Whenever I give a talk about The Networked Nonprofit, co-authored with Allison Fine, one of the common topics that comes up is the fear that organizational leaders have about social media. Opening up organizations is uncomfortable because it strikes at the heart of what so many organizational leaders were taught as their jobs—to protect the organization by controlling everything that happens inside and outside their walls.
I'm often asked for practical advice on how to move past the fear.
In short, deconstruct it and face it head on. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (no relation) from the Harvard Business School describes this process as "To Master Change, First Dread It." She describes the stress and feelings of lost control that change in organizations engenders. She goes on to say that the stress leads to paralysis. She offers a counter-intuitive tip for moving past it: Start by wallowing in the feelings of dread fear of change arouses—the sheer nail-biting horror of it all. Get in touch with every negative aspect, all the things that could go wrong. Then figure out a way to get that negative force on your side. In short, "Dream your worst nightmare and invest in it."
Here are a few tips for moving past the fear and towards social media adoption:
1. Imagine the Worst-case Scenario: This is the first very step. The very first questions at the very first meeting to discuss it should be: "What's the concern? What's the worst thing that could happen?" Understanding the answers to these questions is the key to adoptions and social media success.
2. Name It and Claim It: In every technology training that I've done over the past 15 years, I've incorporated talking about the stress and fear people have about technology. Many times I begin a training with "Just Three Words" about how you feel about social media. I create a word cloud and then we deconstruct the emotions and feelings that lie beneath. In the early 1990s, when I was working with arts organizations and technology, I had them draw pictures of their concerns. Discussing it brings it out in the open and makes it less scary.
3. Share the Success Stories of Other Organizations: Do a scan of what other similar nonprofits are doing with social media, particularly organizations that work in your sector. Here is a method for doing such a scan; I call it actionable listening. Present their success stories. Look at their social media influence by using services such as Klout. Benchmark yourselves against your peers.
4. Identify Influencers Inside Who Are with You: Maybe your executive director is very skeptical and everyone is terrified to even bring up the "s" word (social media). Identify people in your organization who are open to social media and have influence. Think of social media adoption as an internal social change process.
5. Apologize for Experiments; Don't Ask for Permission: Ten or 15 years ago, when e-learning was in its infancy, we talked about "under the radar" adoption or what Jeremiah Owyang described as the "tire" approach. This is where a small group would implement a low risk project and then show upper management results. It is an approach that has been used by social media early adopters like Carie Lewis from the Humane Society.
Several years ago, The Underground Secret Guide to Social Media Adoption for Organizations was a popular read by early adopters. While stealth adoption can help you get started, you need to have the whole organization on board to really scale.
6. Have Your Social Media Elevator Pitch Ready: A social media elevator pitch is a sound byte that talks about how social media will realistically help your organization reach its objectives. Wendy Harman from the Red Cross has a good one: "We use social media to help make our mission more efficient = to get stakeholders to be our ambassadors on social networks."
7. Do Internal Road Shows: This is important in larger organizations. You need to put together a brief social media road show that talks about how your organization is using social media to reach its mission. It has to be realistic and frame social media not as cools tools but as effective strategies for reaching objectives.
8. Practice Behind the Firewall: Some leaders may have stage fright about social media and making public mistakes. One way to get past this is to have staff use social media behind the firewall to harness the conversation about social media adoption. Some organizations have used Yammer! (a private Twitter like application) to get more comfortable with Twitter or internal blogging.
What has helped your organization take the first steps towards social media adoption?