Meena Arivananthan

Meena Arivananthan

Six months ago, when Meena Arivananthan posted the first installment of her Social Media Series on our blog, no one could have envisaged the impact and popularity of her articles. This versatile woman has a passion for both writing and knowledge sharing, attributes that are evident in her posts. Indeed, those initial pieces, written in Meena’s informative, reader-friendly style, guaranteed that visitors to our blog would keep coming back for more.

A Knowledge Management and Sharing Officer tasked with overseeing our Triple A Project, Meena joined the Program at the beginning of 2009, a mere three months before she began writing her blog series – an obvious testimony to her ability to quickly embrace new technology and tools and translate her  know-how for others to understand. However, this modest young woman is quick to point out that she couldn’t have written some of her pieces without input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas

Find out more about Meena in her Program profile.

If you missed any of the articles in Meena’s series, the following handy recap will let you know where you can get information and tips on using newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows


11. Social Media: The Next revolution

How agricultural research and development organizations can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs

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Why do some of us shy away from trying out new technology such as social media? I can think of several reasons: too complicated to figure out; too expensive to implement; my supervisor/colleagues would never approve; more suitable for geeks and teenagers; it’ll take too much time … Or my personal favorite: I like things the way they are now.

Matt Hamm's social media bandwagonYes, change can be a pain, because it can shake up your organized, structured existence. However, we can’t close our eyes and hope the Internet will go away. While I feel we should not jump onto the social media bandwagon just because everyone else is doing so, social media’s potential cannot be denied. Whatever the reason people give for avoiding social media, don’t let ignorance and fear hold you back from what will probably be the next revolution in the way people communicate.

Social media is breaking down communication barriers: allowing people to reach out to others around the world – letting them connect, engage and share among themselves. Now more than ever, agricultural research and development organizations such as ours can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs.

Social media tools can help you in your role as researcher, manager or communicator.

If all you’re interested in doing is organizing your online world, there are several social media tools that can simplify your life. These include social bookmarking sites that can help you organize your website resources and scientific literature. And if you’re struggling to keep abreast of updates from your favorite websites and blogs, newsfeeds may be your ticket out of mayhem. However, if you are yearning for more, hoping to connect with like-minded individuals or wanting to share your organization’s research with a larger audience so that it can be used, applied and improved upon, then read on!

The true value of social media lies in its ability to form communities organically. Often these communities, or social networks as they are called, come together because of common interests or a shared purpose. It is a nurturing environment filled with trust and camaraderie – the perfect milieu for effective collaboration and the sharing of ideas, information and knowledge. Add to that an outreach across vast geographical distances and the cross-linking between the different social media tools, and voila! You have a global, inter-linked audience at your fingertips.

Social media can give your communication strategy a boost in the following ways:

  • It can help you tap into a large, global audience base and go where the people are these days – the Internet!
  • The way people source for information has evolved. They are more discerning, preferring to seek out recommendations and suggestions from their colleagues, peers and experts. Information overload is a major concern, so people will not waste their time visiting a website, blog, database or any other resource unless someone they trust points them in that direction.
  • The usual way we do business is slowly coming to an end. Pushing information out to your target audience does not guarantee that it will be read and used. Information is useful only when it is received by the right person, who is looking, at the right time. Use social media tools as vehicles to get your message out.

How social media can boost your communication strategy:

Increase Visibility

  • Create awareness by raising the profile of your organization on social networking sites. Cultivate long term support for your organization by creating your own network of scientists, research partners and interested individuals.
  • Use social media tools to promote your projects, events and activities. Announce time-sensitive, newsworthy items and get a head-start on others by microblogging. Microblogging involves posting short sentences (max 140 characters) that can be used to promote your journal article or a useful website, act as a reminder for an activity, or even ask questions. Tip: Ensure that your microblogging network consists of like-minded individuals who share your interests and concerns so that the information exchange is meaningful. Be prudent in selecting whom you follow.
  • Promote your name: use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena. Blogging is a great way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. A recent Blog Tips post  provides practical reasons why blog sites may surpass websites in generating traffic to increase Internet presence.Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.

Engage people

  • Promote issues that resonate with people to encourage involvement and gather support for your cause. A great example of this is the Obama campaign which relied heavily on social media to garner visibility and support, resulting in victory for the Obama camp.
  • Form strategic alliances with influential people and institutions that help boost your organization’s profile.
  • Source expertise or talent, whether potential research partners, service providers or other experts.
  • In the ICT-KM Program’s Social Media Tool series, I sharedMicrosoft Clipart some thoughts on how social networking sites can help you engage with others. Reinforcing the sentiment that it is easy to find and connect with people of similar interests and even easier to set up online groups, Christian Kreutz and Giacomo Rambaldi provide interesting examples of local and global engagement. They also describe the various levels at which people engage while participating in social networks.

Share Knowledge

  • Social media transcends geographic boundaries. Test your research ideas by sharing them with your colleagues globally. Collaborate, enrich and validate your work at a fraction of the time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings. As wide-reaching as it can be, collaborative sharing sites also come with security options that allow secure knowledge sharing.
  • Create an environment where people recognize your expertise, and establish your organization as the expert in your field of research. Whether you are a researcher who is new to a field and eager to learn more, or the resident expert, share your knowledge and experiences by contributing to insightful blogs. I may be new to blogging, but already I’m learning so much from just opening up to a new community. My boss, Enrica Porcari, CGIAR Chief Information Officer, is a regular blogger and attests to its value. As she believes, and as I have been experiencing, blogs go beyond just sharing your words. The true value of blogging is in the exchange of information and knowledge, and the nurturing environment that allows differing ideas and opinions to emerge without defensiveness.  See how these successful bloggers use their expertise to share and learn:
    • Agricultural Biodiversity blogs  (by Luigi Guarino and Jeremy Cherfas, who are living their passion for all things related to biodiversity in agriculture)
    • ICT-KM Blogs (Blogs on knowledge sharing and social media in the CGIAR by 6 active bloggers and many guest bloggers)
    • Blog Tips (On blogging and social media for non-profits)
    • NEW: Rural Climate Exchange (new CGIAR blog connecting agricultural and environmental science to the climate change agenda) 
  • Share your photographs and videos online. Place useful slides online so others can learn from them. Tip: Think about the keywords/tags that you use to describe your product, such as blog, photograph, slides, videos, etc. How would you search for information online? Use that as a guide for your tags.
  • Get more mileage out of your research outputs by filtering content to fit different social media tools. Think of social media as strategic communication lines that branch outward to several different networks, which in turn branch into other networks.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circle and gain valuable ideas/feedback from your pool of social networks. Practice what some call social listening.

As my colleague Simone Staiger-Rivas often quotes, “Social media is not about technology. It is about conversations enabled by technology.”

  • Going beyond self-promotion, we should be paying attention to conversations that are already ongoing on social media sites; conversations that we are also passionate about. Sharing is a two-way process, and we should take the time to interact with others in a similar fashion.
  • Share resources within interested communities and broaden horizons at a fraction of the time it would take to search for data or information or knowledge on your own. Social Bookmarks and Newsfeeds are great for keeping track of what’s being published on your favorite websites and blogs. Share this with others, and see the favor being returned manifold.

Consider your communication goals when you decide to incorporate social media into your strategy:

  • Decide on whether you want to increase visibility for your organization, share knowledge or engage people.
  • Choose the right social media tool(s) for your organization based on the target audience, research content and technology available.
  • Start small. Many social media tools are relatively low-cost to implement in your organization:
    • Experiment with a low-risk pilot project.
    • Use short timeframes, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
    • Evaluate your progress with pre-determined goals and measure its success. Read Antonella Pastore’s post on how to check if social media is working for you.
    • In the event a social media tool does not work for your organization, it is wise to let go and start over with a different, more suitable tool. Don’t take it too personally.

 Until you try social media out for yourself, you will never know what you’re missing. This reminds me of the days before the mobile telephone came along. Can’t imagine your life without it now, right? Similarly, the potential of social media is limitless. When you use several social media tools in tandem to inform, disseminate, share, collaborate and interact, you work within an environment of networks that grow exponentially. That’s power you can’t afford to ignore. Resistance is futile!

Till next time.

Resources: 

This is the presentation by Simone Staiger-Rivas to CIAT 2009 Knowledge Sharing Week, delivered during a session yesterday on The  importance of communication

If you are responsible for communications in your organization, you will know the value of having a clear strategy and a way of evaluating it. This post will discuss some social media tools and give you ideas on how to include social media appropriately in your communications plan and measure its effectiveness.

Setting your goal

A good social media strategy should take into consideration goals, target audiences AND technological implications. For example, while it is true to say that most of the CGIAR’s constituents are not even online, many of its strategic audiences, such as donors, researchers and policy makers, will be. The Social Media Strategic Planning Worksheet from We Are Media will help you plan your social media strategy.

Here are some questions you might want to answer as you start to include a social media component in your communications strategy:

  • What communications objective do you want to try to support with social media?
  • What are the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that a social media strategy might offer?
  • What value does your social media strategy provide to your organization and/or stakeholders?
  • What type of quantitative and qualitative information do you need to track to measure your success or learn how to improve your social media strategy?

In the Blogging for impact post, you will find a number of reasons for establishing a blog. Some of the key objectives that this social media tool can help your organization achieve include: increased visibility, enhanced reputation, knowledge sharing and audience participation. These objectives don’t just apply to blogging; they can also be extended to many other social media activities such as microblogging.

Introducing a social media component into your communications strategy requires an understanding of your chosen tools and how the network dynamics work. If you are interested in learning more about strategic social media planning and have a project that you want to introduce to the Social Web, you may want to sign up for the ICT-KM Program’s Online Social Media Workshop to be held from May 25 to June 12, 2009.

Measure as you go

It is fairly simple to experiment with social media and throw out an experiment that is not working for you. Think small, low risk, frequent experiments, rather than trying to build “the perfect system” and over-investing in any one tool until you can see its value to your organization.

For example, you can create a blog as an alternative to a traditional email newsletter. By creating a central online archive for your news items, you can:

  • track traffic to individual posts – find out how many times a blog post has been viewed by using your blog software or a tool like Google Analytics).
  • read any comments you might get when you post entries that specifically ask for feedback. People are more likely to respond to open-ended questions.
  • monitor incoming links to your newsletter address and individual posts. You can monitor traffic sources (i.e. referrers in your traffic analysis reports) and keep an eye on the sites that link to your blog, simply by leveraging the search engine indexes. For example, you can set up a Google Alert to check who has linked to a specific URL or to your site, as their pages are registered with the Google index. You can also use Yahoo Site Explorer to monitor incoming links.
  • analyze those blog posts that are more popular and, accordingly, adjust your posting style, choice of topics, areas you want to focus on, etc.

The above approach relies on quantitative metrics. For a great list of other metrics, please see Rachel Happe’s blog post on Social Media Metrics.

Social listening

In the early phases of using social media, you will typically try things out and begin “listening” for the response as indicated by page views, links, responses and actions of your target audience.

Check out Beth Kanter’s blog post about evaluating first projects, where she links to Geoff Livingston’s post called “Getting Social Media Approved By Your Boss,”  in which he talks about organizational culture change and resistance, but with the emphasis on the importance of a proof of concept project. Here’s an excerpt:

First off, we recommend using a pilot project to get through the door. Reticence is often conquered by a win, and the best way to provide a win is via a pilot project. Tips to ensuring you choose the right pilot project:
  • Begin with some form of listening or monitoring. You must be in tune with your social web community if you want this to work. Hopefully you are doing this before you begin, but just in case…
  • Simple and relatively low cost is good. When there is fear involved, an easy, relatively affordable project is an easy thing to sign off on.
  • Short timeframes help, too. You want to make this a quick test.
  • Make sure you have a measurable goal. Look at your strategy, it will tell you exactly what to measure. You must be able to attain ROI. That is why attaining something worthwhile is essential, whether it’s micro-donations, market intelligence, feedback on a new product, click-throughs to a store, registrants for a value added webinar, or some other measurable result. You must be able to declare victory.

Social media has been around for a while (social bookmarking was already all the rage back in 2005 when Yahoo acquired Del.icio.us). However, it’s the growth in the adoption and use of social networks that has started to generate increasing traffic to the websites that get bookmarked, shared, commented on, and spread in whatever way through the networks. This is driving the demand for data related to social media: how many people are following us? what topics do they find interesting? who else is in their networks?

The first thing to do, as stated in the excerpt above, is to identify the goal you want to measure and choose the analysis tools that best cater for the job. For example, you can create buzz around an event so you engage participants before, during and after the event, the success of which can be measured in terms of the number of times your event information is viewed. You can also check the spread of an individual message across networks.

A great starting guide for measuring traffic generated by social media can be found at HOW TO: Track Social Media Analytics. Another article about reputation monitoring focuses on the tools you might want to set up to find out what is being said about your organisation, project or initiative so that you can participate in the conversation.

Capturing intangibles

Of course, using quantitative metrics is not the only way of evaluating your social media ROI. Successful communications often involves intangibles, like, say, a donor reading a blog post that tells the story of a project and, as a result, begins to engage more deeply to support the work involved. Or it could be about people who start following your Twitter messages and gain a deeper appreciation for, say, food and hunger in the world and start making small changes in their own lives. These things require a deeper listening – such as finding stories, carrying out interviews with people from your target audience, etc. For more on this, here is another blog post from Beth Kanter on intangibles as part of ROI.

As you get a sense of how social media is helping you achieve your communications strategy, you can begin to incorporate social media evaluation into your overall communications evaluation work:

  • keep anything that is working
  • adjust those aspects that might be working
  • stop doing anything that isn’t working

Note: Sometimes, it takes both experimentation and time to find out if something is working. So don’t give up too quickly.

Additional Resources

About this post. Originally developed by the Social Media Workshop facilitators, expanded by Antonella Pastore, edited by Mary Schneider.