Communications Reflections: Web 2.0 at GEO

A week out from the GEO conference, I’ve been mulling over all I heard about Web 2.0 and the implications for foundation communications. The Web 2.0 sessions buzzed with a mix of excitement, skepticism, a-has and, yes, anxiety. There was excitement about the ability to engage more directly with a broader swath of stakeholders than ever before. A mix of skepticism and a-has about whether and how these approaches really work. And anxiety about the major shift in internal resources and mindsets required to launch and manage it all.

It was great to hear discussions about things like social networks, wikis and blogs take place in a setting not solely dedicated to communications, as such tools and trends have implications for work across multiple foundation departments. But more often than not, inquiring minds show up on the doorstep of the communications department looking for insight into the possibilities of Web 2.0.

At the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Trachtenberg, executive director of the Communications Network (of which I am a member). Eager to hear a fellow communicator’s perspective on how we can help our organizations explore some of these trends, I emailed Bruce last Thursday to glean his takeaways from the conference. He was kind enough to share the following “internet-time” responses.

What do you see as the role of communications staff members like me in helping our foundations explore these trends?

I think as a communications person, we have to do everything we can to explore the potential benefits of the new communications tools and also ask questions (or do the necessary kinds of followup and assessments) to ensure these new tools add and extend the communications contributions to foundation work. While on one hand I’m delighted at the opportunities the web in all its forms (and releases) offer in terms of helping us make information, stories, whatever, available to broader audiences, we also have to remember there’s a lot of competition. To me, that means we have to discipline ourselves not to be lulled thinking that the ease at which we can create, post or disseminate electronically automatically means everything we have to say is important and relevant.

From a communications standpoint, what were your key takeaways from the GEO conference?

The major takeaway for me is that there is an eagerness among the group to make foundation work and accomplishments more transparent…to find ways to engage more people in the work that foundations do…and a willingness to keep learning.

Was there anything you learned or observed at GEO that will influence the content for the Communications Network conference this September?

I think if Web 2.0 is a major topic of discussion at a non-communications group’s conference, it puts the pressure on us at the Network to delve even deeper into that topic.

I do indeed feel a healthy pressure to help cultivate a better understanding of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and how it applies to the work of foundations. The biggest hurdle for me has been finding a manageable way to get started. How can foundations efficiently and strategically explore these tools? Do we begin by experimenting internally in a “safe” way that allows staff to experience first-hand the possibilities and limitations of these tools? How can we holistically examine our communications and grant-making objectives to determine whether and how we should be integrating these tools?

Web 2.0 and other new media strategies may not make sense for all foundations. But if a foundation seeks to be a leader in transparency and accountability, if a foundation is serious about minimizing its carbon footprint, if a foundation truly seeks to collaborate and learn from the fields it supports, tools like blogs, wikis, social networks, open-source approaches, mash-ups and content that is “portable” across multiple and increasingly mobile platforms could very well open up new opportunities for impact.


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