Looking Back: Social Media Staff Retreat Succeeded

Last October, Environmental Defense Fund made a huge commitment to social media — we spent a good chunk of our all-staff retreat giving people hands-on experience with social media strategies.

Three months later, what do we have to show for it? Or, in other words, should you do the same thing? Here’s what we’re seeing.

Explosion of EDF bloggers

way2goThe biggest new entry on our blog list is our new transportation blog, Way2Go. Kathryn and Carrie came back from the retreat inspired to resuscitate a blog that had been long-since left for dead.?¬†They were organized and focused — they put together the best responses to our internal planning template we’ve ever seen, and a month in, they are blogging with smarts and energy. Nice work!

We also have a crop of new bloggers on our international climate talks blog, which is amazing considering they set that up while preparing for the chaos of the Copenhagen talks. The contributors to our blog about Texas energy re-tooled how they write and edit posts to make the process more flexible and inclusive. And two more blogs are in the final setup stages, to launch in the new year.

But what I’m most pleased with is that EDF staff are engaged in the question of how blogging will help achieve their goals, not just blogging so they can say they blog. One of the best conversations we’ve had is with a department that decided to put off blogging for now, since it made sense to invest in other tactics first. I love seeing our staff make smart, well-informed choices.

Not just the usual suspects

We’ve always had a small but energetic group experimenting with social media (see our business innovation blog and green business twitter feed). We’re now seeing people on social media who were never part of that experimental vanguard.

Kathryn, whose determination got the new transportation blog going, is a great example. A year ago, when we first started talking about a transportation blog, she was skeptical that blogging would be worth the time it would require from her staff. This fall, she made it clear that she wanted to dedicate the time to make the blog succeed.

She’s not the only example. In North Carolina, a staffer who has been a bit cautious about this technology now aspires to become Social Media Queen, and she’s doing a great job soaking up knowledge. In California, the VP set a goal for every staffer to become more proficient at social media in the coming quarter.

Lauren Guite, our online team’s outreach coordinator, says that not only are these “unusual suspects” truly interested, but she’s impressed with their understanding of why the tools are important.

The interest in and support for social media definitely kicked up a notch after the retreat, in a way that our smaller, regular training sessions could not have achieved. And interest doesn’t seem to be flagging, even though a few months have gone by.

Plans to re-run the game

We built our retreat sessions on the social media game, a simulation tool that lets people new to social media quickly build a social media strategy. Three different groups have come to me asking for help re-running the game to generate ideas for specific projects. I can’t think of a better indicator that people found it useful.

And we’re learning from experience. One of the biggest lessons when we ran the game in October was that it would work better if the audiences and goals were more clearly defined. With all three groups, we’re doing a lot more upfront work to define the scenario. This is less important if you’re doing it as an exercise to raise awareness of social media tools, but since we want to come out of this with ideas to implement, we’re being as thoughtful as we can about the parameters.

I expect the first one to be ready to go late this month.

Biggest challenge: How to find the time?

We had to cut staff last year, the economy remains rough, and the planet needs a lot of saving. When staff choose to engage in social media, they have to spend less time on something else. We’re seeing this play out in a cycle of enthusiasm and guilt. People get excited about something — tweeting, setting up Google Reader, writing a blog post. But other priorities get in the way, and it becomes just something else that’s still hanging around their to-do list the next week. Then they feel bad when we check in with them and they have to tell us they haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the big picture, if people see results from social media, they’ll keep engaging, and if they don’t see results, they shouldn’t feel bad about stopping. But getting started requires a leap of faith that time spent trying social media is time well spent. And when there’s so much going on, it’s hard to make that leap.

The time we spent on this at the retreat definitely helped amp up the enthusiasm part of the cycle, pushing more people into making the leap of faith. It’s exciting to see people so game to try it, and I appreciate the trust people are putting in the pitch we made to them.

Now it’s the Web team’s job to make those leaps successful as possible, so our staff’s limited time is indeed well spent.