid-flows. Again, Social Learning approaches weren’t immediately visible in the reports.
  • Traditional NGO led approaches, some of which have succeeded in enabling the development of revenue streams but all have to make the normal, optimistic statements about exploring diversified models while continuing to rely on grant funds. As noted above, it was examples from this category that the CCSL lens picked out. 
The sustainability conundrum is well expressed by Commercial Input Supply and Farm Service Enterprises (CNFA) in their response to the template question about challenges, shortcomings and limitations of the model. They say, “as a purely private sector model for delivery of training and information to farmers, CNFA retailers do not provide the kind of “classic” extension services that link academic research to independent (“objective”) extension agents in the field. Such an independent research and extension system is almost always a public investment few developing countries can afford.” Commercially oriented EAS are likely to continue growing, and there are many examples of businesses that integrate climate-change into their planning and activities. The question for us is perhaps how to engage commercial organisations in conversations about Climate Change, and Social Learning. These may involve activities that are less profitable in the short term but are essential for genuine long-term sustainability.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to use Social Media time-effectively

'Advice on how to use Social Media effectively in a way that isn't massively time consuming' was the question on an excellent LinkedIn group 'Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations' (54K members). There are two lessons there immediately, and one quandary. The first lesson is that LinkedIn, after a very slow and cumbersome start, is becoming a lot more useful to ordinary members, partly because some of the group discussions are excellent. The best are niche, such as this one or Translators Worldwide, which has 15.5K members. 'Nothing ever happens in LinkedIn', was a standard complaint but its carefully nurtured image as the 'professional Facebook' drove recruitment. That meant that, until now, it has been mainly of use to recruiters who trawled productively amongst all those hopeful CVs. However, groups are increasingly seen as something which might take LinkedIn mainstream.

The second lesson is that social media does take time. To be even minimally effective in any one channel takes at least three to four hours a week - and that is maintenance level effort. To build a presence from scratch - define goals, identify audience, engage and build following etc - takes a lot more effort. And then there is doing this kind of curation task - gathering material to share with other people, learning from the content we browse or skim and 'feeding the web' (so that it will, as the adage has it, feed us back). Content still rules and creating new content is still an essential part of being effective in social media, even if the originality often lies in selecting from other people's contributions and taking a personal stance (well expressed in the content-aggregation site which asks you to, 'add your insight' as you tag and share items of content').

That brings me to the quandary, which I shall share on the group: there have been a lot of useful, practical answers to the question from members. Nothing I have seen so far is new, in the sense of something we don't do or heard before but the crowd-sourcing process, triggered by a simple question, has generated a valuable collection of tips in one place. But because, sensibly, it is a members-only group (though open to anyone who wants to join) simply tweeting about it as I did this morning is frustrating for anyone who comes across my tweet, as a friend pointed out, since the resource is unavailable publcly. However, by gathering some of those tips - curating content - I am potentially exploiting people who contribute freely and voluntarily (even if there are promotional opportunities for those who share on such sites). I think the answer lies in following normal publishing conventions, listing sources of the tips below, but it will be interesting to hear responses from group members when I report what I have done.

Time-effective social media top tips:


  • Use a social media dashboard like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to monitor, post and manage and several accounts
  • Shareaholic browser extension for Chrome to post relevant content to social networks
  • Develop summary podcasts or blogposts and share them widely
  • Use Google alerts for keywords relevant to the target audience
  • BufferApp as an alternative dashboard for scheduling and getting application specific analytics


  • Schedule your time – and set time limits: nicely summarised in this infographic showing a 30 minute daily timeable
  • Develop an editorial and content calendar
  • Blog regularly (curate content, comment on other content, contribute original pieces) and promote blogs to all social media channels
  • Spend an hour each week finding people to follow and pruning your own follower (friend) list
  • Limit the networks you're involved in
  • Manage notifications (they're always configurable in each network), limiting them to daily or less frequently


[cross-posted from Diplo Foundation website]