May 12, 2014

The power of vulnerability on our social communities

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Scott MacEachern (1)
Thoughts from Erwin Penland’s Food For Thought Conference (photo of Scott MacEachern by Amy Randall/Erwin Penland)

Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, marketers, managers, general public.

Caroline AvakianWe talk a lot about the newest ways to connect with our supporters and donors, all the latest digital marketing trends and apps that are aimed to engage, build community and inspire. But one of the things we don’t talk about that much is vulnerability and the inherent power that it has over getting a story to stick and helping to build trust, loyalty and openness in our digital communities.

I recently attended Erwin Penland’s seventh annual Food For Thought conference in Greenville, South Carolina. Food for Thought is an “unconventional convention” that celebrates the intersection of creative thinking, digital marketing, entrepreneurialism, social responsibility and food. The three-day conference brings together some of the country’s leading entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders and chefs.

One of the things that really stuck with me is how many of the presenters courageously shared personal and professional stories, and came from a place of deep vulnerability in front of their audience. It was arresting, surprising and deeply engaging. You could hear a pin drop during many of the presentations. Not your typical plenary, to be sure. I couldn’t stop thinking about these presenters and their stories; their stories somehow became my stories. It made me want to learn more about them and share what I had learned with others.

How to build trust and engagement in our online communities

The stories these speakers shared, from Catherine Hoke, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Defy Ventures, who shared not only redemption stories of the formerly incarcerated beneficiaries her organization helps, but also her own stunning tale of loss and redemption – to Scott MacEachern, the creative force behind the LIVESTRONG brand, who shared not only the remarkable trajectory of that campaign, but his own personal and professional journey of loss and betrayal when much of the LIVESTRONG brand was called into question.

These speakers were raw, emotional and brazenly honest, and it got me thinking – how do we bring that level of vulnerability into our storytelling and into how we build trust and engagement in our online communities? How can we dare ourselves to be more transparent, more courageous, and therefore, more memorable? I think often we feel we need to be fun, serious, teach, share – and we should – but what if we brought in more vulnerability and honesty to our work? What effect would that have on your relationships with your supporters?

Well, it certainly gave me a lot to think about this week. Here are five potential ways you can bring more of that vulnerability into your work:

1Sharing your organization’s wins and triumphs is super important, but building a strong community foundation built on trust means you share your wins and some of your struggles or losses. How can we challenge ourselves to be more transparent? We gain respect and increased support when we share our struggles with our real life networks. Social media community engagement is no different.

2Ask your community for what you need in a humble and honest way – you’ll probably be surprised by the response.

3Ask for feedback from your community. Open yourself to getting deeper, more meaningful feedback from your supporters. What do you really want to know about your community? Challenge yourself to ask more meaningful questions.

4Introduce your team! This one seems like a no-brainer but we often don’t do it. Introduce your staff, volunteers and board. Throw up a fun photo or two of them. Interview them on why they’re passionate about what they do.

5What if at the end of the year, along with our impact and annual reports, we included a list of things we wanted to achieve but fell short on? Do you think we’d get dinged, or potentially open ourselves to the opportunity of being supported and funded on the things we couldn’t get traction on? That’s my “vulnerability challenge” to you.

Any other ways you can think of to add openness and vulnerability to your work?Caroline Avakian, Socialbrite’s Managing Partner, is a global development communications strategist in the New York City area with a focus on strategic communications, innovation, PR, and content marketing. Caroline is also the founder of SourceRise, a digital platform connecting journalists to international NGO sources. Contact Caroline by email, see her profile page, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment.

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  • PYS UK

    Some really great points in this, and they all flow into each other really well. Thanks for sharing.