I’ve often commented that tools don’t make the process when talking with church organizations about social media and communications in general. I think this issue has only been further compounded as the many options for tools have increased and continue to do so. To this end I feel like we’ve all lost track of the mission: reaching new people, keeping people informed, and interacting with both of the former. (Read=Lost people, members/attenders, and everyone in-between.) We don’t need new tools to innovate church communications, we need solid, proven ministry practices and processes.
Let me explain: When one is considering building a bird house most of us would probably just go to Wal-Mart and buy one. (Or which ever bird house mart you prefer.) But, for those who like a little more adventure, they journey into their basement and/or garage to actually build it. For these experts of the craft they follow a process something like this: Step one: gather what you need to be successful at building your bird house (i.e., plans, materials, tools, etc.) Ultimately, combining these things should result in a bird house. However, most of us also know that it’s how we combine these items that measures our level of success. For example, plans need to be for what you actually want to accomplish and simple to understand. The materials should last and not create unneeded waste, and finally the tools should help you accomplish the task not make it more complicated. (Anyone see where this is going yet?) The path to success is then to follow the right plans, assemble your materials in the right way, while using the appropriate tools. Simple, right?
So how does this relate to your church’s social media and overarching communications plan:
1) Plans/Processes/Procedures: Like building a bird house, you need good plans to know where you are going and how you are going to get there. These are much like our ministry processes. Lacking solid, documented ministry processes, you end up building a dog house when all you wanted was a simple place for a blue bird to call home. For the church today, this should come in the form of an all-encompassing communications plan. This plan can cover all things from branding, marketing, website, bulletins, mass mailings, podcasts, videos, and of course social media. It’s all related and important to keep aligned and all involved accountable to the plan.
2) Materials (Read content): should be what you need to accomplish the job and should be of good quality. (i.e., videos, podcasts, mailings, bulletins, etc.) We all want to ensure the work we do lasts, answers the task at hand, and ultimately glorifies God. If we don’t, then we may end up with a great plan and/or process, but then fail in the delivery for not taking the time to ensure that our messaging/content/communications actually make sense in the context of what we are trying to accomplish.
3) Tools (Read social media platforms/content management systems/etc): Everyone wants the shiny new tool that’s on sale at Home Depot (or Lowes if you like) but do you need it? Does it help you accomplish your goal or only look pretty, take up space, and cost a lot of money? Does it even do the task you need it to do? Have you ever bought a tool that claimed to do a bunch of things including the ONE thing you need it to do, just to find out it doesn’t even do the task you need it to all? Social media and content management can absolutely be daunting in this respect. Everything is “new” or “popular”, but before you jump into the fold you should look to your communication plan and see what you are trying to accomplish as a church. Which tool best fits your goals? Blanketing the market may be an option, but in the face of small or non-existent budgets some times targeting your approach will yield the best results. Learn the tools and match their benefits and reach to your communications plan for best results and then expand as you grow.
So, maybe social media isn’t quite like building a bird house, however often times I feel we are losing sight of our task, our target audience, and the intended end state by being blinded by the shiny new tool on the shelf that promises to do everything including slice my fresh bread before a meal. Knowing the task and how you are going to accomplish it is most important today along with delivering good and relevant content to those you hope to reach. Social media and content management tools are supposed to help accomplish the tasks and support the process, not BE the process, etc. It’s time we focus on getting things done and producing results by way of using the correct tools for the job. Social media/web2.0/shiny web objects of choice are just that, tools: Some are good for accomplishing what your church needs and others are just new fancy tools that do too much for their own good. Focus on your ministry’s mission, the audience, and your organizational goals and allow the appropriate tools fall into place to make the overall experience better. Don’t fall for what every pitchman has for you or what’s on sale at the front of the mega shopping center store this holiday season, or what ever some megachurch is using with great success. Bottom line: Tools, no matter how shiny and awesome they are, should never be the solution, they are only the means to accomplishing your goals. Make a plan, do your research and watch your ministry grow through good content and audience engagement.
A few weeks ago I wrote on the coming of age of the “Digital Public Information Officer (PIO)” and how social media, digital volunteers, and organization is key. (Find the original posting here: Considerations for the Digital Public Information Officer) This sparked a lot of great conversation across the Social Media in Emergency Management (SMEM) community and a recent SMEMChat (#smemchat) widened the conversation into topic areas of addressing where existing volunteers may be already working that may be well suited for cross training in the use of social media. To this end an interesting conversation blossomed on bringing into the fray a group of technologically savvy people that most emergency managers have at their disposal now: Amateur Radio operators.
Amateur Radio, also more commonly referred to as “Ham Radio”, has been around for quite some time and has often been one of the only means of communications after mass disasters around the world. (i.e., Hurricane Katrina, 2003 Northeastern US Black Out, 2004 Tsunami, and many others.) This community of tightly knit hobbyist have an urge to learn, create, and/or modify/manipulate just about anything electronic and/or can be used to communicate with the outside world. Tapping into this innovative spirit only lends itself in making emergency communications easier when things get tough. However, this should not be something new to of those who have been working with Amateur Radio operators for disaster response efforts in the past. Though, others may need to take a second look at this growing resource.
So, what makes Amateur Radio operators such a great resource? Simple: Have tech, innovative spirit, and will travel. This is a group of highly dedicated, tech minded, problem solvers that are up to just about any challenge if it can be fixed with technology. (..or duct tape, WD40, and a hammer..) It only makes sense that those who find their hobby based in finding new and innovative ways to communicate may in fact be the best place to find assistance in engaging the public during a disaster. Though its not just the innovative spirit that makes Hams a great resource, part of what separates Amateur Radio hobbyists from the pack is the fact that there are licensing requirements that require base knowledge in simple electronics, radio wave propagation, and the regulations that bind license holders. (This is no backseat quarterback hobby people.) However, the buck doesn’t stop there. This group of highly skilled volunteers are also well versed in emergency management, communications platforms, and some even already belong to organizations that provide this support today. (Possibly within your organization already.) Anything from the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), SKYWARN, State and Local Emergency Management Support (Check out the State of Oregon and their integration), the Red Cross, and Amateur Radio Clubs themselves have looped in Ham operators for years to help provide communications during disasters. Even more important is that a lot of these organizations are in the Social Media space already and expanding every day. Bottom line, these individuals are near by and have been part of the system for some time and may be under utilized.
Taking this resource and applying it to the Social Media engagement side of the house may be just what the doctor ordered. Amateur Radio operators almost always want to learn something new. This want to always be absorbing new technology and how it works is one of the most promising aspects about adding Social Media to their skill set. What better to reinforce your Emergency Operations Center (EOC) communications cell than to take your trained volunteers and add another communication method to their ever growing tool box of options in helping get the word out? These individuals already are plugged into most organization’s situational awareness, command and control, and communications groups helping pass information, why not help empower these volunteers to pass important information back to the public as well?
Now granted this process may not come over night, but here are a few steps that can help bring the two together:
1.) Ask! If an organization doesn’t engage the available volunteers from local RACES, ARES, MARS, SKYWARN and other Ham Radio volunteers if there is any interest in learning more about applying Social Media to the same problems these groups handle every day, one may never know the interest level. So, get in there and engage.
2.) Educate! As stated previously, Hams are typically technologically savvy and love playing with just about any type of technology, though it is possible to run into situations where this is new ground for some of these individuals. Help bring these volunteers up to speed on what is going on and how the organization envisions using Social Media to better help communicate with the public in an emergency. It is highly likely that additional ideas will be produced from this group as they come up to speed.
3.) Train, Exercise, and Repeat! Once there is engagement with interested Hams and they are up to speed, now is the time to get a solid training regiment in place. Though some Amateur Radio operators have had training via organizations like RACES, ARES, MARS, and SKYWARN this is a great time to bring them up to speed on the organizational operating procedures and emergency management in general. Set up minimum training requirements: (i.e., FEMA EMI IS-100, FEMA EMI IS-200, FEMA EMI IS-700, FEMA EMI IS-704, ARRL EC-016, and ARRL EC-001) Once trained, practice and do it again until comfortable.
4.) Communicate! Once things are underway and there is an established process in place that the organization and the volunteers are comfortable with start telling people about it. People can’t volunteer for something they don’t know about. Amateur Radio is still growing strong as a hobby and more and more people want to know how to become more involved in helping out during disasters.
In the end, this is a great chance to bring together a group of volunteers that are already available within most EOCs to help engage the public with information, faster. Take the time to talk to these individuals, find common ground, locate the interest, make a plan of action, and execute.
Opportunity is knocking, is your organization ready to step up to the challenge?
Today is a big day for social media and emergency management: The Emergency 2.0 Wiki is now live! For those already in the know about #SMEM and its rather large following this is great news. For those of you that have no idea what ‘m talking about, let me fill you in: #SMEM is the twitter hash tag that a great deal of emergency management professionals are using to track conversations and connect on topics that involve the use of social media in emergency management. (Did you catch that? Social Media in Emergency Management..Clever right?..moving on..)
The Emergency 2.0 Wiki Project, as it has been deemed, is an international group of emergency management professionals from every corner of the globe and is current lead by Eileen Culleton an emergency management professional from Queensland, Australia. Like most organizations of its type, its followers and supports come together via multiple forms of social media including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and of course their brand new Wiki. However, unlike a lot of social media outlets, this one is specifically dedicated to the profession of emergency management and how to use technology to better keep citizens informed during disasters. With experienced professionals from all over the world inputting their lessons learned and best practices, people can search the wiki for just about any related topic and find input on just about any type of emergency situation.
The Emergency 2.0 Wiki has now been officially online for a few hours, but be sure to check in and see what’s going on. Eileen and crew have been reaching out around the clock for people to help provide content on different topic areas and many around the glob have answered the call. This is a huge moment for emergency management professionals the world over and even more so for those directly involved with the project. Like any wiki, the success of this tool will hinge on the community and those that choose to help support the efforts.
Bottom line here is that the #SMEM community grows almost by the hour and new professionals come to the plate to discuss what they are up to and/or issues they face. If you are interested emergency management and the use of social media, this is a great starting point to plug into a worldwide community of professionals.
As some of you may be aware the #SMEM community made a huge push to get #SMEM into this years top categories for consideration on GovFresh’s Awards for social media engagement. Well, I have some good news. Not only did our efforts get #SMEM as a category this year pay off, #SMEM will have two separate categories for submissions and votes! Those two categories are: 1) Best Use of Social Media for Emergency Management and 2) Best Emergency Management App! To check out the categories and start submitting see the links below:
This is a huge opportunity for the #SMEM community to band together yet again and push our best practices, lessons learned, and primary examples of success into the public eye. Please take a moment and click on through to help support the use of social media in emergency management by supporting organizations whom have led the way thus far.
The 2011 GovFresh Awards honors the most innovative citizen and city and local government technology projects of the year.
For further details: http://awards.govfresh.com
This topic has been coming up a lot lately. I wrote about it a few weeks back: Social Tools Do Not a Process Make. A lot of people are overly focused on technology as a solution rather than a tool that can be used to re-enforce good policy, procedures, etc. (Read=Process) Fellow GovLoop-er, and communications consultant, Steve Radick has mentioned this a few times in his blogs as of late as well.
One can argue that “2.0 technology” is so “large” or “innovative” that it’s a game changer, but this is a standard technology argument that is as old as the world it’s self. One must recall the definition of technology to understand my point: (According to Merriam-Webster) Technology=”a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” By this definition technology isn’t a “thing” it’s a how and this is important to understand in discussion. Changing how we do something requires good process, methods, and/or knowledge. Lacking any of these things technology typically serves to only make things more complicated instead of easier. (As stated, how many projects can one point to that has suffered this reality?) Thus, we suffer from the reality that technology can be a double edged sword if not applied correctly to resolve a problem and in fact can end up causing more problems than it was implemented to resolve. (If this is the case, then by technical definition you have already failed.) This is the root problem in technology innovation: We can be motivated to change process due to some shiny new object that promises world peace, when all we really needed was a tool/technology that makes our processes better.
So, I leave you with this: 1.) Innovation for the sake of innovation is typically doomed to fail as it doesn’t have a problem to solve. 2.) If lacking solid process, methodology, and/or knowledge technology will typically lead to frustration rather than solutions. and 3.) Tools/Technology: no matter how shiny and awesome they are, should never be the independent solution, they are only a means to accomplishing the mission/goal.
Technology does make our lives easier, but only appropriately applied technology to existing (and solid) processes change the world we live in for the better. What we need is a “Process 2.0” driven work place, that uses the right techonlogy for the job and appropriately engages people while solving problems.