I just finished doing a training for Open Society Institute media and information coordinators on social media with colleague, David Sasaki, from Global Voices. I've known since 2005 and I realized that the last time I had seen him was in 2007 in Cambodia at the blogging conference and over an interesting dinner served by our hosts.
Our charge was to teach back-to-back simultaneous workshops covering social media strategy for NGOs and social media tools. It made me think of the metaphor of the Dance Floor and the Balcony a phrase and exercise that I learned from a session that Eric Eugene Kim facilitated.
The term comes from titled Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading with Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz which is where Eugene Eric Kim borrowed the metaphor of The Dance Floor and the Balcony of his exercise.
The idea is the "balcony" is the strategic, big picture and the dance floor is when we're in the thick of operations or "in the weeds." Leaders need to shift between the two viewpoints to be effective.
I used this metaphor to talk about the importance of having both the strategic view of social media as well as the hands-on experience of the tactical and tools. It is important to shift between the tools and that strategic overview. As one participant noted in the discussion, a big problem she observes with social media within nonprofits is that the leadership is "divorced" from the social media and tactics are delegated to the "young person on staff" without strategic insight.
I also pointed out the inherent tension we experience between strategy and tactics. Strategy is analytical, reflective, and thinking - not much action. Tactics is doing, moving, and acting. So, the sessions we co-taught were geared to so both these perspectives. We covered some strategy points, but also had the group tweeting.
We opened with a plenary session providing an opportunity for participants to introduce themselves and do a couple of icebreakers. I was also able to share the workshop wiki. We also used a unique hashtag #OSITango. (Participants were relieved that our icebreaker did not involve any tango dancing!).
Participants got to introduce themselves with "just three tags," picking three key words that describe them. Some participants acknowledged that they "Twitter resisters." We two more exercises to learn about their personal and organizational social media use - a stand up and sit down exercise.
This is an interactive whole group exercise that helps highlight the range of perspectives in a group. There is a tape on the floor with agree at one and disagree at the other:
agree |—————–|—————–| disagree.
The moderator asks a somewhat controversial question and directs participants to take a stand on the spectrum. The moderator then interviews people at different points on the spectrum about the opinions they hold. This process creates a shared experience while demonstrating the range of opinions in a community. It can serve as an anchor for additional conversations.
We asked this question:
Social media is a fad and a waste of time for nonprofit organizations
Social media can enhance fundraising for NGOs.
This generated a good discussion allowing for expression of different points of view. David Sasaki has a terrific reflection on that here. But, I'll quote:
I’ll admit, it wasn’t the easiest group to work with at the start (the average introduction was something like “Hi, my name is X and I think Twitter is a waste of time”), but by the end of the day I think we made some converts out of what were initially some pretty harsh critics:
David goes on to make some points about getting people's hands on the tools while also pointing out the strategic options:
But really, this is the thing about Twitter and many similar tools – they don’t make sense until you try them. And for most people they don’t make sense until you try them out for a couple weeks. You have to wait until you come across information that is relevant to you – information that you otherwise wouldn’t have come across – in order to appreciate the advantage of being part of the network.
There is also always an inherent power struggle in teaching networked technologies to people in positions of power. New technologies always take power away from one group and afford it to another. Individuals who are at the top of institutional hierarchies often grow frustrated when they come to understand that it’s increasingly not the position you have but rather the connections you have that lead to information awareness, and to power. Often times the workshops I give are full of people who have been working years – if not decades – to move up the institutional hierarchy to positions of power. They are comfortable being reported to by their team and reporting up to their director. But they are often – and understandably – resistant to enter a network where all that matters is how which connections you have and how well you are able to absorb and parse information.
We then did our respective workshops on strategy and tactics and then reconvened as a whole group to do a little bit of a reflection. I think this process is important to make the final opening up happen. The last part of the day was focused on answering learning consolidation questions, ending with circle where we went around and shared the answer to: "What one step can take to incorporate social media into your practice."
As David reflects on how attitudes change:
At the beginning of today’s workshop the majority of those attending were openly skeptical about social media. (Though they obviously had some interest or they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.) But once Beth and I walked them through how the tools actually work and how different activists and organizations have used those tools to their advantage, everyone in the room opened up to the idea of adopting the tools and techniques themselves. Like every other aspect in life, it’s difficult to really accept something until you understand it.
And now comes the challenge of transfer - with a one-day session where we teach to the "ah-ha" moment, share both strategy and actual hands-on activities - and some reflection on the next steps. This is why I always create a wiki with resources, a leave behind - and be open to answer to any questions, especially on Twitter.
How have you witnessed social skeptics changing their minds? What do think is required?