by Paul Kiser
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Social Media (sO-shul mE-dE-ah) – 1) any Internet function that allows user comment or input, 2) interconnected Internet tools that promote participation in the sharing of ideas, concepts, and information between users or members, 3) a type of interactive communication on the Internet that bypasses the non-interactive, one-way, broadcast-type communication of traditional media (e.g.; newspaper, magazine, radio, television, books, etc.) 4) an evil plot devised by mostly young people who seek to destroy traditional media, end all privacy, and rule the world by talking to each other.
Rotary is not an organization that reacts quickly to change. The parent organization meets only once every three years to discuss and propose major policy changes and even then the meeting consists of senior representatives (Past District Governors) from each Rotary District. Rotary clubs themselves often consist of members that disproportionately represents males over 50, (of which I am one,) and that group is not normally known for its adaptation skills in changing environments. In many ways, Rotary is the poster child for rigidity, rules, and tradition.
The problem is that we don’t live in a world that rewards the slow or unadaptive. We have moved into a period of rapid change that is similar to the Crusades ‘convert or die’ philosophy and nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of Social Media. Never before have we seen a key function of our world, namely communication, advance in such a short time period. We now live in the Peter Drucker and Tom Peters world of Ready, Fire, Aim!
Consider the revolution of computers. From the introduction of personal computers from 1975 to 1985, the personal computer at home and in the office was a novelty. It was an interesting device, but limited in its usefulness. By 1985, the personal computer was starting to become a staple in business and by 1995, the computer was firmly entrenched into our everyday lives. It took approximately 20 years for computers to go from ‘a toy’ to staple of life.
Compare the computer revolution to the Social Media revolution. Just over six years ago Facebook didn’t exist. Just over four years ago Twitter didn’t exist. In the past three years the way we communicate has so drastically changed that email is considered on par with snail mail by most people under 30 years old.
Social Media Revolution
(What’s changed? See the Social Media Revolution Video)
So what does this mean for a world-wide service organization like Rotary? Change. Change like our organization has never experienced in its 105 years. But it will be good change…for most of us.
Open Discussion of Issues
The Social Media revolution is characterized by open discussion of ideas and concepts. Over the next 18 months we should expect to see more members who are passionate about Rotary writing personal blogs. These individual blogs will not be sanitized messages approved by Rotary International, but personal viewpoints (like this one) discussing current issues at the Club, District, and RI levels. Sometimes the ideas and opinions expressed will be uplifting, sometimes awkward and/or uncomfortable, and sometimes they will just be wrong. The point is that there will be discussion of Rotary…good…bad…or both, and we should expect it.
The leadership of Rotary, from Club Presidents to the RI President, can either pretend it is not happening and hope it will go away, or they can decide to participate. My vote is participation. A District Governor may serve her or his District for a year and speak once at every club, but a blog is forever and is accessible to everyone in the world. Wise input from knowledgeable leaders can help promote positive discussions, and discourage inappropriate discussions. The worst thing to do is to allow a single Rotarian to create misguided impressions of Rotary by not correcting or responding to incorrect statements.
This must be done with care, as we are all aware that in the 1980’s Rotary International (RI) took a stand against a California club that allowed women to join, thus beginning a fight that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court where RI ended up on the wrong end of the law.
Still, we do have key principles that must be protected as was the case in 2006-07. A California club began promoting a project to buy special ammo clips for U.S. soldiers at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and was pedaling this program to other clubs. Clearly, this was a violation of Rotary’s peaceful mission to serve and of RI’s Constitution. Such violations of our principles must be addressed and corrected by the leadership of Rotary.
Rotary leadership must take care in participating, but they should not only comment, they should write their own blogs. A more open discussion of Rotary related issues will serve to make our organization stronger and will help guide the leadership to address true member issues, not just what filters up through the Chain of Command.
Better Communications – Smaller Chunks, Targeted Audience
In the 1960’s a newsletter was vital information that couldn’t be accessed anywhere else. As copy machines in the 1970’s and 80’s got better the quality of the newsletters got better. The spread of color inkjet printers (HP made a killing on color ink) of the 1990’s brought newsletters to the height of their glory and anybody and everybody put out newsletters about anything. Today, a newsletter is only slightly higher on the value scale than junk mail. The problem is that few people have time to spend 15 minutes reading it and much of the information is not of interest to the reader. In addition, the quality of the editing and design of a weekly club newsletter goes from professional grade to…well, not so much. Often the editor is a volunteer who is passionate about the club, but may or may not agree with the current priorities of the club leadership.
Enter Facebook and Twitter. Most clubs I’ve been involved in regarding incorporating Facebook or Twitter into club communications have included this statement, “But most of our club members don’t use Facebook.” If there is a defining remark about the state of a club’s recruitment situation, that is it. Over 500 million people use Facebook and Rotary clubs don’t think it is relevant because their current members don’t use it. If your membership is not using the most current methods of communication, that should tell you why people in the real world see Rotary and your club as out-of-date and out of touch.
Facebook and Twitter provide information in small readable chunks. No one has to read all 10,000 words in the newsletter to get the information they need, they just read what is of interest to them and they read it in a format that gives it to them when they are ready to read it. Those that don’t use Facebook or Twitter will find that they know less and less about what is going on in the world around them and ignorance is not a Rotary value. The club that doesn’t have an active website and Facebook Fan Page within 12 months will most likely be the club that is consistently struggling to maintain membership. It that simple.
Fortunately, I know that Rotary clubs will adapt to the new Social Media whether anyone wants it or not. They will adapt because those clubs that don’t will waste away, while those that embrace Social Media will begin to see new, younger, smarter members fill in the ranks. It’s the way change works according to Darwin.
Paul Harris began Rotary to make connections with other people. Paul Harris would have loved Social Media.