Take me to the social web workshop, a report

When I met Beth Kanter after having read her blog for several years she made a real impression on me. It wasn’t just her committed personal activism, wide ranging knowledge and willingness to share, so much as her phenomenal connectedness that struck me. Set loose on the keyboard and she connects with people, for just causes.

During a one-day workshop after the Connecting Up 08 conference a small group of 20 or so got see what it means to be really connected online.

It soon became obvious she has formed connections online with hundreds and hundreds of people. These might be people she’s worked with in depth, somebody she chatted to at a conference, or just someone who has accidentally found her online.

When she needs to, as she did when fundraising for the Sharing Foundation in Cambodia, Beth will (carefully) reach out to her networks. At other times she’ll ask people for help with research for an article or presentation she’s making, or as the example she gave us, ask what is the best sim card to use in Australia.

I have no doubt this is reciprocal. Beth is happy for people to know about what she is doing and is very open about this. She blogs in several places, has a twitter account anyone can follow, is on facebook, has an avatar on second life and is out there in numerous other places too no doubt.

The types of relationships formed transcend any easy description. Friend, colleague, fellow-professional, neighbour, supporter? It’s hard to know how to describe members of the online network Beth has built up. It probably doesn’t matter, but what it suggests is that when you match the internet medium with trust and reciprocity you get a pretty powerful combination.

There might be a drawback to all this. It would seem that Beth lives a very online life. Perhaps one which means you’ve got to be stuck in front of a computer. Interminably.

As I’m Twitter-averse and Facebook challenged, I don’t imagine myself joining let along creating such networks. Even though they could be immensely valuable, my introspective side flares up when I think about it. This ultra connectedness is not for everyone. Nor should it be, for the internet really is about people having choice. However, I do now really understand the potential of creating networks, particularly for organisations.

There are ways of managing the temptations of constant, ubiquitous connectivity. Beth talked about how she keeps things under control. She has at times designated Twitter Tuesdays, or Facebook Fridays. And it’s obvious she communicates on her on terms (ie seldom instantly unless the time is right).

And before you think Beth is baring all (something she has done, see the Beth 5.0 flickr photo set), when we go online it’s obvious we only present the parts of ourselves we want others to see. That is, we use a persona. It’s a word that came out during the workshop as another online survival gambit.

So, what was it that we actually covered in the workshop? The day long session was a practical how-to advice on using social media, including a chance for Beth to share some of her frameworks.

Beth introduced a common sense framework for community and voluntary organisations wanting to use new online tools. The three basic steps are:

  1. Listen
  2. Join the conversation
  3. Experiment. Start by blogging.

Capturing what you learn as you go was considered pretty important. Beth suggested using a learning diary and saving material on a shared wiki or web page. Other participants suggested giving permission for team members to experiment with the web on the condition they report to the rest of the team.

The main point to underline is permission to explore social media in your own time, on your own terms.

You can take a look at the record of the workshop (and part instructional tool) at http://take-to-the-social-web.wikispaces.com.

My biggest takeaway (a north American colloquialism which stands in for “what I learned today”): online networks can involve new people and reinvigorate others to get active or give.

A loud happy yelp goes out to Beth, an avid dog lover. Thanks for coming all way down under.