UJC Uses Social Media to Promote Jewish Heroes

In a year of great change in the Jewish community, often coming for all the wrong reasons, United Jewish Communities is shining a light on the positive deviants amongst us in its first Jewish Community Heroes Awards.

The award is grassroots effort — meaning anyone can nominate anyone for the award. Once someone is nominated, he or she is showcased on the Jewish Community Heroes website, as well as on local editions of the website hosted by local federations and other initiative partners. Community members can then visit these sites and vote for whomever they think is the hero of the year.

The initiative raises several interesting points:
What does it mean for UJC to be organizing a grassroots campaign?
What does UJC have to gain from a bottom-up effort?
Why can users vote more than once, and couldnt the winner conceivably just be the best marketer?
How does the structure of the award help the community beyond UJC?

An Award from the Bottom Up

In a conversation with Andy Neusner, Web Content Manager for UJC, Darim Online learned more about the award, where the idea came from and what UJC hopes to gain from organizing the initiative.

Neusner described the Jewish Community Heroes initiative as a way for the UJC to be seen as an organization that is in touch with its constituents and the younger generation rather than seen only as a monolithic organization with a top-down voice. Furthermore by utilizing social media such as Facebook and Twitter, Neusner hopes that UJC will be associated with the online Jewish community, giving it tech savvy and innovative image, and a serving as a conduit for promoting the kinds of behaviors that are most attractive to younger members of the Jewish community.

In the case of the Jewish Community Heroes Award, those attractive behaviors are what Neusner calls viral volunteering. The thinking is if a lot of people see what others are doing they will see it and spread it.

Giving it All Away

UJC is “giving away” the initiative as much as possible, and in fact has developed the Jewish Community Heroes website so that different organizations can have their own landing pages. For example, if a user learns about the awards initiative from Hillel, she can go directly to a Hillel version of the Jewish Community Heroes Awards website where Hillel leaders are highlighted above other award nominees.

Essentially, other organizations like Hillel, JVibe, and local federations are at liberty to brand the award and use it as a way to promote themselves. Someone could potentially nominate a friend, vote and tell his friends to also vote without ever knowing the award was organized and funded by UJC.

This idea, that an organization can promote itself by promoting others, hits at what social media is all about. By using this approach, UJC shows that it gets it and has come a long way from Super Sunday.

The more organizations which promote the award, the more people that may nominate others. And the more people who are nominated, the more those candidates will tell their friends to vote. The fact that the content of this media is an award and one that is for the most part by and for the people makes it highly likely to be spread far and wide.

If its Not Spread its Dead

When it comes to voting for your favorite Jewish Community Hero, UJC made the rules very unscientific: users can vote for as many nominees as they wish and as many times as the wish (but, just once a day).

Was their intent then to create a prestigious award or was it something else?

Well, it is a little of both. The award functions as a way for UJC to promote ideals that are attractive to younger generations as well as interact with them online.

In addition to voting and nominating then, an important piece of the interaction is the opportunity for a user to upload his contacts to spread awareness of the award. Users can also interact with the award by following it on Twitter @JewishHero, or join its Facebook Fan Page. Nominees or friends of nominees can also promote the award by using the #jheroes tag on twitter or by posting links to their nomination profile in their status updates on Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn or other sites.

Hypothetically, with the way that the campaign is set up, the winner could in fact be the best marketer rather than the greatest hero. According to Neusner, UJC is all for that — the more one interacts, spreads the award and returns to the site, the better.

The Value of a Give and Take Relationship

By offering something of value for the Jewish community, UJC has the opportunity to enter into a relationship with thousands of individuals. All it takes to participate is an email address and a zip code. Thus, UJC hopes to gain contact information and locations of tens of thousands (if not more) of active online Jews. UJC will then be able to follow up with information on other initiatives, invites to get involved locally, and connections to other Jewish resources.

Is this initiative then an elaborate scheme by UJC to build its mailing list?

According to Neusner, no. For one, it is showcasing some of the best the Jewish community has to offer. For the first time, there is an open forum for Jews across North America to promote their best community leaders. The opportunity for someone in New York City to learn from a leader in Santa Barbara, or visa versa is tremendous, and capitalizes on what social media can offer our community.

Second, using this open forum, Jewish communal institutions will be able to listen unfiltered to leaders on the ground. The issues that are most important to the institutions may or may not be the issues that individuals are most passionately working on. For that reason alone, the Jewish Community Heroes Awards will be fascinating to monitor.

Finally, by using social media to promote this award, and in doing so having created many different ways for participation, UJC is showcasing to the rest of the Jewish community how valuable the use of new media can be for Jewish organizations from synagogues to youth groups to service organizations. UJC is just scratching the surface of what social media can do, and it hopes that this award becomes an annual event in the Jewish community.

Be sure to log on and check it out yourself at www.jewishcommunityheroes.com.

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