Source: Sunflowers by Rebecca Broyles;

At TechForum Southwest 2009 on November 6, 2009, I get to facilitate a roundtable discussion about “Getting the Word Out to the Community with Social Networking Tools.” Not having facilitated a roundtable discussion before–face to face, isn’t that ironic?–I’m wondering about the structure of a roundtable.

Some of the roundtable discussions I’ve participated in start off with, “Ok, we’re going to be discussing [enter subject]. Let’s go around the table and get perspectives.” This sounds like a perfectly good way to get started, but then I find the challenge of wanting to participate in the discussion rather than just get caught up in listening to great perspectives others offer. My perspective is we need to aim for the heart of those we interact with, be useful, and encourage everyone to contribute to a mosaic of the organization.

With using Social Networking Tools, I want to share Seth Godin’s perspective within an educational organizational context. That is, if a school district is using social media tools, they have to do more than “Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel)” (read the rest of Seth’s blog entry).

In fact, if you had to characterize how school districts and organizations use tools like Twitter and Facebook, it might come look like this with Seth’s points as the main thrust of each example:

1) “Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.” Imagine a school district that ignores everything news organizations and others may have tweeted about it (since the content was “negative”) and instead chose to only tweet the comments that were positive. There is certainly some control going on there.

2) “Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).” Imagine a school district that sends out tweets that are links to press releases on its web site, feature a video that is only positive. The goal is to manage perception of others “out there” rather than be transparent and truthfully deal with the issues that are of real concern. The problem with the former approach rather than the transparent one is that people are going to talk about your organization, whether you like what they say or not.

3) “Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.” Every organization makes mistakes but admitting to them must be in the “No-No” book. In fact, it probably has something to do with legal liability because organizations are afraid to admit they are wrong and then take decisive action on it. Maybe it’s because decisive action has to be taken by one individual–the Superintendent–and that’s just something she/he is too busy to deal with.

Solution to these challenges? If you want to get the word out, don’t try to substitute your message about what’s going on with THEIR perception of what’s happening. Acknowledge their perception, negative or otherwise, focus on action taken, and share the effects of those actions…and empower everyone, unleashing every facet of your academic community (parents, students, teachers in classrooms) to speak up and do that.

Rather than a broken, fractured perspective, you may end up with a mosaic of what your organization is like…much more valuable, very engaging to the “creators!”

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure