A journey of a thousand miles, or followers, begins with a single step. Depending on your personal history and work culture, that first step can seem enormous, as arduous as climbing a mountain or crossing an ocean. It is normal to have fear or angst around beginning something that’s unfamiliar and intimidating. Just setting aside the time and space to learn something new can be challenging.
If this describes how you feel as you approach the idea of becoming active in digital media, you are not alone. From social media to content portals, live streams, multimedia blogs, e-newsletters, online hangouts, crowdsourced content and more, technologies change rapidly, and there are no simple steps to follow that ensure success. The only way to learn is by practicing, which means you’ll probably make missteps along the way.
Yet today there are important reasons for you and your organization to begin, and to strengthen, your digital engagement practices. The most important reason is this: your audiences are already there, looking for you. They expect to engage with your organization online, to ask questions, find information, and make purchases; to learn more about and participate in your programs; and to identify as a fan or follower of what your organization cares about most and represents.
This section will help you get going. We start by facing directly the anxiety you may be experiencing and offer frameworks that address the fear of failure. We share interviews with people who’ve been able to overcome their fears of digital engagement: they’ll tell you how they did it. We offer a list of readings on the role of failure in learning, and a self-assessment tool you can use to reflect on your state of mind as you begin this course.
We’ll encourage you to test, learn, and iterate your way to an active digital media and engagement practice. Whether you are worried about workload, reticent to share, fearful that the audience won’t like what you offer, or just not comfortable with digital tools, our aim is to get you oriented toward taking steps that make mountains scaleable and seas navigable, one step or stroke at a time
So, welcome to Wayfinding and Wandering: Navigating the Digital Engagement Landscape. We’re here to help you create the time and space to think, to practice, to fail, and to learn.
|15 minutes to skim
45 minute exercise
15 minute reflection
15 minutes to explore links
1.5 hours total
Interviews Practitioners on Fear
“Our biggest fear was that people wouldn’t find us, or if they did, our mission wouldn’t resonate…”
We were drawn to Make It @ Your Library’s story. They saw a need and created a multi-organizational group to fill it, collaborating to create a presence that exists solely online. We reached out to Victoria Rakowski and Katy Hite to learn about how they faced the anxiety and challenges of getting started.
“I sat in trepidation having some real barriers because I was ignorant, frankly, about how easy it is to use social media.”
We spoke about fear and strategy with Executive Director Eugenia Bowman to learn about how AXIS grew their social media profile and engaged brand ambassadors to expand their reach.
Exercise Create a Personal Advisory Board
Who are the people that inspire you to be adventurous? creative? bold? Who are your digital engagement mentors? Who do you go to (or wish you would go to) for advice? Who do you admire from afar? These people, whether they know it or not, can serve as a source of encouragement and inspiration as you continue on your journey through this course, and beyond.
Step 1: Decide
The first step in creating a personal advisory board is deciding if it’ll be real or imaginary. Real advisory boards are comprised of 1) living people; 2) that you know. Imaginary advisory boards can be comprised of famous people, historic icons, or leaders in your field that you know of, but don’t know personally.
There are strengths to both: imaginary advisory boards can be a true source of inspiration, real ones can be truly helpful in times when you need advice. The important thing to know is that while different, they’re both effective. Deciding now will help you focus in Step 2, but if you’re unsure you can go through the brainstorming process of people and then decide based on who you come up with.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Take a sheet of paper or open up an email or text file on your computer and create a list of people* that come to mind when you consider the following statements:
- I can completely be myself around…
- I want to share my professional aspirations and struggles with…
- Creatively, I would like to be more like…
- I am consistently inspired by the work of…
- I have learned so much from…
* These people should conform to your choice of a real or imaginary board. If real, they should be people you know. They can be co-workers, family, former teachers, conference buddies, friends, mentors. If imaginary, they can be existing contacts or people you don’t know at all. They can be dead or alive. They can be famous. Imaginary boards can have people you know well, too.
Step 3: Narrow
Using your list from Step 2, circle at least four and no more than twelve advisors for your board. Aim for diversity and discernment. You’ll look to these folks for inspiration and advice. You want their membership to this board to be significant, whether imaginary or real. You should be able to name everyone on your board by memory.
Step 4: Create
If your board is imaginary, a great way to create it is to create a physical (or virtual) board. If you go the physical route, search Google images for photos of each person in your board and print them out and put them near your desk so you can look to your advisors in times of need and find inspiration from them. Pinterest is a good place to create a virtual board (an example). You can pin photos of your advisors and include quotes from them or reasons why they inspire you.
If your board is real, create an email list (TinyLetter is a good tool for this, but your email program will also do) and notify those you’ve selected. Depending on how well you know the people you’ve selected, you may want to first email them individually and ask if they’d mind being included on your board. Feel free to use this email template as a starting point.
Step 5: Use Your Board
If your advisory board is imaginary, it can be a source of encouragement and advice by being an ever-present visual in your workspace. Physical reminders of people who are courageous and creative and inspiring to you can influence your work. When you hit a snag and get cold feet or don’t know what to do, visit the board and reflect on how those you chose might handle the situation.
If your advisory board is real, you can email updates on your efforts at a set interval, like once a month or even once a week. Or, you can only reach out when you have a specific question or are wrestling with something. You can email everyone, or just one member, depending on the nature of the board you’ve constructed. Thanking your members periodically by sending a real note in the mail goes a long way to engender their enthusiasm for participating.
Reflection Consider Your Own Risk Tolerance
Everyone varies in their risk aversion. In general, you may be more risk tolerant than some, less than others. You may be comfortable with financial risk, but conservative emotionally. For this section, imagine that you have an idea for an Instagram feed for your organization, but you’re not sure about it. You may need to test the waters, or maybe you need to do a little research, or talk to a colleague, or go all in before you know for sure.
With the statements below, consider which statement is most like you. Think about each statement from a professional/work-related risk-taking point-of-view (as opposed to personal risks). Imagine that your idea has a lot of potential, but it could also fail.
Click on an image for suggestions on being more risk tolerant in that situation.
Go Further Resources on Failure with NAS
National Arts Strategies is a leading education provider for the arts and culture field. NAS works with individuals, institutions and communities to tailor solutions that will help them apply new ideas and new perspectives to their unique situations. NAS offers multiple kinds of educational opportunities that address a broad mix of needs, organizations, community sizes and learning styles, and that are intended for both individuals and teams.
Failure is often painted with a very broad brush. This article makes the important distinction between a “good” failure and a “bad” failure. Occasional failure, good. Systematic failure, bad. The author lists three factors that can lead to systematic failure.
A very straightforward, practical recipe for dealing with failure and being adaptive.
This article acknowledges the emotional aspects of failure and the conflicts that may arise from it. The author highlights two powerful tools for dealing with (and avoiding) failure/conflict — softening our energy and intention setting.
# 4 — The Art of Failure
An excellent perspective-taking collection of articles. This issue features failure stories from Toni Morrison, Perry Chen, Sarah Kaufman and other artists and entrepreneurs. It’s good to remember that everyone fails.
# 5 — Who is Allowed to Fail?
The author asks us to think about failure as a luxury to which not everyone has access. Another great article for turning our perspective on its head.
Think Deeper Know What You're Getting Into
Digital engagement brings with it opportunities to deepen relationships with your audiences, expose your organization’s offerings to new people, and do the work of your mission more broadly. But it also brings with it ethical questions about the nature of your work and can endorse ad-driven platforms that do little to protect users’ time or privacy. For each of the sections in our course, we’ll be proposing questions for you to consider as you move forward. For this section, Fear, we suggest you contemplate the following two questions:
How will you deal with taking care of yourself?
Social media and digital engagement are always on. Even while we sleep, our phones collect all that we’ve missed, and we wake up to it each morning. As a worker in these spaces, you may hold yourself to a standard of attention and response that eats away at the energy you have to create and interact on these platforms (let alone other projects). How will you establish boundaries so that you don’t empty your reserves?
How will you deal with the inner need for perfection and competency?
At several twists and turns in this section we’ve asked you to consider doing things you don’t exactly feel ready to do, to get started before you know where you’re going, and to consider failure as something to embrace. These ideas are fine on paper (or the screen), but if you truly adopt them in your work, you’ll find that the discomfort and uncertainty they bring makes a roller coaster of your emotional life.
If you are working for a non-profit or creative small business, doing good work, with limited resources … you might also struggle with perfectionism, or at least the idea that this journey you’re beginning has a logical and beneficial end. But the truth is that the journey has no end, and while you will experience things that go well and things that don’t, you’re entering a terrain that changes faster than you can evolve. How will you allow yourself to let go of perfectionism? Who will help you and hold you accountable when it seems you’ve got tied up into the idea that things can go perfectly? How will you make peace with the fact that you’ll always be learning how to do digital engagement in relevant and meaningful ways, and that even as a seasoned pro, you’ll still be making missteps along the way?