Monday, June 27, 2011

Building a social media strategy one block at a time

Photo: flicks-of-micksA twitter block here and a yammer block there... Photo: flicks-of-micks/flickr

Coming up with a social media strategy for your work can be scary. "Where do I start, and what tools do I use?" are two good questions to start with. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and set up a Facebook page and twitter account, and quickly get lost in the details of retweets, "likes", and followers. But what about the big picture? Is this helping you reach your goals? And how do you convince your boss that managing social media is time well spent?

After last year's experience, I facilitated again for Euforic Services the second edition of the UNITAR Innovative Collaboration for Development course. Quite a number of participants in the course had gone down a familiar path, experimenting here and there with social media but asking themselves how it all fits together and how to really achieve their goals. Most of them entered the course with specific objectives in mind: promote their charity's work and raise awareness; get a geographically-dispersed team to work together better; build a network for individuals with similar interests and concerns. They were eager to get the answers so that they could get on with their work.

The ICfD course is simply structured: expose participants to an array of social tools for different contexts; learn about the ups and downs of using these tools, and issues around privacy, intellectual property, and incentives; and then challenge them to build a social media strategy that helps them achieve the goals they've identified.

As in any diverse group, there was a range of experiences, and some people may have felt they were going back in time when asked to learn about "what is a blog" and "how does a social networking site work" -- but this was all part of the course's methodical approach. As facilitator, I did my best to guide the discussion to the 'next level' when I noticed that the more advanced participants were staying silent. That's one of the great features of this course - it lets you get as much out of it as you put into it. Some participants asked fantastic questions like "how can multiple collaborators contribute to a youtube channel" (hint: use dropbox) and "how to get everyone on their team on board with the strategy" (hint: focus on leadership buy-in, and make sure that tools are selected based on needs, and don't be too ambitious at first).

Participants were especially interested in the way the course introduces tools according to a context. For example, rather than starting from the tools themselves ("here's how to use twitter") the course starts with "what tool is best for capturing onfield updates?". As eager as you may be to get on with using tools, thinking about context first will save you time and headaches. (By the way the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit also offers a context-based approach - check it out!).

What emerged at the end of the nine weeks was a collection of very solid social media strategies, put together by participants who were eager to learn, ready to experiment, and thinking about the big picture. I'm looking forward to seeing these plans take life!

The next UNITAR ICfD Course runs from 25 July to 23 Sept 2011. CTA will grant a limited number of scholarships, covering the full course fee, exclusively to candidates from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The application form and procedures are available on the UNITAR website. Registration closes 11 July, so don't miss out!