Becoming Social: Risk Taking, Transparency and Innovation

Prior to participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, our school culture was pretty conservative when it came to social media, so many ideas that we brought home from the kick off meeting felt very risky and foreign to us.

Within the first week of this program, we turned on the tagging function on our Facebook page to allow for interaction and transparency. At the time, letting go of this control felt unintuitive and scary.

zumba.pngThat same week, we noticed a student-led Zumba class happening in the courtyard and we impulsively took a 30-second video. We never would have posted something like this previously because it felt personal and exposed in terms of the students, and it was also an activity that was wholly social and not connected to any mission-specific message. In short, it was just fun. In response to the post, we received an unprecedented number of likes, comments and shares from students, parents and community members. This “experiment” started a ripple effect in terms of taking risks.

The only video that had ever been leveraged for fundraising at JCHS was very high-end, in that it was professionally shot and produced. So Lisa Colton’s suggestion to “be brave” and do quick and dirty videos was intriguing and exciting. The discussion at the kickoff meeting about how to deal with negative online feedback made us feel as if we could jump and go for it with our own videos.

We shot a short video with teachers and students that showed areas the Annual Fund supports at JCHS such as athletics, drama and science.  We shared this video on our web page, through eBlasts and on Facebook which added a much-needed spike in parent momentum/interest. The video resulted in 12 online gifts the first night we posted it – which was also unprecedented. From here we became addicted to both making fun, creative videos and the momentum they inspired. We got sillier and people liked it.

As the year progressed, through the Annual Fund and into our Darim fundraising challenge and spring fundraising event, we became comfortable – and quite happy – with this new cultural norm of risk taking, transparency and innovation. Our “capstone” project for the Academy was a fundraising challenge to our 271 alumni. The greatest percentage of them to give in one year to date had been 9%. We challenged ourselves to receive at least 50% participation from our alumni during the month of April to receive a matching grant from AVI CHAI. JCHS is only 12 years old. Most of our alumni are still in college and not financially independent, so this was a big challenge for us.

teacher.pngWe kicked off our alumni campaign with a slide show of 8 JCHS graduation ceremonies.  This video created our first wave of momentum, but we noticed immediately that the “fire” required constant stoking to keep gifts rolling in. We then came up with a teacher campaign asking students to give Our alumni mavens were key in tagging these photos and creating a buzz that increased with each new teacher photo. During this photo campaign, one of our alumni mavens suggested that what would really work with older alumni is to see photos of their teachers from the early years who are no longer teaching at JCHS. As one of us has been here for 10 years, reaching out to these teachers on Facebook was easy and they all responded quickly and enthusiastically.  See an example of the reactions on Facebook. 

Not only did we achieve our 50% goal, but in the final push, which was very targeted from alum to alum, we achieved 61% alumni participation (166 alums). The impact from this challenge continues to show through feedback about how much they enjoyed talking to each other and reminiscing about JCHS, to a record number of alumni attending the spring fundraising event. This year of social media was educational, fun, and it truly shifted our culture in a way that supports community at JCHS.

Julie Vlcek-Burke has been at JCHS since 2003 and is the Director of Development. Maura Feingold has been at JCHS since 2007 and is the Marketing Manager.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

Facebook as a Tool to Drive Admissions?

The opportunity to participate in the Darim Online Social Media Academy is one of the best things to happen to our school. When we started our school Facebook page about a year ago, we used the white paper titled Best Practices for an Admissions-Driven Social Media Strategy as our guide, and had a volunteer help us get started. The postings were sporadic, and did not have much consistency. Since we started the Social Media Academy, we have created an editorial calendar to ensure our posts are consistent with our branding, so that we can tell our story in a fun and compelling way. The result has been amazing. For months, our posts were reaching maybe 100 people, and now with the implementation of  the editorial calendar, each post is reaching between 200-500 people.

With the ultimate goal of driving admissions, it can be difficult to measure success through social media marketing, but I believe this process has given our marketing efforts a boost through planting a seed in the mind of audiences that are not so connected to the school.   It is difficult to know if potential families are paying attention to posts, or if one’s initial encounter with the school through social media is what will get them through the door for a visit.

That being said, we had one of our greatest feelings of success in the last few months, and I believe it can be directly attributed to our participation in the JDS Academy.  I received a message in my email from a family who had seriously considered sending their child to the school a year ago but decided they needed to give free, public school education a try before spending the money on private school.

“I’m checking in again about the application process… This year has been a good one for O. Overall…. I am thrilled for the children at KJDS that their experience is so good, but it honestly pains me when I see your posts about M , and compare it to what O. is doing. The differences are stark. .. Our financial situation hasn’t changed, but there are always choices to be made in life.  So, I’m thinking about this again.   It’s been lovely to hear about all your adventures through Facebook.  I was especially intrigued by your comment about M. evaluating his strengths and weaknesses.  Is that something all the students do every year? Thank you,  M.”

She was responding this this post: 

This experience reinforced to us the power of social media. Now that we have a strong editorial calendar in place, our next goal will be to guide and train parents to be “social media ambassadors” and create more posts that share their children’s experience.

We found another added bonus to our admissions process is keeping connected with families that have applied. It has been interesting to note that as soon as a family tours the school, and is seriously considering enrolling, they often will ‘like’ our school Facebook page.

Miriam Esther Wilhelm is the founding Head of School at the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School. She has enjoyed the journey of taking the school from a start up to a growing and thriving Jewish Day School.


The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy


The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


Rally for MJDS: A Case Study of Social Fundraising

Milwaukee Jewish Day School is a non-diversified school accepting Jews from across the board. We have an excellent education program deeply rooted in tradition and innovation. We have a large emphasis on digital media and technology such as iPads, smart-boards, computer Labs, and a green screen studio. With so many students and parents using technology photo’s and videos have never been so important.

We’ve always had an Annual Campaign, but for the first time as a result of the Social Media Academy we decided to try something different, and accept donations online.

Before launching our campaign on the Rally platform, we went to the PTO and found volunteers who would be willing to spread the word and expand our network.

First, we sent out a future leader survey at the beginning of the annual campaign. We asked students what they want to be when they grow up? How is MJDS helping you reach your goals for the future? Once we identified our Fan Fundraisers for the Rally Campaign, David Hercenberg, our Digital Media & Marketing Specialist, worked with each person to help them promote the Rally Campaign on their personal Facebook pages.

We encourage our students to reach for the stars and achieve their dreams, so we used the idea of featuring current students & alumni students to show that with an MJDS education you really can achieve your goals.  

We customized our amount selection options & encouraged people to share the rally campaign with their friends and family. We posted custom photos and quotes the Future leaders survey to add a personal touch for every post. We also explained that every donation up to $10K would be doubled thanks to a match from The AVI CHAI Foundation!

Using an online social fundraising platform we were able reach our goal of $10K because we made it as simple as possible for people to donate. Facebook analytics proved that videos got people’s attention and inspired conversation, so we used photos and videos to our advantage. By utilizing our Fan Fundraisers' friends and family, we expanded our network and reach for the campaign. In addition to our Fan Fundraisers, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation reposted some of our posts to expand our network.

Although our alumni were not a huge part of the success of the Rally campaign, we did receive some donations from them. Since we opened the door to a new group of donors who might not have taken the time to donate through traditional ways we see this as a success.  Rally costs us 4.5% to process donations Vs. Paypal which is approximately 2%. Although we plan on using Rally again in the future, for now we are accepting regular donations on Paypal to keep the Rally fresh and focused, and to save money on processing fees.

Overall compared to it’s competition Rally did a great job of being customizable, however it did have one major limitation. The ability to grant multiple levels of access is not available, meaning whomever controls the account has access to all the information. Ideally we would like to allow one person to control the content posting while the business department controls the flow of money on the backend.  We hear that Rally is considering adding this feature to their platform.


The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

Power of Pictures: Lessons from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy

We knew before joining the Academy that Facebook could be a great way to reach our parent body, but we just weren’t getting the response we knew was possible! Our first step after joining the Academy was to switch our Facebook profile to a page so that we could garner more likes from our parents and the broader community. Then we started thinking about what content would create the most buzz…

It was obvious after a few weeks that posting pictures was a primary way to go – everyone loves to look at pictures of their kids! But in addition to drawing more traffic to our page from parents who want to see pictures of kids, pictures that capture kids also gave us the opportunity to showcase the program and events going on in school. We were able to choose the pictures that showed our beautiful campus in the background, or a Zionistic program, or an academic achievement or some other message we wanted to be projecting to our current and prospective parents. With catchy titles and questions to go along with the pictures, we were able to illicit responses from our Facebook friends. And by including current students in the pictures, we gave parents a reason to visit our Facebook page, and even more beneficial for us, we gave them a reason to share our posts on their personal pages. Allowing us to be seen by their Facebook friends as well meant that the messages we were transmitting about our school were able to reach a wider audience, and could entice prospective parents that we didn’t know were even out there.

Pictures also helped us reconnect to our alumni (we switched our alumni profile to a page as well shortly after joining the Academy). Once a week, on “Way Back Wednesday,” we posted archival pictures that alumni got excited about – and they not only reconnected with Westchester Day School, but also with classmates with whom they may have lost touch over the years. The feelings of nostalgia – “Can you believe how young we were?!” – put positive thoughts about Westchester Day School in the front of their minds. We also were able to re-post Westchester Day School pictures on our Alumni page. We learned that alumni were excited to see pictures of current-year performances and events that have been going on annually for years, and could comment on how well they remember their own “insert performance here.” It also allowed them a chance to see how much things in the school have changed and evolved since their time as a student.  


Allison Lyons is the Director of Admissions at Westchester Day School. Allison enjoys working on a beautiful 26 acre campus on the Long Island Sound.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


A Meta Learning Curve: Social Media to Promote a Blending Learning Day School

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. 

I figured between having a Facebook account and teenage daughters, I would be ahead of the game in this process.  Yet even with my familiarity with social media tools, participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy really put me into the shoes of our students. 

Our school was at a unique disadvantage in the marketing process – we have little administration, a small parent body and no alumni.  While being described as a technology-driven school put us into a broad category of educational institutions, our goals differed from other establishments under the “technology” umbrella.  Our primary objective was to educate the community on our mission and philosophy; to avoid being considered “a school with computers”.  Blended learning means different things to different people, and our work with the JDS Social Media Academy gave us the necessary tools and strategies to spread our message and correct the misconceptions about our school.

Our Facebook Page has developed into a dynamic instrument; a living, breathing creature that communicates our vision.  The Jewish community at large has been fascinated with our school from its inception; pre-conceived notions flew around Shabbat tables, and opinions followed suit.  Truth be told, there was no way to distribute the real information because there was not yet any evidence.  September 2012 came and went, and Yeshivat He’Atid is thriving as a Jewish Day School operating with a blended learning model.  Through the mentorship of the JDS Social Media Academy, we have learned to target our social media audiences and showcase our evidence.

On September 16, 2012 – a few weeks into our inaugural school year – we posted a “Happy New Year” message on our Facebook page.  For a brand new school of 116 students, the viewing statistic was encouraging.


Following training in strategic social media use, here is a screenshot of our Yom Ha’atzmaut Facebook post:  

Close to 2000 people saw this post, the overwhelming majority being viral!  Using Facebook and other social media tools systematically and strategically has unveiled what we are all about.  Perhaps most notably, it has allowed us access to a broad, very curious audience, and let us mitigate the pre-conceived notions through a forthcoming and non-threatening avenue.

Having the tools, using the tools, and using the tools properly are three very different things.  It is easy to put a computer in a classroom.  It is even easy to turn it on.  The challenge is to effectively and efficiently provide a targeted, personalized experience.  While our teachers and students have immersed themselves in our brand of blended learning and met this challenge head on, I have incorporated this same philosophy on the business end.  I had the tools.  I used the tools.  With the unwavering support of the JDS Social Media Academy, I now use the tools effectively and efficiently, providing a targeted, personalized experience.  And we have the data to prove it, both in the classroom and out.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton. 

The Neverending Haggadah

Every Passover, Jews around the world gather at the Seder table to re-tell one of the greatest stories ever: the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. As much as we love tradition, this year we are giving the Seder ritual a new twist—and we want you to join us!

So, how will this Passover be different from all other Passovers?

Because we are forgoing ye olde faithful Maxwell House Haggadah! We are working with our friends at to pilot their new group collaboration tool to create an online (and downloadable) crowd-sourced Haggadah. Are you up to the challenge for collectively creating a never-ending Haggadah? This is your chance to share content that will add color and depth to another Seder and also to find content that will make your Seder more meaningful. It’s a Haggadah of reciprocity!

5 Steps to Contribute

  • Explore and select 1-2 parts of the Haggadahthat speak to you. Having trouble deciding? We are happy to help you brainstorm.

    • Letter to My Old Master, from a freed African American slave to his former master, asking for his wages for 30 years of service.
    • An English translation of the Seder’s popular, concluding song, “Chad Gadya” (One Goat) with a translation based on the version retold by the Igbo people ofNigeria
    • The Four Adults, a take on the Four Children that reminds us that as adults we have a lot to learn from youth, especially when it comes to social justice. 
  • Upload your content here.  For each section of the haggadah, you may upload original writings, artwork or scan in selections from homemade or non-copyrighted haggadot. . Get creative! Tell your story with a photo, video, tweet, art or a traditional text story. Can you rap? Are you a master puppeteer? Can you say a blessing in pig-Latin? “But hey,” you say, “I already have something created!” Great, new or already published works are welcome! Watch this video that walks users through the simple process of creating and submitting content to 
  • Build your Haggadah. Use the content you have uploaded, mix and match it with other contributions on and, voila, you have your own custom, printable Haggadah. Better add seats to your Seder table!
  • Get your friends to contribute and spread the word. Know some people who might want to contribute content? Know others who would want to mix and match content to create their own Haggadah? Send them this post and our digital toolkit! If you post it online, be sure to use #NeverendingHaggadah. Anyone can contribute and also use the content they find to curate and download a free Haggadah for their Seder. Let’s spread the word.
  • Join our webinar. Still unsure about this whole creating your own Haggadah business? We will be hosting a webinar with Eileen Levinson, the founder of, on March 13 at 1 pm EST. She will provide tips for creating an interactive Haggadah and how to use it in your Seder. For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.

Learn more about The Neverending Haggadah here. If you have any questions, please send them to [email protected].


Storify: A University of Wisconsin Case Study

Our lives are stories, continually growing and changing every day. In my job at University of Wisconsin Hillel, I interact with many people and get to know their personal stories. Sharing stories of learning, community programs, and student leadership successes is the foundation of our online engagement efforts. I started to wonder how I could use social media to best meet our engagement goals and make students eager to get personally involved. One big Hillel initiative is taking students on a Birthright trip to Israel. We typically have up to 40 students for 10 days of non-stop exploring—this is exactly the type of story that would get our larger community excited. However, it is challenging to make time for students to sit down and reflect on what they are learning every day. I also knew that we shouldn’t create something with only a few weeks of shelf life, such as a blog—I wanted people to follow our story in real time and for students to be able to engage their existing networks to participate in the conversation. I began to explore options that allowed us to use the content that students were already posting on Facebook and Twitter, and Storify was the answer.


How It Works

Storify’s vision is to “(make) stories from the social Web, finding moments to remember in the real-time stream.” In other words—everyone can be a reporter. This mission aligns with Wisconsin Hillel’s passion to help the students become storytellers. Taking the guided tour of Storify will allow you to see how to create a story. In general, each user creates stories by collecting status updates, photos and even videos. One thing to keep in mind is that gathering content through the Storify editor can be a little buggy. For us, using the Google Chrome Storify extension has worked best—this tool puts a Storify button directly into your Twitter and Facebook feeds. Another option is to use Storify’s bookmarklet in your browser (though this method makes it harder to pull content from social networks though very easy from websites). Once your content is in your story on Storify – you can organize the information in a way that is engaging for your readers.  Then, Storify allows you to embed your story into your website. Storify stories can be about anything and are a visually appealing way to showcase what your community is talking about.


A Platform for Empowerment

Seeing a completed story is exciting. Our stories are powerful when students take ownership. Giving students a framework to use their social profiles to share about their journey allows them to become digital storytellers. By sharing their trip with their wide social networks, students can realize the benefits of engaging a larger community. Posting about their transformative experiences with Wisconsin Hillel on Birthright it is impactful for them, our organization, their friends and family, and their broader social networks. Storify makes the conversation a two-way street—students and their networks are given the opportunity to create, share and comment on content. As participants craft posts about their journey, their friends and family are able to engage in real time by following along. As the number of students that get connected to the UW Hillel community continues to grow, the options for storytellers increases. Ultimately, this is their journey.


Making It Work

The internet has allowed our worlds to become incredibly social—we are able to maintain almost instant contact with a huge and geographically dispersed network. As organizations, we need to find effective ways to use social media to engage these new types of communities to connect and share. Storify is the perfect tool to craft an engaging narrative by leveraging your community’s passion for your organization or cause. Being able to capture your community’s experiences allows for exponential growth within your organization’s social media efforts. While it takes time to see where your communities’ conversations are taking place online, your efforts will be successful when your members’ stories start to connect. Gather your content by creating a hashtag to monitor related twitter conversations, making lists of your Facebook connections, encouraging people to post pictures on your wall, and taking an extra leap to use Vine to create fun and exciting videos. This year, make your social media strategy about stories and your community will want to engage with you.

How does your organization share their social stories? I would love to hear your current strategy and thoughts about Storify in the comments on this post.


Bio: Jonathan Eisen is the Director of Programs and Engagement at the University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation in Madison, WI. Jonathan works with UW Hillel’s social and cultural student organizations and manages UW Hillel’s social media efforts (facebook, twitter, and Storify) He is always checking his twitter feed and invites you to connect with him at @JonEisen.



Jewish Journey Photo Books: Capturing Positive Jewish Memories

I was thrilled to be accepted into the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators. It was on the heels of the NATE conference on technology and Jewish education, which I had the honor to co-chair with Rabbi Melissa Buyer. I was eager to take the theory and apply it to my educational milieu.

I began with, what I thought, was a simple project – using social media to improve communication with families. I had moved from posting “what happened today” on our website to a blog. And I was the only one reading the blog (I’m pretty sure).  I figured I would get some strategies, a few pointers, and be well on my way.

Wow was I wrong! With the constant guidance from Lisa Colton, I think we continually took two steps backwards for at least 6 months before moving forward. We had a lot of prep work to do before bringing the vision to life.

But the success of our work became clear when I had a conversation with a mother who just joined our congregation so her 1st grade daughter could attend our educational program. She said they looked at our website and blog together (her and her daughter) and could see all of the activities and how interactive our program was. And they wanted to be a part of that experience.

So what happened? Lisa pushed me to think about not just the how, but the why. And I began thinking more long-term than just one Sunday morning to the next. This became the focus of our school’s professional learning:

One of the goals of our educational program is making positive Jewish memories.

I decided that we needed to be documenting these memories (because we tend to remember things if we have images). And that documentation could be used to communicate with families as a secondary benefit.

I worked on getting teachers to think about documenting the learning in their classroom through images. We had professional learning sessions where we analyzed photographs and talked about objective and subjective (inspired by the Jewish Lens program we were using in our 6th grade). We reviewed pictures of our program and selected good pictures and identified why.

I worked on how to manage the hundreds and hundreds of photos we started to accumulate. We needed to be able to easily store, tag, sort and retrieve images gathered over many years.  This was a systems question that we had to solve before moving forward. After analyzing MANY programs, we are using Picasa – with the Picasastarter add-on (which allowed multiple people and computers to access the database). We can tag people, there is face recognition, and we are slowly working our way through our collection to tag and organize all of our photo assets.

We are using Shutterfly to create photo books that will be presented to students when they become Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I am currently creating the first photobooks for students who will be celebrating in October. In a sense, these are student portfolios, allowing them to reflect on their Jewish journey at our school.

And we took these pictures to create a better blog – where we showed, instead of told. And this allowed at least one family to see themselves as part of our community.

There is more work to do…we are looking to increase the variety of “artifacts” we collect of students. We are trying to share the microphone on our blog and bring more voices in to the conversation. We are starting my profiling new faculty members. Then students who spent the summer at Jewish camps. And then…well, we’ll all have to wait and see!

I am eager to hear from others – are you creating “Jewish” student portfolios? What are some of the tools that are useful?

Beth Ellen Youngis the Director of Education at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FLwhere she enjoys blending love of education, Judaism, and technology.  She participated in the 2011-12 cohort of the Social Media Boot Camp for Jewish Educators funded by The Covenant Foundation. Her personal – and very novice – blog is  


How Seattle Childrens Hospital Went Outside The Box With Its Facebook Page

Darim is hosting a blog carnival (a series of posts from various guest bloggers on a topic) on "Connected Congregations".  The following post from Shel Holtz (originally published on his blog and shared here with persmission) as such profound implications for how synagogues can be supporting and connecting and empowering their community and individual members. 

The bold human and emotional statement made clear in this story should inspire congregational leaders to reenvision not only how to use their Facebook pages, but how to be a positive organizing force in their communities.  I invite you to share reactions, ideas or your own examples in the comments.  What could this look like in a congregational setting?

For some time, hospitals have had Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and a host of other social channels. Like most other organizations, the hard-coded institutional mindset limits the uses to which hospitals put these networks. Upcoming events, health tips, medical news reports, staff spotlights and recognition characterize the usual hospital feeds.

As with other institutions, hospitals need to make outside-the-box thinking with their pages the new inside-the-box. You now have a channel to engage with people who find you interesting, important, relevant or useful. How can you take advantage of that?

Years ago, when I interviewed him for a newsletter article, User Interface Engineering founder and CEO Jared Spool told me that any technology could accomplish only three things. It can solve a problem, improve a process or let you do something that simply wasn’t possible before.

Where are the opportunities to problem solving, process improvement or innovation in a hospital Facebook page?

It took an artist-in-residence to come up with one answer at Seattle Children’s Hospital. John Blalock was making routine visits to the room of 16-year-old patient Maga Barzallo Sockemtickem, who had been stuck in the hospital for weeks for treatment of graft-versus-host disease, which appeared after her November 2011 bone marrow transplant for acute myeloid leukemia.

Along with all the other things Barzallo Sockemtickem missed about being at home, heer cat Merry topped the list. Merry was the subject of most of her conversations with Blalock, who has worked with other patients on photo and music video projects. He first asked other Children’s Hospital staffers for pictures of their cats, but it was the patient herself who pointed out that he could score a lot more photos with a request on the hospital’s Facebook page. The request asked for photos to be posted to the wall by July 25.

The post drew more than 1,000 comments, the vast majority of them accompanied by photos. Ultimately, more than 3,000 photos arrived, with snail-mail adding to those shared on Facebook. 

On the day of the deadline, Blalock erected a tent of sheets over Barzallo Sockemtickem’s bed onto which he projected the images of the slideshow. A video of the virtual cat immersion chamber posted to YouTube has been viewed nearly 190,000 times.

The story is heartwarming. An NPR report quoted Barzallo Sockemtickem saying, “In the hospital, you feel cut off. You lose contact with regular people. So the photos made me feel like I was part of the world again.”

It’s a demonstration of the healing power of felines. Hospitals also should be scheming about how to use the palliative properties of art. “All hospitals are such a blank slate for doing art because you can take a medical experience and transform it,” Blalock said.

For communicators tasked with fueling a hospital’s social media efforts, the tale should also spark some thinking beyond the usual grist for the newsfeed mill. Artist-in-residence Blalock is already on to his next brainstorm for how to tap the power of the Net; he’s thinking about how to fuse Skype to a robot that will move among patients in the cancer ward, opening the outside world to them.

The simple Facebook request for photos no doubt did wonders for Seattle Children’s Hospital, since commenting and adding photos boosts a page’s Edgerank score like little else, getting the hospital’s updates onto the newsfeeds of people who have liked the page. The awareness of the story resulted in considerable news coverage; many of the web reports included the YouTube video, further expanding coverage. The YouTube video invites you to visit the Facebook page to see all the photos.

The thinking behind Blalock’s innovation did not begin with, “How can I use the hospital’s Facebook page,” or even, “Is this something I can use the Facebook page for?” It was rather Barzallo Sockemtickem’s recognition that expanding the search for photos to Facebook improved the process of soliciting hospital staff for their pictures.

That’s a mindset that has been outside the box for most hospitals. The more we can change the way we look at the social tools at our disposal, the more we’ll be able to apply them to problems, processes and innovations that can genuinely help people while shining a light on the compassionate care the hospital delivers.


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.

10 Tachlis Ideas for Getting Your FB Page High Holiday Ready

It’s Elul and the High Holidays are just around the corner.  Now is the perfect time to get your Facebook Page ‘Likeable!’ How will you use it as an entry point for prospective members seeking to engage in the holiday season, and as a point of connection for current members?

 We’ve compiled 10 ideas to get the conversation going.  Feel free to add your ideas and your social media "New Year’s Resolution" for deepening your community’s engagement.

1. Create a series of 5 questions to ask on your page related to Slichot and Elul. It’s always a good idea to ask at least two people in advance to comment on each one to get the converstion going.

2. Recruit 10 community members to hold up a sign that indicates something they are thankful for.  Post 2 photos a week over the next five weeks on your Page.

3. Ask fans what is a new beginning for them – you can create an open ended prompt in your post, like "My new beginning for this year is…."  Follow up with weekly "new beginnings" updates.

4. Be transparent – show how you are getting ready for the high holidays, including "behind the scenes": photos of staff stuffing envelopes with tickets, setting up chairs, cleaning the kitchen, etc.

5. Share content from Jewels of Elul daily to the page. Hit "share" and ask your own question on top of it. Create a video "playlist" of videos that address High Holiday themes and post them once a week during Elul.

6. Post seasonal recipes and ask people to talk about their own versions of those dishes.  Solicit favorite holiday recipes and memories and encourage people to include photos.

7. Welcome new members by name as they join your community and upload their family photo (with their permission).  Encourage folks to find these new community members and introduce themselves over the holidays.

8. Play "Jewish Trivia" – develop a list of little known facts and customs about the High Holidays and ask questions in a post…revealing the answer later in the comments. Example: Why do some people wear tennis shoes on Yom Kippur?

9. Create Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah Timeline cover photos and rotate them out accordingly.

10. Crowdsource part of your High Holiday drash by posing questions to your community and soliciting their responses.

What is your community doing to get your Facebook Page ready for the High Holidays, and to capitalize on the increased attention during this time of year?