Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CityWatchLA - Lessons Learned

CityWatch, Oct 13, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 84

The impact of the impending Social Media Revolution is limited by the widespread lack of basic computer skills and it is imperative that we start at the beginning if we are to "Get Connected".

That was the lesson that Enci and I learned as we hosted two "Get Connected" sessions at the NC Congress on Saturday, presentations that covered an overview of the most popular Social Media tools and then strategies for putting them to use as outreach tools to create community. From the beginning, it was apparent that the biggest obstacle for neighborhood councils as they grapple with the websites, blogs, networking groups, and online communications was the simple fact that their "audience" has such varying levels of internet savvy. The message may be there but the audience is still adjusting the virtual "rabbit ears" and wondering "is this thing on?"

The "Get Connected" sessions were held in the Public Works Chambers, a wonderful venue filled with an eager and receptive audience and supported by a great crew from Channel 35 which made it a real pleasure to present "the 7 Secrets of Social Media" and "NC Strategies for Social Media." The first question gave us pause and made us realize how far from "Connected" we really are.

"What does the little button with the phone on it mean and will I get charged if I click on it?" one attendee asked as we attempted to dive into the sophisticated tricks of #hashtags and conversation searches. We paused as the audience member explained "I look at the screen but I'm afraid to click the buttons. What do they mean?" It was evident we had a long way to go and it was in the other direction!

Another guest simply asked "How do I make little pictures turn into big pictures? I can see the picture but I can't see what's in it!" Sophisticated strategies for linking photos, tagging photos and creating contribution groups are obviously lost when the audience can't see the results and again, we turned and went the other direction.

An NC Board Member asked how much some of the websites that we designed would cost and was shocked by the low prices explaining "We gave this guy $7500 for a web site and we still don't have anything to show for our money. We still don't have a website!" The websites we featured in our presentation were simple, inexpensive and allowed community contribution, and dispensed with the need for a webmaster. The Board Member shook his head and walked out of the room.

On Saturday, at the NC Congress, Enci and I learned as much or more than the most attentive and engaged members of the audience.

We learned that there are 89 neighborhood councils out there, all forging their own path in the world of the Wild, Wild Web. There is no guidance on sourcing for website creators, webmasters or web access. There is no legal guidance on NC Forums and the legality or illegality of activity within those forums. There is no Brown Act advice for activity within Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, Webinars and other online arenas which vary from open to moderated to closed.

Neighborhood councils receive no support or guidance or direction on one of the most basic NC expenses and one of the most vital tools, all while they are told to communicate faster, communicate better, communicate more effectively!

We learned that the individuals out there are struggling to connect with their families and friends. One guest at "Get Connected" asked if we could help him use the computer to find his relatives because there was a death in the family and he didn't know where to start. If the lack of basic access to the internet and the lack of simple computer skills is holding people back from simply chatting with their loved ones, what makes us think that more sophisticated social media tools is going to start an outreach revolution in the neighborhood council system?

We learned that simple fear of identity theft is an obstacle that is quite common and is preventing a large number of people from participating in Social Media opportunities but that a little guidance on privacy, security and controls can give people a great deal of confidence.

All this talk of NC Board members failing to take the online ethics training makes me wonder if the failure rate is simply because there are a lot of people who won't simple stand up and say "What button do I click?" There is a huge assumption out there that by tossing something up on a website, it is now universally accessible. I'm now firmly convinced that this couldn't be further from the truth.

If the neighborhood council system is to flourish and to reach its potential, it will happen because we connect and create a strong community and for that to happen, we must make sure that everybody has basic computer skills and simple access to the internet. Anything less allows for division and separation in our community.

If the neighborhood council system is going to get on the Social Media revolution, it is imperative that we start with internet access and computer skills, for everybody!

(Stephen Box … and his wife Enci … are experts on “Social Media” and the web world. They are the creators of Get Connected and have provided hours of help to neighborhood council members and other groups. Stephen Box writes for CityWatch and can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net) ◘

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