Discovering Rotation Curation Twitter Accounts

Image In June 2008 I had a debate with my friend Anna Rose at a party in Washington DC. Twitter was going to be bigger than Facebook she insisted. Don’t be preposterous I responded, Twitter is a total waste of time. My argument lacked credibility though as I hadn’t even bothered to join Twitter. So, that night, I did, determined to be able to come back and say I gave it a go and it was just as bad as I imagined.

And here I am, 24,000 tweets later. Twitter still isn’t bigger than Facebook but in many ways it might be having a bigger cultural impact today. Certainly it has proved to be an enduring, valuable and fun social content platform. Twitter is undoubtedly my favourite social network. While Facebook’s utility is keeping me in touch with the people I care about, Twitter’s is keeping me in touch with the conversations and issues I care about, allowing me to connect with new people, share ideas and learn from a global community of changemakers. So thanks for the encouragement Anna!

One of the things that I find so interesting about Twitter is what people do to deal with its constraints, that unforgiving 140 characters. Limitations can be great spurs for creativity, and so it has been with Twitter, from url shorteners to the TweetLonger service. Despite these limitations people have used Twitter for a vast array of purposes. Hashtags were invented to thread conversations together, then used to hold are surprisingly sophisticated real-time conversations (one of which is #SocEntChat, still going strong five years after I launched it at Ashoka). The Israeli embassy held a press conference by Twitter. Interviews have been conducted, protests have been organised. It’s been threaded into and used to cover live events, to break news, to connect thought-leaders and celebrities more directly with their fans.

One of my favourite newish approaches to using Twitter as a storytelling medium is “rotation curation” accounts. These accounts shared on a usually weekly basis, rotating through members of a particular city, country or profession. The Governments of Scotland and Sweden got the trend going apparently, with @Sweden for example hosted by a different Swede each week, seemingly uncensored. Over a period of time it makes for a fascinating snap-shot of Swedish tastes and interests and some of the individual hosts are great characters.

In Australia these accounts sprung up first across cities and then sectors. The first I became of was @WeMelbourne and then @WeTasmania, both managed by Sarah Stokely. I’m always excited by anything which gets interesting stories beyond the usual suspects, and these accounts function as a wonderfully eccentric and diverse forum for people whose stories and perspectives are otherwise heard by just a few.

My favourite rotation curation account would have to be @IndigenousX. The founder Luke Pearson shared the story of how the account evolved at the opening of the Changemakers Festival in Sydney. At first it was just his own Twitter account, and he tweeted about all things “indigenous excellence” (hence the X). But as he started to build a following he realised the account itself could be a platform for lots of different voices from his community, lots of different perspectives on what’s excellent and important to indigenous Australians.

Since then the account has been managed by over 50 different Indigenous Australians, which as Luke pointed out is more than many white Australians currently meet in a lifetime, and has formed a partnership with the Guardian Australia to further spread these stories.

I’m proud to say that IndigenousX also recently partnered with StartSomeGood to launch Australia's first dedicated crowdfunding initiative for indigenous projects.

The following accounts all participated in the Changemakers Festival by featuring people working to create change in some way: @WeAreAustralia, @WeAreSydney, @WeMelbourne, @WeTasmania, @WeAreADL, @IndigenousX.

I actually had the reigns of @WeAreAustralia myself from November 4-11. It took more work than I expected to keep up a second interesting (I hope!) Twitter feed, and to respond to the wonderful level of interaction the account gets. I regularly asked questions and would get a dozen thoughtful responses worth retweeting, ranging on can’t-miss places in Australia to what people would choose to change about their communities. It was a lot of fun, and seemed to deliver on the key premise of these accounts, which is to connect unalike people. This is something which is critically valuable and quite rare in social media.

Photo by Mr Thomas made available on a creative commons license.

What has travel taught you?


As part of my participation in the zooGooder fundraising challenge December 2-9, for which I'm supporting Global Lives Project (find out more), I wanted to share why I'm so passionate about travel and why I think Global Lives Project shares some of the important insights of travel to those who may not have the chance otherwise. But rather than just having me blather on and on about travel I thought it'd be much more fun to hear from all of you as well!

So, a little fun: Please join me in sharing what travel has taught you using the #travelteaches hashtag on Twitter. Travel is such a powerful experience which I have personally taken so much from, and I know it's meant a lot to many of you also. I'd love to hear your stories and perspectives. So let's see if we can get a good conversation going and encourage others to use the hashtag and join in as well.

If you're not a Twitter user please leave a comment here instead!

I'll collate all tweets and comments in this post, so hopefully it will grow over the course of the week. Or I'll just be quoting myself, we'll see! :)

Space permitting please link to this page using

Find out more about my Global Lives Project fundraiser.


@gunyahtravel: Not to immediately think every taxi driver is a crook going to overcharge you! Life lesson; book, cover, judge.

@philosert: #travelteaches tolerance.

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me that rice is for breakfast, the pyramids r not lego, smiles r universal, personal space is subjective, & camels are smelly

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me to love - the call to prayer, the chiming of church bells, the symbols in a synagogue, the eternity in a prayer wheel

@tomjd: #travelteaches me to be slow and still, to allow wisdom to emerge at its own pace. I find this only happens out of the city.

@noboundariesorg: The world is safer, friendlier, more inexpensive and more welcoming than most people are lead to believe.

@tomjd: #travelteaches me that there are many paths to the same destination, that there's no "right" way of doing things.

@BonnieKoenig: With eyes & ears wide open, travel always introduces new perspectives & ways of viewing the world.

@memeshift (shared in comments): Traveling brings you presence. When traveling about, switching your cultural operating systems between the different spaces you inhabit as you merge, blend, depart and float can do a lot as you get acclimated to the different senses of time, speed and cultural nuances in each inhabitation. It shifts and frees your perception of things to not be so attached to particular ways of life, however pleasurable or not.

BonnieKoenig (in comments): Every trip I’ve taken to another country, no matter how short or long, has opened my eyes to a different perspective that I had not thought about before. It can come from observing people, reading a local paper or hearing a radio report, or more in depth conversations or experiences. It’s a cliche, but true, that nothing else can really replace the learning experience that travel affords. Of course, one gets back what one puts in, and honing one’s observations and listening skills and being open to new learning is important.

@GeoffLiving: Travel teaches me the broadness of the universe, how amazing it is, and what a small role I have in it.

@EdwardHarran: Travel teaches me how to find extraordinary in the ordinary, it helps me embrace chaos and stay present wherever I might be.

@amvandenhurk: how we are all interconnected.

@c_rawlins: #travelteaches the many different definitions of happiness that exist, and how few of them relate to possessions.

@vibewire: #travelteaches a different perspective, a new view to admire.

@noboundariesorg: Cultural and language differences aside, we are all much more similar than we're led to believe.

@k8alexandra: #travelteaches me that we are all different and all the same. It also taught me that Lao people make the most amazing Indian food.

@sarahjansencom: #travelteaches there are as many versions of 'normal' as there are people on the earth.

Alex Budak (in comments): If I had to find one common lesson from my travels it’s that we are all so much similar than we are dissimilar. From a farmer I met in rural India to an Icelandic fisherman, after speaking with them I realized that there is so much more that connects us than separates us. While that may seem obvious to those that have traveled, before I left home and explored I would have certainly thought the opposite. It’s also taught me to be humble, ask questions (lest I experience another fiasco like trying to figure out German washing machines), and learn from everyone I meet!

Alice (via Facebook): There's not really any such thing as 'translation': Another language is not another way of saying the same thing - it's a different way of thinking.

Marian (via Facebook): Everyone loves a good laugh, women work HARD, everyone has to deal with the same shit, how to hold onto my pee for a really long time, there is a lot of plastic lying around, there are hidden deep corners of our world where nature rules and maybe we shouldn't go there.

Matt (via Facebook): People are cool and we should just get along.

Awesome stuff, thanks so much everyone who participated!

#4Change Chat wrap-up: How Social Media Can Enhance Events

Cross-posted from the 4Change blog:

On March 18 the #4Change Twitter Chat took on the topic of 'How Social Media Can Enhance Events.' This topic seemed particularly apropos with the chat taking place immediately after the annual SXSW takeover of Twitter, and soon before the Non-profit Technology Conference and Skoll World Forum, two other conferences with an oversized online presence. Social media at events has also been on my mind recently with Ashoka hosting Tech4Society in Hyderabad India and the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington DC, both more social media-enabled than any previous Ashoka-organized events.

It is almost hard to imagine these days a significant event not having a social media component, whether this is simply individuals in the room tweeting or a resourced effort by the host. So the question is not, as it once was, “will social media be created?” but rather “will this social media enhance the event?”

As Christina Jordan posed in the pre-chat blog post, What’s the potential benefit of using social media to cover events? For whom?

Numerous benefits of a conscious strategy to utilize social media at events were suggested by chat participants including taking the stories and examples being shared to a wider (and more diverse) audience, allowing organizers and the cloud see what is resonating with attendees and creating a back-channel for attendees to interact and debate, as well as allowing those not in attendance to feed their points of view into this discussion. This can often allow people to say what isn't being said out-loud in the room, as well as giving those unable to attend physically some sense of participating in and benefiting from the event. Social media can also assist with documentation, capturing key thoughts and currents during the day and allowing them to be looked back over afterwards. For the vast majority of events there will be no mainstream media coverage: only social media will carry and record the outcomes of these gatherings beyond the immediate attendees.

Concerns were also expressed however at the possible distraction and disruption at events, with TED pointed out as an example of an event that doesn't allow tweeting during sessions.

So what are the key elements of a successful event social media strategy? 4 key elements were identified: Preparation; Resourcing; Aggregation and; Integration.

1. Preparation. Preparation, as with most things, is critical to get the maximum impact from your social media efforts. Tags should be identified and distributed to all participants beforehand, inviting them to take part in creating content on the day. Create groups for photos and videos to be shared and be careful to choose a twitter hashtag not already in use. If you're doing live streaming test thoroughly. Prepare widgets for deployment.

2. Resourcing. It requires a dedicated person to effectively create social media at an event, whether they are live tweeting, live blogging or uploading video and photos. Multiple dedicated people will be required to do all of these things. Having at least one person exclusively focused on the online conversation allows multiple threads to be pulled together and background information identified. For example at the recent TEDxAshokaU event I was tweeting links to the profiles of the Ashoka Fellows as they spoke, providing crucial additional information to anyone intrigued by the quotes emanating from the room.

3. Aggregation. With most successful events generating a considerable volume of diverse social content aggregating this into one place where it can be easily accessed is critical. Most people felt that this was a job best done manually by a discerning staffer or volunteer (another resourcing issue). An example of this sort of aggregation is the Tech4Society coverage page, updated daily during the event with new blog posts and videos and containing a Twitter widget displaying the #tech4soc stream.

4. Integration. If you are integrating social media into the live event experience it needs to be seamless and well managed. Screens with running twitter streams can be very distracting to participants and presenters. On the other hand they can also provide a platform for sourcing questions, generating discussion or even choosing the agenda. If you are capturing video during the day can this be presented back to participants at the end of the day as a way of summarizing proceedings?

Video was touted as an increasingly important tool in all its forms: live streaming, rapidly-produced interviews and audience reactions and better-produced videos of presentations ala TED. It was also pointed out however that video poses particular bandwidth issues, making it inaccessible to view or event get online in many parts of the world. As a real-world example of this we were unable to upload videos as planned from Tech4Society in India due to bandwidth limitations.

At the end of the chat participants were asked for their takeaways, as is customary: @Nidhi_C: takeaway: when planned, #socmedia can play role of a valuable audience participant, add spice to discussion, & connect @liadavide: Takeaway: SM is a great tool but still has some way to go especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure @karitas: takeaway: if prepared/promoted right, SM can bring live/remote participants 2gether, & add fun/useful layers 2 experience. @tashjudd: takeaway - social media has fundamentally changed who audience of an event can be, possibilities are much wider now @christinasworld: my takeaway - preplanning of a #socialmedia strategy is really important @amysampleward: takeaway: sm at events has 3 audiences: presenters, present audience, remote audience. create value in/out 4 all.

My takeaway? An event without a social media strategy is a wasted opportunity. Events now provide a platform much bigger than the event itself, allowing more people to participate in the conversation and experience elements of the content. While live experiences are unique and essential social media is a lever to push the impact of the event beyond those in attendance.

Additional resources: Social Media Enabling Conferences: A Tech4Society Case Study (Netsquared) A Few Reflections from SXSW Crowdsourcing Panel (Beth's Blog) 3 Ways Live Events Help Online Communities (Mashable) Social Reporters toolbox (Delicious)

Twitter to change Suggested Users list

As I wrote about at the time, Ashoka was fortunate to have been placed on the Twitter  Suggested Users list in early October. The power of this list is amazing. We had about 9,000 followers when added, now we're over 150,000. You can see the effect here. However, most of these new followers are not choosing to follow Ashoka, they are simply accepting Twitter suggestions for 300 people to follow to kick off their twitter experience. And it's a very diverse/random list, ranging from politicians both left and right (although there have been complaints about twitter favoring Democratic politicians), lots and lots of celebrities of the music, film and sport variety, twitter developers, business entrepreneurs and a bunch of tweeters chosen by company insiders as interesting.

Media outlets are now reporting that Twitter is planning to "kill" the Suggested Users list. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said at a conference recently that the list was "going away" and "in its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions." This, to me, doesn't sound like "killing", but rather a much-needed update to the Suggested Users model to something that will help people find users who are relevant to their interests, making their Twitter experience more relevant and enjoyable. Currently the list is too large, too broad and too celebrity-heavy to be a truly useful jumping-off point for most people.

What I'm hoping will happen is a simple change to add categories to the Suggested Users list. Instead of being show the entire list when you sign up you should be asked "What are you interested in?" and given the choice to tick categories such as "Celebrities", "Sports", "Non-profits", "Technology", "Businesses", etc. You could choose all of them, and end up with the full list as it currently stands, but I suspect that most people would choose only a few of the categories and so get a much smaller, more focused list of people to start following.

In this way Twitter can still highlight some valuable users, and help new tweeters get over the hump when you join and have nothing in your stream, in a higher-value more contextual way. It could even be a revenue stream for Twitter (we all know they need one or two of those) if they charged businesses to appear on the "Business" list. Most lists, such as "non-profits" (or, better language, "citizen sector organizations"), should not be sold however if they are to retain any credibility.

If this change was implemented it would certainly slow down the growth rate of the Ashoka account, but those that did end of following us would be much more likely to be interested in our work, and thus more likely to participate in or support this work in some way. As importantly it would be better for the new Twitter user as it would help them to pick their filters and craft their twitter experience in a way that is meaningful and interesting to them. This, then, would hopefully reduce the significant burn rate of new accounts (people joining, updating once if at all and then abandoning the service).

It's a new model, not death, that the Suggested Users list needs.

The power of suggestion

On Friday last week Twitter added a collection of non-profit accounts to their Suggested Users list, seeming to focus on social entrepreneurship, including both organizations and individuals. These new Suggested Users included:

This was met with general acclaim in the non-profit blogosphere. Nathaniel Whittemore,'s Social Entrepreneurship blogger, went so far as to suggest that a listing could be worth $1 million.

On Tuesday a second set of non-profits were added to the list, this time including @AshokaTweets, which I run, and Ashoka's @Changemakers. Since then we've added over 10,000 new followers each.

The rate of increase really is quite amazing. I had worked diligently since January building an engaged community of 6,500,  sustained participation leading to consistent, organic growth. When I realized what was happening by Wednesday late morning we where already over 10,000. As of this writing, late Thursday evening, we have passed 17,000.

This gives rise to several thoughts.

As exciting as the growing count is these new followers are clearly less valuable in purely business terms than those who found us because they are overtly interested in Ashoka, social entrepreneurship, or social change. These original followers are self-consciously interested in what we have to say, and a decent number of them will check out articles or vote in competitions on our suggestion. In other words, they're engaged.

These new followers, on the other hand, have agreed to kick off their twitter experience by following a wildly diverse group of 300ish Suggestions Users, including a preponderance of celebrities and sports people but also twitter developers, journalists and newspapers, blogs and bloggers, online and offline businesses, business and social entrepreneurs. They may or may not be interested in what we have to say, they haven't consciously chosen to follow us, they just want to be following someone, and Twitters suggestions will do.

Equally, this group of new users are probably those mostly likely to quite twitter quickly. In February it was reported that 60% of twitter users quit within a month. As many as a third who get so far as to send a tweet never make it to their second. People who join twitter without a clear idea of what they want to get out of it, what sort of information they want to plug into, are probably those most likely to quit. So it seems inevitable that we will end up with many thousands of abandoned accounts padding our follower count.

But this is all really besides the point. Regardless of how many of our followers are no longer checking twitter there will be many, hopefully more, who are. And even if the majority of new followers are not currently focused on social entrepreneurship, some will be, and some will discover a new interest or passion.

This, indeed, is the ultimate opportunity for a citizen sector organization of placement on the Suggested Users list. Non-profits are always discussing how we can stop "preaching to the converted" and escape our silo. Well here's the chance, tens of thousands of people who don't yet know about your organization or cause but who, with good messaging and sustained effort, can be inspired to be your next generation of supporters, new members of your movement, the boost you need to reach a tipping point of awareness around an issue. In other words it is the fact that they didn't go looking for us that gives these new connections a different, and unique, value.

Ashoka's mission is to create an Everyone a Changemaker world, a world where everyone has the support and skills to create change in their community. Such a mission requires that we seek out opportunities to reach a wider audience and being added to the twitter Suggested Users list is an amazing opportunity to speak to larger, wider, more diverse audience and inspire them to imagine the future they would like to create, and then to take action to bring it about.

Thanks twitter!

Ashoka's approach to Twitter

This was written as a guest post for Beth Kanter's blog, exploring how Ashoka is fulfilling our mission on Twitter: AshokaTweets homepage screenshot

Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is relatively new to Twitter, having launched our main account, @AshokaTweets only in January. However in that time we’ve worked hard to build a community nearing 6,000 connections, sharing our news and stories in new ways and convening conversations that matter. This post will explain how we have approached Twitter and what we have learned.

But first, some back story:

Ashoka was founded on the belief that social entrepreneurs are the most powerful force changing the world. For almost 30 years Ashoka has been seeking out and supporting the best innovators working to create systemic change to join the Ashoka Fellowship. Supporting these visionary leaders, raising the profile of their work and facilitating collaborations and sharing has allowed many to pursue a life of changemaking, scaling their impact and, in many instances, affecting national policy in addition to thousands of members of their communities.

After 29 years of electing over 2,000 incredible social entrepreneurs as Fellows we have been able to observe some powerful themes in their work. And the most significant is this: great social entrepreneurs empower their communities, and invite and inspire those around them to become changemakers themselves.

With this insight we gained a deeper appreciation for the fact that innovation happens at many levels and we saw more clearly the kind of world we were working to create, a world many of our Fellows are leading towards, one in which every person has the opportunity to create positive change in their community, and where our collective intelligence and initiative will allow solutions to outrun the challenges we face. This led to our new tagline and mission, creating an Everyone a Changemaker™ world.

It was this mission that drew me to Ashoka, and which drew Ashoka to me. Building an Everyone a Changemaker™ world is a very different mission from simply looking for the world’s elite social entrepreneurs, it involves using the stories and examples of these entrepreneurs to inspire people to action, sharing lessons learned across our networks and opening up the innovation process to more people. This called for a new approach to outreach and communications and led to me joining Ashoka last year in a new position of Digital Marketing Strategist.

Our recently re-launched website is to most high-profile example of Ashoka’s new approach to building community and fostering innovation, but so too is the work we are doing in social media and, in particularly Twitter.

The question we asked ourselves when we were planning to launch a Twitter account was: how could we use Twitter to help build an Everyone A Changemaker™ world? In thinking about this question we realized that one of Ashoka’s most important roles as the oldest and largest organization focused on Social Entrepreneurship was as convener, that we have the opportunity to bring together diverse insights and experiences to help map the most effective way forward in tackling many of the world’s most pressing challenges. We wanted to continue to play this role on Twitter.

In addition I felt it was important that we be as human as possible, highlighting not only our Fellows but our staff, and empowering them to be more effective advocates. This was also the chance to share news in a more timely fashion, as well as to proactively reach out and form connections, answer questions, and spark conversations.

Our goals, therefore, where to:

-be timely;

-be human;

-be proactive;


Timely means sharing our news rapidly, as it came in, rather than simply crafting careful news stories for our website at a rate of no more than one a week. It means monitoring the online conversations about social entrepreneurship and issues we care about (we now use M|Buzz from Meltwater to help us do this) and directing attention to news hits and interesting blog posts. It means responding to questions rapidly and directing people to where they can find the information they are looking for.

The goal of being human has led me to run several Introduction to Twitter seminars and webinars for our staff. We currently have over 45 of my colleagues on Twitter where they are sharing their passion for our work and growing our reach and connections exponentially. The next step will be to integrate this onto our website where soon you will be able to see a list and live stream of all our staff on Twitter, along with one for our Fellows. Ashoka does such a diversity of work, from eHealth projects to new social change financing models, it’s impossible for a single person like me to accurately represent it. Now those with the knowledge and passion for these topics can participate themselves, in their own words, in the conversations of relevance to them, bringing new ideas back into the organization and better informing the wider sector on what we’re up to.

Being human also means acknowledging who the person behind an organizational Twitter handle is. The bio of AshokaTweets says “Tweets by @tomjd and friends”.

Being proactive certainly rules out using RSS feeds to populate our Twitter feed (with one exception, set up purely for that purpose and soon to be phased out). Each tweet is hand-crafted and relevant to our audience, something we checked by asking our followers want sort of information they wanted from us in a poll. We also participated in conversations with organizations such as Skoll Foundation, Social Actions and to agree on some shared hashtags to denote our areas of work, which led to widespread adoption of #socent for Social Entrepreneurship. We also use Twitter to proactively reach out and respond to comments about Ashoka, social entrepreneurship and social change

Finally, in considering how to use Twitter to convene conversations that matter we came up with the ideas of a monthly real-time discussion on Twitter, #SocEntChat, short for Social Entrepreneurship Chat. #SocEntChat takes place on the first Wednesday of every month from 4-6pm US EST (although the recent chat on Rural Innovation in Africa and India was moved to a more Africa and India-friendly time of 12-2 US EST) focused on a specific topic. Recent chats have looked at green entrepreneurship, mobile innovation and building cultures of social entrepreneurship on university campuses. We have had contributors from North America, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and Australia, representing entrepreneurs, staff from large non-profits, activists, enthusiasts, bloggers and more. Conversations focus on next steps and areas for further exploration. All the transcripts can be accessed from our Squidoo Lense.

The next #SocEntChat is being held on Wednesday September 2 on the topic of Rethinking Mental Health. We would love you to join us.

We still have a lot to learn about Twitter and the microblogging medium will continue to evolve in interesting ways. What is clear is that a platform that allows people to connect with one another and talk about the things they care about is a platform made for social change, a place where we can build constituencies and communities capable of collaboratively creating a better future. In other words, a place for changemakers.

#4change wrap-up: collaboration and social media

I've been meaning to write a wrap-up of the #4change chat on collaboration for the week since it happened. My apologies for the delay, I'm still getting into the routine of blogging and Burning Man preparation has completely taken over ever available hour outside of work and a necessary minimum of socializing. I'll tell you all about it before I depart – in a week! Anyway....

Thank you to @lethalsheethal for her excellent and vastly more timely reflection on the chat. Having just discovered it I'd like to recommend as creating by far the most digestible (and printable, naturally) twitter transcript (ht @writerpollock).

The topic of the most recent #4change chat was “How does social media open new doors for collaboration?” It was a vibrant and thought-provoking conversation, in my opinion the best #4change chat we've had so far.

There is no question that social media has created enormous new collaborative possibilities. Some of these are in the sharing of data, such as the Social Entrepreneurship API being developed by Social Actions and the merging of the North American green business databases of Gen Green (@gengreen) and 3rd Whale (@3rdwhale), which was announced at the start of the chat. This was interesting and welcome news, but business alliances of this type are not uncommon. What, we wondered, where the unique collaborative capacities of social media?

@engagejoe summed up some of these possibilities as “exposing overlap, sharing resources, connecting communities, forging partnerships.” These things are not unique to social media but they are native to it – social media makes overlap and waste more transparent, speeds up information sharing and relationship-building and can increase the impact of collaborations. Messages can be shared between communities and networks both real-time and ad-hoc. And as #4change itself demonstrates conversations can be convened that were never possible before.

But how much of this is happening? And if these possibilities are not being realized what are the barriers standing in the way?

The conversation part seems easiest. It is, by definition, what social media facilitates. Making this conversations intentional, productive and constructive is harder, but we still see examples of this all around us, on forums and wiki's, blogs and microblogs, communities closed and open. These conversations can create new insights, understanding and relationships. And these conversations can lead to concrete action, from protests to petitions, fundraising to collaborative databases.

There was a real skepticism felt by some in the conversation about whether real work was being done online. This, of course, depends on what real work is to you, but most would agree that hearts and minds are a key part of most forms of social change and so anything that brings us into contact with each other in new ways has the ability to move us in new ways. As Michael Wesch said in his presentation at Personal Democracy Forum this year, “We know ourselves through our relationships with others. New media is creating new ways to relate.”

But to really scale-up the collaborative possibilities of social media we need to empower and lead our organizations to work together in new ways. As @ChristinasWorld said: “if we could get orgs and passionate people to start working together at a sector/issue level things will start to get exciting.” One key challenge to doing this, as @edwardharran pointed out, is that “social media is pocketed in silos.” While we might wish that this wasn't the case it is simply a fact of human existence that we build groups at all sizes, but that our closest communities are smaller and more digestible, whether on or offline (although the scale of what's digestible varies widely between these two states). With these distributed, frustratingly uncoordinated conversations also comes enormous space for innovation and creative thinking. However better search, aggregation and distribution is needed to reveal these conversations to each other in ways that support collaboration. We can see steps in this direction with WiserEarth groups showing related groups and Zanby which allows groups to connect while retaining their independence.

A schema began to emerge from the conversation which identified three distinct types of collaboration:

1. organization-to-organization

2. organization-to-individuals

3. individuals-to-individuals.

Again and again the majority of the examples brought up where the later two. For 2. you have organizations like the Sunlight Foundation who are harnessing the contributions of hundreds of coders to create their transparency tools and OneYoungWorld who are using social media to find 1500 leaders of tomorrow. You also have new tools which facilitate this form of collaboration in exciting new ways like The Extraordinaries. For 3. there are grassroots political fundraising campaigns and the entire open source movement.

(4. was also later suggested by @engagejoe: people-within-organizations. Any more?)

For 1. there is the previously-cited Social Actions-style data aggregation and sharing and some great examples of organizations collaborating around a social media-enabled campaign, such as the just-launched climate change campaign tcktcktck (@tcktcktc) but there was a clear feeling that much of this landscape remains to be filled out.

In discussing the barriers to better social media collaboration between non-profits people nominated time intensity vs staffing resources, fear, lack of connectivity in many parts of the world, desire to tightly control their message, geography and time zones and lack of skills as prime candidates. The need for clear strategy so as to not waste precious staff resources was also mentioned, along with the observation that many non-profits do not have the knowledge or experience to develop this strategy.

To close people were asked for their key takeaways from the conversation:

  • “There is a desire to evolve toward more collaborative outputs; SM [social media] may not be enough to get there” - @ChristinasWorld
  • “It's given me ideas about the barriers NP [non-profits] face with SM” - @chilli07
  • “I think #4change in itself is a great example of international collaboration” - @tashjudd
  • “Main takeaway: a sense of optimism. SM is not going anywhere and collaboration is only going to continue to get bigger and better” - @edwardharran
  • “SM can be chaotic but still work” - @zerostrategist
  • “I now see more kinds of collaboration: people-within-org, org-to-community, community-to-community, org-to-org” - @engagejoe

And if I could be so bold as to end on my own takeaway:

  • “We must learn to collaborate as individuals first, then teach our organizations how.”


Please let us know what topics you'd like to cover in future chats!