Monday, July 30, 2012

Social media peer exchange session with FAO senior managers

Social media and other collaborative web 2.0 tools are now firmly embedded in the mainstream of information, communication and knowledge sharing processes, both strategic and everyday. However, in our experience running social media training workshops in organizations over the years we have often seen how difficult it is to translate the enthusiasm of participants learning to use new tools into changed work functions and processes.

Sometimes, this has to do with the lack of management buy-in, resulting in little or no space for staff to try and experiment with social media on a daily basis - let alone the integration of new tools to support existing processes.

After the social media workshop we recently held at FAO, we had organized a two-hour session for Senior and Middle managers. This session, structured as a Peer Exchange, was meant to addresses three questions:
  1. How can social media enrich communications and knowledge sharing activities, bring communities of practice closer and facilitate the flow of information and knowledge?
  2. From an operational perspective, what is the most effective way to mobilise and manage resources to support these processes in teams, programmes and across projects?
  3. Over a three to five year time-frame, what are the most effective strategies for maximising the impact of knowledge sharing and communications through building up and integrating the use of social media and other digital tools?
After a quick run around the table to introduce participants and collect the questions they had brought to the session, we kicked off with a presentation on the relationship between social media and information, knowledge sharing and communication. In particular, we looked at two case studies from other agricultural development organisations illustrating how social media can enhance information, knowledge sharing and communication activities. 

The first case study, prepared by our colleague Vanessa Meadu, highlighted the experience of the CCAFS programme and how they used social media for communications and outreach during the Rio+20 event. The second case study instead presented the work of the ILRI KMIS Team and how they have been integrating social media in everyday business processes.

Using Social Media to communicate online and share knowledge from Euforic Services

The discussion that followed covered a range of interesting issues, some specific to FAO and some more generically applicable:
  • FAO, like other organisation, already  has  20 years of experience in web communications: it is important that with social media typical mistakes from the past are avoided (which in a way was the aim of the session, to share learning and experience!).
  • There is a trade off for FAO programmes and projects between doing more social media and diverting resources from other activities, especially as resources are limited. Having social media strategy templates would help managers decide where and how it is worth investing resources.
  • Strategies are not enough, clear work plans are also necessary - and having example templates here also would help managers in their decision-making.
  • With social media, the goal is engagement, it's about dialogue and conversations.
  • The Communication and Partnership team of FAO is developing a new version of FAO Social Media Policy to ensure that social media is used consistently across the organization and FAO projects itself as one single organization across the social media landscape. Therefore, Facebook is being used centrally and there is only one official FAO Facebook account. The 'one account policy' is a sensible approach followed also by other UN agencies.
  • The different teams and departments need to provide the Communication team with content and they will take care of disseminating it through Facebook - however, these content objects  need to come with the right metadata and descriptions. A description of this work flow is being developed and will soon be shared within the organization so that staff is made aware of this.
  • It is important to realize and understand that the shelf life of individual content objects is longer than one of individual websites set up for specific programmes and projects.
  • In some FAO divisions, there are already several early adopters and innovators. Their talent and enthusiasm could be leveraged by asking them to produce content objects that work well across social media channels such as Facebook; example of these include quizzes and 'did you know' type of questions.
Overall, it was a fascinating session - even though only five managers were able to come on the day (it was mid-July in Rome!).

We'll continue these conversations at the second and third FAO social media workshop planned for October and November.