So part of my report for Carnegie has to include recommendations for organisations, policymakers, government and anyone else who we think could do things a little differently. Kevin and I had a bit of a brainstorm and came up with a list, which is going to need whittling down. However, one of the points I have become increasingly unhappy with: “Provide basic digital literacy training for staff that need it.”
The more I look at the phrase ‘digital literacy’, and the baggage that comes with it, the less happy I am using it in a recommendation. There is no doubt in my mind that we do need to spread the skills that will allow people to engage online more often and more effectively, but how do we best do that? Asking government to do it just fills me with the screaming heebie jeebies. Asking academia to do it, or the usual set of skills agencies to get involved also fills me with fear. Why? Because with social media, there is a lot to be lost in translation and the people at the centre of pass on social media skills should be the people who actually have them, not people who’ve watched others use the tools and think that they thus know how they work.
Social media is experiential, and what we need, I think, are ways to draw more people into having those experiences and participating in existing social media communities.
I’d be very, very keen to hear other people’s thoughts and opinions on this. What should we do to help people understand and make best use of social tools? Indeed, should we do anything?
Here is my list of recommendations. Feel free to comment on those too. I’m not entirely sure that they are categories correctly yet, nor that I’ve not missed something really important, (or included unimportant things) so feel free to dig in and give me robust feedback.
* Provide basic digital literacy training for staff that need it. There are many other sectors, e.g. education, where increasing digital literacy is a stated goal, so there is expertise to be drawn on.
* Provide general social media training for as many staff as possible. Social media talent can spring from anywhere and successful organisations encourage all staff members to be involved.
* Find staff who have the right aptitudes, such as curiosity, an ability to communicate clearly, and a desire to connect with people, and train them further to become the organisation’s social media evangelists. These people may come from anywhere within the organisation and associations should not simply look to the marcomm function.
* Draw talent from supporters/volunteers, many of whom may have the skills that are required.
* Ensure budget is set aside to support social media projects, training and resources.
* Task a person or team within the organisation to learn about and experiment with social technologies.
* Focus on a small number of tools, and choose ones that can be most easily fitted into existing work schedules. Understand the limitations of your resources and don’t try to do too much.
* Work with external consultants and mentors who can advise on strategy and implementation. Whilst the tools might be easy to use, using them well can be harder.
* Use social tools internally for collaboration and communications. Blogs, wikis and social bookmarking tools are particularly useful in an internal context.
* Share success stories, lessons, problems and knowledge both internally across the organisation but also externally with other organisations. Sharing knowledge with others will encourage reciprocation, create goodwill and help everyone involved.
* Engage with social media communities outside of the third sector, for example, attend events focused on social media. There are many small, free, informal events, so it’s not just about expensive conferences.
* Let individuals’ personalities come through. Social media is not a form of corporate communication, but a one-to-one conversation so it’s essential to let people be themselves.
* Don’t just focus on younger members of staff. Having a talent for social media is all about one’s mindset, not age or technological history. Older members of staff can take to social tools like ducks to water just as much as their younger counterparts.
* Ensure there is space for dissent, and that it is evaluated honestly and fairly, and fed back into the process.
For policy makers/government
* Help should be given to smaller organisations — both financial and advice in the form of free mentoring, workshops, information packs etc. — to ensure that they develop the web skills required to see them through the next 15 years.
* Wider help should be given to civil society associations to ensure that web standards, particularly for accessibility, are understood and met.
* A project to develop applications and tools specifically for the third sector should be considered, as many associations will not have the capability to develop applications themselves.
* The technical capacity of civil society associations should be enhanced by schemes that bring together developers and organisations to work on open source projects which could then be used and adapted by any organisation.
* There should also be an evangelist-mentor programme that reaches out to organisations and helps them to understand what social media could do for them.
* Ongoing research focused on the use of technology and social media by the British population, similar to the Pew Internet Institute in the United States.
For funding organisations
* Grant giving organisations should consider how the projects they fund could be improved by the use of the web, and should encourage organisations to include social technology in their project plans. They should also be willing to specify additional budget to ensure that social media is worked into the fabric of the project, not bolted on as an afterthought.
* There should be more research into the use of social media and the web by civil society association to create a portfolio of case studies and best practices. Examine ROI, metrics, resourcing needs (social media can be resource-intensive but just how intensive is poorly understood).
* Invest in projects that will help build technical capabilities within civil society; not necessarily so that they can execute themselves, but so that they can understand the issues and make informed decisions about social technology based on evidence rather than assumption.
* Insist on web standards being adopted and met.
* Fund experiments and be supportive of risk-taking.
* Examine the needs of civil society and fund work on additions to existing open source software projects that could meet those needs. Specialist tools are unlikely to be required and OSS should be supported whenever possible.