NTEN Toronto Tech Club talks Social Media
At Freeform Solutions, we all commute to work virtually. This saves us time in the mornings, certainly, but sometimes we miss chatting around the watercooler. We do have our own virtual watercooler (we call it "The Long Hallway": it's a skype chat we keep open during the day). Some of us also take turns sharing a desk at the Centre for Social Innovation. Still, sometimes it gets lonely around here!
Enter the NTEN Toronto Tech Club. I went to their inaugural meeting on Tuesday. It was a good chance to chat with other people working on similar issues within their organizations. Organizations present ranged from technology-oriented organizations like us, to settlement, mental health, government, journalism, sexual health, and employment-services organizations. The presentation on Tuesday was about social media, and it sparked a great deal of reflection afterwards about our own uses of social media. In general, organizations are using social media in a fairly ad hoc way. Individuals are posting information to Twitter and Facebook -- often through automated releases of their blog posts, through tools such as HootSuite (we do this through our content management system and so this blog post will automatically go out on Facebook and Twitter as well), or using TweetDeck for appending more information than the 140 characters of Twitter allows. However, few organizations are yet engaging with their audiences through a concerted strategy beyond disseminating their information, and fewer still are tailoring their posts specifically for different media.
The presenter, Nicole Fitriault, has been managing the online media strategy for Canada Health Infoway. She talked about how the eHealth scandal forced the highest levels of government into being more transparent, and how social media has reinforced this trend. Others concurred that social media forces organizations to use different language, and causes executives to be more open, rather than choosing one-way communication as the preferred approach. Being a little more risky actually ends up mitigating risks, because transparency is a good thing in the long run.
Afterwards, we talked about social media strategy. Freeform has helped clients with the technical aspects of implementing social media, but we have generally left the content and strategy to the organizations themselves. This is an area where we might provide more help, beyond the simple guidelines that we've been sharing with organizations so far. We already help organizations with IT planning, so this could be a natural extension of that work. The presenter talked about how it's important to have a plan, but that it needs to be flexible and doesn't have to be fully fleshed-out in the beginning. Support and resources from the highest levels of an organization are often important to be able to fully implement an online strategy, particularly if continued engagement with a social network is important (as this takes time!).
A number of orgznizations become concerned, when wading into the wilds of social networks, in case they get attacked in public forums. The presenter mentioned that -- despite people's impressions -- it is actually quite rare for non-profit organizations to receive ongoing disruptive activity in social media. Often it can be as simple as dealing with the problem offline, by inviting the individual to talk directly, rather than through 140-character twitter posts. After some trust has been established in a social network -- by providing useful information and customer support, rather than just trying to sell one-way information -- members of the social network will often jump to an organization's defence. Once the seeds are planted, a social network can take on a life of its own and may require less involvement. Responding on other people's blogs can sometimes be important, to avoid having misinformation remain forever on the internet. This requires some monitoring and altertness to what is happening in an organization's online sphere. In cases where problems do arise, the US Air Force's crisis management approach for social media, can be one handy resource.
This tech talk brought together organizations interested in technology for non-profits. This group has just started up, and Freeform attended the organizing meeting that helped to get it launched. Kelly from 211 Ontario has done a great thing in getting this organization started, and we look forward to participating in future meetings. The tech talk fills a unique niche in the sector. There are other groups and meetings with similar purposes, such as Net Tuesday, but we can always use more networks, each with their own focus. NTEN is an important organization in the sector, with a particularly strong presence in the United States, and growing outreach within Canada. We've attended their large conferences in the past, and participated in some of their webinars. We're excited to see the presence of the NTEN tech group in Toronto.