What I Learn at Conferences (when I’m Presenting)

In the past few months, I’ve facilitated a number of workshops in the public health sector about the web and social media. I enjoy these sessions as I always learn from the delegates, as much as I hope they learn from me!

In the social media echo chamber (read: twitter), there is a lot of discussion about how to persuade organizations to embrace social media, by demonstrating ROI. As it turns out, the challenges faced by many of the folks I’ve spoken to (working in the non-profit or public health arena) are not those of internal buy-in so much as of resources ( in terms of personnel as well as technology). At the Public Health Preparedness Summit last week, the single largest concern about social media was about establishing the credibility of the source in a time of crisis. (the second greatest barrier of adoption was their company firewalls: they aren’t able to access social media sites)

maslow for nonprofitsI had this post in mind but had not yet dedicated time to it when I came across a very interesting article on the Nonprofit Tech Blog, entitled “Climbing the Pyramid Of Nonprofit Technology Needs. The article repurposes the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs relative to a Nonprofit’s technology assets, and asserts that most Nonprofit organizations need first to focus on their web presence before moving onto social media.

This was exactly my sentiment at the end of the workshop I facilitated in January: the attendees were overwhelmed by the the limitations of the content management systems that drove their websites, and were overjoyed with some of what I consider the simplest of “tips” I had to offer about optimizing their sites. Everyone wanted google maps, so my slick powerpoint slides were scrapped as I walked them through a demo to set up their own maps. URL shortening services like bit.ly, and RSS feeds helped to meet immediate needs in their daily work. When resources are tight, technology needs to support current activities, not increase the amount of work to be done.

Speaking to different groups also helps to bring me back to reality: I have been developing websites since 1998, and I’ll be honest, I’m bored of them. Even with social media still in its relative infancy, I’m already peering ahead to learn more about mobile and the possibilities there. But when I stand in front of a group of 200 people and mention that a folksonomy is related to tagging, like on Flickr, and am met with a room of blank stares… I realize that I need to reorient myself. When I repositioned this blog last winter, it was intended to introduce topics to people who are less familiar with accessibility, social media, web technology and mobile. With each speaking engagement, I become a bit more educated about the needs and desires and level of comfort others have with these topics.

While my own examples and case studies and metaphors may start to sound repetitive in my own ears, it is worthwhile for me to take a step back and realize the opportunity ahead of me. I have the ability to introduce the power of technology to really make a change: I can help make people’s lives easier by introducing them to a new way of communicating and doing business. And every time I stand in front of a room, I am eager to learn the challenges others face, and see how we can work together to overcome them using these new tools.

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