January 14, 2013

Tech Across Your Org: Social Media Collaboration Across the NYC Elder Abuse Center


[Editor’s note: The following is from the December 2012 issue of NTEN:Change, NTEN’s quarterly journal for nonprofit leaders. Read the complete issue on “Collaboration” when you subscribe to the journal for free!]

By Debra Askanase, Community Organzier 2.0

This spring, the New York City Elder Abuse Center (the Center) began its journey from a traditional, “non-social” organization to one that uses and embraces social media in both its communications and internal processes. Established in 2008 as a collaborative response to the growing number of complex elder abuse cases in NYC, the NYC Elder Abuse Center helps professionals, organizations, and systems prevent elder abuse and improve their response to it.

The Center wanted to expand its reach, connections, and impact using social media and received grant funding in 2011 for social media planning and implementation through 2012. The Center staff includes just five staff members (four full-time) plus one very part-time social media manager at five hours a week. In order to accomplish the goals of social media strategy, Deputy Director Risa Breckman knew that 1.) work must be spread among staff 2.) she had to delegate others to take the lead with social media and 3.) everyone will need training in order to realize efficiencies and goals.

Risa sums up the value of a collaborative approach: “Our staff conversations about ways to utilize social media are creative and energizing. Everyone brings something unique to the table, whether it’s content, tech skills or social media know-how. Also, using a team approach, we all learn and grow together, increasing our organizational capacity to use social media. The knowledge doesn’t just reside with one person.”

The Center developed a social media strategy, but did not finalize it until after a half-day staff meeting to review the plan and think about the realities of implementation. They tackled tough questions such as: “we’ve never put together a podcast, how will we practically make this happen AND work through the learning curve?” Or: “not many of us are on LinkedIn, how should we use it to help the organization?” And: “what role should Slideshare play in relation to the podcast?”

At the end of that day, the Center staff walked away with a few solid accomplishments and a sense of their collaborative approach to social media, including the social media manager role, who else makes up the “social media team,” which social media channels to focus on, the content conversation for each channel, and finally, what training was still needed. The social media team includes the Deputy Director, the Special Projects Director, the Social Media Manager, the social media consultant, summer interns, and an outside content development consultant. Some of the team is dispursed, working virtually.

The Center developed a Facebook Page, blog, a podcast, a Slideshare channel (with slidecasts), a Linkedin Company Page, and a private Delicious profile for internal knowledge-sharing. They also participate in conversations in Linkedin Groups, and Twitter (via Director Mark Lachs’ twitter profile, @drmarklachs). Though it seems like a lot of channels, it is manageable with shared responsibility. As Cara Kenien, the Center’s Social Media Manager told me, “Risa is so open to delegating and readjusting as needed and finding ways to share responsibilities, which is why we are so collaborative.”

Here are a few key takeaways that the Center learned about the role of collaboration and social media:

1. Training and Documentation

Though none of the Center’s staff regularly uses social media personally, Risa Breckman decided that the entire team should be involved in the planning and training process so that knowledge-sharing efficiencies could emerge. The staff received training in the basics of using NYCEAC’s social media channels, as well as Google alerts, social media measurement, and blogging within either the bi-weekly calls or in-person.

The social media team maintains an internal document within its shared Google Drive folder called the “NYCEAC Internal Resource List.” The resource list is really the “go to document for all things online.” It includes keywords and keyword phrases for online content, related websites, where to find Creative Commons images and how to attribute them, podcast development resources, and other relevant information for the social media team. Important points from the trainings are also placed into the Resource List. Sometimes on a call, a team member will say “let’s put that in the Resource List,” and I’ll know that means everyone uses it!

2. Team meetings

The entire social media team participates in bi-weekly telephone calls to address “big picture” issues related to NYCEAC’s social media strategy, knowledge-sharing, and training; the minutes are captured in an ongoing social media team meetings Google doc for the entire social media team to access. Since not all of the team works out of the Center, the phone calls are also an extremely important tool for keeping the team intact.

3. Ongoing conversations in the Cloud

The team accesses a shared Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) folder. All ongoing work is placed into the shared folder, and team members are notified when it is ready for review. Online mentions and Google alerts are placed into a shared excel spreadsheet, and each team member adds social media metrics to it. Podcasts and Slidecasts are placed into a shared Dropbox folder for review. Each team member places relevant elder justice and elder abuse articles and online mentions from the web into NYCEAC’s private Delicious bookmarks. These cloud applications enable the team to work efficiently.

4. A culture of collaboration

From the beginning, the Center’s approach to social media was collaborative, including shared responsibilities, delegation as needed, and erring on the side of inclusion. Cara Kenien, Social Media Manager, comments: “Everyone was always prepared to dive in and learn together, from the Deputy Director on down. Everyone also steps up to take on responsibility, and to take on the more difficult task of discussing process issues.”

Debra Askanase is the Principal and Online Engagement Strategist at Community Organizer 2.0, a digital strategy and engagement consulting firm. She blogs regularly about the intersection of social media, nonprofits and technology at Community Organizer 2.0. Connect with her on Twitter, Google Plus, Slideshare, or Linkedin.