Part 6: Keep your project running
At last, this is the stage in which engagement with young people begins by using your social media tool. This stage begins immediately after the social media project has launched. This is also the stage when the social media team, staff, management, the organisation and stakeholders will be challenged in their committment to the project, accommodating new working practices, changing attitudes, learning from feedback, training and innovation.
It is possible that there will be a surge in activity by young people when they first become members of your site or begin interacting with your social media tool. This is common and was experienced by the INCLUSO pilot partners, However, partners also experienced the sudden drop in particpation which has been reported by many ICT projects which engage young people. The diagram below is an excellent representation of that phenomenon. (Some INCLUSO pilot partners reported slower recovery than is suggested by the diagram.) So, do not be disappointed if/when this happens. Use it as an opportunity to begin the 'real' engagement.
For a relevant example from an INCLUSO pilot partner read some of the Cases in Chapter 2: Set up and run a project, in the online INCLUSO manual.
This is the long term phase of the project in which you keep the site moving. This involves implementing the action plan developed in the previous stage, Part 5: Getting started. So, you will understand that the more preparation done in the development of that action plan the better it will be for the social media team to plan and prediuct what will happen in the coming weeks and months.
Feedback is a crucial component of this stage. This is when staff have the opportunity to discuss their activities. They will inevitably report extra workload, so it is the task of the social media team leader to help find ways of tackling this extra workload. This might involve adjusting priorities, a reallocation of time and effort, involving a new person, looking for funding and so on.
Extra workload is a frequent complaint reported in feedback to INCLUSO pilot partners. One simple way to tackle this is to shift normal offline engagement tasks onto the online platform you are using. This means members of the social media team will simply be doing an existing job (talking, counselling, engaging etc with yong people) via the social media site or tool, instead of doing it using traditional means (face to face, on paper or posters etc). You will find examples of this in many of the Cases found in Chapter 2: Set up and run a project, of the INCLUSO manual.
Listening to and helping the social media team (and any other staff involved) is a crucial part of maintaining commitment to the project. The more visible this commitment the better. Set up meetings and give as much opportunity as is possible for people to feedback about their experiences.
In the beginning, much of the feedback will consist of questions about how to use the online tool and also about the young people's behaviour when they interact with it. Regarding training: the INCLUSO pilot partners unanimously reported that staff require constant support in terms of a broad vision for the project, personal and organisational motivation, initial and continuous training. This is a substantial part of the activity of a social media project in a youth work organisation. Do not underestimate it.
Regarding young people's behaviour: some of it will be inappropriate. The form of behaviour will depend on the functionality of the tool you are using, but it's certain that young people will find a way to do the unexpected in whatever tool you select. INCLUSO pilot partners reported instances of bad language in personal profiles and in comments to peers, bullying behaviour, upload of mildly sexually provocative videos and photos from other sources on the web, references through photo and video links to antisocial behaviours like drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, use of firearms and so on. This kind of issue should be brought before a meeting of the social media team for discussion.
The social media team will also have to deal with disinterest from young people. How can interest and engagement with the selected social media be stimulated? This is another issue to discuss within a meeting of the the social media team. A solution reported by an INCLUSO pilot partner is as follows: 1) Make visitng the site a necessity (so that they are forced to interact in order to achieve something important to them), 2) Offer them something they can ONLY get from the chosen tool (this might be photographs of activities etc), and 3) Offer them the opportiunity to have fun relevant to the content of the site (commenting to peers and staff).
All this activity can reflects a change in working practice and this will be accompanied by a change in attitudes by staff. Organisations will respond differently to these challenges. Offer clear channels for feedback and show that staff concerns are being acted upon and you will maximse the chance of successfully overcoming these obstacles.
At every step, the social media team will be confronted with opportunities to innovate. These will appear as obstacles, challenges, hurdles, problems, but it is important to see them as opportunities, which in turn require creativity and some lateral thinking to overcome and continue moving forward. Build the activities of the social media project into all appropriate organisation meetings and reports. This will help to embed it into the broader organisation and speed up its acceptance as a normal part of work and not something ‘extra’ which staff do.
A key aim of the social media project is to integrate it as much as possible into the daily work of the project. This is referred to as 'embedding'. Embedding online activities means a change in perception by staff, and is not easy. It is a long term goal, but with some planning it is achievable (in small ways) very quickly.
The feedback structures which you created as part of your action plan (see Part 5: Getting started) will kick in here. This offers your social media team the opportunity to share their experience, develop their techniques and approaches, and improve practices. It’s also a vital bonding experience. Social media techniques are still new and those involved can feel isolated in their work, so consider joining a social network devoted to youth workers using social media in their work (see www.ukyouthonline.ning.com in the UK. There maybe similar networks in your country).
This kind of networking is helpful in other ways too: You can learn what tools and techniques others are trying – this will help you innovate and keep your approach fresh and flexible. Consult the users of your social media activity. This is where it becomes really crucial to listen to what young people are saying about your site or tool. Consider using a focus group or a more informal chat to learn what they like and don’t like about your site or tool.
A key perspective for those involved in the social media activity (as well as other staff, management and stakeholders) is to look for small successes. Keep referring to your organisation's objectives and your project outcomes and spot where things are starting to happen. Record these successes and keep moving forward.
RECOMMENDATIONS - ORGANISATION
- Support the staff with motivation and training
- Put it on staff meeting agendas and include in organisation reports
- Keep reminding staff why they’re doing this (focus on the young people)
- Point out benefits
- Reflect online efforts in some way (consider offering an incentive for this)
- Keep investing and be flexible
- Equipment and software must be kept up to date and clean
- Look for sponsors (See business opportunities)
- Keep innovating
- Always look out for new tools and opportunities to use them
- Keep abreast of what’s going on in the field
- Talk with youngsters about how online activity can help in real life
- Develop feedback for the social media project
- Check the social media project’s design is working
- Assess its capacity for monitoring and evaluation
- Plan for data collection and analysis
- Prepare the monitoring and evaluation plan and budget
- Plan for reporting and feedback
- Hook up with other social media practitioners in online forums and netwoprks
RECOMMENDATIONS - YOUNG PEOPLE
- Motivate the young people
- Discuss experiences at follow up meetings
- Remind them of the benefits
- Reflect online efforts in some way (consider offering a reward for this)
- Maintain the necessity to keep young people returning to the site
- Respond to the needs of the young people
- Celebrate their small successes
- Make them feel special
- Develop a routine for interacting with young people
- Invest in offline interactions (keep speaking)
- Keep on coaching
- If staff introduce new tools (eg using employment sites etc) keep consulting on whether they require coaching
- Offer ongoing training
- Focus on social skills
- Focus on using social media for their benefit