Building Engagement: When Failure Begets Success

About one year ago, the Maryland Recycling Network gingerly began its foray in social media. We followed the best advice we found and marched confidently forward … right into failure.

Actually the failure was on the engagement front. The initiative succeeded in that it provided a valuable lesson. From the lesson is emerging a second – and we trust a more successful – launch. As we move forward here’s the lesson we learned from part 1.
Our members are somewhat isolated. We’re a trade association of busy, distracted state and municipal recycling departments and private recyclers. Recycling is a dynamic industry marked by new technologies, innovations in recycling and waste conversion, new demands. The need to share, collaborate and retrieve industry findings and research is also growing.

In response, the board initiated an effort to build a collaborative knowledge base on Wikispaces.
We built the wiki. Pre-populated with a few entries. Conducted one-on-one training. Sent invites.
Then the commodities markets went sour and the demand for recycled products plunged too. Members got more distracted. Departments got cut.
The ghosts took up residence in the wiki.
Sure the economy didn’t help. But that wasn’t the real issue. We had followed the sound advice on building communities. We came to understand the nuances of that advice.
Advice: Listen first. Where are your members? What are they talking about?

We listened and learned that they sought online resources. We heard they were very interested in sharing success stories and effective practices.
What we missed is that they were more interested in hearing than contributing. And while they do in fact have rich conversations, these are largely face-to-face interactions.
We learned that we need to start with where they were comfortable: face-to-face. We needed capture their conversations and feed them back to them for comments. We tested taking these conversations to webinars and launched 20-minute Idea Breaks which were captured and archived on the website. As a bonus this we were focused on our upcoming conference topics so we were also promoting that event.

Underway is part 2 of the new action plan: we’re creating meet-ups and through slides, photos and videos will seek to create new channels for capturing and sharing stories.
Advice: Match the tool to the member and purpose.
Yes a wiki is a great tool for building a knowledge base. Our members tend to be research and numbers driven, so again a tool that is more grounded in academic or scientific fields seemed appropriate. And since our members are not visibly active on LinkedIn or Facebook – and many government agencies block these sites – a private wiki seemed to match.
What we missed is that they aren’t used to collaborating on-line – yet. And because they are driven by seeking resources not creating resources, the wiki didn’t match.
We learned that we need to leverage their curiosity and make it easy to share what they find.

We are launching a social bookmarking protocol using a Delicious tag to create a resource feed. We’ll highlight this in our e-publications, on our website and in our meet-ups.
Advice: Pick a specific social object as a focal point.
We launched the wiki about 12 months prior to the annual conference and selected the first two topics based on the conference agenda. The wiki we planned would both drive content development for the conference and serve as a conference resource.
What we missed is that the topics weren’t right. They were too broad and poorly defined. They weren’t sufficiently compelling. And the economy shifted priorities and content direction for the conference.

What we learned is how important it is to be relevant and compelling.
While we’re sure the path ahead won’t be all smooth sailing, we know that we’re better prepared. And in the not too far off future, we expect to move out those ghosts who took residence.