Networked Nonprofits Deconstruct Social Media Fears | Beth's Blog

Networked Nonprofits Deconstruct Social Media Fears

Networked Nonprofit, Social Media Policy

This morning Allison Fine and I got up extra early for a Bagels and Books Event for The Networked Nonprofitat the National Conference on Volunteering and Service here in NYC.

At book events, one of the most common themes we hear from nonprofits is about the fear that organizational leaders have about social media.  Opening up organizations is uncomfortable because it strikes at the heart of what so many organizational leaders were taught as their jobs — to protect the organization by controlling everything that happens inside and outside their walls.

I’m often asked for practical advice on how to move past the fear.

In short,  deconstruct it and face it head on.   So, what better metaphor for this is to deconstruct the scare house by riding it with an expert in participatory exhibit design as my colleague, Nina Simon, who writes the Museum2.0 Blog did for me recently in the video above.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (no relation) from the Harvard Business School describes this process as “To Master Change, First Dread It”   She describes the stress and feelings of lost control that change in organizations engenders.   She goes on to say that the stress leads to paralysis.   She offers a counter-intuitive tip for moving past it:

Start by wallowing in the feelings of dread fear of change arouses. The sheer nail-biting horror of it all. Get in touch with every negative aspect, all the things that could go wrong. Then figure out a way to get that negative force on your side. In short, “Dream your worst nightmare and invest in it.”

1.   Imagine The Worst Case Scenario: This is the very step.  The very first question at the very meeting to discuss it should be “What’s the concern?  What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  I think this is the key to adoption and social media success.

Just Three Words About How You Feel About Social Media

2.   Name It and Claim It: In every technology training I’ve done over the past 15 years, I’ve incorporated talking about the techno stress and fear.  Here’s one from the early 1990’s when nonprofits were first adopting email and other Internet tools. Just yesterday, I started a training with “Just Three Words” about how you feel about social media.   I create a word cloud and then we deconstruct it.

3.   Share Success Stories of Other Organizations: Do a scan of what other similar nonprofits are doing are social media, particularly organizations that work in your sector.   Present their stories.   Also, it is useful to share some of the wild success stories.

4.   Identify Influencers Inside Who Are With You: Maybe your executive director is very skeptical and everyone is terrified to even bring up the “S” word. (Social Media).   Identify people in your organization who are open to social media and have influence.     Think of social media adoption as an internal social change process.

5.  Apologize, Don’t Ask for Permission: Ten or 15 years ago, when e-learning was just in its infancy, we talked about “under the radar” adoption or what Jeremiah Owyang described as the “tire” approach.    This is where a small group would implement a low risk project and then show upper management results.   It is an  approach that has been used by social media early adopters like Carie Lewis from the Humane Society.

Several years ago, The Underground Secret Guide To Social Media Adoption for Organizations was a popular read by early adopters.    While stealth adoption can help you get started, you need to have the whole organization on board to really scale.

6.   Have Your Social Media Elevator Pitch Ready: A social media elevator pitch is a sound byte that talks about how social media will realistically help your organization reach its objectives.  Wendy Harman from the Red Cross has a good one:  “We use social media to help make our mission more efficient = to get stakeholders to be our ambassadors on social networks.”

7.   Do Internal Road Shows: This is important in larger organizations.   You need to put together a brief social media roadshow that talks about how your organization is using social media to reach its mission.   It has to be realistic and frame social media not as cools tools, but effective strategies for reaching objectives.  Here is an example from Pre-School California.

8.   Practice Behind The Firewall: Some leaders may have stage fright about social media and making public mistakes.  One way to get past this is to have staff use social media behind the firewall to harness the conversation about social media adoption.   Some organizations have used Yammer! (a private Twitter like application) to get more comfortable with Twitter or internal blogging.

What have you found that works that helps your organization take the first steps towards social media adoption?

7 Responses

  1. Bill Pratt says:

    Beth, Just got my copy of TNNP and have started reading it. Once finished, Patty White, Communications Director of the Montana Nonprofit Assoc., and I will get together to chat about it. I would hope that it has lots of applicability to our low population, very geographically large state.

    Thanks to you and Allison for putting the energy into creating TNNP.

    Will get back to you with comments once I’ve had a chance to digest it.

    Good work from a former Arts Wire board member. Those were the days my friend…. when electronic dinosaurs roamed the earth.


    Bill Pratt

  2. Wendy says:

    The thing that has been most influential internally for us is simply sharing some of the conversation. We gather 15-20 blog, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter mentions each day and share them widely in an email.

    Once the scaredy-cats see that people are already talking about things we care about, they’re much more interested in having a say. Then you’ve got em! Continue with education and hand them the reigns to participate. Then they’ll see pretty quickly not only that the sky didn’t fall but that they got value out of the conversation and made a positive impact.

    In the end not everyone will want to participate but you can certainly demonstrate the value so that you don’t experience fear anymore.

  3. Beth says:


    Wow, a blast from the past. I recently recounted some of my Arts Wire experience. My social media work – reminded me of Arts Wire and that’s why it felt so good. Remember all those fabulous conversations we had way back when?

  4. […] Organisationen, egal ob Unternehmen oder soziale Einrichtungen, scheinen immer noch Angst oder zumindest Skepsis gegenüber Social Media zu haben. Zu unwohl fühlen sich die […]

  5. Chris Wilder says:

    Beth, this is so great. We’ve used these tactics in ramping up social media for our hospital charitable foundation, with exciting results.

    But it took the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach at times…and of course, if you don’t tell the “powers that be” about your plans, and they are successful, they get to take credit for it all anyway.

    I’m the boss at my agency, and I encourage my staff to share their ideas with me only after they’ve either taken off or fallen flat. I’m rarely disappointed.

  6. Great article — very helpful!

  7. […] is also evidence in this post how some Networked Non-Profits deconstructed their social media […]