Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thanks and Flower

My good buddy Yariv Dror is putting together a project called Thanks and Flowers, where the central idea is that parents will all give a flower to their teacher on June 20th, creating a positive atmosphere in our schools. Funnily enough, Yariv's daughter is too young for school. Almost as funnily, as much as we parents gripe about our kids' teachers, my kids think this is a great idea.

Yariv has combined social media, including online petitions and Facebook events, as well as personal meetings, phone calls and e-mails, so I asked him what works and what doesn't in organizing a national movement. (Wow, that sounds grandiose! A national movement.) By the way, the timeframe for this national movement is less than 3 months start-to-finish, and it is definitely happening. He has support of two national parents' organizations, the mayors of two cities (so far), the national students' organization, and my daughter.

Yariv's tips on various kinds of media:

  • Social media has its place, but the most support comes from direct contact with people.
  • The best contacts were referred by someone. It didn't have to be someone he knew personally, but personal referrals worked well. This could be because people referred him to the right person, or because when he said "so-and-so referred me" it worked better.
  • E-mail was good for initial contact, but calls to action and details had to be worked out by phone.
  • Publications in on-line media made him feel great, but didn't give a noticeable increase in the hits on his home page.
  • The Facebook event setup was good way to spread the word, but most people ignored or declined the invitations to join. Some people who were invited that way also sent e-mails to various mailing lists in the country.
  • Social media is so prevalent it's hard to categorize it. For example, he spoke directly to the education coordinator in his city, who said she wanted to post the information on the national on-line forum for education coordinators.

For me, the bottom line is that there is no such thing as social media anymore. Everyone uses certain forms of communication on a regular basis, and those forms flow into one another. Personal contact still rules, but getting to people is easier.

Yariv used to be the kind of guy who didn't answer phone calls from unidentified numbers. Now he answers them all the time. He can't track exactly how people heard about his campaign, but he's convinced that each of the methodologies has enabled him to broaden his coverage.

What are you waiting for? Sign the petition and spread the word!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breakfast Hugs

Wednesday morning I set out for the Tel Aviv port with the mission of seeing what would happen if I combine Jeff Pulver's Social networking breakfast with the Free Hugs Campaign.

I put together a few dozen "Free Hugs" tags, put them out on the table, put one on myself, recruited Jeff to the campaign, and we were all set for the Free Hug Social Networking event.

It didn't work out amazingly well: only a few people chose the tags, and a few hugs were exchanged, but not enough to significantly change the ambiance. Well, what did I expect?

It takes a while for the movement to catch on, and it takes a while to change group dynamics. Honestly speaking, there's only so much warm and fuzzy feeling you can infuse to a networking event. But it was a fun experiment. And it's all about fun, if you ask Jeff.

Over the last few months, I've been working on adopting hugs as the standard greeting in some of my communities, rather than the standard kiss on the cheek. It makes a difference in the group dynamics. It takes some guts and it takes some persistence, but my finding is it is worth it when it comes to creating a warmer group atmosphere.

If you are a community leader, to be effective you need to create a group people want to belong to. For voluntary groups, one of the major obstacles is preventing people from leaving. Although it seems trivial, greeting people with a warm hug can make a huge difference. You might be saying to yourself that this doesn't make sense in some contexts, but I have had success with the Green Party (political) group, which is a pretty serious context.

Think about how you feel as an onlooker, sitting in a coffee shop. A couple of people are at a table, and they are joined by their colleagues. As each one arrives, everyone stands up and hugs everyone (with a huge smile, because it's almost impossible to hug without smiling). You want to be a part of that.

If you aren't convinced, just watch the videos.... Free Hugs Campaign.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Do you know where your children are?

YOW! It's been several weeks since I posted a blog, so let me tell you what I've been up to that's been taking up my time. It's my own community project.

I'm a member of the Parents' Patrol in my town, Hod Hasharon. We walk around the public parks on Friday nights from 11 pm to 3 am, just kind of checking in on the youth, talking to them about what's on their minds, trying to give them some educational info, driving kids home if they are too drunk to stand, etc. We aren't enforcement officers; just caring parents who want to know what's going on.

Most parents have no clue what's going on. Their kids are "good kids" and only try that stuff occassionally, if at all (yeah, right). Unfortunately, in the public parks, your good kids are sitting on a bench across from a group of 15-year-olds smoking a bong, with an "escort" who is in his late 20s. Unfortunately, your teenage girls are hanging out in the same park where men (ages 20-30), from a nearby town are offering them gifts in return for their attention. These are the kind of guys who, if they caught their sisters doing what your daughters are doing, the sisters would be eliminated for staining the family's honor.

I love being on the parent's patrol, because the kids really appreciate us, and it gives us the ability to communicate and help them. It seems like a little nothing, but lots of little nothings together are making a real difference in our town.

With the summer coming up, what struck me is the unbelievable level of boredom. The kids simply have nothing to do with their time. During the summer, they are going to be in those parks every night, bored out of their skulls, with ample alcohol and etc.

What they need is something to work at, something to contribute to, something that shows results, something they enjoy, something that connects them to the community.

I decided to put on a musical, as an extension of what we as the Parents Patrol is offering.

Now, I don't know a lot about doing a musical. I was the assistant director of the musical twice in high school, and what I remember is that it was fun and that it needs a lot of different talents.

So to succeed, we need people who can act, play music, and sing, obviously. We need people to help with logistics, sets, costumes, adverstising and fundraising. Once we are well into rehearsals, we will perform some of the songs in hospitals and senior citizens homes, to promote the show as well as connect to the community, so we need people to organize that.

In short, hey, come join, and get your teens to join! It will be fun. It will make a difference. I'll write about it more in the context of what works and what doesn't work in online and face-to-face encounters. Oh, yeah, if anyone wants to help me set up a home page, in Hebrew, that's more than welcome

To give credit where credit is due, I am putting together this production as part of the Self-Expression and Leadership Course in Landmark Education. There's a Hebrew site too.

I'll also be telling you about some of the other projects in the context of on-line vs. F2F networking. One of the projects is using Facebook and e-mail to get the word out. I'm following that campaign with great interest.