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TimeBank is a relatively young charity which has made a significant contribution to the 21st century revolution in the way that the voluntary sector and businesses approach charitable work – both individually and jointly. As TimeBank’s Head of Online and Tech, Damien Austin-Walker, was initially keen to see how he could apply social media concepts and methods to expand and reinforce the existing networks which patently contributed to the charity’s initial – and continuing – success. For Media140’s inaugural #charitytuesday guest post, he explains why he now believes that a separate “Social Media Strategy” may be something of a misnomer:
I joined Twitter myself in June 2007 and a month later, registered another Twitter account, on behalf of my organization TimeBank (a Volunteering Charity www.timebank.org.uk). As TimeBank, I tweeted just the once and did not return to the account until 12 months later.
My initial intentions were…..err….Well I am not sure exactly what they were for the @timebank account. Obviously, I wanted to protect the name but also I wanted to attempt something interesting, by applying social web concepts and methods to the world of volunteering. I had no idea what I would do, how I would do it or even what my aims were – apart from establishing us in this space – just in case it turned out to be beneficial. It was ‘there’ and I do like new toys, so I went away and practiced “as myself” first.
You have to put effort into Twitter, before you start seeing the value. The first benefits which became apparent were the extra depth it added to networking within my own sector(s) and enhanced sharing of information with partners and collaborators. I even feel it has changed the shape of the playing field with our so-called competitors: we are all partners now, on some level.
Embedding with strategy
A few early wins highlighted the potential of the social web and convinced us that there was value; it could help us meet our objectives. These first successes were not earth shattering but, considering the low level of resource so far applied, the signs are promising.
Some small but positive examples:-
- General thanks and positive comments: Such as – ICEurope: “Great day w/ @junction49 + @timebank – met some really inspiring young volunteers doing fantastic things in their communities!”
- A post linking to a video made for one of our projects received five retweets: over 50% of views of the video over a five-day period after the tweet were from Twitter and the video was liked so much by one re-tweeter that they asked if they could feature it in their monthly e-newsletter.
- A volunteer trying to give us some feedback messaged us via Twitter as her email had been blocked by our spam filter. Without this extra channel of communication, she would have received no response and assumed that we just didn’t care.
We have since gone on to build the “social” into our “strategy”. We don’t have a separate ‘Social Media’ strategy; instead, digital and social media are just some of a number of channels which are covered by our overall communications strategy which, in turn, is aligned with our organizational strategy.
We want to use our communications to:-
- Clearly convey our vision and mission
- Speak directly to people wanting to volunteer in a way which appeals to them
- Give us a distinct and strong position in the volunteering marketplace
- Support our strategy. Enable us to secure new partnerships and funding.
Our overall goals include:-
- Increased awareness
- To build an audience
- To keep that audience engaged through conversation and providing useful information
- Provide methods for audiences to interact with us to provide feedback, seek help and suggest ideas
- Increasing reputation
- Positioning as thought leader
- Ultimately making the sale – helping people to volunteer and gaining necessary funding
Each communication channel we use comes with its own tone and level of formality: some are more or less appropriate for different types of message. Our tone of voice on Twitter may be a more informal, ‘human’ voice than on other media. It also has a low-barrier of entry and so may be better suited to more ad-hoc feedback and ideas.
We have worked up a number of objectives within each channel and set some metrics against them. We regularly use Web and Twitter analytics tools to help us monitor and report on these. These include measuring referral traffic with Google Analytics and click-throughs of posted links using URL shortener services (such as bit.ly) measuring reach and influence (using tools like www.twitteranalyzer.com and www.twinfulence).
However, we don’t want to get caught up in the numbers (as Lloyd Davis asserts: “The ROI on using the social web is increased social capital, that’s all.”) – In the same way, we wouldn’t attempt to measure the effectiveness of every single telephone conversation we have. Yet we are a charity and getting value for money is very important. Assuring ourselves that our work is actually making a difference is part of this. We also identify risks and appropriate mitigation against these risks.
One thing we are particularly big on is transparency and doing what we say we will. Not only does this seem to be a big part of the current Zeitgeist, Social Media itself seems to have authenticity as an implicit part of its very fabric. Get rumbled as contrived and inauthentic by the Twitterverse and you are done for!
When TimeBank first launched back in 2000, one of its key tenets was making volunteering easy to get into. However, we now know it is not always particularly easy to volunteer. There is often training, CRB checks, and simply scheduling in your volunteering can all complicate the process. These days, we endeavour to be much more honest about what’s involved and we feel that this fits nicely with the ethos of the social web.
We aim to change the way people think about volunteering and the role it can play in helping solve social problems and building communities. By using social media we already have audiences who already have an interest in all things social and building communities.
As the real-time web continues to develop, new services are launched and adopted every day. Our intention is to remain flexible and thus be able to adopt a new service as and when it becomes popular and/or useful for us.
Policy Supporting Strategy
In the less interactive past, only selected spokespeople and press releases would give an official response or view. Increasingly however, staff throughout organizations use blogs, Twitter, on-line forums, Facebook and the like to talk about their work. As a result, social media is changing the ways in which we, as an organization, communicate. Staff may well feel anxious about whether they are saying the ‘right’ things or need approval or permission to use social networking to talk about their work.
So, we have a social media policy with the broad aim of:
- protecting TimeBank’s reputation. The public must be able to trust the integrity of TimeBank.
- give staff the confidence to use social media to generate interest in TimeBank.
We do not require staff to seek permission to speak about TimeBank at an event or on the phone, so we don’t think they need approval to use social media either.
However, social media makes it very easy to say things that can’t be retracted. And any content published on-line can be accessed around the world within seconds and will be publicly available for all to see. For this reason we emphasise the same level of care in how and what you say on-line as you would face to face, on the phone or by email.
By empowering individual staff to take responsibility for some of the messages we put out and, by delegating it down so that content is being distributed by the most relevant people closest to its original source, we can be more confident that we are being authentic.
Rather than using a policy to control and counteract fears of new technologies and methods, I believe using it to empower staff to support our strategic aims means it is as big a part of the strategy as any other. For me, it is definitely the most interesting…and I’m hoping the most effective.
TimeBank is a Volunteering Charity www.timebank.org.uk
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