First things first, have you ever had to eat your own dog food?  I’m talking about the idea of having to take your own advice, use the strategies and approaches yourself that you advocate to others.

The We Are Media Project from NTEN and Beth Kanter is a lesson in just that!  The goal of the project is to “build a toolkit and instructional guides about how social media strategies and tools can enable nonprofit organizations to create, compile, and distribute their stories and change the world.”  Sounds great, but the catch is that it is all being done remotely, with social media experts all contributing to the project wiki.

This means collective lessons in community building, community engagement, participant retention and working wikily! So, will it work?

We have just entered week 6, Considering the ROI of Social Media.  Topics already covered include: Why Should Your Nonprofit Embrace Social Media? (Or Not?), Thinking Strategically About Social Media, The Social Media Ready Nonprofit: Dealing with Resistance, The Art of Storytelling, and Online Community Engagement Strategies and Skills

I have been a participant from the start and have paid thoughtful attention to the way the project has grown and the ways Beth has encouraged participation.  If you have ever worked on a collaborative project, especially in a wiki, you may have noticed participants that only lurk in the shadows, contributors who burn out, conversations that get abandoned, or even just an overall loss of momentum as people revert to sending individual emails or not participating at all.  There is an assumption when working on something like the We Are Media Project that those involved will be less likely to abandon the work or feel intimidated by the technology (after all, these are the folks advocating for others to use the technologies!).  Even though the community involved is already sold on the topic and approach, it still doesn’t guarantee success.

In these first six weeks, I have seen a great deal of participation, positive interaction, and real collaboration.  For example, when one contributor offers up an idea that gets others thinking, the other participants turn that one idea into a list of ideas.  Beth has done a great job of energizing contributors and the evidence is in all of the content throughout the wiki.  Some of the the hardest parts of the project so far for the organizer (Beth), from my perspective, include:

  • Managing participation of topic-related experts as the list of participants grows over time (and perhaps after the most applicable topic for him or her passes):  As more attention is given to the project across the blogosphere and elsewhere, more people who want to contribute sign on to the wiki.  It’s great to get more people involved, but it can be difficult for an organizer to be managing so many different areas of interest and expertise once the project modules are underway.
  • Maintaining a natural flow or progression of topics within the wiki:  Working wikily can sometimes mean that too many side conversations and tangents turn into stranded pages or that pages get started for a topic that seems important but folks lose track of it.  Maintaining an orderly flow of information has really kept this project wiki to a manageable and navigable resource.
  • Making it easy for very busy people to contribute beneficial information and knowledge efficiently:  If you create it, they won’t necessarily come.  Or, if they do, they may not hang out long and contribute.  People, even if they are the ‘experts’ in the topic, are busy.  A very effective approach is to send an email or Twitter message (or any other tool you are using to ping the participants) that asks a specific question and links to the exact area where you want the information entered.  Basically, think of ways to make it hard for your participants to NOT contribute!

Whether you are interested in social media tools for nonprofits, or not, this is a great example of a collaborative project - successfully eating the dog food!  There are tremendous offerings from social media experts that are valuable on their own, but when combined in to a training kit will produce an invaluable package for nonprofits and those working with them on social media strategy and implementation.  If you are a social media expert, be sure to check it out and share some of your knowledge!

Have you ever been part of a collaborative project where you were the organizer or community builder?  What lessons did you learn (maybe even the hard way)?

imageAmy Sample Ward’s passion for nonprofit technology has lead her to involvement with NTEN, NetSquared, and a host of other organizations. She shares many of her thoughts on nonprofit technology news and evolutions on her blog.


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