Its Not About The Likes. Reach Higher in Your Online Alumni Engagement.

Originally posted on EJewishPhilanthropy

As part of the #NetTalks Alumni Engagement Webinar Series, Beth Kanter, nonprofit social media and engagement guru, taught an important lesson during her recent presentation: you must invest in building your online alumni ecosystem, and then you can turn to activating it to achieve your stated goals.

You don’t just want people to “like” you. And you don’t actually want them to start engaging the moment they become alumni. And you don’t really want to share information about your program with them. Really.

Why?

  • Because “liking” your Facebook page or your content is just the beginning. It’s potential, but it’s not the goal. You want alumni to follow you, engage, advocate for you, and donate. The “like” is merely one early step along this path.
  • Because beginning to engage should happen before they become alumni – focus on developing long term relationships and mature communication channels that flow in both directions!
  • And finally, because you want to be in conversation with alumni, not broadcasting information at them.

Building your online alumni ecosystem cannot be based on one-directional broadcasts, nor rest primarily on reminiscing about the past. The opportunity to leverage social media and networks is huge, but requires that we pivot our approach to be more empowering, more conversational, and more personal. (Join the next webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19th to learn about “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”.)

Take this example from URJ Camp Kalsman: When beginning to hire staff for the summer, they turned to their alumni (and potentially current older campers and parents of current campers) on Facebook to ask, “We are in the midst of hiring our summer staff and we want to hear from you! What do you love to see in a camp counselor?” By asking a question, the camp invites engagement, values the perspective and experience of alumni, and gains important insight for their future hiring. They’ve moved from “liking” to “engaging” and those who respond actually may influence the experience of future campers.

Beth also showed several examples from schools that are using reminiscing as an entry point to strengthen their network. Their “Throwback Thursday” photos are intended to go beyond reminiscing – they are getting alumni to tag their friends in the group photos, which creates or re-creates a strong group dynamic and builds energy.” It’s not about the school, it’s about the relationships that were fostered there. The Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, NY had 78 comments on a photo from the 1970′s, as alumni talked with each other and reconnected with old friends.

Moving from engagement to activation, The Jewish Community High School of the Bay featured photos of beloved teachers and coaches holding signs (“Coach says GIVE!”) that prompted alumni to join in the communal effort to reach their fundraising goal – tagging friends to contribute and asking for photos of their favorite faculty.

Social media is social as much (or more so) than it is media. As a professional seeking to engage and activate your alumni community, consider yourself more “party host” than “alumni magazine editor”. To play this role, you must have the right tools in your toolbox and know how to use them. However, doing it well goes far beyond technical proficiency. Be a good listener, steward conversations, and empower your biggest fans to enrich the network with their voice, actions and relationships.

If you missed Beth’s webinar, view her presentation here. To learn more about activating an alumni network, join the next #NetTalks webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19 on “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”. Register here.

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

Originally published in EJewishPhilanthropy

During Open House season, schools are looking for ways to stand out among the crowd of institutions trying to reach prospective parents. Talking about a school’s “warm and nurturing community” and the “academic excellence” is only going to get the school so far.

So what else can schools do to rise above all the noise?

When we are faced with many choices, we often rely on word of mouth from friends in our social networks to help make our decisions. So it was clear to us at The Jewish Education Project that in order to promote the school in a unique way, we need to have the parents involved and we need to get the parents talking.

As Bonnie Raitt writes and sings, “Let’s give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.” Or in the 21st century version of this, let’s give parents something to Facebook about.

Parents who are part of the Parent to Parent (P2P) network have been learning about the power of social media to share their stories about Jewish day school education, and adding their voices through local parenting blogs and the Parent to Parent site. The challenge has been to keep them talking, especially during peak periods, such as open house season. Here’s where the campaign approach comes in.

The P2P campaign model organizes parents for a specific time period to talk about a value, an idea, an event – any focus point unique to the school that will help prospective parents get a better idea of what that school, and the community it fosters, is all about.

A very creative campaign can promote the school, without necessarily talking about academic excellence or the nurturing environment. Take for example a marketing campaign for Mercy Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. In an article about the campaign, the writer explains “The campaign, created by Doe-Anderson, a Louisville-based advertising agency, is meant to reflect one of the school’s core goals: to help its students become independent, productive women in the real world.” And as you can see in the ad, they didn’t need to show science labs or innovative technology to get the message across.

Jewish day school education is first and foremost about imparting positive values to our children. You know it when you experience a Jewish day school education. We need to give parents a framework to convey those values with their friends.

A P2P Campaign in Action: Mazel Day School

The highly engaged and motivated parents of Mazel Day School (MDS) of Brooklyn were the brave pioneers who first experimented with this approach. When I asked the parents what they love about the school, most of them had a real, emotional reaction to the question and talked about the school’s successful approach to imparting positive values. They are extremely proud to see their children grown into mensches.

It was no surprise that they suggested a Photo Mitzvah Campaign promoting the value of the children doing good deeds by inviting parents in Brooklyn to submit pictures of their child doing a mitzvah or good deed. The Mazel parents wanted to reach parents from Jewish early childhood centers in the area, so they partnered with several of them on the campaign. The submitted photos were shared on Mazel Day School Facebook page. The photo with the most “Likes” on Facebook won a $400 Amazon Gift Card.

Mazel Day School parents gave out fliers in the early childhood centers, emailed their friends, sent Facebook messages and talked to other families. The parents now had something to talk about.

The campaign ran for five weeks and opened new doors for the school to reach prospective parents. For the first time, Mazel Day School officially partnered with early childhood centers in the area: KingsBay Y, JCH of Bensonhurst, and Shorefront Y. These new relationships can now be leveraged for other partnership opportunities and for reaching prospective parents. The campaign increased exposure of the school to the broader community. Mazel Day School Parents overheard parents who were not part of the school talking about the contest. The Mazel Facebook page experienced a significant boost during the competition period, including 50 news likes on the Facebook page. The last time they had so much traffic was when their school was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy; now the attention was due to a positive story that truly highlighted the school and the community. In their reflection about the implementation of the campaign, the Mazel parents wanted to organize a larger group of parents to lead and implement the campaign to reach an even larger audience of prospective parents.

At their upcoming open house, the school will ask prospective parents how they found out about the school. At this time, the Mazel parents will be able to evaluate more specifically the reach of their campaign and where they need to focus their future outreach efforts.

Action Steps: Running a P2P Campaign in Your School’s Community

Consider experimenting with this campaign approach to promote your school. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Invite a minimum of three parents in your school to run a campaign.
  • The parents should identify a value, event, or other unique aspect of the school that excites them and would be appealing prospective parents. If it doesn’t galvanize your current parent body, don’t do it, because they won’t be talking about it with their friends.
  • Identify your target audience; be very specific on who you want to reach with the campaign. Mazel parents aimed specifically for parents of children in local early childhood programs, for instance.
  • Get talking! Play around with different social media tools to spread the word about the campaign. Empower parents with the tools they need to keep the conversation rolling.
  • Most importantly, make it fun! Turn it into a competition, make it into a game. Let the parents get really creative and make it their own.

Best-selling author Seth Godin writes: “Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.[…] Nonprofits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.” Creating a buzz and chatter around your school requires giving parents a great story to talk about. Day school parents are part of a movement committed to giving their children the greatest Jewish education possible. Let’s build that movement; let’s help parents get their stories out.

What will your community share?

Parent to Parent is an initiative of The Jewish Education Project and is made possible by a grant from UJA-Federation of NY. Learn more about Parent to Parent on our website, blog, Facebook and follow us on Twitter. If you are a New York area day school and would like to get staff assistance to implement this project, contact Irene Lehrer Sandalow, Project Manager in the Day School Department of The Jewish Education Project at [email protected]

Thankful

What are you thankful for this week? I'm thankful for this catchy Facebook post from Shannon Hall and her team at the Sarah & Irving Pitt Child Development Center of JCC Metro Detroit. With the discovery that the most popular posts on their page were the photo collages, and knowing that the children would be focused on giving thanks in celebration of the upcoming Thanksgiving (and Chanukah!) holidays, the team developed this creative idea. Using smart phones, the team snapped a few photos of children, noted what they were thankful for, and added the speech bubbles using the free PicSay app for Android phones. For iPhone users, the free app Bubble works great, too.

Then, in order to attract more attention then they would have by posting the photos individually, they collaged three responses into one photo using PicsArt, another free app for Android, iPhone users, check out the free and easy to use PicStitch. The result was a playful, eye catching photo.

They combined with photo with an invitation to a week long game. Comment on the post and they'd ask your child next. And comment they did! Parents responded with curiosity about what their own child might say, and also added their own grateful comments. The result is a community expression of gratitude, perfect for the week before Thanksgiving.

What was the strategy behind the team's thinking? As part of their work in this year's Jewish Early Childhood Social Media Academy organized by the Alliance for Jewish Education at the Jewish Federation of Detroit, the team wanted to celebrate the children and families within their preschool program in order get the word out to the larger community about their offerings. Their strategy is to encourage their current actively involved on Facebook parents to inspire others to join the fun. Focusing on organic, fun, and engaging posts, their Facebook page has been a model of successful early childhood engagement.

In addition to achieving this immediate goal, creating social content that gets people to comment increases your "weight" in the Facebook algorithm.  Your content is therefore more likely to show up in the newsfeeds of others who have liked the page, which leads to more engagement, which sets a very positive snowball in motion.

How are you stewarding a culture of thankfulness and engagement on your Facebook Page?

The Social Sermon: An Innovative Approach to Community Building, Engagement and Torah Study

Picture 7Social media, like other major communication revolutions before it (think: printing press) have radically changed the way we learn, connect and organize. The impact on culture and behavior is significant – we have new ways to connect with our communities, find meaning, express ourselves and engage. The new ease of organizing is fundamentally changing the role that organizations play for their constituents. This is great news for the Jewish community, if we are able to take advantage of it.

We invite you to try a new approach to Torah study, community building, and perhaps even sermon writing in your congregation, The Social Sermon, an idea comes from acknowledging three things:

1) That many people can’t get to the synagogue for a lunch or evening Torah study class, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested;
2) That people want the social experience of learning, not just passive reading or listening to a lecture, and that connection through learning enriches a local community; and
3) Social technologies can be a wonderful tool to enrich and augment Torah learning in local communities.

Imagine a Saturday morning sermon that’s the work of not only your rabbi, but you as well. Lets take it a step further: what if it weren’t just you and your rabbi, but also your fellow congregants, young and old, those new to the community and the stalwarts of your city? By the time your rabbi delivers his Shabbat remarks, he or she could be drawing inspiration from, or even representing the discussion of, hundreds of his congregants!

What does The Social Sermon look like? At the beginning of the week a Rabbi posts a question on his or her blog, or on Twitter with a particular hashtag (e.g. #CBSSS for Congregation Beth Shalom Social Sermon), or as a Facebook post on the congregation’s Page. The first post would describe a theme of the parasha, or link to some text, and at the end, pose a question.

As comments and responses start to be posted, the Rabbi then facilitates an ongoing conversation through the week — responding regularly with insight, text, links, answers to questions, and more questions to guide the discussion.

By the end of the week, several things will have happened:

  • New people are engaged in Torah study. Likely a portion of the online participants are a demographic that doesn’t often come to mid-day or evenig adult education classes. (On-site classes – adult and youth – can also participate);
  • Participants will have formed new relationships through the online discussion, perhaps following each other on Twitter, friending each other on Facebook, etc. which leads to ambient awareness, thus strengthening your community;
  • The Rabbi will have a better understand of what aspects of the parasha resonate with the community, and be able to design a Shabbat sermon that is the most relevant for the congregation, and will have ideas, quotes, context to make the sermon even more rich; and
  • More people may show up for Shabbat services, feeling more educated, connected and like they have some ownership over the sermon that week.

And for those that missed the service, they could read it the next day when the rabbi posts the sermon back on the blog or web site, with a link on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Interested? Use the SocialSermon tag on this blog to find posts about the Social Sermon, and for case studies and guest posts from Rabbis and educators who are doing it. Follow #socialsermon on Twitter for updates, links to these blog posts, and to connect with others who are doing it. Join us on Facebook to be connected others who are doing Social Sermons and get important news.

Feel free to adapt the concept — a confirmation class could do this throughout the week between class meetings, a youth group could do it with their adviser or a parent facilitator. Please report back and let us know how it’s going, and what you’re doing. Please let us know if we can help you at any stage – leave a comment here, or any other space mentioned above.

Want more “hand holding”? Darim offers hourly consulting, and we are working with interested Social Sermoners to find funding from a donor or Federation small grants program to work with a group of Rabbis in your local community. Holler if you’d like more information.

Ready, Set…. Social Sermon!

Engagement

Flickr photo credit: Pixel Drip
Flickr photo credit: Pixel Drip

Ive been thinking a lot about engagement lately.

We talk about engaging our community membership. But what exactly do we mean by engagement? What is a community members motivation for participation? What trajectories might this participation take?

Tony Burgess is the co-author of CompanyCommand, a book about peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and online communities. He recently posted reflections based on his personal experiences on the com-prac discussion list about what motivates volunteers in communities to move from peripheral participation to more active engagement and leadership roles.

Tony writes:

The experience is meaningful to me (an active member) along three dimensions:

(1) Connection: As a result of this experience I am becoming connected to like-hearted leaders who I value. This is about relationship.

(2) Contribution: I am able to give back and make a differenceto contribute my unique experience and talent to something greater than self. I am making a positive difference for people and a collective that I value.

(3) Personal Development: As a result of this experience, I am personally developing and becoming more effective as a leader and a [person] than I would otherwise be. I am being exposed to people and experiences that change me. I’m learning.

Given this understanding, a follow-up question follows: “What can we as a community of practice do to be a catalyst for the meaningful experience of members?”

Nancy White comments on Tonys post and builds on it she asks, When we are trying to design, support, create conditions for collaboration, how do we best suss out motivation to increase the chance of actual engagement? What are your sussing strategies?

What does collaboration look like in your organization: lay, professional, lay-professional? What keeps your members and staff engaged? How do you use online tools to build and sustain your communities? How do you measure success? How do your members journey at various points from peripheral participation to leadership roles? What keeps them and you motivated and engaged?