The timing’s perfect — we just experimented with a new twist on the game a couple of weeks ago. The results were very good, and I’ll be sharing that story here, too!
Social Media Training
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
The 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.
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!
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…
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.)
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.)
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!
This morning, we marched 350 EDF staffers through three hours of social media training, and we’ve got another 24 hours to go in the challenge.
Tomorrow, the entire staff will vote, and the winning strategy will be funded.
So far, things are going as well as I could have hoped…
Here was the schedule for the morning:
- Everyone attended a 90-minute presentation by Eric Schwartzman on why we need to pay attention to social media, with cameos by EDF staffers sharing their successes.
- We broke out into 6 teams of 40 to 70 people, based on the type of work we do here at EDF. Each team received a social media challenge specific to the topic they work on.
- Each of the 6 teams divided again into tables of 10, which played our adaptation of the social media game by Beth Kanter and David Wilcox.
- After each table developed a strategy, the 6 teams came back together to? choose one strategy to share with the entire EDF staff tomorrow afternoon.
Things that went well
People were extremely engaged. Every EDF staffer had to do this. One of our biggest worries was that people wouldn’t find this relevant to their work and would check out. Breaking up into small tables definitely worked. As I walked through the rooms what I saw was table after table full of people leaning forward, standing up, gathered around flip charts. I’d have to guess that at least 90% of us were fully engaged, which was pretty amazing.
People didn’t get hung up on not understanding the tools. This was another concern coming in — people had to build their strategies by choosing from a few dozen tool cards, and no one becomes an expert form watching a 90-minute presentation. But we had “helpers” in every room and “think tank” time available later today. From the number of people asking me questions while I’m sitting here in the hotel lobby, they are definitely going to take advantage of the additional consulting time.
Lots of great ideas. Most importantly, people came up with some really interesting ideas. Not every table had a social media plan ready to execute (“handing out flyers” wasn’t one of the social media tools we offered!) but I’m pretty confident that as many as a dozen of them will be worth executing.
Things to improve
Narrowing down the audiences and goals. We wanted to give people enough room to be creative, but in some cases we gave a little too much room. One table got hung up, for example on setting the exact percentage of change in pollutant levels they were looking to achieve, which really wasn’t necessary to sort out for this exercise. We should have either given less flexibility or allotted much more time.
Our habits of deference weren’t helpful. People are used to deferring to the senior scientists and program leaders. However, that wasn’t necessarily the best way to come up with a good social media strategy. One senior staffer told me he realized people were giving more weight to what he was saying than they should have, so he found an excuse to leave the table for a bit and give others more room to talk. From another room, I heard, “There were a bunch of ideas, but everyone at the table just did what [VP's name] wanted.”
The usual internal tensions came out. We tried to craft the scenarios to avoid triggering long-standing points of tension, but we weren’t entirely successful. To some extent, nothing we could have done could have prevented some of that — I swear that some of these issues would be triggered by a football game.? But in other cases, we hit raw spots that we didn’t have to. Workforce diversity was probably too complex to incorporate into a 90-minute session about social media.
Next up — choosing the winner
Each of the teams of 40 to 70 are now hard at work refining their plans, and turning them into 4-minute pitches for tomorrow afternoon. Can’t wait to see what everyone came up with!
At EDF, we’ve been running social media trainings for several years now. We’re comfortable doing everything from individual coaching sessions to multi-hour, multi-location videoconferences. But we’re tacking a new that’s calling for all the resourcefulness we can muster.
For the big EDF all-staff retreat next week, we have quite the challenge — how do we get all 350 EDF staff comfortable thinking about using social media media to advance their goals? As we talked through the options, we came up with a few criteria:
- Doing something is much better than listening to someone talk about doing something.
- What they do has to be realistic — the point is that social media are relevant to actual work that EDF does, not that it will help them sell pizza.
- We have to provide enough structure that people new to social media won’t get stuck or lost.
- We want working groups of 8 to 10 — small enough that everyone can be heard and no one can hide, but big enough to get lots of perspectives and good discussion.
We’re grateful that EDF staffers Julie Stofer and Dave Witzel pointed us toward a framework that sets the stage beautifully. Created by Beth Kanter and David Wilcox, the Social Media Game is designed with all these criteria in mind.
Better yet, it’s open source, with lots of examples of how it’s been used freely available for us to build on and learn from. We’re adapting the game with help from Teresa Crawford. As far as we’ve heard, no one has tried to run this at more than 40 tables simultaneously before…we’re breaking new ground!
T-minus one week. Watch here for updates!