Technology and Social Change: An interview with Beth Kanter

In this interview, Beth Kanter provides readers with an opportunity to gain leadership lessons from a career that she has been passionate about for twenty years.  Helping nonprofits make effective use of technology, Beth also shares best practices for nonprofits to consider. 1.  Could you provide a brief professional description of who you are and what you do? You can find that here: My work is as a trainer – for the past 20 years that has been around working with nonprofits to build capacity in using the Internet and Web and social media for their missions and communications strategies and for building staff knowledge and capacity. 2. What drew you to your current work and how did you get your start? It’s a long story and I’ve written about my career path here: To sum it up, I’ve always had a desire for life long learning – that’s my passion.    So, if you can follow your passion, curiosity, and keep learning – AND get paid for your work – you’ve hit the sweet spot. 2a. What skills have been most useful to you in your work with nonprofits? As a trainer, I work constantly at improving my skills in instructional design and delivery.  I think having good facilitation skills so you can help groups of people to learn and gain insights.      Also,  I do a lot of coaching, so listening skills are important.    And, for developing curriculum and training materials, understanding content curation, attention training (being able to focus), research, adapting content for audience needs, etc.   And, also being a good presenter when that is needed.  Above all, you should have good self-awareness of what is working and not working in terms of your skills and being able to constantly learn. 2b. What skills would you recommend that emerging leaders begin to develop in order to be more successful change agents? I think it is important to go inward first and have a good understanding of yourself – what you are passionate about, how you relate to other people, how you can inspire them, how you can keep to your vision and not get discouraged.  Also, it’s important to have good self-awareness of where you need to improve.   I also think listening skills, as well as building professional relationships, is very, very important. 3. What are your thoughts about utilizing technology for social change?  What should philanthropic professionals keep in mind? Technology can be a powerful accelerate, but it is a tool.  You need a strategy, and that means you need to know what your ultimate impact or results are, as well as a way to measure them. The other thing that is so important is that you have to keep learning all the time.  Not just do, but reflect.  Learning is part of your work.  I wrote about that here: 4. When have you seen social media being utilized successfully to gain support around a social justice issue?  Why do you think these efforts were so successful? I recently moderated a panel at Stanford hosted by SSIR called “Social Media on Purpose”  - it was a case study slam of integrated campaigns that used social media strategically and effectively.     The panelists shared six excellent examples:  While all of these campaigns used multi-channels (which is a best practice), they all used best practices of social media – engagement, storytelling, building relationships, solid content strategy, clear audience definition and objectives and measurement. I also think that any campaign that Momsrising has implemented is a terrific example of how to be effective with social media for social justice.  Momsrising is really good at working with partners and taking a networked approach.  Also, they’re masters of storytelling and engaging their network.   Here’s an example of one of their campaigns: 5. For professionals who are interested in using social technology for developing partnerships to tackle problems, what are some tools you would suggest and why?   It is hard for me to recommend tools in the abstract.    What I’d recommend is that they start with clear objectives, audience definition, and a way to measure results.  Also, if this is a partnership, they have to be super clear about how roles and how partners will work together – and also not to forget about letting emergence happen.  For example, there may be potential partners who are not part of the usual suspects that you may encounter on social networks as part of your work I also think that successful partnerships know how to “satisfice” – which is not trying for perfection for everything and doing a lot of testing, testing and learning -  I wrote about that here:  and here 6. What recommendations would you have for those looking to solicit diverse perspectives for problem solving through social media?   Develop good listening and monitoring skills.  Really know your keywords, but also be creative in finding new networks and perspectives.  Don’t be afraid to engage either – and if the issue is controversial – there will be people who feel strongly or  may react negatively.   It is good to understand who are the supporters and who are trolls – and have a game plan or organizational strategy for how to address different segments. 7. For social media users looking to inspire more than just a share or a retweet, what social media techniques have you found to be effective in inspiring real-world action?   Social proofing is important .. that is getting your followers to share your message or stories. But you can also encourage them to share their action offline or how they are taking action. I ran a personal fundraiser and awareness campaign for ocean conversation to honor my Dad who passed about a year ago.   Social proofing was a key strategy – especially when I encouraged people to share their thoughts and photos of why the ocean is meaningful to them.   I organized a social fundraising campaign for Surfrider Foundation in his memory.   The key to raising the money was the social proofing aspect, as well as other items.  Here is a link to a post about it: 8. What are two new tech tools you would recommend to readers who are interested in expanding their tech toolbox to effect social change? I think being able to focus online is critical to success – and with social media it can get distracting and a challenge to your attention.  Lately, I’ve been exploring “Conscious computing” tools that help you focus.  I wrote about that here: 9. Is there anything else you might want to add that our readers would be curious to know about your career path or how you have developed as a nonprofit leader? One of the things I’ve done throughout my career is try not to isolate myself too much and not get sucked into sitting at my desk too much   When I started, it was easy to be alone with my thoughts or have an in-depth quality conversation with a professional colleague.  In an age where we can connect with so many people, you can easily get on a track where you are only building superficial relationships or not spending enough reflective, alone time.    That is why I’m a big advocate of walking for work and walking for leadership:  --  If any of your readers in the SF area want to do a walk/talk on the Stanford Dish to discuss career ideas, social media, or learning – let me know. My attitude about work (and life) is to keep on learning.  Whether this is reading a new perspective or topic area, learning a new skill or trying something new.    My other mantra is – mistakes are my best teachers – so don’t shame yourself if something doesn’t quite go right. Learn from it.

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