When technology fails...or finding your way in a smokey building

Karin Jervert
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Last week, my organization attended Princeton Community Works evening conference. Here's my wrap up on things learned, thoughts and comments.

As the Keynote speaker, Director of the Princeton Volunteer Firefighters, told the audience about what he deals with every day -  uncertainty about who will show up day to day, keeping people passionate and dedicated, I started to realize how alike everyone in that room of nonprofit leaders were. Although a volunteer Firefighter company is a very different field of work than the ISC (an international arts organization), truly all things are comparable when you’re dealing with people - the most important skill in our tool belt, adaptability.


One of the statements made by the Keynote stuck with me. It was about a thermal camera that helped people see through smoke failing to work and how training ensured that the firefighter would be alright finding his/her way through a smokey building. He said, “When technology fails, how do we adapt?” It got me thinking about how I have felt like Social Media/Online engagement has failed me and the ISC and how I feel sometimes like I’m trying to find my way in a smoky building because my camera has failed. I can’t see what I used to see, a clear path to success on social media. Instead, I stumble around vague markers of engagement, driven only by the hope that I’ll open the right door and be in the clear. I'm learning how to adapt to my audience. In the course of my career, I’ve gone from convincing organizations that social media was right for them, to finding reasons why it is not and why perhaps we should continue to think this trend through. Which, as I would hear from many of the organizational representatives in the Social Media workshop, is now where the dialogue is turning.


As a society, as individuals and as organizations we all depend on technology to accomplish our daily tasks. Whether it is our email or a thermal camera that helps us find our way through a smoky building, when these things fail we feel lost and have to think on our feet about how to accomplish our task. So how does the ISC adapt when technology like social media/online engagement fails us? When something that so many organizations find useful, doesn’t seem to serve us? How do we market online? How do we engage online? How do we serve our members online? These questions, because of our audience, have ended up being very different from the answers a lot of other organizations find when they look at how the internet and social media can help them accomplish their mission.


The ISC is on its way to a web redesign, which means a complete evaluation of what is useful and what is not online. My first workshop was a great refresher for basic web design principles and gave me time to think about our website, goals and priorities as an organization and how that will affect our redesign. On integrating social media into your web design, the presenter was convinced it was better to be on all platforms rather than just one. A marketing perspective, reach as many people as you can, but a gigantic effort for small nonprofits. But, one thing was conspicuously missing from the presenters speech - the acknowledgement that there is a real danger of draining limited resources when an organization whose audience, a majority of which is not using online sharing, devotes time to numerous different services instead of picking one and doing that one well.


In the second workshop on Social Media, having given a few of these types of workshops myself, I was interested in how the dialog was changing. People are turning from formulas that are ‘supposed’ to equal success across the board and a kind of peer pressure to adopt social media to encouraging organizations to analyze what works for them, which includes perhaps not putting too much effort into it at all. Or, unlike the earlier workshop leader who encouraged us to put effort into all of the services, put effort into just one that works for you.


For a while you weren’t a valid organization if you didn’t adopt or see the value of social media, almost like you were nobody unless you did. I remember doing a lecture once and saying something like “how many of you still think social media isn’t worth it for your organization”. My point was to ‘show’ them they were wrong. But, I know now that what I should have done was explore those reasons more to draw out perhaps why they were right.