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.

Climate Journalists Use Facebook as a New Kind of News Platform

Posted on December 3, 2009 Under Social Media

Is this a first? News agencies covering the climate talks in Copenhagen teamed up to create this Facebook fan page.

An alphabet soup of news agencies will post both stories and other material all in one place, and they’re billing it as a place for discussion:

This site is not aimed at replicating the traditional media coverage of such an event but of providing back stories and a forum for analysis and various points of view…

…All [the participating news agencies] are committed to jointly providing a new model for collaborative journalism and reader engagement.

This will be interesting to watch — if nothing else, it’ll be a good spot for climate news junkies to get their Copenhagen fix.

Update: And on the new end of the media spectrum, YouTube and CNN are also using the Copenhagen talks as a platform for new journalism. They’re asking people to submit questions for world leaders.

Social Media Game: How We Ran It for EDF

I posted the materials we used in the EDF version of the Social Media Game over on the project wiki. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how we adapted the materials, plus my recommendations for others.

Overall Modifications to the Game

Running the game for 30-plus groups in the context of a 2-day contest meant we needed to simplify as much as possible.

The biggest change was ditching the “Life Happens” cards. In the original game, a random card changes the parameters for the groups partway through. We decided that given our tight time limits and the novelty of social media for our staff, plenty of “life” would be “happening” without those cards. (If you have more time, you might choose differently.)

EDF is fortunate to have the resources to provide lots of communications support to our staff. We had to reflect how we support EDF staff in the game materials, so people didn’t, say, run out and buy six different subscriptions to Radian 6.

And finally, we had to accommodate the contest format. That meant two big changes: adding time for the teams to choose their entry into the staff-wide voting, and making the playing field as level as possible. We knew we’d get lots of game-time questions about what was allowed and what wasn’t. Since we’d be distributed into 6 rooms and real-time communication would be hard, the game materials had to answer as much as possible.

What I’d Do Differently Next Time

Not that there will be a next time for me…

  • Find more time, somehow. Most groups ended up staying late and feeling rushed. This was a LOT to cram into a small amount of time, and the sense of being behind added to the stress.
  • Explain the game better before starting. People didn’t have a good enough overview of all the steps of the game, which made it harder for them to use their time wisely, and led to a lot of mid-session clarifications that distracted from the substance.
  • Write scenarios with fewer choices. Groups got stuck choosing objectives and audiences, taking away from the time they spent on social media strategy. Even when the scenario said something specific like, “Choose a geographic area,” or “Choose a company or companies to target,” people ended up swirling around for too long. Our thinking was to help people feel ownership over the goals and audiences they chose. But given how engaged everyone was, I think we had more room to dictate the scenarios.
  • Design the cards for standard print sizes. The non-standard sizes made for unnecessary cutting and very frustrating conversations with FedEx Office (Kinko’s) staff.

Faciliatator’s Guide (see the PDF)

We had 12 sort-of-volunteer team captains leading the game, with one or two assistants in each room. We were asking them to manage a lot of chaos, and wanted to provide as much structure and reassurance as we could. We started with a streamlined guide and timeline from Teresa Crawford, and then simplified it even more:

  • We abandoned the timeline, which originally accompanied the guide. The poor team captains had way too much going on to shuffle two packets.
  • We edited ruthlessly to get the guide down to two sides of a page. We cut redundant columns, trimmed words everywhere, and hacked off anything that wasn’t essential.
  • We put everything in the second person and used formatting to highlight the most important actions for the team captains.

The guide seemed to work well — I got a really nice compliment from our HR training specialist that it was easy to follow.

Participant’s Agenda (see the PDF)

A couple copies of this went on every table. People didn’t seem to use them very much — they got caught up in the conversation, and the team leads did a great job of coaching people through. That said, I do think it was important to have them and I wouldn’t skip them.

The changes we made were very similar to the changes to the facilitator’s guide: ruthless trimming to make it fit on just one page.

People Cards (see the PDF)

We made some big changes here. In the dry run that Teresa moderated, we found that:

  • Our audience of scientists, economists and support staff had no idea what to make of communications lingo like “creators” and “joiners”
  • The demographic info on those cards was not helpful in thinking about their very specific audiences, such as recreational fishermen.

We replaced the research info with questions they could use to help them think about different ways to understand and narrow their audience.

I don’t have a strong sense of how much these helped people…they were definitely passed around and looked at, but since groups got so stuck on the audience part of the conversation, I would want to consider improvements.

Strategy Building Blocks One-Pager (see the PDF)

This was a new addition. We found during our dry run that people didn’t get how the strategy cards tied in to the tool cards, or to each other. They were particularly confused by the graphic on the cards — it took them a while to realize that the graphic was the same on each one.

We thought this one-pager made the connection more clear. My sense was that there was indeed less confusion than during the test run.

Tool Cards (see the PDF)

The modifications were extensive, but are hard to see unless you compare the cards side-by-side. This is the main place where we made the materials match EDF’s online communications support. So for example:

  • We ditched cards for tools that we don’t use (Bloglines, Social Mention)?  in favor of tools that we offer extensive support and training for (Google Reader).
  • We recast things in terms of how EDF staff will experience them. For one, rather than sending people to WordPress.com, we told them to come to the Web team and we’d set up an EDF-branded blog for them. (We do use WordPress, but our chief economist doesn’t need to know that.)

These seemed to work well — many of the questions that came up during the exercise were answered right on the cards. (People remained a little confused by Facebook fan pages vs. groups, but who isn’t?) More importantly, we don’t seem to have people charging off to set up services that we already offer.

And at least one VP confessed to “stealing” a pack of the cards to use as a reference later.


What this all adds up to is that the structure of the game is very flexible, and if you have the time, you can really tailor it to meet your specific needs.

But be sure you have the time! Making all these adjustments took many many hours, and it’s not something I would recommend if you only have a couple days to get ready.

If you have any questions about what we did, I’m happy to answer?  — post a comment or drop me an email!

Too Much to Ask? Hurdles in Chase's Giving Challenge

screen shot of chase's community giving challenge applicationArtomatic is asking for your vote in the Chase Community Giving Challenge, and it’s making me wonder how much is okay to ask of our supporters.

In order to vote, I had to both install an application AND become a fan of their page.

The first concern is that gives Chase permission to send me stuff and access a large amount of my data (e.g., they can now target an ad to all my friends saying “Kira Marchenese is a fan of Chase Community Giving”.)

I’m not sure how they’re going to use that information and access, and if I wasn’t so involved in Artomatic I might not have done it. (But since I signed up I went ahead and also voted for Project Create DC, another solid local arts organization.)

And looking at it from a usability angle, it’s also just a lot of steps. I’m not sure why Chase made it so hard to vote in the challenge. If you click on the link supplied by Artomatic, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Sign in to Facebook (if you’re not a geek like me and already signed in)
  2. Give permission to the app, just to view the challenge
  3. Become a fan of their page (at least the button is right up front and easy)
  4. Vote for the organization of your choice.

What do you think, is this all worth it?

Will you ask your friends to vote for your causes?

Wrap-Up: Social Media Training Extravaganza

Photo by Eric Schwartzman

To the hordes breathlessly awaiting the results of last month’s training challenge — my apologies. I’ve been overwhelmed by a cold that won’t quit (bad!) and an avalanche of social media projects (good!).

The story so far: We set 350 EDF employees to creating social media strategies, using the Social Media Game as the basis for the exercise. Each team of 50-70 people created a bunch of strategies, then selected one to present to the entire EDF staff.?  The winning strategy got budget money to make their project happen. When we left off, teams were preparing their final presentations.

The presentations were really good. Even the teams that spent the least time preparing gave polished tales of their ideas. Live actors, props, videos, graphics — the whole deal. The teams took ownership of their ideas and were clearly revved up to show them off to their colleagues. They threw themselves into preparing scripts and filming, gathering costumes bits, and otherwise doing much more in 24 hours than I would have thought possible. Great showing by all.

The “game show” conceit made it all more fun. Our host, Rachel “Seacrest”,?  did a great job of moving things along and adding some clever silliness to the whole affair. The audio-visual crew did a top-notch job juggling all the video, countdown clocks, slides, props and miking. I hope they got to enjoy some of the presentations

Photo by Eric Schwartzman

Photo by Eric Schwartzman

The Health team blew away the competition. Three of the six ideas were strong enough to win, but the Health team’s insane dedication to telling the very best story possible carried the day.

Pam had her six-month-old son at the retreat with her, and the team took full advantage by filming him, with Charlie from our communications team doing a gravelly voiceover of his thoughts. The bulk of the pitch was a conversation between him and his mom about her work on toxic chemicals.

He asked, at the end, “That sounds great Mom, but is it really going to happen?” She turned to the audience and asked us, “Well, will it?”

Applause erupted, votes poured in, and the Health team cleaned up.

Jeff from the Operations team threatened, “Next year, we’re bringing puppies.”

Since this is the project that took over my life, I have two more posts coming:

  • The materials we used. Part of the deal in using the Social Media Game as the foundation for all this is that we will share our materials back with the world. I’ll post them over on the wiki, and explain here how we modified them and what further adjustments I recommend.

(Update: New post covering how the social media game went and what I’d do differently.)

  • A month later…what difference did this make? As I hinted earlier, this exercise has led to a lot more focus on using these tools at EDF. I’ll share a little bit of what’s going on.

(Update: New post looking back three months later.)

Stay tuned!

Did You Meet THE CLOUD?

Posted on October 31, 2009 Under Social Media

Photo by Eric Shutt

If you’re here because I met you on Halloween, thanks for coming by. You looked great!

How did my suggestion work out for you — thumbs up or thumbs down? Do you have a recommendation for me? Please post a comment!

Here’s the whole list of suggestion cards I had to hand out tonight.

(Update from Nov. 1…so far, there have been a total of 27 clicks trackable to the suggestion cards! Given that I handed out maybe 50 cards, I’m pretty thrilled with the conversion rate. Thanks for clicking!)

Halloween and The Cloud: Interactive Costume Experiment

Posted on October 31, 2009 Under Social Media

cloudHappy Halloween! And look out, ’cause after a few years of taking Halloween easy, I am back!

Inspiration came early this year, with a brilliant storyline on the comic strip Bassist Wanted by Porter Mason, in which he managed to personify the entire Internet. (I’m turning The Cloud into a girl, though…I figure the Interwebs are gender-neutral.)

Any good social media project is integrated across multiple channels, right?

As part of my costume, I will “suggest” things people might like by handing out little custom business cards. They are covered with bitly URLs, of course, so I’ll know if anyone actually uses them. And I’ll invite people to come by this blog and post, too.

I hope someone gets good pictures of me!

Update: Pictures and results here!

Blogging: It Doesn't Have to be Hard!

Posted on October 30, 2009 Under Social Media

screen shot of EDF national climate blog post on marketplace storyI didn’t think this was anything remarkable until Chris in our Texas office sent around a note calling out how quick and easy she found today’s blog post.

That might seem like a lot of hours between idea and post, but here’s everything that happened in between:

  • Mark was incommunicado for a few hours, between a conference call and a frozen Blackberry.
  • Two communications people reviewed Mark’s post,  and both suggested changes that Mark had to okay.
  • I copy-edited and produced it, including digging up links.

Lesson: A solid blog post can take a surprisingly small amount of work. This wasn’t a panic or a sprint for any of us. We just fit it in around our other items today. For people who are thinking about getting blogs off the ground, but are hesitant because of all of the work it seems to entail — this is what it can be like once you get yourselves sorted out. Hang in there.

Update: I was just talking about this with another EDF staffer who’s struggling to find time to blog, and realized that one of the keys to doing a quick post is having something to react to. If I had asked Mark this morning how he felt about writing up five paragraphs on the coal industry, we would have ended up with nothing. But with a piece right in front of him that needed correcting, the post was a lot easier to write.

(Note to anyone waiting on the results of the Social Media Challenge…sorry! I am recovering from an unidentified-but-probably-not-H1N1-retreat-related illness, and will post the wrap-up very very soon.)

T-minus 30 Minutes

People are mumbling lines to themselves and chasing the AV guys with thumb drives. “I have a hairbrush!” a VP just yelled.

Most interesting, people are panicking about whether the voting will be fair. It’s a highly scientific combination of text votes, applause and judge’s decision.

I do not get the impression this is because there’s a budget prize…everyone’s excited by their ideas, and we like to win. (One of our staffers commuted by foot from Arlington to Dupont for days during our pedometer challenge, and the biggest prize he could win was lunch. He came in second.)

Final 3 Hours: Teams Are Frantically at Work!

I’m sitting on the floor in the “media lab,” because that’s the only place to sit. Twenty-one people are in here, putting the finishing touches on their pitches for today’s competition.

I had my money on the health team from day one, and what I’m seeing now isn’t changing my mind — they have video with an actual, adorable 6-month old and an already-live Twitter campaign. Plus a good idea.

This afternoon is going to be good!