Most of my work in social media and nonprofits has been focused on the how to integrate a social media strategy as part of an organization's external communications plan or "outward" facing to engage audiences, consumers, and supporters. There is also the use of social media tools (and online collaboration tools) to support inward facing work, including online groups, communities of practice, and internal coordination or learning activities of organizations working as pure networks.
My colleagues Nancy White, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith have been diving deep in the latter for the past couple of years for the research for their much anticipated book Digital Habitats.
Yesterday, when I got the email announcement CpSquared (The Community of Practice on Communities of Practice) about its new wiki, I went over to explore. This evolving wiki is already quite rich in useful resources and at this stage has three areas:
- A Communities of Practice Bibliography
- Wikis for Communities of Practice conference
- Technology for Communities project
The Technology for Communities project was started off by Nancy, John, and Etienne. What you'll find on the wiki is an online community toolbox for online communities of practice work. They've created a tool template and there are over 30 tool categories using the templates. Because it is a wiki, it is work in progress, with some pages complete and others in progress.
The array of tools available for inward facing work incorporates many of the same social media tools one could use for external communications such as blogs, wikis, and podcasting, but also includes online collaboration tools including teleconferencing tools, email list tools, and others.
When I explore a toolbox, I have two impulses. The first is to feed my inner geek who wants to explore the tools and how to use them. My second impulse is to understand the context - what do you need to think about to apply the tools successfully? You need to do both, but as colleagues suggest via Twitter and as Nancy, John, and Etienne lay out in their step-by-step practitioner guide - don't start with the tools.
On The Digital Habits: Stewarding Technology Communities blog, Nancy, John, and Etienne have compiled a Action Notebook with detailed worksheets to help you make decisions about selecting tools in the context. The big steps:
- Preamble: reflection on the role of tech steward
- Step 1: understanding your community, its characteristics, orientation, and current configuration
- Step 2: providing technology: choosing a strategy, selecting a solution, and planning the change
- Step 3: stewarding technology in use, in the life of the community and at its closing
(This is a different thinking framework than you would use for a social media strategy for external communications but there are some parallels.)
In Step 1, after you have a full understanding of your community's characteristics, you need to examine its current orientation. The guide has a check list of different orientations asking your to rate each one in terms of your own community. Nancy White does analysis of the orientation of a bird-watching community and gives a brief summary of what each orientation means.
- Meetings – in person or online gatherings with an agenda (i.e. monthly topic calls)
- Projects – interrelated tasks with specific outcomes or products (i.e. Identifying a new practice and refining it.)
- Access to expertise – learning from experienced practitioners (i.e. access to subject matter experts)
- Relationship – getting to know each other (i.e. the annual potluck dinner!)
- Context – private, internally-focused or serving an organization, or the wider world (i.e. what is kept within the community, what is shared with the wider world)
- Community cultivation – Recruiting, orienting and supporting members, growing the community (i.e. who made sure you’re the new person was invited in and met others?)
- Individual participation – enabling members to craft their own experience of the community (i.e. access material when and how you want it.)
- Content – a focus on capturing and publishing what the community learns and knows (i.e. a newsletter, publishing an article, etc.)
- Open ended conversation – conversations that continue to rise and fall over time without a specific goal (i.e. listserv or web forum, Twitter, etc.)
Inspired by Nancy's analysis of a bird watcher's community orientation, I thought I do a little analysis of the WeAreMedia year 1 as a reflection tool for thinking about the next phase. You can also use it to plan for engagement, stewarding of the community, and selecting tools. Nancy includes a cheat sheet called a "spidergram activity"
All this to ask, is your nonprofit using social media for "inward" facing activities? What is working? How did you select your tools?
Update: After some back and forth with Nancy White on Twitter, she did this follow up post about the spidergram activity.