Four Lessons from the Replyallcalypse

What happens when 40,000 college students suddenly realize they can email everyone on campus? A lot of crowded inboxes, first of all.

For those who may not have gotten wind of the “replyallcalypse,” here’s the gist. A message went out from the NYU Bursar’s office using an old listserv system. One student, intending to email his mother asking how he should react to the news, accidentally hit “reply all” and shot out a message to the entire student body. He immediately realized his mistake and sent an apology, but it was too late. Replyallcalypse had begun.

The emails that ensued varied from friendly to funny, from inane to downright angry. I highly recommend you check out some of the cream of the crop on this Buzzfeed article and this report from NYU Local.

But beyond the inevitable, aforementioned nonsense that ensued, there’s a lot to learn from this avalanche of emails and their aftermath. Here are a few of the key take-aways:

  1. Transparency rules. Skipping to the end of the story, the NYU employee who originally sent out the email using the faulty system sent a timely and genuine apology out to the student body. He admitted his mistake, took responsibility, and informed the campus as to what was being done to take care of the last of the mess. It brought the whole meshuggas to a classy close.
  2. People want to be heard. I always stress in my coaching and presentation that engaging in social media is an iterative process that begins with listening. While the social media revolution may be about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. That’s where the magic comes from. The fact that so many students sprung on this unusual opportunity to make a joke, ask a question, give a shout-out, or (ironically enough) to tell the others to stop talking and stop crowding everyone’s inbox, proves that ultimately everyone just wanted to be heard.
  3. Don’t underestimate the power of playfulness. The majority of the emails that went out were just, well, silly. One (a personal favorite) asked if anyone had a pencil the sender could borrow. Another sent around a picture of Nicolas Cage, referencing an old internet meme. While that playfulness may seem like nothing more than a waste of time, it also represents the beginning of self-organizing. When Twitter first came out on the market, it was filled with all kinds of foolishness (and that foolishness still exists, no question – just hear me out on this one). But those messages about finding a parking space or having a cheese sandwich for lunch demonstrated the power of the medium. Since then, Twitter users have raised millions of dollars for important causes, helped coordinate uprisings, and even saved lives. I can’t help but wonder: had the replyallcalypse been allowed to continue, what might the students have started? (As an interesting contrast, check out this story.)
  4. It all comes down to connection. The student who accidentally began this whole debacle said, in the end, “I think the best thing to come out of these emails is a rekindled sense of community at NYU (even if it’s based on being stupid).” While we may love technology, and new and shiny things make us happy as crows, social media is all about people and relationships.

Finally, dear readers, choose your technology wisely. Know how it works. Understand what tool is best for the job. And for goodness’ sake, be careful about hitting “reply all”!

Network Mapping at jU Chicago

The Community Building Internship at jU Chicago is premised on the idea that small communities are, as sociologist Jonathan Woocher has written, “a consistent source of meaning, a focal point for relationships, and a powerful contributor to a sense of self-worth.” By empowering a cohort of students to create small communities organized around a theme, activity, or shared interest, we are able to create the kind of specialized Jewish opportunities that have the power to engage more Jewish students on a deeper, more meaningful level. To date, our nine interns have created small communities around everything from cooking elaborate Shabbat dinners once a month, to weekly student-run Jewish yoga and meditative practice, to reinvigorating the traditional idea of a tisch.

The internship also draws heavily on network theory, as presented in the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Christakis and Fowler argue that there are fundamental rules that govern the formation and operation of social networks, and that social networks must be tended to by individuals and organizations in order to function optimally. There is even a social structure which, they argue, can yield the best results in terms of human achievement: a series of loosely connected small communities, the members of which are more closely connected in discrete cliques, hubs or pods. By adopting this “pod” model in the Community Building Internship, our hope was to create a dynamic campus Jewish community from which Jewish innovations and achievements can and will arise.

But how can we, and the student interns, know if the communities they are creating look anything like the structure recommended by Christakis and Fowler?

Enter a roll of butcher paper, post-its and some colored Sharpies: all the ingredients needed for a low-tech version of network mapping. First, the interns decided who they considered to be part of the core membership of their communities, and wrote those names on individual post-its.

Then, they arranged the post-its on the butcher paper so that their spatial placement was reflective of relationships between members–for example, if two people in the group were dating, or if they were close friends who came to meetings together, or roommates, then their post-its would be next to each other.

Once we had determined the shape of the interns’ discrete small communities, we went about identifying the connections between people in different communities, and figuring out how to represent different relationships between people/post-its with different colored sharpies.

By creating a physical representation of the network of Jewish students at UChicago, the student interns were able to identify the people at the center of the network, participating in multiple small communities, who were functioning as “hubs” of Jewish life and activity. They were also able to see the people who were less-connected to others within the network and who therefore had more potential for involvement and collaboration. We learned that our small community initiatives actually did resemble the structure recommended by Fowler and Christakis. Less practically but more important for purposes of morale and enthusiasm, the student interns were able to get a sense of how their smaller efforts were adding up to an impressive constellation of students involved in Jewish communities across social networks and different pockets of campus life.

Lastly, the process of creating our network map was collaborative, iterative and fun. We plan to do it several more times throughout the length of the internship. Our prediction: as the people in our small communities forge connections with others in the overall network, these connections will create a density that will attract more and more students to the meaning, pleasure and fun of Jewish life at the University of Chicago.

 

 

Rachel Cort is the Director of Community-Building programs at jU Chicago, an organization that works with Jewish students at the University of Chicago. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Jewish Professional Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

A Post-P.O.S.T. Post – Strategic Thinking Case Study

This blog post is a reflection on something that hasn’t happened yet.  Whoa.

The reason I can do this is because of the remarkable opportunity I currently have as the Network Weaver for a project of The Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education called “ReFrame.” And because I decided to use the POST model for my network weaving and marketing plan.

First, a bit about ReFrame. It seems like everyone in the field of Jewish education these days holds the following truths to be self-evident: (a) Hebrew School stinks, and (b) summer camp is fantastic. This is especially true in the world of Conservative Judaism, where the Ramah camps are exceptional when it comes to experiential Jewish education, and where supplementary religious school attendance is generally dropping off at an alarming rate. JTS has a close association with the Conservative movement and is uniquely positioned to take the awesomeness of camp and inject it into Hebrew school. Ultimately, JTS aims to offer a “Boot Camp” style training in making pilot schools more experiential in their approach, and this work may start during the coming summer. 

I applaud Dr. Zachary Lasker of The Davidson School at JTS for recognizing early in the process of developing ReFrame that since many Jewish educators are already trying to create an experiential framework for their complementary schools, we need to have a conversation about it. It’s like an ongoing, national meeting of Jewish educators, where we all talk about successes and failures when it comes to creating opportunities for our students to live the omnipresent experience of being Jewish. That’s where POST comes in.

I had 3 reasons for using POST in implementing this “National Conversation” phase of ReFrame:
JTS is an institution with deep roots and a long history (127 years). It has been hard for institutions like this to keep pace with today’s climate of change and innovation, especially where my job in communications and the use of social media is most concerned. This led my partners, Dr. Lasker and Jane Shapiro, and I to focus way too much on making sure we’d have easy access to the tools we’d need. As a result, there was very little emphasis placed on the objectives of this “National Conversation.”

So POST seemed like a natural fit. We decided that due to the tight time constraints, we’d have two meetings. I called the first one “PO(ST),” and the second “(PO)ST;” the letters of the stages we’d focus on in each meeting being outside the parentheses.  Here’s the email I sent to my colleagues in advance of the first meeting, with my notes on how it actually went:

Hi Zach and Jane,
This email should help us prepare for our PO(ST)* meeting next week, with the ultimate goal of creating an editorial calendar for what I'll call "The Big Push" (i.e. the next 6 months).  For the Cliff's Notes version of this email, you can probably just skip to the bullet points.

But first, here's a written reminder of POST:

P = People (In our case, "person," a.k.a. "buyer persona." Who is our target audience?)
O = Objectives (What are they?)
S = Strategies
T = Tools/Tech
And here's a visual reminder of POST

P
We need to identify our target audience for ReFrame.  Who are we conversing with in this "national conversation"?  Teachers? Students? Women? Men? Jews of a specific flavor?
As I've mentioned before, I think the best way to go about doing this is to have a single person in mind.  It helps if this person really exists.  It might even be one of the three of us. That way we can design our campaign around the likes and dislikes of this person, thus really grabbing their attention, creating a relationship, and ultimately being m'daresh (extracting) her/his help for the rest of the ReFrame project in some way (see "O" for more on this). 
This person will be at the bullseye of our target audience, and there will be many, many people on the rest of the target.  In other words, our goal is NOT to enlist the ideas/opinions/helpfulness of only one person, rather it IS to enlist the ideas/opinions/helpfulness of all the people who fall anywhere on the target. The reason I insist on choosing only ONE person is because it will help us focus our efforts when devising our O, S, and T.  For example, with one person in mind, we only have to devise one S (=strategy), and on a practical level, I am only one person, and only part-time after all.  If it helps, no one ever has to know who this person is, other than the three of us (***cut to the three of us in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room***) 
Zach has already mentioned that this person should probably be an Educational Director of a complementary school, so that helps to narrow the field.  In this vein, here's the first Action Point:

Let's each bring one name (or two names at the most) of someone who might fit best at the center of our target.  It would be extra cool if this person is currently the Education Director (or the equivalent) of a complementary school.  We'll spend the first part of our meeting teaching each other about the person we suggest, and pick one winner.
Hopefully, this part of the meeting will only take a max of about 20 minutes.

In the end, we chose a “buyer persona” that was not one of the three of us.  It took exactly 25 minutes, thanks in part to the fact that we did actually come to the meeting with some suggestions.  However, the focus on “one ‘P’ person = one strategy = way easier in the long run” took some convincing, and is something I feel strongly about from my business education and background.

O
These are our SMART goals – the most difficult part of the POST.  Ultimately, we should have a 10 stanza document in a table: column #1 pertains to the SMART goals we have for our person, and column #2 pertains to the SMART goals our person has for him/herself.  I've attached a table here for your review.  Since we don't have our "person" in mind right now, let's just begin to think about how we might fill in the columns.  A lot of work has gone into the summary document that's been put together, and which goes really far in outlining ReFrame's objectives.  Let's spend part of our meeting putting that in POST terms.  Here's our second Action Point:

Please review the attached table (it's the MS Word doc) and begin to think about how we might complete the columns.  Where do the ideas put forth in the summary document fit in?  Where do your own ideas fit?  Are your answers to the "guiding questions" similar to the ideas in the summary document?  Feel free to use the doc to help when filling in your ideas; if you do, you can bring it with (digitally) to the meeting or email it to me beforehand.

I think this will probably take the rest of our meeting time.  But just in case it doesn't…

It did indeed take the rest of our 1.5-hour meeting, but it was well worth it.  We completed the table (see attached template), and clarified our objectives.  I think it was also helpful to categorize the objectives as “our goals for the ‘P’” and “‘P’s’ goals for him/herself,” and then focus on those goals which overlap.

S, T
I've attached a sample editorial calendar template (Zach and I have already gone over this one a bit).  With whatever time is left in this meeting, I'd be glad to do some iyyun (in-depth study) on this with you, but in the meanwhile, feel free to peruse and send questions.  I'm sure we'll have many more meetings in the future about S and T, as indeed we already have :).

And we did.  Here’s the second email I sent, notes included:

Hi Jane and Zach,

As I mentioned, awesome meeting yesterday!  Aaaaaand now, the part we've all been waiting for:
S = Strategies
T = Tools

Unlike P and O, the order in which we discuss S and T is not so relevant.  There's even a lot of overlap between S and T, to be honest.  I sometimes think that the inventors of the "POST" method decided on its name just because "POTS" wasn't as cool… or was it?

The truth is that I later learned that we did this wrong.  It should have been that “P” and “O” are less important in order than “S” and “T,” but I stand by what we did.  I think this actually worked better for our purposes, and you’ll see.

S
Let's use this time for the following two things:
(1) identifying the areas of our SMART goals for [our “P” persona] that overlap with [our “P” persona]'s goals for her/himself, and
(2) filling out an editorial calendar.  Essentially, these are deadlines for us (read: me, mostly) to meet. That is to say that since I'm working part-time, (assuming) limited to 6 months, having an editorial calendar would be the best thing possible to keep me (read: us, mostly) organized and on track.  This will probably take most of our meeting time.  That being the case, here's an action point:

Please take a few moments to look over the editorial calendar template and consider how you might like to see it filled out.  What would you change about it (the dates, for example)?  The SMART goals we have for DB which overlap with his goals for himself are the areas we can affect with ReFrame.  How and when should/can they be effected?  Feel free to edit the template itself when going over these considerations, and bring it (digitally) on Monday.

Yup, this took most of the meeting time.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it took up the whole time.  I quickly learned how new the philosophies behind social networks sometimes are, and how deeply integrated their tools can be.  We found it really difficult to wrap our heads around the concept of a “National Conversation” about experiential Jewish education in supplemental schools, and what practical implications that conversation might have for us.

T
We've all discussed this a number of times already; now with "POS" in mind, let's make sure to discuss how our view of using various tools has changed.  As was mentioned yesterday, there's already a national conversation about complementary education happening – we'd like to join it now as ReFrame.  Who are the major and minor actors in this conversation?  Where are the discussions happening?  What tools are they using?  How are those tools being used in the context of this conversation?  Is there room for ReFrame to innovate technologically within the conversation?
I'd like for us to make a list of the tools that are both at our disposal and relevant to the current conversation.  Then, I'd like to make a sublist of how to use those tools.  For example:

  • Wordle: Visual measurement of conversational evolution over the next 6 months
  • Facebook: Dissemination of video(s); Dissemination of word clouds or bloggable text images; Collection of responses and other conversation data; Responding to current conversation threads; Davidson page or new ReFrame page to spread conversational breadth
  • Blogosphere: ReFrame blog: white paper reactions from current conversational actors; Other Jewish Ed. Blogs: ReFrame's POV
  • YouTube
  • Email contact database
  • Twitter
  • On-land events and meetings
  • Website
  • Jewish news publications: online and print
  • Carrier pigeons
  • Etc., etc.

Ideally, this part would be entirely at my/our discretion.  However, my concern is with regard to a point that Zach has brought up a number of times, namely that it might be difficult for us to do much of the above on behalf of the Davidson school and JTS without some kind of official permission.  It would be great to spend some time on this part, at least to get started.  I think it'll be especially important to discuss the tools as we see them already being used. Otherwise, I think the focus of the meeting is on the editorial calendar, which as I've said, has some crossover with our "Tools" discussion.

We never got to the “Tools” discussion in this meeting.  We spoke about them later, but suffice it to say that we had come a very long way from the initial discussions we’d had that focused almost entirely on tools and technology to be used.  We now knew much more vital things, like for whom and why the tools were to be used.

So far, POST has been helpful for ReFrame in designing a plan for our plan.  I think it was frustrating for all of us that with so little time and so many potential obstacles, we were still discussing ideas that seem so basic, but in the end, I’m convinced that POST will have helped us actually save time.  And with a clearer vision of the project, the hurdles won’t seem so daunting.

ReFrame is about avoiding the epidemic that plagues the Jewish professional world, of “anything you can do, I can do better,” where we end up redoubling our efforts and wasting precious time, energy, money, and other resources on stuff that’s not that important in the long run.  But when you do it right, there’s nothing more important than a Jewish education.  POST has helped us see that, and I personally can’t wait to see the outcomes.

As of a few weeks ago, Alan Sufrin is the “ReFrame” network weaver for the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS, America's largest non-denominational school of Jewish education.  As of about a decade ago, Alan Sufrin is a passionate Jewish educator and music producer and performer.  As of about 4 years ago, Alan Sufrin is the proud husband of Darim Online’s own Miriam Brosseau.  As of a few minutes ago, Alan Sufrin discovered how much he enjoys writing about himself in the third person.

 

Four Lessons from the Replyallcalypse

What happens when 40,000 college students suddenly realize they can email everyone on campus? A lot of crowded inboxes, first of all.

For those who may not have gotten wind of the “replyallcalypse,” here’s the gist. A message went out from the NYU Bursar’s office using an old listserv system. One student, intending to email his mother asking how he should react to the news, accidentally hit “reply all” and shot out a message to the entire student body. He immediately realized his mistake and sent an apology, but it was too late. Replyallcalypse had begun.

The emails that ensued varied from friendly to funny, from inane to downright angry. I highly recommend you check out some of the cream of the crop on this Buzzfeed article and this report from NYU Local.

But beyond the inevitable, aforementioned nonsense that ensued, there’s a lot to learn from this avalanche of emails and their aftermath. Here are a few of the key take-aways:

  1. Transparency rules. Skipping to the end of the story, the NYU employee who originally sent out the email using the faulty system sent a timely and genuine apology out to the student body. He admitted his mistake, took responsibility, and informed the campus as to what was being done to take care of the last of the mess. It brought the whole meshuggas to a classy close.
  2. People want to be heard. I always stress in my coaching and presentation that engaging in social media is an iterative process that begins with listening. While the social media revolution may be about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. That’s where the magic comes from. The fact that so many students sprung on this unusual opportunity to make a joke, ask a question, give a shout-out, or (ironically enough) to tell the others to stop talking and stop crowding everyone’s inbox, proves that ultimately everyone just wanted to be heard.
  3. Don’t underestimate the power of playfulness. The majority of the emails that went out were just, well, silly. One (a personal favorite) asked if anyone had a pencil the sender could borrow. Another sent around a picture of Nicolas Cage, referencing an old internet meme. While that playfulness may seem like nothing more than a waste of time, it also represents the beginning of self-organizing. When Twitter first came out on the market, it was filled with all kinds of foolishness (and that foolishness still exists, no question – just hear me out on this one). But those messages about finding a parking space or having a cheese sandwich for lunch demonstrated the power of the medium. Since then, Twitter users have raised millions of dollars for important causes, helped coordinate uprisings, and even saved lives. I can’t help but wonder: had the replyallcalypse been allowed to continue, what might the students have started? (As an interesting contrast, check out this story.)
  4. It all comes down to connection. The student who accidentally began this whole debacle said, in the end, “I think the best thing to come out of these emails is a rekindled sense of community at NYU (even if it’s based on being stupid).” While we may love technology, and new and shiny things make us happy as crows, social media is all about people and relationships.

Finally, dear readers, choose your technology wisely. Know how it works. Understand what tool is best for the job. And for goodness’ sake, be careful about hitting “reply all”!

Tilling the Soil: An Interview with Allison Fine

I've been following Allison Fine's work for years, and have so enjoyed how our paths have crossed in the Jewish community in recent years.  Allison is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author (with Beth Kanter) of The Networked Nonprofit.  Recently, Allison has been serving as the president of the board at her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, New York. This position has given Allison the opportunity to put her theory into practice, and to examine intimately the potential and challenges of synagogues as networked nonprofit.

As part of our blog carnival on Connected Congregations, Allison has written a very thoughtful case study of her work at Temple Beth Abrahram, exploring what it has taken to lay the groundwork for becoming a networked nonprofit. You can download it here. I had a chance to ask her some questions about it.

1)  Why did you write this case study?

The role of temple president is enormously time-consuming and difficult. It's a lot like being the president of a local school board with a lot of constituents, technical issues to wrestle with and a fast changing environment. Except that public schools aren't going out of business and synagogues are struggling to stay in business. I wanted to provide a snapshot of my experiences wrestling with the hard questions of what synagogues will look like ten and twenty years from now within the real and difficult demographic, generational and economic shifts that are threatening our survival. How do we stay relevant and meaningful in the lives of our congregants? How do we meet our financial commitments when the dues model is not sustainable? How do we do what we do best and network the rest?

As the case study outlines, just positioning ourselves to wrestle with these questions has taken up much of my tenure as president. The key lessons so far for me is that when we have the courage to look at our ecosystem through a lens of abundance (people want to support us even if it's not at what we now have as full dues) rather than scarcity (people want to game our dues system) good things can happen, like raising over a million dollars to renovate our sanctuary this past summer for the first time in over sixty years. In the future, we are likely to combine programs with other synagogues and our local JCC over the next few years, we are likely to come up with a more flexible donation system that allows people to stay connected to us after their kids are bar mitzvahed, and we are likely to continue to exist into our twelfth decade, but we will be put together differently. Capturing the beginning of that journey to share with others on the same road is why I wrote the case study.

2)  You co-authored the book, The Networked Nonprofit, and clearly have thought a lot about what that means.  What's your vision for how synagogues can and should be networked nonprofits?

The biggest challenge for synagogues in this century is undoing the membership model from the last century. There are too many choices for ways to be Jewish today for temples to say that there is only one right way to be a part of our community. Synagogues need to move away from transactions (how many tickets to high holidays have we sold?) and have an unrelenting focus on relationship and community building.  We need to strengthen the social ties between congregants, not just between members and the synagogue, and engage in meaningful conversations with them on land and online. Synagogues need to be a part of our lives, not an addition to our lives.

3)  In your case study, you talk about how we need to confront congregational culture as a starting point. "… the default settings … had to change because they did not reflect the reality of the congregation or the spirit of a networked organization. And the change had to begin in the boardroom."  Why does the board need to own the responsibility for culture change, and what kind of leader is needed to make that happen?

Boards and clergy are the culture setters in synagogues. Together they determine the values that an organization lives by, which in turn drives the processes. In my case study, this manifested itself in how we treated people asking for financial relief from dues. Are they considered slackers or community members who need our love and care? That determination will create procedures, forms, approaches that make people feel a certain way. The hard work for organizations is identifying and challenging their own assumptions (often old ones that haven't been aired out in a while) about why and how we do what we do to make sure that the systems and procedures that emerge downstream reflect our values.

4) How do you define community in a networked congregation that is different from the traditional approach to synagogue life?

The dues structure itself is at the heart of a lot of the distance congregants feel from their synagogues. It is a bill that people are expected to pay, unless they're struggling and then they have to go through the humiliating process of asking for relief. Everyone should pay their fair share, but they should be treated as adults who can decide for themselves what that amount is, and if synagogues can't make the case that they provide value, that their continued existence is important and relevant to the lives of their congregants, well, then they won't survive. But I think we will, we just have to flex some communication and relationship muscles we've never had to exercise before.

5) What congregations (or other organizations) and/or leaders have you looked to for inspiration and support as you've been pioneering this new approach to congregational life?  What have you learned from them that's been applicable to your synagogue?

As we wrote in the Networked Nonprofit, I found the most exciting aspect of this moment in time is that traditional organizations across issues areas, service organizations and advocacy groups, are remaking themselves as social networks. They are taking down the walls and engaging with their communities, building relationships rather than turning the turnstiles of transactions. And synagogues and Jewish day schools are just beginning this process. The most important part of this journey for traditional organizations is for leadership to have the courage to make themselves uncomfortable by working different, more transparently, learning more about what their community wants from them, engaging them as full partners in problem solving, treating them as smart, generous people not names in a database. It's a very exciting time!

6)  You've clearly made a lot of progress during your tenure as board chair.  What does the congregation need next to continue this trajectory?

I'm not sure where we will be in a year much less three to five years, but I think we've made some progress in changing the relationship between the institution and our membership. The three most important things I see us doing in the future are:

  1. Providing training and support for new leaders to serve on the board and on our task forces.
  2. Unhooking ourselves from the assumption that the number of members is the most important measure of our success.
  3. And remembering to have fun together!

You can download and read Allison's full case study here.

 

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.