Into the Wild: when students consult with nonprofits

A distillation of thoughts from students working and learning at B-Social, a research collaborative I direct at Saint Joseph’s University where students consult and create web-based content with nonprofits in Philadelphia.

Jump off more cliffs.

Often times in academia, professors get caught up in the amount of readings assigned and papers written. But, while closely following the syllabus, they forget one of life’s greatest teachers — experience. Albert Einstein captures the essence of B-Social in these few words: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” This is more than a class — it is an experience that challenges us to use the information we learn as a tool to work with real-life clients. Annie Dillard says:

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. ”

Nothing could be truer in this class, which requires us to constantly build our wings on the fly.

A serious work session at B-Social.

The golden ratio: two ears and one mouth.

As Greek slave-turned- philosopher Epictetus said:

“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.

This ancient Greek wisdom is sage advice for communicating on the social web; it translates into two listening interactions (such as commenting or replies) for every piece of original content we share. Social media interaction is about building relationships, and isn’t created in a single conversation or transaction. Instead, it’s built over time.

Learning social object theory — to help our clients build relationships on the social web.

Be the genuine article.

Just because something is viewed doesn’t necessarily mean that it is seen. When we are trying to create a connection with people on the web, we believe authenticity is key. The words we use in a tweet, the feeling we capture in an Instagram picture, or a story we tell in a blog post has to genuine to be believable. We want to allow people a glimpse behind the scenes. We try to create content out of every-day occurrences and turn them into relatable and believable stories. We try to take stock of what is happening around us. What kinds of events are taking place? What are people actually doing? How do we honestly feel about it? What is challenging? What is surprising? We try to show the real story.

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” -Alan Watts
Creating a social media strategy with Global Abilities.

If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.

This quip from Clint Eastwood is really about managing expectations. It is about adaptation — and not being upset if something isn’t going the way we think it should. We learn that we have to meet our clients where they are (and vice versa). We find that people who work for not-for-profit organizations often wear many hats, have modest financial resources, have little time, and have little to no formal training when it comes to engaging and building communities online. Although we would love to swoop in with our ideas and enthusiasm to build their online presence, that is not Real Life. We find that communicating in the real world requires flexibility, balance, patience, and attentiveness.

Making a video with New Leash on Life to show their prison-god training program, dedicated to improving the life of inmates and saving the lives of dogs.

Do work that matters.

While working with B-Social research collaborative we learn how to take social media beyond the personal, beyond entertainment and into places for activism and social change. Working with nonprofits with purpose-driven missions shows us how social media can help make a difference in the world. Organizations need to be clear about the beliefs and values that drive their mission. We assist them in translating their mission into compelling web content — to make visible the external purpose that is driving the internal force. As Simon Sinek says — people care more about why you are doing what you do (*not what you do). This course experience has some of us reimagining “the why” behind our own lives. If the average human lives 27,375 days — how are we going to use those days to make a difference?

As writer Gloria Anzaldúa says, “I change myself, I change the world.”

If what we do each day adds value not only to our own life, but to others as well, then life takes on a whole new meaning.

In class —assessing (and reassessing) our work.