Social Media: The Illuminated Megillah

There’s a lot of buzz about the increasingly image-driven nature of social media. At the forefront of this discussion is the latest hot social network, Pinterest. But it’s not only this virtual pinboard. Everywhere you look, memes are being generated to better marry words and pictures, kinetic typography videos are turning letters into animations, and infographics illuminate otherwise meaningless statistics. Pictures are the most highly engaged content on Facebook. Where is all this coming from? pinterest boards Image Credit: Thomas Hawk I’ve recently been reading a book by Dan Roam called “Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work.” It’s a fun and thoughtful read, definitely recommended. At the heart of Roam’s argument is essentially this: our brain works in details (words) and big ideas (pictures). We’re enamored with words, and we’re very good at them, but we’ve lost some connection with the picture part of our brain. Pictures are primal; they represent the earliest form of visual communication (think cave drawings). Pictures are evocative, emotional. They really are, as the saying goes, worth a thousand words. The image trend in social media is helping us reconnect with this essential part of ourselves. cavepainting Image Credit: williamcromar Just as importantly, pictures help us tell stories. I love graphic novels for just this reason. There’s a big difference between describing a frightening moment, or a sensual smile, or tears of joy, and literally drawing that out. While words help us understand and frame thoughts, pictures bring those thoughts to life in powerful ways. And we need them both – words and pictures work together to give us a fuller picture of the world around us. This is a huge opportunity for Jewish organizations. Words, pictures, and stories – this is what social media is all about…and we’ve got plenty of all three elements to share. Perhaps even more importantly, though, is the opportunity social media offers us to listen to others’ stories; their words and pictures strung together, the way they’ve framed their ideas and the things they care about. Social media gives us the structure to open up in new and meaningful ways, and there’s a wealth of things to learn. So in the spirit of Purim, I challenge every one of us to think deeply about the pictures we use, the words we choose, and the stories we tell. Social media spaces can help us craft our own illuminated Megillah, telling and celebrating the narratives of our people. It can also help us hear others’ stories, if we only listen. megillah1 Image Credit: victor408

Tending Your Social Networking Garden

Trying to get your community or organization engaged in networking through social media, but running into roadblocks with colleagues who aren’t quite there yet? Instead of getting frustrated over what’s not working, what’s not growing, let’s refocus.

What’s already happening online? Where are seeds just taking root? Where are the fertile areas you can cultivate, and spread from there? Taking time to tend your social networking garden can be hugely rewarding for everyone, and will help spread the message of the power of online social networking to even the most skeptical colleagues when they see what fruit it can bear!

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Social Networking Gardening Tips:

Step 1: Seek out the gardeners. Find out who among the people you work with is blogging, tweeting, active on Facebook or LinkedIn, etc., by doing basic searches in those networks and asking around. See which friends you have in common – you may be surprised and delighted at the connections you find!

Step 2: Watch their seeds and shoots. Subscribe to posts and friend these folks in whatever way you feel most comfortable (adjust your privacy settings as needed). Put them in lists you can easily come back to (Twitter/Facebook), subscribe to blog posts via RSS, and bookmark whatever other sites might be relevant.

Step 3: Add sunshine, water, and fertilizer regularly. Schedule a regular time to focus just on networking with these groups. Try taking ten minutes, two days a week, to go through the friend lists and RSS feeds you created and comment, reply, and retweet. Share resources you think might add value to that person’s work and suggest people they may gain from being in touch with. For some cases, it may be best to send a personal email or make a phone call to deepen the connection.

Step 4: Bonus step! Find the other gardens where your gardeners’ seeds have taken root. Uncover the conversations where your colleagues and their work are being talked about that they might not even know of! Set up a Google Reader or Google Alerts. Go to Google Blog Search. Type in the names of the people and/or institutions you work with and see what comes up. If there are a few meaningful, relevant results in the search, subscribe to that search by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking the RSS link. Check in on that RSS feed every now and again and share with those people the (good) news you found about them.

Some additional tips: Be sure to subscribe to comment feeds on the blog posts you reply to so you can see where the conversation goes and easily follow up. Use a consistent username across platforms so that folks will begin to recognize your presence and personality. This will also make yourself more searchable in the future. Put a pause between your fingertips and the keyboard – think about your voice, tone, and the value you’re adding to the conversation. Be consistent. If your organization has one, make sure to adhere to the guidelines of the social media policy, and develop that document as needed based on your interactions. Don’t neglect IRL (in real life) and other media. Networks need to flow within and among different platforms to be truly effective. Mentioning a Facebook post in a phone call, or a blog comment in a coffee date, then tying those conversations back to their original host platform can be a great way to weave people and ideas. Serendipity happens! Being active in social media means you open up all kinds of potential for new connections – whether you plan on it or not. Have an open mind and welcome the unexpected!

How have you found and cultivated the fertile areas in your organization? What resulted from these interactions?

What Can Be Learned From The Congruence of the Dragonfly’s Wings

Do you ever feel like you are flailing when it comes to your social media strategy? Or that you do not have any coordination at all? Look at the dragonfly. In order for it to accelerate rapidly and change directions immediately, all four wings must move in congruence.

As Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith in their book The Dragonfly Effect explain four metaphorical “wings” – focus, grab attention, engage, take action – must work together to ensure social media success. Utilizing these wings can provide Jewish institutions a foundation for not just maintaining an online presence, but truly galvanizing a constituency to actively engage in Judaism and the community. 4 wings

1. Focus – prior to entering the social media arena, zero in on simple and realistic goals. As opposed to top down planning, it is vital to build personal relationships, be authentic and listen intently to the communal needs. At Temple Israel in Memphis, we organized heterogeneous focus groups to hear individual thoughts concerning the temple. Based on their insights, a vision was constructed by lay leaders, stating our congregation’s role to connect Jews more deeply to Torah, spiritual fulfillment, community, and tikkun olam. Using this as the foundation, our temple’s Facebook page, alongside my Rabbi Adam Facebook and Twitter accounts, ultimately connect to our community more deeply and, subsequently, help to drive our attendance, donations, long-term membership, and new member opportunities. While some might disregard this planning stage, successful social media approaches realize the importance of slowing down before speeding up.

2. Grab Attention – getting noticed by our audience is vital to social media success. In an online world dominated with choices, we need to move away from the predictability. Too many organizations explain events or communicate information in the exact same way as was done fifty years before – title the event, share the details, expect a crowd. In the online world, this is not acceptable. Sparking the curiosity of our constituents must be done through innovative and audience centered videos and pictures that personally connect with and elicit an emotional response from our constituency. Think of the Maccabeats, Yeshiva University’s all-male a cappella group, whose fun, entertaining and unexpected song “Candlelight” became an instant Youtube sensation and now has almost 6 million views. While by no means the same number of hits, this video from Temple Israel exceeded expectations, generated excitement, and started many conversations about the event.

3. Engage – emotionally invest the community in the organization. One of the best lines of the book is that “to engage, it’s necessary to view yourself (and your effort) as a brand.” In order to do this, we need to tell our stories, which help to define and to build our constituency’s collective memories thus connecting them more deeply to the mission of and take action for the institution. Answering questions such as what inspires the community, what makes an institutional experience meaningful, and why Jews would want to connect with us gears the online conversation to the community and makes it personal. In promoting Temple Israel’s Sukkot and Simchat Torah experiences, we redefined them for the community where music became the center. We ran a fun promotional spot and an online giveaway for autographed CD’s of the artists via Facebook and Twitter. By rethinking the marketing, we have helped our community become more engaged and excited about the experience and the artists.

4. Take action – get the community to act upon your cause by giving their time, money or both. The most important take away here is to ask for time before money. Too many Jewish institutions consistently ask for money via membership, programs, events, dinners, etc. and never truly get people vested in the experience. In order to reverse this trend, it is imperative to actively seek and encourage volunteer participation. Even though individuals are involved with so many activities, we have to rethink how we invite people to volunteer. Instead of asking them to join time intensive committees, encourage them to work on smaller and tangible projects that value their individual talents, skills and interests. When a group then becomes invested in the organization, social media then becomes a tool for reaching a greater audience and receiving much needed feedback. As one experiments with social media to motivate the community, make it fun and, as our communications director, Isti Bardos, always states, make sure to respond to every message or post for that personal touch helps the audience feel they are actually having a dialogue rather than a monologue. dragonflyeffect The Dragonfly Effect provides the tools to captivate an online audience, and then inspire them to actively participate in social change. The examples and illustrations can help Jewish institutions more fully realize the potential of social media. By experimenting, having fun and continuing to evaluate results, these four wings can provide Jewish institutions a way to further engage Jews as our world proceeds to advance technologically. How are you addressing these four wings, and more importantly, how are you getting them to work in congruence with one another?

Rabbi Adam Grossman is the Associated Rabbi of Temple Israel of Memphis. Rabbi Grossman earned his Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from The Ohio State University and a Master of Education Administration with a Specialization in Jewish Education from Xavier University. He is an active user of social media, and contributes to Temple Israel’s effective use of online social tools for engagement and building community.

What Have We Learned This Week? This Year?

Guest post by Rabbi Arnie Samlan

When I joined Facebook, the first updates I began to post daily balanced my work and my play. They bounced between humorous (most often) and serious. Some reflected my rabbinic side; some addressed my musical (and scratch DJ) side; many dealt with pop music or pop culture. After a few months, I figured out that social media is not about listening to myself, it’s about bringing people together to share.

As I began to wind down my work week in preparation for Shabbat, my social media Friday began, a few months back, to take on a different form. I needed a wrap up of the social media week, just as Shabbat is the wrap up of my work week. Inspired by a radio “shock jock” who used to end each morning with a call-in segment called “What have we learned today?”, I decided to try asking this question on my Friday Facebook status. And so, every Friday morning, my status reads “It’s Friday! What have we learned this week?”

Several months in, our (no longer my) What Have We Learned This Week? community is thriving. Each week literally dozens of friends from around the world share their reflections. The recognition of learning that has taken place ranges from the odd (“I learned about the reproductive system of a hen”) to the seriously reflective (“we can spend time weighing our day, debating its worth, or we can recognize all of the good in our day and count it as worthy!”), to the personal (“To have a little more faith in myself than I might otherwise deem I deserve.”) to the proudly parental (“That my son is receiving a wonderful public school education from wonderfully committed teachers.”)

Beyond their individual reflections, the participants in this weekly ritual have begun to talk to each other, supporting (or challenging, such as the discussion on the difference between “fact” and “truth”) friends and sometimes strangers as we close our week together. My Friday Facebook wall has become a safe place for introspection, joking, kvetching, and praying. We judge our own learnings from social media and from the rest of our life and, without judging one another we get the opportunity to learn from each other’s weekly journeys. And in the end, it’s the sharing of one another’s journeys that is what life, as well as social media, is about.

Judaism has a practice in which a person conducts a cheshbon ha-nefesh, a self-audit of one’s soul. Some people engage in this practice daily, others less often. During the Rosh Hashana season, it’s particularly apropos, as we look back on the year past and at the year ahead. We assess ourselves honestly, and we set our course for the future. Why not invite my Facebook friends to share their own cheshbon hanefesh on my Facebook wall?

May we all continue to learn and share, and may be all be blessed wish a shana tova u’metukah, a happy and sweet New Year.

So… What you have you learned this year? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Arnie Samlan is a rabbi, Jewish educator, consultant, Jewish life coach, and aspiring DJ. Follow him on Twitter (@JewishConnectiv) and his blog The Notorious R.A.V.  Arnie is part of the professional team of the New Center for Collaboration and Leadership of The Jewish Education Project.

What’s that [email protected] ?

No, I’m not trying to swear in the headline of this post, though the three symbols in a row might have led you to question my professional judgment. More and more, I’m seeing people drop a period before the @ when starting a tweet with a username, such as “@estherk I wish I could be at #tribefest”. You might, as I did, wonder why some tweets appear like this “[email protected] reports on #tribefest”. (By the way, I’m making up these tweets as examples).

One Forty to the rescue! Laura Fitton (@pistachio) runs this smart “Social Business Software Hub”, which recently blogged 5 Common Twitter Mistakes and How to Fix Them. It’s worth reading. I’ll share the fifth one with you here, since it’s a juicy factoid I’m betting many people are curious about:

@ vs. [email protected] The way that Twitter is constructed, only people that also follow whoever you are @replying can see that @reply. Sometimes, people will start a Tweet with @ when its not intended to be an @reply, though. For instance, @CNNs coverage of the Egyptian riots. If you Tweeted that, only your followers that follow @CNN will see that Tweet in their timeline.

HOW TO FIX: Want everyone to see those Tweets? Use the [email protected] trick: stick a period in front of the @ sign and itll send the Tweet into the main Twitter stream for all to enjoy.

See? Simple and brilliant explanation. Now go check out their blog for many more.

[email protected]’all, see you on Twitter!

No More Excuses: Importing Your Events into Personal Calendars

Guest post by Ellen Dietrick

The New Year is quickly approaching and with that comes the deluge of new calendars. Synagogue calendars, school calendars, board meeting schedules, and soccer schedules. Like me, you are probably used to dedicating an afternoon around this time of year to entering all of these lists of dates into your personal calendar.

Those days are over.

Set up a calendar for your organization in Google, post it to your website or blog, invite your members. One click and voila, each event on your organization’s calendar is instantly imported into their personal calendar. The events show up in a new color, so your organization’s events are easily distinguished from other entries on the user’s personal calendar. And the best part- as you add events to your organization’s calendar, they automatically show up on each individual’s personal Google calendar. You can even use it to send invitations to your events and collect RSVPs. It is all both cost free and ad free. For those that don’t use Google calendar, they can easily view events right on your website or print the calendar in any of three formats: weekly, monthly, or agenda.

Sample Google calendarTo get started on setting up the calendar for your organization, you’ll need a Google account. Then go to Google calendar and select “Add” in the “My Calendars” section. The investment of time is quite minimal. Spend a few minutes entering the events and then embed the calendar directly to your website. To try it out from a member prospective, visit a sample calendar at Kesher Jewish Community After School Program. Then just hit the at the bottom of the calendar. (You can easily remove it later.) Note that for Mac users, Google allows you to add a link to allow them to get the calendar through iCal too.

Ellen Dietrick is the new Director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA, and is famous for her creative and practical uses of technology at her previous position at Congregation Beth Israel, in Charlottesville, VA, and through the Covenant Fellows program and the Jim Joeseph Foundation Fellowship.

#10NTC Faith-Based Affinity Group. Add Your Voice.

Screen shot 2010-04-08 at 11.04.53 AMThis afternoon we’re convening the first ever faith-based affinity group at the NTEN Conference here in Atlanta. On Saturday, we’re hosting a panel with speakers from the Christian and Muslim communities to share how social media is influencing their work and communities. This afternoon, we’ll be addressing the following four questions. Add your voice to the mix, by commenting on this post, or tweeting your thoughts using the hashtag #10ntc.faith

  1. How to Convey Our Mission/Religious Message/Personal Relevance Online? Beyond marketing events, providing links and posting photos of a recent gathering, how can faith based organizations use these platforms in serious and effective ways?
  2. Convincing Leadership to Take Tech/Social Media Seriously: Oftentimes leadership in faith based organizations are unaware or uncomfortable with the role of technology in running a successful organization. How can we help increase comfort, get the budgets we need, and build confidence among leadership and colleagues? What should we be measuring, how to measure and present it? What are your techniques, key performance indicators, and strategies to educate senior staff?
  3. Balancing Shifting Roles – Who Manages the Web Site, Twitter Feed, Facebook Page? Who is the gatekeeper of outgoing messages and your organization, and how is that role changing in a social media age? How much should program staff be empowered to update statuses or post other content? Where is the balance, and how to evolve an organization’s culture for success in the immediacy-culture of today? When and how should clergy be using these tools? Who assists/supports/teaches clergy how to do it well?
  4. Planning for the Future: Often we find ourselves behind the curve and trying to catch up. While we may not need to be on the cutting edge of everything, now is the time to start planning for the future. Mobile is emerging quickly as a powerful tool – how can faith based orgs effectively make use of this new wave of potential, and what else should we be watching, planning for, innovating with, or inventing?

Share your experience!

Passover Tweets – er, Treats – er, Tweets

tweet-the-exodus[cross-posted from jlearn2.0] What’s new for Pesach this year?

Here are a few fun morsels to leaven liven up the holiday!

Not to be forgotten, of course, is last season’s fave, Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah. Alas, the link seems to be itself departed – anyone have a current one?

Any other faves out there? Share yours!

No More Scissors and Paste: Bringing the Shabbat Service Online

By Matthew Grossman, BBYOs Executive Director

Last week BBYO announced the launch of what I believe is an exciting, inventive tool available to engage teens in a meaningful Shabbat experience: Build a Prayer. As a free, online tool the site is designed to connect youth with prayer and Shabbat like never before by allowing them to build and customize their own service.

At BBYO, I constantly see teens, advisors and staff members using unique spaces and creativity to offer relevant, powerful Shabbat services, a unique challenge since most teens have only experience services within their synagogue. This challenge is only made more difficult by the fact that most teens arent comfortable in a traditional siddur they dont know where services start and end, what to include, or what is safe to leave out.

To meet that need (and often times to save money), these worship services are typically guided by a teen-designed collection of songs, poetry and prayers that is compiled through an effort of photocopying, cutting and pasting together old song sheets and prayer book passages. As an organization, we saw the need to provide Jewish teens with an accessible place to explore prayer and its meanings doing it online also happens to save some glue.

What makes this site so exciting is that it brings thousands-of-years-old prayers into a modern day realm that teens relate to. It is streamlined and easy to use. In a few clicks of a button, teens have a complete service in front of them in which they feel some much needed connections. While not every teen feels comfortable finding their way in a traditional siddur, Build a Prayer allows teens to put together a basic Shabbat service in a space they can easily navigate.

The site is designed for teens, educators, camp counselors, youth group advisors, JCC professionals, chavurah leaders basically, anyone who is interested in putting together a Shabbat service in a formal or informal setting. The site allows Hebrew, English and/or transliterated text to be compiled with ones own pictures, prayers or poetry toward the creation of a custom Prayer Service which can be printed and used anywhere.

With help from www.myjewishlearning.org and a series of videos, users can learn more about the traditions and tunes behind specific prayers. Additionally, a content library holds creative elements from individual prayer services as they are created. Because this is an online resource, people can collaborate on the development of each service and comment on them once they are placed in the Build a Prayer library.

While recent studies show that participation in traditional religious experiences decline during the teen years, the desire to connect spiritually on ones own terms remains strong. Build a Prayer is another resource we are offering the Jewish community as a way to better connect with Jewish teens. Organizations looking to reach the teen audience should look at this as a tool to literally bring prayer to life.

Matt Grossman is the Executive Director of BBYO. He began his career at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Matt is also a member of the Darim Online board of directors. Matt currently lives in Washington, DC where he works at BBYO’s international headquarters.

Texting Snow

By Ellen Dietrick, Director of Congregation Beth Israel Preschool and Kindergarten

Its the season of inclement weather closings. The time tested ways of notifying families of school closings, announcing it through the radio, tv, and a weather closing phone line, produce mixed results. An issue remained: families had to consider that the school might be closed to think to check in with these information sources. At our school, a sudden unexpected flood meant those with flooding basements thought to check if the school was impacted, but those on higher ground went on with their usual routine, never considering that the school might be closed.

A little voice rang in my head: Go to your audience.

With the traditional systems, families had to come to us. How could we get the information straight to them? Email notifications helped, but with children to feed and dress, lunches to pack, and that pesky missing shoe to find, so many families keep the computer off during the early morning hours. Email again requires your audience to come to you. I considered a phone alert system, like those used by politicians, but they were expensive, requiring monthly subscriptions. And not everyone appreciates a 6am wake up call.

Text messaging to the rescue! Now parents receive a text message on their cell phones the instant the decision is made. We still maintain the traditional notification systems, but the text alert gets by far the most praise. From the parents’ prospective, it is direct and simple, and comes straight to them. The information in on hand the moment they wake up. For many they get the text before they go to bed, and can start planning accordingly for the next day. From an administrative prospective, it is easy to use, time efficient, and at 2-5 cents per message, depending on the type of message and the plan you choose, quite affordable.

Sample text messages from this unseasonably snowy winter.
Sample text messages from this unseasonably snowy winter.

So those childhood memories of sitting by the radio, waiting as lists of school closings were announced are no longer. An easier way has finally arrived.
How to get started:

  1. There are many text messaging alert options out there. We chose Ez Texting http://www.eztexting.com/
  2. Sign up now. Dont wait until you need to send a message. Advance preparations are critical.
  3. Allow families to opt out. Some phone plans charge for text messages, so not everyone will want to be notified this way. We offered the chance to opt out in our weekly school newsletter and out of 130 people, we had 6 choose to opt out.
  4. Consider your groups. In our case, there may be times we will want to notify just teachers of an emergency schedule change.
  5. Load the cell numbers onto the site, grouping as appropriate.
  6. Purchase credits.
  7. When you are ready to send a message, simply log in, type your message (the number of characters is limited, so keep it short), and hit send.

And remember to add a cell phone field to every registration form, so you have the information to use.