This is the fourth in a series of articles about social media and Scouting; here’s the introduction, a post about youth protection issues, my guidelines for appropriate behavior and content. Also be sure to read the B.S.A. Social Media Guidelines.
Getting the word out is a constant challenge to all of us. We want to keep Scouts and their families informed, make records and administrative functions accessible and promote Scouting to potential Scouts.
A lot of trail and error have led me to conclude that:
1. Every Social media tool requires three commitments from the administrator
- Learning – It’s all supposed to be very simple, and on the face of it it is but every social media tool has a learning curve.
- Maintaining – Administrators must make regular updates and messages are crucial to effectiveness. People will not monitor online resources that are not updated on a regularly scheduled basis.
- Monitoring – administrators must monitor social media tools with two-way communication regularly ( usually several times a day) to be used responsibly.
2. Every social media tool requires three commitments of the user
- Users also must learn how to use the social media tools you choose for communicating.
- Users have to monitor their account to receive information.
- Users have to act on the information they receive.
3. Social Media is (at best) supplementary method of communication.
Social media tools can be an effective supplementary method of communication but it can’t be relied on as the sole method of communication.
When we publish information using social media tools we haven’t closed the loop; we’ve just tagged someone with the information. I often remind my youth leaders that unless they have actually spoken with the person for whom the message is intended they cannot assume that they have closed the loop and communicated with them:
|Method||Effectiveness||Is the Loop Closed?|
|Post on social media network||+||no|
|Post on the website||++||no|
|Send an email||++||no|
|Leave a phone message||+++||no|
|Speak one-to-one by phone||++++||yes|
|Speak in person||+++++||yes|
If this is true our time is probably better spent making phone calls than maintaining websites or composing email. But social media tools can be useful and, as habits and technologies evolve these tools will likely become even more important.
4. Administrators should be few and must have clear guidelines.
When questions are asked there must be an authoritative answer. If everyone can participate in the discussion there’s a pretty good chance of misinformation. Two different answers to a simple question like “Do we meet at [6:00] PM this event?” can cause a lot of havoc.
Multiple administrators must agree on anything posted for general distribution. Any information should be proofed and approved by at least two people.
Here’s my assessment of some of the social media tools I have used:
|Social Media Tool||Examples||Cost||LC||D||C||MOD||MAN||Comments|
|$$$||++||3||8||8||8||Best option for most units|
|Self Published Websites||Many options||$$$||++++||3||8||8||10||More flexible but more costly to establish and maintain|
|0 – $$$||++||5||6||10||10||High moderation and maintenance. Variable features follow costs|
|Self-published Blogs||Many options||$$$||++++||5||6||10||10||High cost, moderation and maintenance.|
|Podcasts||Self-produced||$$||++++||5||6||10||10||Commitment of time to maintain and produce|
|Pictures and Video||YouTube
|0-$||+||5||5||8||5||Good way to promote and record activities.|
|Social Networking Sites||Facebook
|0||+++||8||3||10||10||Must be constantly monitored and maintained.|
||0-$$||+||8||10||5||5||Best direct methods easier to learn, moderate and maintain.|
|Forums, Bulletin Boards, Email Lists||Many options||0- $$$||++||5||5||5||5||High user commitment to monitor for information.|
|LC =Learning Curve, D = Discussion potential (two way communication), C = effective one-way communication, MOD = Time required to moderate, MAN= Time required to maintain.|
I’ve highlighted the choices I think are the most useful. My choices are based on the time required to learn, maintain and moderate and the likelihood that your intended audience will receive the information you publish and act on it.
A hosted website (one that is basically just a template that you fill in with your unit specific information) is a good option for most of us. I’ve designed and maintained self-published websites for our troop and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. Hosted sites won’t have broad design choices but they’ll have many more features and be simpler to learn and maintain.
After a lot of looking around and comparing hosting options I chose SOAR (Scouting Online, Affordable & Reliable) for our Troop. SOAR offers a pretty seamless integration with Troopmaster records so we only have to maintain one central set of records. SOAR also enables setting up individual user accounts so personal information is only available to folks with a user ID and password. SOAR is still a pretty closed system (photo sharing is clunky and there’s no way to share with iCal or Google Calendars) but these are small drawbacks.
I also choose email as the most effective, reliable way to publish information directly. Nearly everyone has an email address and monitors their email frequently. SOAR offers an eBlast feature that creates a weekly email automatically from the calendar and any other updated content on the site. It’s a weekly Troop newsletter and it has proven to be very effective. SOAR sends these emails out under an alias (basically just a forwarding address) that returns any questions or comments to the original sender and does not send them to everyone on the list.
I don’t find blogs, podcasts, or social media tools like Twitter or Facebook useful for effective for unit-based communication. The maintenance and monitoring demands are too high for administrators and users alike to be as reliable as email.
One-on-one, live communication remains the only way 100% reliable method to share information with Scout and families. Other methods are useful but can only supplement people actually speaking to people.