Inspiring Institutions to Embrace Social Strategies: A Formula for Change

Over the next several weeks starting today, I will be featuring posts on the topic of inspiring change to prepare nonprofit organizations to adapt to social strategies. 

Within the last month (hence the hiatus), I graduated with my master of public administration and secured a terrific new work opportunity with a research and development company with the bulk of my work focused on zoos, aquariums, and museums. Or ZAMs, I’ve heard them called affectionately. I like that shortcut. ZAMs sound cutting edge and efficient, much like these institutions strive to be and often are, despite the historically bad rap of nonprofit sector operations.

The company I’m doing work for uses market data and predictive technologies to help organizations make strategic decisions. There are lots of numbers involved in this process, all holding terrific significance to the success or failure of a plan. My colleagues turn right brain theories turn into left brain equations. If math is the universal language, then it makes sense to think of equations as guiding principles for even basic operations. Like the nickname of ‘ZAMs,’ this mingling of left and right-brained thinking provides helpful shortcuts for simplifying complex ideas. For example, complex ideas like how to create change within both an organization and within society as a whole. On second thought, large-scale change may be an overwhelming place to begin. Let’s start with institutional change- more specifically, institutional change involving the incorporation of social media strategies into common practice… Let’s do this.

For the next several weeks starting today, I am going to attempt to aid nonprofits in embracing social innovation by introducing an equation for change (That’s the pretty equation at the top of this post, folks!)  I will provide resources to help organizations combat each of  the four biggest barriers to embracing the incorporation of social strategies: buy-in, uncertainty, radical trust, and resources. 

I created the image above based on a lesson in Professor Robert Myrtle’s Strategic Nonprofit Management course at the University of Southern California. I think it’s helpful to think about change in this way. It requires three, key ingredients that must add up to be greater than the barriers to change:

(a) Dissatisfaction with the status quo- When creating change, it helps when business-as-usual is failing and the people who will need to make change happen already know it. In order for change to happen, individuals must understand that something is indeed broken and must be fixed. But this doesn’t need to a literal thing that is broken; it can be an element of workplace culture. For instance,  in the case of sparking change toward creating social strategies, the ‘broken’ thing could be lack of periphery or a lack of vision. It could be a workplace culture that does not value innovation and keeping up with the times in regard to the increased connectivity and information share that is booming with the social media revolution. Folks must know that this element of negative workplace culture exists, and they must be unhappy about it.

This may be the hardest element of the equation to realize, because people often get comfortable with business as usual, and dissatisfaction with the status quo often doesn’t take place until after competitors have raised the bar. In other words, sometimes this dissatisfaction only happens after an organization realizes that they’ve been left behind. For instance, there are still museums that still don’t even have a Facebook account (11% of AZA organizations have 100 or fewer ‘likes’ as of May, 2011). Those museums may note experience dissatisfaction with the status quo until they realize that most other museums do have accounts– and more than that– that most other museums are experiencing increased ticket sales, membership rates, program enrollment, and monetary contributions in large part because of their embrace of social platforms. Workplace culture is very important for this reason. An organization that strives to evolve will feel dissatisfaction with the status quo faster than an organization that makes change a last resort. The former will create change in order to lead the industry. The latter will create only as much change as is necessary to remain relevant, or worse: to keep the doors open.

(b) An understanding of the desired future- In order to change, folks must have an idea of how they want the changed organization to function. Everyone should understand what that changed organization will look like. This is an important step in creating institutional buy-in for change. It requires a clear and compelling leadership team to communicate the vision and make it understandable to everyone in an organization. If you’re going on a trip to Europe, you’ll be much better prepared to make specific, actionable vacation plans if you know your stay will be in Italy. You’ll be even more prepared if you know that you’re spending your time in Rome. Similarly, if everyone works together to discover exactly where they are going (or would like to go), then everyone can work together to get there, and everyone can better relate to the organization’s vision because they understand it.

(d) And knowledge of the first step to get there- We’ve likely all heard Lao Tzu’s famous quote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hopefully, integrating social strategies into an organization’s general mentality won’t be a thousand-mile journey. Even if we call it a marathon of 26.2 miles (or a short 5k), understanding the first step is equally important. Plans and timelines are helpful. Social media strategies, though some smart folks say you don’t need one, can be helpful when explaining how integrating online communications will take place. These plans make goals feel more achievable, and the first step must be digestible and understandable. Returning to the topic of Rome, it wasn’t built in a day.

In order for change to take place, so the theory goes– and I think it’s a quite practical theory– these three elements (dissatisfaction with the status quo, an understanding of the desired future, and knowledge of the first step to get there) must be greater than the barriers to change. So what are those barriers for change in regard to integrating social strategies into museums, cultural centers, and other nonprofits? I’ve merged replies from a survey sent out to AZA organizations and my own understanding and experiences with obstacles to integrating social strategies and categorized them into four, main barriers:

1. Buy-in 

  • Does social technology contribute to our bottom lines?
  • How do you measure engagement?
  • What is the value of engagement

2. Uncertainty

  • What does a social strategy mean and why is it important?
  • How exactly do I use social tools?
  • What if we try it, and audiences aren’t engaged?
  • What are the rules for employees and where are personal and professional lines drawn?
3. Radical Trust
  • How do we control content?
  • What if someone says something bad about us?
  • What if someone shares incorrect information on our page?

4.  Resources

  • Who is going to run this?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Will we have to offer a lot of discounts?
Check back over the next four weeks to share your own words of wisdom regarding integrating social media and ‘thinking socially’ into an organization’s culture. Each week, a different barrier will be discussed. Please contribute with stories of your experiences or any aid that you might have so that we may help produce a helpful resource!
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 1 Comment

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

One Response to Inspiring Institutions to Embrace Social Strategies: A Formula for Change

  1. Emily Lu

    That seriously sounds like the most kickass job. Congratulations and hoping to hear more about it as you go!

     

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