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Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Social Media Certificate for development organizations - An essential next step?

I participated in a roundtable on social media as tool for engagement in international cooperation, organised this week by the Brussels Office of the World Bank. It gave us the opportunity to discuss and interact with Jim Rosenberg, Head of Online Communications and Social Media at the World Bank, and Mike Krempasky, General Manager for Digital Public Affairs at Edelman, the world's largest public relations firm.

Social media at the World Bank 

For the last couple of years the Bank has been doing some serious work with and around social media. This fits into their bigger open development agenda and allows the organization to "meet and interact" with its beneficiaries and stakeholders where they are.


Social media creates new feedback loops that can inform the future work of the Bank. Even if Jim admitted that at the moment there is not a very structured system to collect and reflect on the feedback received and act upon it, there are some good examples of how the World Bank is opening up and creating more opportunities for engagement and participation. For instance, researchers involved in writing the next World Development Report have organised a series of live chats, in 4 different languages, to interact with stakeholders and beneficiaries about the content of the report.

Operationally, the World Bank has adopted a decentralized approach to social media and Jim suggested people should think of "social media as your embassy, while your organizational website is your home country". This seems a good approach for the Bank to engage with its users in the over 100 countries where it works, and across the issues it covers.

Efficient coordination and communication are essential to make this work. It also requires skilled staff, conversant with different languages and platforms, and who understand how different cultures interact with the new media. Staff capacity building is therefore crucial in the Bank strategy. While they had been offering internal trainings to staff in the past, they have now made what I think is a bold and very positive move. In the coming months, the Bank will be rolling out a digital literacy program for all staff, providing social media certification. The aim of this is to empower staff to understand their role and responsibilities and develop a minimum understanding of social and digital media.

Leadership, expectations and value

Mike Krempasky added to the discussion some very interesting points from his experience working with Edemol.


According to Mike, social media in the organization should be integrated into organizational strategy. In other words, the whole organization has to become social if it wants to be effective in using social and digital tools.

This means that organizations have to change the way they work and operate. The first ingredient that is needed in the recipe for success is leadership, according to Mike. Having leaders in the organization that are engaged in social, or at least see the value of it for open and transparent communications, is a critical factor for the success of digital programs.

Edelman tries to involve senior leaders in number of different ways, but training is definitely a cornerstone of their strategy. An interesting and effective way to go about training is the the 'reverse mentorship' model, where junior staff are partnered with more senior staff.

The second element to address, according to Mike, is expectations: there need to be a clear and practical set of expectations that define what social can accomplish and what not. Digital is not a panacea for every problem and don't worry, something will go wrong somewhere down the line - so you should plan for it and learn from mistakes, to improve.

Finally, social and digital programs need to have a clear concept of value. If you are not measuring your programs, you are not adding value to your organization, and you will have no evidence to defend your program. A high attention to Monitoring and Evaluation, including results tracking, is a key component of successful social and digital initiatives.

Some personal notes

As it was a while since I was last in Brussels to work or chat about social media, it was very interesting to see how the social media scene had changed in Europe's Capital in the past few years. Many of the people sitting around the table had social media as part of their job title. On the one hand, this clearly indicated how social media has matured over the past few years and large, bureaucratic organizations are finding different ways to make it work from them.

On the other hand, the discussion revealed that there is still quite a significant gap in terms of knowledge of social media tools and in general 'digital literacy' amongst staff at large. In this sense, I think the move of the World Bank to introduce social media certification for staff is a great step forward and I'm curious to see how other organizations will take up this practice, too. 

Equally, the reverse mentorship methodology used by Edelman looks very interesting and I would be keen to test it in the work we do with our clients.

Finally, I think the discussion revealed once again that more conversation is needed between international organizations to exchange good practices and compare notes on how each of them is putting social media to work in their own context. We know that sharing examples of what works and what doesn't helps to create synergies and a shared understanding of what impact social media can have in development.

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