On the second day of our Social Media Workshop we had our first conference call with ten participants.

Nancy White facilitated the call and kicked off by asking what social media tool each one of us has been using most recently: Blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, Dgroups, photo and video sharing, social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn , and Skype were some replies.

  • Immediately an important issue was raised: The personal versus the professional use of social media. Most of us have our first social media experience in the personal domain to connect and keep up relationships with friends and family. Nancy thinks that this is a great entry point and might help us to create a comfort zone and then move on to additional professional uses . Moreover, social media allow us to reach younger generations who are growing up with this natural mix. But it is definitively an issue when we consider the habit of separating our professional lives from our private lives, which is typical of many organizations, i.e. when we discuss IT aspects like the bandwidth required, or organizational policies.

Two other important discussion points are summarized below:

  • From the pipeline and dissemination to the conversational mode: Social Media enables us to interact more broadly with our target groups even if so far only 10% of social media activity generates interaction. Nathan Russell invites us to keep a critical perspective: How sure are we actually that social media empowers people? Some experiences in the field show that interactive communication tools can even increase inequity. Two interesting replies to that question were given, one by Nathan himself: Emphasis has to be given to empower rural organizations rather then individuals, which has greater and broader impact. Nancy highlights that Mobiles can be seen as having huge potential considering their exponential growth in number and coverage, as they are benefitting a much wider constituency.
  • Reaching (sub) target groups: Edith Hesse asks us how social media can help us to reach our different target groups, like donors, development professionals, the CGIAR community, policy makers? Paul Neate suggests that we, communication professionals should think about democratizing the communication exercise, which means motivate and support our staff to interact with their target groups more directly and actively, instead of having messages coming from us exclusively. Paul Stapleton adds that we need to see the individual relationships behind the target, i.e. our interaction with a donor is at the end a one-to-one relationship which we need to cultivate. Those comments seem to suggest a more fragmented communications approach rather then a broad and massive dissemination of our research products and outcomes. Nancy adds that it is probably a combination: We need to get the message out and available and then engage users around that content. One example could be: Publish a blog post and let your networks know about it and invite them to subscribe via Facebook, Twitter, on your skype status, or via a newsletter etc. Another important and often missing aspect is our availability and effort to actually listen to what our target groups communicate. Active (social media) listening is a key to relationship building and requires openness and readiness to hear negative feedback. Antonella Pastore wonders how we then manage to bring all the bits and pieces of social media interaction together. How can we avoid to become too dispersed?

We closed our conversation by going around the clock and raising some questions that emerged for each of us during the call:

  • How can I engage and keep up a dialogue with users of our CG information systems to keep content relevant?
  • How can I use social media to involve donor offices, identify my donor network, and move to a more informal connection with the donor community?
  • What are the ideas and examples to communicate more effectively (i.e. Alternative Slash and Burn approach)
  • How do we deal with the organizational fear of letting go and open up, including the IT departments?
  • How can I prioritize some tools versus others knowing that there are so many options?
  • How can social media support internal organizational discussions, i.e. support the interaction between Communication and researchers to discuss the content of a new website?
  • To which degree can we expect to mainstream the use of social media in our work? What are the next steps?
  • How can we assure that we support the use of social media through good facilitation, including the challenge to cover several languages?
  • What are the opportunities to join forces among centers, like important events?