Your organisation and social media – taking steps in 2013

We’ve been working on how we can best help organisations to use social media in 2013 and are launching a new service called Social Media Insights. So we want to share our thinking behind it in this post.

We have noticed big changes in how people deal with social media since 2008 when we founded our company. In NativeHQ’s early days we found ourselves introducing the potential of networked conversational media platforms in their organisations.

When we started, the term ‘social media’ was becoming more popular and there was a general sense among many that it might be worth investigating although probably a bit risky. NativeHQ received invitations to give talks of a certain kind, to shake people out of their regular routine and tell them that Something Is Coming and to try and unfold a few pairs of crossed arms by the power of presentation. We usually managed to find a balance between practicality and exuberance without straying too far into hype.

Recently we have been travelling between Cardiff, Caernarfon, London, Swansea and other places when we meet people where our clients are based. We get an impression of what people are doing with social media and the kind of questions they are asking.

Let’s just say that people don’t generally ask us for that kind of presentation anymore. Maybe you can identify with this – there is a cycle for anything new, especially in the application of technology. People no longer need convincing that social media can help them collaborate better, develop products, serve customers, promote products, services and events, and so on. They understand that it’s a revolutionary shift in communications and are looking for ways to use it effectively in their own context.

Much of the apprehension and maybe fear about social media is gone, which is good. In place is a feeling in organisations that some things are missing and that better work is possible in various departments. But there’s a sense that there’s a lack of time to learn and develop this. The situation in any company is unique but some questions recur. How could social media fit with the rest of what we do? How should we do it? What are the right platforms for us to use? Who should be doing this work? Could it be that some of our time is being spent on the wrong things? How do we realise the value of social media in our specific situation? How do we measure whether we are being successful? You can find lots of general answers on the web, but how do you make the right decisions for your own, unique organisation?

Sometimes people refer to their organisational ‘unknown unknowns’ too – that is, gaps in the field of view and what lies outside of their frameworks of assumptions brought from previous experience. It’s not as if assumptions are always a negative thing. It’s a bit difficult not to have assumptions. But these people are looking for clear reasoning in order to form a strategy – rather than a haphazard, opportunistic use of social media or an approach based on orthodoxies taken from another field.

Another ‘unknown unknown’ is how the best use of social media will develop over time, during 2013 and beyond. There will be new start-ups and services but there will also be new displays of human creativity using familiar platforms. So that means that it could be a mistake to lock down any particular set way of doing things. It’s a rapidly developing field.

In the context of all these observations we’ve been trying to put together a way we can respond to the evolving demand. Our new service is called Social Media Insights and is based on a longer-term relationship with a client. It involves regular analysis and monthly meetings with you where we explore relevant data and facts, share insights and help you to learn and develop your practice. We are making our experience and understanding available to help clients develop strategic approach, tactics, skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis.

We still don’t ‘ghost blog’, posting on behalf of our clients, on social media because we have no desire to own their network or community and the impersonation makes it a bit fake for that community, frankly. We much prefer to train and equip them to use their own voice and participate in the relationships they develop. We believe that in time, using an outsourced model for social media conversation will seem a bit quaint. When a professional who is in an organisation goes online to share some of his or her thinking, learnings and questions with honesty and enthusiasm then other people pay attention – they respond to that authentic voice.

This is about organisational change, which takes time. It’s about iteration and application of knowledge in context.

Besides there are a whole bunch of other things happening in the organisation and use of social media has to be integrated into the work flows. Personal, individual use of social media is very different to what happens in organisations. You could liken the change process to the difference between steering a bike and navigating a ship.

So that’s a bit of background about Social Media Insights, which complements the existing services we offer and special projects we do. Contact us if you’d like to know more and we can arrange to visit you to discuss what it involves in more detail.

Eight things we’re learning about social media training

This year NativeHQ have been running social media training courses in collaboration with Cyfle and also running workshops with our clients, who ask for training as a bundle with other services like strategy and campaigns. Here are some provisional thoughts we’ve had about the training experience. Some might be useful to trainers in other disciplines.

There are eight of them because I thought of eight.

1. Practices and platforms

When an organisation asks us for YouTube training (say) or Platform X, then they already know about that platform and they’re looking for relevant ways they can use it. Usually they don’t need us to tell them how to set up an account or that posting video or whatever is possible. They are looking for creative practices, inspiration, guidance, mentoring, feedback and the benefit of our experience. They want to know how it meshes with other activities. They want to know if it’s actually relevant for them or just a time sink and are relying on us to give them honest answers not hype. All this can get lost in the discussions of the role of social media in organisations and the role of the experienced trainer. A lot of people are using Platform X now but exactly HOW are you using it? These are the things that are worth talking about – practices as well as platforms.

2. Publicness

Usually, for social media training to work, real things have to be posted on the public web. Although there are good examples of social software that are not on the public web, e.g. a private collaboration wiki for a team, many of the joys of social media learning happen without such restrictions – or safeguards, depending on your point of view. If you’re wondering then there are ways of managing the reputational risks of that – for example, using a pseudonym or an individual person’s account/identity with appropriate disclaimers instead of a company account.

3. Group dynamics

In our experience there is a group dynamic for hands-on training with one trainer which can be sustained with up to eight to ten participants. After that it starts to break down – the session becomes less of a hands-on practical session and more of a presentation.

4. Shared note taking

We approach training workshops like mini-conferences with a ‘backchannel’. In practice I mean that at the beginning we invite everyone to a Google Doc for sharing of notes and links. This is suggested as a potential replacement for eight (say) separate sets of notes and thus reduces repetition, allowing more time for learning. It’s a snap to share links within the group. We are also trying to illustrate how shared notetaking can be amazing for collaboration with colleagues for other kinds of work beyond training. Sometimes people like to take additional private notes on paper or on a device, which is fine, but once they’ve tried shared notes they often tend to like it. One day maybe all training courses will adopt this – from video production to healthcare.

5. Skill levels

It’s obviously good to have a diversity of participants. An exception to this guideline: we prefer that the skill level of everyone is roughly level. This is to avoid causing frustration for the confident and for those less experienced on social media. This can be managed with clear publicity before the course.

6. Language

We distinguish between language as medium of instruction (a training course offered through the medium of Welsh or English) and language as content (discussing and exploring multilingual use of video, blogging, WordPress, etc). In practice the two are distinct but related because we are talking about the Internet, where content, communities and networks converge in particular ways. We are based in Wales which is a country with two official languages. For people who normally work in Welsh it’s important that they do training in that language where possible. In an organisation if you are planning to offer both Welsh and English medium training then both should be clearly publicised as equally valid choices from the beginning. Oh and a single session labelled as ‘bilingual’ tends to please nobody!

7. Initiatives vs. projects

It’s important that participants gain practical hands-on experience. We have heard of social media training courses which are actually just presentations. We love presentations but would question the effectiveness of these if billed as training. A big part of some of our courses is the practical initiative. We try to avoid ‘mock’ projects as much as possible. There is only limited relevance in something which is worked on for a few hours then abandoned, especially online where things take time. If each participant can work on a real initiative then that is much better. The word ‘initiative’ allows for things that don’t have a definitive ending; ideally they continue beyond the end of the course. If you can think of a better word than ‘initiative’ to capture this meaning, let us know.

8. Principles vs. platforms

We hold each service lightly because they in turn hold us lightly. What I mean is, there is no guarantee of the long-term future of many social media platforms. What we try to impart are principles. We can use WordPress to illustrate the main features of blogging. But from that if we can help people to really understand blogging in its essence then that will be useful on the web in the long-term, whether they are using WordPress, Tumblr or blog-like services and post-blogging services (as it were) such as Pinterest, Google+, Facebook or Twitter. Beware of the “Google+” training being offered by some at the moment. Why? Well, will your community be using it in the future? Is your community there now?! It’s far better to discern the principles that underlie the social web. Right now I’m not sure that these principles change radically with the arrival of each new platform pretender. That’s a topic for another post.

Social media training with Size of Wales

Size of Wales training

Size of Wales is a great charity that is working to unite the people of Wales (and those who love us) around a project to protect an area of rainforest the size of (you’ve guessed it…) Wales.

They have made a great start to their work on social media with a fantastic effort to gain over 5500 fans of their Facebook Page, a brilliant Facebook application on their website that enables people to get together in Tribes to raise funds and regular interaction via Twitter.

The team wanted to come together to look at how they are using social media in support of their strategic goals. They also wanted to come up with creative ideas for creating digital content and promoting conversations about rainforests and action on fundraising.

We developed a process for the Size of Wales team which included evaluation and creative ideas generation. We also looked at specific issues with the functionality of platforms and ways in which the work being done by the whole team could feed into their communications work.

Find out more about our social media training