Social Media and Mobile for Real Time Professional Learning at Conferences | Beth's Blog

Social Media and Mobile for Real Time Professional Learning at Conferences

Digital Strategy, Instructional Design

Last week,  I faciltated a mini-workshop at the Silicon Valley/Peninsula Nonprofit Leadership Forum hosted by Compasspoint.  I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Compasspoint as part of my continuing work as Visiting Scholar at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.   I enjoy it because I get double dose:   great ideas about the integration of technology with leadership, training, and capacity building AND the content.

The lunchtime conversation was with Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., CEO and President of Silicon Valley Community Foundation.   His opening remarks and conversation were inspiring to say the least.   The use of mobile and social media enhanced the experience beyond having the standard back channel via a hashtag on Twitter, but the substance of his comments resonated.

Moving from A Problem to Solution Frame

He opened with a quote,  “Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight.”     He wasn’t advocating violence.   He was talking about how nonprofit social service providers were framing the discussion around state budget cuts.     He suggested that nonprofits are too focused on talking about the downside of  “if we get cut” or “don’t cut my program because it is important” that nonprofit sector is missing an opportunity to frame the conversation around collective solutions and innovation – not problems.

Carson talked about the impact of government cuts in California – and that it is going beyond effecting those in lower income neighborhoods and reaching a broader swath of individuals.  For example,  the City of San Jose is trying to save money by turning off the street lights in the city.   Lack of lighting is associated with higher crime.  Suddenly, it impacts people beyond those who are most vulnerable and he pointed out that this is an opportunity to step up the conversation with more people about solutions.   “What can a community do for itself?” he asked.  He talked about the potential that people and agencies in the room have of creating a movement.

Leading with the Heart

He discussed the topic of regional philanthropy and giving.    He urged people in the room to lead with the heart, not the head.   He said that the heart wants to know the stories, not the statistics and jargon.   Collect the anecdotes and then follow up with the numbers.   He also talked about the lost opportunity for continued donor engagement.  “Once we get that first check, we say – oh, we’ve got them.  Put them on the donor  list.   The only time we reach out to them is when we ask them for money.”   His advice was to schedule “heart time.”  – That is meet with your donors and engage with them — share a story that isn’t linked to an ask.  What terrific advice for social media strategies too.

He also had some good points about board management.  Nonprofit need to think about their board as brand advocates, not a group of people who can’t speak from the heart about the organization or answer questions like “Go ask staff.”      Board empowerment and education as advocates is important so they can talk to their neighbors or their Facebook friends about the nonprofit’s work.

Mobile Technology and Social Media and Real Time Learning

I also want to reflect a bit on the use of social media and mobile technology to support nonprofit professional learning at conferences.

In the last two years, Twitter hashtags or what we call the “Back Channel” have become the standard way to integrate social media  “During” conferences, particularly for technology crowds.    Early adopters are skilled at embracing  distraction where attention is conversation.

In contrast, mobile polling offers is a more structured form of interaction.   If used creatively, this can help shape programmatic decisions in real-time.    We know that the first rule of programs is know the audience – what better way than to know the audience in real time.    Using mobile tools to collect and summarize data for real-time  decisions  opens up all kinds of creative interaction design possibilities to enhance professional learning experiences.

Nelson Layag, my colleague at Compasspoint, shared  how they were experimenting with text polls.   They used a service called “Polls Everywhere” to set up shortcodes that the audience could text a vote for a topic during discussion as well as share specific questions for the Q/A.   There is also Twitter integration.    It is fairly simple to use and while not free, it is relatively inexpensive.

As Nelson comments in the video,  this particular gathering was a small enough for them to design a simple pilot to test out the technology and learn how they might use it in their annual nonprofit day.   The first concept they were playing with was to use it to get real-time feedback to shape the lunch discussion and Q/A.   In the future, Nelson envisions being able to use it to  gather feedback in real time during lunch to perhaps shape the afternoon’s session topics.

Nelson mentioned that they thought they might need detailed printed instructions on the table, but it more than 50% of the room participated which is a good participation rate.    As Nelson notes,  “I think that thanks to American Idol, people know how to text vote.”

How are you integrating social media or mobile technology into  professional development events and conferences that promote real time learning?   How can you use to best enhance learning rather than take away from it?   What is needed to be successful?

6 Responses

  1. Sue Anne Reed says:

    Great post, Beth. Randy spoke earlier in the morning. It was interesting because I was monitoring the backchannel to see what was being said about his presentation and there wasn’t a whole lot there. Randy told me that he didn’t see a lot of people tweeting and that a majority of the people in the room were taking hand-written notes. I think that’s an interesting thing to consider. There are lots of people that use Twitter and other tools to communicate what they learn, but there are lots of people that don’t. We need to continue to find ways to encourage / allow them to knowledge-share.

  2. Nelson Layag says:

    Great point Sue Anne. I think that’s why at CompassPoint we’re challenged with using social media at conferences. We want to try to have it enhance the experience for those not using social media as well as those using it. I think the live polling might be a way to do that. Even if you didn’t tweet or txt a poll or question, you were drawn into a conversation about the content of the poll.

  3. Cheryl Chang says:

    Beth, they used text polling at one of the sessions I attended at COF. People really got into submitting their vote and it energized the discussion and kept people engaged. I also think that some people appreciate that it is more anonymous than raising your hand, so feel safer to share their opinion. I’m all for it.

  4. marnie webb says:

    I love (love!) the comments by Emmett Carson. It’s felt like we’ve been moving, as a sector, from individual solutions (my organization will do this) to cohort solutions (all of us that are teaching kids to read can do this) and now we are working on community solutions (what do we have to do to fix a problem here).

    It’s important not to lose the capacity we’ve built at each level — organizational and cohorts — as we move to solutions at the community level. It’s tough because solutions at the community level can’t be about fighting for your slice of the pie — even though we all still have to keep the lights on — but figuring out the combination of things that will make a difference.

    And I recently had a chance to talk to the folks at covision ( about their tools and facilitation for interactive meetings. Pretty fascinating stuff.

  5. […] a recent post by Beth Kanter, she captures key points about creative integration of technology and content in a conversation with Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., CEO and President of Silicon Valley Community […]

  6. Beth says:

    @Sueanne – I think Nelson mentioned that they had a 50% participation rate for the text poll. I noticed that not a lot of folks were tweeting – and that isn’t unusual for nonprofit conferences where the emphasis is on other topics than tech or if the audience isn’t mostly Gen Y. WHile there were a lot of folks talking notes with pens and paper (including me), many folks had blackberries and know how to text.

    As Cheryl notes above, perhaps being anonymous helps.

    Marnie: I just loved what Emmett Carson had to say and he said in such a passionate way. Have you heard him speak? And, thanks for sharing a cool new shiny object to look at …;-)

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