Priming the “Engagement” Pump
Guest Post: Susan Herr, PhilanthroMedia
Engagement via social media is the holy grail of just about all of us who work in communications today. But as anyone who has tried to advance ideas via their websites, blogs, Tweeting and the like knows that it is much easier to talk about than to achieve. And when it’s missing? The silence can be deafening.
Think about it. Is a blog post worth the effort if no one takes the time to comment? What about a video that reaches only a couple of hundred views? Does a Tweet that is not reTweeted serve any purpose at all?
On the flip side, consider your own inclinations when it comes to engagement. If you are like me, your finite time is spent are plowing through a vast number of sources. How often do you take the time to respond to posts you read?
If engaging others is tough now, I’m willing to bet it will only get tougher. That’s because — with the advent of new platforms like Klout.com that rank our “relevance” in the social media sphere as a way of determining V.I.P. status – potential commenters will be too busy gathering followers to even read what we write.
That said, engagement is key to the work of the Communications Network, so we’re constantly experimenting. An example is our now three-year-old “Gorilla Engagement” squad. We launched it during the Network’s Fall Conference in New York City in 2009. Our all-volunteer squad comprised a group of folks who agreed to Tweet, videotape and blog their thoughts during the conference. It worked so well back then, we’ve continued it ever since.
Over the course of three conferences — New York, Los Angeles and most recently Boston — we have captured almost 400 people on video, published several dozen blog posts and benefited from countless Tweets pointing people to Network-related content. These efforts ensured that whatever happened in those cities, didn’t just stay there, but they offered a look inside to people everywhere.
Because of the success of our volunteer Gorilla Squad during our conferences, we decided to make it a permanent Network fixture. Early in 2011, we recruited a group of Network members and asked if they would be willing to serve as squad members throughout the year, and not just at conference time.
There was no obligation on their part. Instead, they agreed to offer an occasional blog post, participate in videos showcasing work, and Tweet about things that they thought would be of interest and use to communicators in philanthropy.
The videos we produced include Will Bohlen talking about how the German Marshall Fund of the United States uses Scribd to expand audiences for its publications, Rebecca Noricks of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation describing an experiment to embed QR codes in an annual report and Julee Newberger, formerly of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who talked her program colleagues into openly sharing how communications is essential to their work.
These are just a few examples of the way we’ve tried to take advantage of the opportunities social media provides to engage our membership and increase the sharing of information about innovative practices that we think will help advance the role communications plays in foundations. Over the course of doing this work, I’ve also learned a few things that might be useful to others who want to increase the level of engagement in their efforts:
- There are no silver bullets. Engagement is about relationships and relationships only flourish through time and attention. Those who comment on your blog want to know they are being heard. Even motivated guest bloggers need care and feeding. Determine where, when and what types of participation are most important and make sure someone is focused upon the grunt work required to make it happen.
- Pursue those already active in the social networking sphere. When New Year’s resolutions roll around this year, many of us will vow to make more time for social networking that builds our professional credibility. But the best bet for targeting contributors is to identify those who are already actively participating in a wide-array of virtual conversations. If they already have social networking clout, consider offering them ways to cross-post content they are already creating.
- Spotlight new voices. While it makes sense to pursue folks who are already active in the sphere, don’t limit your recruitment to those who already have significant visibility. Look for up-and-comers who have a clear understanding of how visibility on your site, through comments and/or blog posts, can advance their professional credibility. And then support them in those efforts as opportunities arise.
- Acknowledge them early and often. Those willing to engage should be viewed as rare and precious assets. In that spirit, I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of our first-year round engagement squad, whose members include: William Bohlen, German Marshall Fund; Dan Brady, Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers; Allyson Burns, Case Foundation; Sylvia Burgos Toftness, Northwest Area Foundation; Tim Hanrahan, McKnight Foundation; Christine Mulvin, formerly of the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati; Julee Newberger, formerly of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Rebecca Noricks, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Chris Palmedo, Northwest Health Foundation; Charity Perkins, The Duke Endowment; Bev Pfeifer-Harms, Missouri Foundation for Health; Jessica Schwartz, The Wallace Foundation; and Cassandra Stalzer, Rasmuson Foundation.
Susan Herr, president of PhilanthroMedia, has been overseeing our Gorilla Squads since they first jumped into action at our 2009 conference in New York City.