Category Archives: Organisations

How Twitter can trip up a blogging boss

Lessons for any blogging boss of a membership organisation: you can’t be half-hearted about social media. Bob McKee, CEO of CILIP – Chartered Institute of Library and and information Professionals – gets a roasting from Phil Bradley on a post “From the chief executive’s desk” which starts:

There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites.
The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.

Oh dear, one would expect these days that any information professional would recognise that you can’t define “your space”. You need to be wherever anyone talks about you. And you need to monitor who is saying what about you, and responding quickly. Apparently the CILIP-related twittering has been going on for some weeks.
Bob McKee compounds the problem with a line: “So – just to test whether anyone actually reads this stuff – what do you think?”
There’s lots of comments on both posts, and of course on Twitter.
Over at the RSA another blogging boss, Matthew Taylor, is doing rather better in lively exchanges following a thoughtful post about the challenges facing membership organisations.
A group of RSA staff and Fellows recently ran a workshop on the next steps in making RSA a more networky organisation, and reports are summarised here. There’s lots to do, but it feels as if we have a good shared understanding of the issues, and a commitment to work together.
I expect the CILIP exchanges to run and run. Bob McKee has posted a comment:

Great stuff!  I’m enjoying the responses, both here and on Phil’s blog – and I’m finding them very helpful. At the risk of infuriating those of you who live in the world of “always on”networked conversation, I’m going off line now for a couple of days. But I’ll come back to this issue early next week, both here and over at Phil’s place, So keep the comments coming! Cheers. Bob.

More here on the RSA and challenges faced by membership organisations. About eighteen months back a group of RSA Fellows set up OpenRSA to help promote networking, and I would like to think that has helped open up discussion.

Rethinking RSA networks, playfully

About 30 RSA Fellows and friends enjoyed an afternoon last week playing – very constructively – with Lego and plasticine under the guidance of David Gauntlett, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Westminster. I’ve written before about David’s metaphorical modelling, and this time we were discussing the future of RSA networks and other activities. Excellent reports from Mike Amos-Simpson, Leon Cych and Tessy Britton.

A Members Connection Kit

Tessy Britton has come up a cracking, practical idea for the new-style convening space Clay Shirky advocates where self-organising meets organisations. It’s a members connection toolkit. Hope others like it at our workshop tomorrow. There’s also a great discussion on Amy Sample Ward’s blog Moving away from “organizations” – to what?

Clay Shirky: nonprofits must become new-style convenors – or lose their members

Clay Shirky really pins down what any organisation relying on members or supporters for its life must do if it is to stay in business as people increasing network online. That means change for campaigning charities, trade associations, and membership bodies who may have worked in the past through a mix of newsletters, events and perhaps not very special services. If they don’t offer more value, members and supporters will stop paying their subs. I’ve suggested this before, Clay says it much better.

Clay is currently promoting the paperback edition of Here Comes Everybody, which he sums up as “Group action just got easier”. It’s all about how people can use the Internet to organise without organisations, as he explained in an extensively covered presentation at LSE last week. Further examples here.

Amy Sample Ward interviewed Clay on a topic close to her heart: what impact will social media have on nonprofits … those charities, memberships bodies etc.

In the video Clay tells the story of a campaigning organisation – the American Civil Liberties Union – that tried to stop members using the organisation’s name when arranging get-togethers through meetup.org. They were saying, in effect, you may have shared values and concerns, but you can’t organise around them using our name. The story has negative and positive aspects.

The negative aspect is that organisations must accept that their members can link a brand and their cause and use tools like meetup.org to get together face-to-face, and then Facebook, Twitter and other online tools to keep connecting. Or vice-versa: connect online, then meet.

The positive aspect is that smart organisations can realise what’s happening, and revise the offer that they make to members and supporters to add more value than DIY networking can offer.

The old model, as explained by Clay is that organisations would offer a one-way relationship: sending out a newsletter, for example. Then they might offer a return channel – give us feedback.

However, these days members and supporters are able to communicate laterally with each other. I’ve previously used this diagram to illustrate typical arrangements – hierarchies, clusters, and networks – with different propositions: join us, join up, join in.

Here’s how Clay puts it. He says that the old model is – we call you a member, and you give us money, and we will give you a newsletter. It’s a outbound model, with the organisation at the centre like a star, broadcasting light to its members.

However, in the age of social media people have got used to being able to talk back, so the model is updated to allow a return track.

But the line back is much less radical, and represents a much less dramatic shift than the lateral lines, the lines drawn between members that are in a way using the idea of (the organisation) as a platform for co-ordination but don’t need help or permission from (the organisation) to come together.

The biggest determinant for the role of the nonprofit is what do you do about those lateral lines.

The negative thing is, if your principal role is to stop those lateral lines from forming you’ve got a wasting asset, because your membership base will start to move away – because things that they expect in a room will be in every other aspect of their lives.

The positive goal, says Clay, is to help work out which of those lateral connections will be most useful to the organisation, to the cause and to each other at particular times and in particular circumstances … because we don’t want to be connected at all times to everyone. We don’t want to be on a mailing list of 100,000 people getting everything.

What organisations can do is to help their members with particular interests, in particular locations, find each other and get together.

Having some sense that you all care about the issue – you all share something in common, whether it is geography or outlook or skills – and only we as an organisation can see into both of those kinds of values …

… that I think is the really radical convening function. Not just passive convening – use your membership in Greenpeace as a dating network for like-minded individuals – anyone can spin off that idea.

It’s really when a nonprofit can say we think you will find value from associating with these particular groups at this particular time.

But it requires a really dramatic shift …. and saying actually, in the same ways as we talk about the members of the body, we are made up of you, not just made up of your money and our executive committee, we are made up of you, the members, as our existence.

You then start to figure out ways to coordinate the members in ways to create the kind of value that we couldn’t have gotten to in the 20th century … but is now becoming not just available, but cheap, trival and expected by people.

I think Clay’s great strength as a writer and presenter is to link his analysis of the changes that the Internet and social media is bringing, with short, compelling examples. He tells stories we can identify with, and starts the conversations that we need to have.

I became interested in the potentially changing role of membership organisations a couple of years ago, and with Simon Berry started the Membership Project, but we lost momentum last year after some initial work with RSA and NCVO. It now looks as if the research side of the project will be relaunched, and I’m hoping to link up with some parallel practical work on what membership organisations can do to explore their new convening roles.

The RSA networks project has been a rich source of inspiration on these issues, as you can see from various posts here and here. Next week there’s a workshop, hosted at the University of Westminster, to explore where next for RSA-related networking. I’m sure we’ll be touching on the issues Clay has raised. There are a few tickets available here, and online discussion here.

See also from Designing for Civil Society, and Socialreporter

Nonprofits as online convenors

Amy Sample Ward has this great line in a blog post about her interview with Clay Shirky: “So, perhaps the changing role of nonprofit organizations in the online
space is not one of playing catch-up to the early adopters and
hyper-connected individuals, nor is it one of “friending” big names or
joining every platform; but is one of strategically convening
supporters to create dynamic connections across the community”.

How Open helps a big player learn collaboration

Bids are now in for the £900,000 Digital mentor programme, including one from the Voicebox consortium whose open approach I enthused about recently.  I tried to explain there why I thought that constructing the bid through open meetings and a blog site produced better ideas and spin-off partnerships.

The managing director of UK online centres, Helen Milner, made a better job of it when she spoke to me the other day at UKGovCamp09 … but I agreed to hold on to the interview until after the bids went in. I started by asking – had the open approach been worth it?

As you can hear, Helen says it has been a huge effort, but worth it for the new partners and network of relationships that have formed. I asked about a large “official” organisation like UK online centres getting down into the messy world of social media. She said:

Yes …we are the “big people” who don’t necessarily play around on blogs and twitter – but I’ve personally learned something doing it this way.

I’ve learned it is a better way of doing things because it is much more inclusive, more collaborative  and you have got to be humble enought to say you don’t have all the best ideas yourself – you have to talk to other people to get their ideas

So will there be any going back to older ways of doing things? Helen says they would probably do it differently another time but it is definitely now part of their DNA.

Helen confirms something I feel strongly – that it is one thing for large organisations who say they are in the business of promoting digital inclusion to write papers, do presentations, hold conferences – but it doesn’t mean much unless they get their hands dirty and actually join in.

Over on Voicebox Ben Brown confirms who will be doing what, if their bid succeeds. Citizens Online will be leading the Research and Mapping work stream, while Training and Toolkits will be led by two organisations: Ruralnet|uk and Opportunity Links.

Update: Helen has now added her reflections on the process over here on Voicebox. In summary:

  1. Partnership is a much better way to do things
  2. It takes loads of time to develop ideas in this kind of forum
  3. Social media helped me to put aside prejudices and listen to all comments with an open mind and a receptiveness to learn
  4. It’s really hard to balance open debate and to provide structure for a constructive discussion
  5. Not everyone likes using social media to develop bids
  6. The journey’s been fun but arriving will be better

Advice on social media for nonprofits

Suddenly there’s a feast of advice and support for nonprofits wishing to adopt social tech.  Social media exchange is under way in London, with an excellent social reporting site by Dave Briggs, promising goodies from the sessions and masterclasses. Beth Kanter has posted a detailed roadmap and worksheet on social media strategy, Amy Sample Ward offers a slidedeck from a recent webinar. Paul Webster lets us in to the realities of actually introducing social tech to a national organisation – NAVCA.

Could blogging bosses '08 become social artists '09?

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA,  is writing about new progressivism in a series of blog posts this week. I particularly like the suggestion that he makes for greater focus on political ends instead of means, and a shift in the nature of debate. I believe that the 27,000-strong membership of the RSA could be an excellent testbed for the social artistry needed to achieve this. read more »

Exploring the future of membership

I’m delighted that NCVO and RSA have come up with a way to explore the future of membership organisations in a world where people may feel that paying subscriptions isn’t always worthwhile if they can easily get information, advice and connections online.

It’s an issue that Simon Berry and I started to pursue with others through The Membership Project, with initial RSA and NCVO support. We generated a lot of discussion, but found it difficult to follow through without more funding. We were both interested in working on specific practical projects, and our partners were more interested in a research-led programme. read more »

What works for nonprofits on the Net

Last night we had another great Net Tuesday meetup in London, this time looking at what online tools work in what situations for nonprofit organisations. It was organised by Amy Sample Ward, who I interviewed a couple of months back about her plans to bring the mainly-US Netsquared activities to the UK.

The session last night certainly worked well, with groups first looking at blogs, Twitter, bookmarking, videos and the like, and then pooling their finding. I asked Amy for a roundup at the end, which you can see above. read more »