At the beginning of the year, resolutions and predictions are rampant. (Predictions about 2009’s technology tools and trends are even called for in this month’s Net2 Think Tank!.) To go beyond any predictions, though, I’d like to talk about one possibility: social learning spaces.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about online communities lately, and I don’t mean your group on Facebook, but the people you and your organization are actively connecting with online. When I talk with organizations about how they are using social media tools to engage online, whether they’ve already started or not, I find that the most common approach is to set up that Facebook group, add a blog to the Web site, or even set up a wiki for an event. But that’s it. The work, the thinking, the strategy building, and even the engaging stops mostly after the set-up.
Obviously, that’s not the best route to take, but I think groups know that, even if they make the mistake. We all know from offline life experience that you don’t just schedule a meeting, but you have to show up and contribute for the meeting to be successful; you probably also have action items that come out of the meeting that people work on individually and that also draw them back together for another meeting. Why is this our pattern? Because we’ve learned that by creating these kinds of spaces, we can get our work done together. Which leads me back to the online communities.
We don’t want to just create a blog and ‘walk away,’ so to speak (schedule a meeting and not show up, or have nothing to say). We want to create a social learning space or a social media space. This means that we have established a space online where we want to learn, exchange, collaborate, and really engage with our community. Organizations need to bring their social media tools together so that the interweaving of conversations and extended networks can develop a space where the organization is able to effectively and efficiently collaborate with the community while members of the community can collaborate with each other. It’s about using our social media tools in a way that goes beyond listening, goes beyond conversation.
Social media spaces can be supported and grown on and offline. If your organization has an offline, real world event for volunteers, be sure to have digital cameras and video cameras available if possible for people to capture ideas and take-aways from conversations. David Wilcox, the Social Reporter, discusses how groups can integrate social media tools in offline learning events to successfully reinforce this idea of creating a space. I think it’s critical that we begin letting go of our construct that social media tools are and should remain separate, and that the work stops after we’ve set up the account or created a loudspeaker. This mind-shift is crucial: creating social media spaces is the only way for organizations to connect their work online, connect their communities online, and the next step forward in actively collaborating within with community.
2009 will, undoubtedly, bring us more to fill the social media bucket, new places to explore, tools to try, and things to consider. In 2009, I’d like to see groups recognizing the power of social media tools to create sustainable social learning spaces. Instead of using social media to send out messages to their audience, organizations will recognize and harness the power of social media to collaborate with their communities.
What do you think: how your organization fallen into the trap of setting up accounts or groups without a strategy or plan to keep them going? Have you considered how you want to collaborate with your community online, and what kind of social media tools and space would allow for that collaboration? What do you see as the biggest hurdle for your organization in creating such an open atmosphere online?
Amy 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.