Tool-kit for social media – or engaging people online

If you could put together your ideal tool-kit for engaging online, what would be in it?

By tool-kit I mean ways of finding and engaging with the people you want to do any of the following:

  • engage
  • influence
  • consult

To my rather amateur but enthusiastic mind I would say something like:

  • engage: find communities already in existence online – toolkit would contain ways of finding these communities
  • influence: toolkit would point to robust platforms already in existence, free and unlikely to fail (essentially those that depend on the robustness of their platform in order to succeed – WordPress for one), with a bit of advice on what business support would be required to use such a tool effectively (because this is key :))
  • consult: toolkit would include blogging and wiki software, alongside details of the experts in the business, their rates and how you might be able to procure them. Alongside details of how other organisations in your area, for example public sector (my bag, baby) have been using these things successfully

You can reply to this plea – as ever – personally to me – or, as I would prefer, here as a comment.

27 responses

  1. Hmm, the ideal platform…

    I’d like it to be a magnet, to have the earned reputation as the way to do things.

    I’d like it to be inclusive.

    I’d like it to be low impact or perhaps scalable is a better expression by which I mean I’d like to be able to use it quickly ands easily, maybe just repurpose material, but also be able to link it with big campaigns.

    And I’d like it to be challenging!

    Hmm, more thoughts after food.

  2. Not the platform, Oh CIO 🙂 we are looking at the need, customer requirement, and what we might supply as a professional organisation as a toolkit that would enable people to ‘do stuff’ – yeah OK communicate – effectively, online.




    These are the usual requirements, (ignoring chatting of course, but we dont need to provide ‘chat’ in a toolkit… grin)

    But I may be wrong, I may be being too simple.

  3. ‘Customer’ for me (as a part of a comms directorate) means the person within the organisation I work for who needs to engage online and a website no longer fulfils the requirement

  4. Ah, excellent.

    I like to break this stuff down into worldviews, roles and platforms.

    First sell the worldview: this is strategic stuff, around a willingness to accept messiness and a certain loss of control. People need to understand this before anything else, so they don’t get frightened later. The toolkit element here could be some short case studies on how this stuff has worked for other people in the past. Maybe some generic strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats type analysis for engaging in the social web.

    Second, discuss the roles that emerge: the need for monitoring, responding, finding people, encouraging debate, evangelising about the project. Do these fit neatly into existing jobs? Will people require training?

    Thirdly we’re ready to talk tech: taking into account the stuff discussed in one and two, what platforms best achieve the results required? What tools will the people identified like to use to respond? There is no point setting up a wiki if no-one will use it. How can offline stuff be integrated into it? Play the social media game!

  5. I’d vote for adding something that encourages people to use these kinds of tools internally.

    Like, a wiki for collaboration between teams or a Ning network for practitioners within an organisation, or an internal blog etc etc.

    I really do think that once people start using these tools in meaningful, useful ways (not just for ‘poking’ people 🙂 ) they will begin to suggest using them to engage with the outside world.

  6. Briggsy, I hate to disagree. In discussions with policy owners I think it is as simple as: remove the middle men, let me engage directly, give me the tools. Now, tools might be knowledge, contacts or indeed functionality.

    In most comms directorates the pressure is great and resource: restrained.

    So why not provide a self-service tool-kit?

    I would see my job as providing as much as I can to enable self-service, therefore far more effective online engagement. By that I mean talking to the people that count.

  7. Interesting discussions. I’d slightly refocus the Engage, Influence, Consult to ‘Engage’, ‘Inform’ and ‘Collaborate’ – as real influence in communities is arguably the result of informing and role-modeling once one has built up social capital – and that can’t be done at a quick hit. In the first instance, a newcomer into an online engagement space can at best expect to inform. The switch from consult to collaborate is a both a personal and political preference for deeper forms of engagement – and a recognition that the ‘we ask, we go away, make decisions, feedback later (if you’re lucky)’ model doesn’t fit with the online community space. So – what would be toolkit be trying to focus on. Perhaps some of:

    Engage: Tools and techniques for listening – in some cases that might even some down to a ‘phrase book’ and a ‘rough guide’ to certain online spaces to help newcomers work out the flow of conversation and community.

    Inform: Different ways of inputting and presenting ideas from the stream of twitter posts through to video, audio and shared slide-shows. Focusing on the method (video) then suggesting possible tools (YouTube, etc.) with notes about why each tool.

    Guidance on participating (a la civil service code add-on or examples of the voice used by other organisations in different online engagement spaces) and guidance on how to fit online engagement into organisational decision making. Looking at the changes in offline process that are needed – both explicit changes that need management etc., and ‘secret underground changes’ that a online engagement lone ranger can try out.

  8. Jenny: thank you for commenting here, I feel rather honoured! Personally, I plan to include the social media option as a part of the communication strategy for website convergence/website rationalisation in Home Office. However… I need to make sure that the toolkit offering is robust enough to cope with all needs.

    Talk me through the Ning network

  9. Tim, that is exactly right, the slight shift in focus makes this far easier to realise. Thank you. So… next question is, if we use these three catalysts, how do we create a solution so simple it will be adopted and used effectively?

  10. Emma, sorry, not read all the previous comments in depth as pushed for time.
    So my comments – based on your original post (although refined by Tim’s comment as I also don’t like the “consult” word, but prefer “collaborate” or “conversation”).

    Who is the toolkit for? Is it for the policy makers / local authorities to use to find people, or is it for the people themselves to use?

    If its to help people in communities then its essential that its designed from the bottom up to Engage people with example situations and how they could and have been addressed through use of Social Media – Paul Caplan wrote something for us at the ICT Hub earlier this year – PDF is here This does just this through various social media tools by asking “Imagine”, “How you can”, “Whats good – whats bad”, “Tips” and a “Case Study”. These hooks get people interested – can’t stress enough … unless people see its for them they won’t engage.

    Inform through single “easy to get” techniques – something like “My Guide” is a good example –

    Collaborate with others, set-up a network to buddy communities in XYZ in the North West with ABC in the East Midlands etc etc – people learn by seeing examples, even visiting to see examples of how others have practically applied the tools to their useage. Sorry to mention, but it crops up everywhere – use Digital Mentors / e-champions as tool demonstrators.

    Thoughts, as of tonight – may add more later – hope it helps you, and buzz in if you need anything further.

  11. Ning, customised social networks:

    Last time I spent any real time thinking about this (a long time ago so undoubtably overtaken by events) my headlines were observe, interact, initiate – relating to the stages of engagement and the levels of commitment, resource and risk required to get more deeply involved and immersed in this stuff. I can talk you through it if you like (I even wrote something down on paper, but it was cruelly taken and ‘repurposed’ by others so that it made no sense..). Actually, looking at it again, its not bad as a starting point for principles. Shout me and I’ll ping you a copy.

  12. Em, tapped into your post finally, and seen lots of others have made fine points already! I echo Tims and Jennys thoughts written above on this, so don’t need to write too much more!

    On the ‘Ning’ thing, it is being used more (even the Compact has a ning group too!) within wider sectors now and is something that like Jenny says and I would endorse too, if you can encourage adoption of modern fangled media as part of daily practice and work (something that can help compliment or help to achieve an outcome of what they are trying to do already or seek to do), confidence will grow and then hopefully wider adoption in it’s use to communicate to wider audiences will follow.

    Happy to give a helping hand if you need it!

  13. Pingback: helping policy bods to use social web tools « Whitehall Webby - digital media in government

  14. Right: observe, interact, initiate is far better than my 1980s versions, liking that; off to look at Ning now, as once more insomnia grips me and I am bored at 4.15am.

    Thank you everyone for your brilliance. I shall let you know how this goes if you like.

  15. Emma – I think my response to:

    So… next question is, if we use these three catalysts, how do we create a solution so simple it will be adopted and used effectively?

    Would have to be to say that – we can’t. We can create solutions so simple that they will be adopted. And those solution can be used effectively. But what makes for effective use of those solutions is not intrinsic to the solution itself – it comes from the values and community building skill and experience of the person seeking or managing engagement – and it comes, to a very large extent, from the relatively unpredictable ebb and flow of interest, energy, enthusiasm, cohesion and capital in a community or network at a particular time.

    If we’re not going for a large scale program of training and personal development for those seeking to lead community engagement efforts (and it’s certainly not something that can be learnt from a toolkit) then perhaps we need to be looking at the tools that equip people to experiment, reflect, react, re-plan and keep developing their engagement strategy.

    (Now, there are some tools that can help people there – in terms of bringing together everything they are hearing and getting involved in from multiple platforms into one transparent place – but the simple tool to adopt is then more a admin tool for the person engaging than a set of tools for engagement).

    If you’ll forgive this bit of thinking aloud on your blog comments, then I think it leads me to slight suggestion of refocus again to ask:

    *What are the simple solutions for convincing people of the value of online engagement; (of put differently – for helping people identify where online engagement has something to offer them, and indeed, when it doesn’t);

    *What are the simple solutions for getting them started on that journey;

    *What are the simple solutions to help them approach it experimentally and reflectively;

    *What are the simple solutions for removing/overcoming some of the barriers they may come up against;

    Tools like Ning may well fit in here and cover some (or all) of these in some contexts – but there is good degree of intentionality needed for them to effectively support reflection and to ensure they work to help people overcome barriers they may face.

    Ah – just realised I’ve voyaged off into ‘online community engagement’ where your original post was about ‘online engagement’ in a more general sense… that might make this less relevant or only relevant in a sub-set of what’s being explored.

    Thanks BTW for convening such an interesting conversation and space for reflection through this post and twittering…

  16. …. who are these “people” ?

    Are they existing web users (would love to dive into Ning etc.) or are they people the DEAP (Digital Equality Action Plan) is hoping to reach, people not Digitally Included (either by choice or because they’ve never seen the light) ?

    Sorry if I have also veered off on my pet subject of the moment!

  17. Just to pick up on Tim’s point about ‘online community engagement’, and the need to make this practical/concrete for people (including busy policy owners).

    Quite by co-incidence there’s a useful post just recently on RWW about the role of (and need for) ‘Community Managers’ to support the engagement between any organisation and its customers/stakeholders/etc.

    Various caveats, but..
    – It’s all a bit online-only-oriented, to be sure, but, surely some useful pickings, I hope.
    – It says it’s for start-ups (and Whitehall Depts aren’t exactly new) but perhaps could be read in terms of ‘new to this approach’?
    – Also the material’s not to be taken literally of course, but I thought I’d point you to it in case it helped people think about what they might need to do differently – it’s quite a switch mentally to move from “I’m here to ship product (a.k.a policy)” to “I’m here to garden(?)/shepherd(?) my community”.

    Plenty of useful links in the material if it sparks any interest, for example to a role outline/job spec from Connie Bensen (noted CM). Again, perhaps one could mine various elements from this for different people, rather than we all think we just have to write a cheque for another specialist.

    Cheers, and thanks all for thought and EM for starting it off; this is a very topical question for me here (not Gov’t – at least, not that Gov’t – but not that far away).

  18. As an example of the (maybe implicit) application of a toolkit, not too far away (as an outsider, can I hope this is not at all too ‘inter-departmental’?…) perhaps Steph Gray’s own commentary on DIUS’ new ‘Science and Society’ consultation may provide some useful food-for-thought?

    cheers, and thanks again for this space,

  19. Peter, indeed. I hope to be catching up with Steph about this next week. Thank you for all of your links. I am going to pull the links and tips out form the comments and write them up in a new post later. There is so much good stuff that has been shared.

    Thanks everyone.

  20. Emma,

    You might already be aware of it, but if not, the New Zealand State Services Commission has produced a guide that might be of use. If you’re interested in discussing the issues further, the community of practice that helped SSC create the guide has a wiki that I’m sure they would be happy to give you access to.

    I’ve also found this diagram by Ross Mayfield to be quite helpful in terms of thinking about the stages you need to move colleagues through, towards greater online engagement.

  21. Glad to be of assistance.

    I’m sure Laura will be happy to provide you with access, and to have another practitioner contribute news of their own experiences to the wiki in due course. One of the things that has come up during the development of the guide and the continuation of the CoP afterwards is the suitability of a wiki as the main tool for facilitating communication between the community members. Basically, like all good wikis, it’s a great way to build an information repository and to aid collaborative writing/editing, but as a technology, it does have shortcomings with regard to assisting stimulate CoP activity/meetings. At a workshop recently, the possibility of using Ning to help with this was floated. How that would work, and how you might migrate useful conversations on the Ning group back to the wiki are possible challenges. Otherwise, you’re back to email lists and the problems they have w.r.t. capturing the knowledge sharing in those.

    You might also want to take a look at this post from Che Tibby, who’s also grappling with how to get his departmental colleagues to use social media.

    I actually found my way to your blog via a comment that Whitehall Webby made on Che’s blog, so this should help to close the loop as it were…

  22. Pingback: Guidance and Toolkits | DavePress

  23. Emma,

    just one more thought for the recipe, maybe, in terms of a network of people who would be interested in the dynamics of encouraging online engagement – I’m not sure of the point at which collating a toolkit crosses irretrieveably into weaving the various interested communities together (probably when you realise that the thing has grown into a full-time job!) – but…a group of NHS folk met back in May for a day on the Power and Perils of Social Networking in the NHS and subsequently set up a wiki to develop some of the themes involved, further. It contains some useful material, but needs an invite. Rowan Purdy, of and previously head of Knowledge Services at the Care Services Improvement Partnership, was one of the organisers.

    Could be a useful venn-diagram-opportunity, perhaps, so long as it doesn’t get too complicated 😉


  24. Emma,

    just one more thought for the recipe, in terms of a possibly overlapping network of people who are involved with the same sort of thing, in a large organisation not *that* far away.

    [OK, there’s a risk that collating a toolkit shades over into maintaining (gardening?) the community of interest around it, but…]

    In May this year the British Institute of Health Informatics (an NHS-sponsored thing I think) ran a day on ‘The Power and Perils of Social Networking in the NHS’ and then set up a wiki to develop some of the themes highlighted at the event. This does contain some useful material, and those concerned in each could constitute a support circle somewhere on your (necessary) multiple-venn diagram?

    The wiki needs an invitation to access it though, and perhaps here Rowan Purdy (was Head of Knowledge Services at the Care Services Improvement Partnership) may be able to help with this and the dynamics of bringing the two circles into contact?

    Just a thought,

  25. Pingback: Mission Creep | Neil Williams » Blog Archive » Embedding digital media: lessons from my father-in-law

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