Net2 Think Tank Round-Up: Going Digital

Claire Sale's picture

For this month's Net2 Think Tank, we asked you about your strategies and case studies for "Going Digital". We are hoping to understand how organizations are moving content that was once designed for offline purposes to an online environment. This round-up shares several case studies and provides tips and lessons learned for digitizing your content.

While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Increasing Functionality at a Reduced Cost

In a lot of ways, putting content online seems like a no-brainer: Organizations can increase the functionality and reach of an existing offline service while simultaneously reducing printing costs by simply putting the content online. For some, this can mean something simple like adding a PDF to a website, for others, it can be a much more extensive (and costly) change, like building an entire website.

Here, at NetSquared, we're using this approach in the creation of our Community Organizers Handbook. This wik-based handbook gives NetSquared Local event organizers the opportunity to help us write the handbook, and is publicly available for anyone to use in their community organizing efforts. Before the wiki, we provided a handbook written by NetSquared staff for distribution via print or PDF to our Local organizers. Today we're providing an online collaborative space where all of our organizers can learn and share best practices in the same place.

In a similar effort, TechSoup Global's Online Community Manager, Megan Keane, describes how they're making previously printed materials solely available online:

One way we're doing this at TechSoup is via our digital catalog. Our intent with having this digital is that it would save lots of paper and make it easier to navigate our product offerings.

But one of the things that many organizations try to anticipate is how an online offering will lead to engagement, or even disengagement, with the intended audience. For example, Caryn Heilman, the Artistic Director at the Topia Arts Center in Massachusetts, explained that bringing their fundraising campaign online had several unintended (but overwhelmingly positive) results that helped lead to the successful of the campaign:

For [our] Capital Campaign launch, door to door fundraising and personal business outreach was not able to raise [the] significant capital needed for the buildout of the Stage Extension, but [an online] Kickstarter Campaign... was successful at raising almost all of what we needed for that project.  It catalyzed a local business to offer a match and helped us raise awareness about the concert, our project and the immediate fundraising need.  

While unintended results are inevitable, there are also ways to strategize towards a positive outcome. The New England Board of Higher Education spent more than a year listening to it's audience and studying how their reader preferences were changing. John O. Harney, Executive Editor for the journal described how this listening effort has transformed their work: 

We published the final print edition of our New England Journal of Higher Education in February 2010 and moved fully online in June 2010 as part of a robust NEBHE "content hub" at… As the platform for the digital Journal, we aim to make NEBHE's new content hub a portal for all things related to New England higher education and its role in powering the region's innovative economy... The transformation has saved us printing and mailing costs at a time when NEBHE's budget is under severe pressure. Though the NEBHE staff has been shrinking, we continue to enjoy the editorial contributions of the thought leaders and practitioners who have read the NEJHE for more than two decades

So, the readers of the journal are happy because the organization listened to their feedback AND the organizational leadership are happy because the online efforts are saving costs and staff resource.

Not all campaigns can or should be strictly online though...

A blended approach

Finding the balance between online and offline can be tricky. Often, a good way to bridge the gap is to use a mixture of online and offline tactics.

In an effort to save on printing costs, Ann Rosenfield decided to move CNIB's planned giving information online. While many people use the new online tools, she's also found that some of her audience (both inside and outside the organization) preferred having information in print. Here's how she's remedying the situation:

In hindsight, I think I was too far ahead of our elderly demographic so I am going to reinstate a (reduced) version of previous print publications. [I] am developing print one-pagers for major types of planned gifts that will be available on a shared portal for printing... [but] right now it is really hard to do that affordably. 

A blended approach can also be a great way to supplement and enhance the effectiveness of offline content. At both the 
Council for Economic Education and American Management Association, Troy D. White provided a blended learning environment for his students. He provides a fantastic case study of his efforts in this blog post, but here's a brief summary:
I’ve used two methods to move traditional offline content online while working at separate non-profit educational organizations. One was a “blended” learning initiative, which supplemented in-class learning with online tools; the other replicated in-class training workshops for K-12 teachers with a suite of online training programs... The overriding benefit to moving offline content and services is empowering users. Users have more flexibility and opportunities to enhance their careers through professional development.

Troy has found that the blended approach is giving choice and power to the students, which is increasing their engagement, learning, and overall success. For both Troy and Ann, the overall approach is to provide the content in multiple formats so that users can engage the way they feel most comfortable. 

Moving Comms Online

We also received several responses about how organizations are moving their communications online. "Going Digital" isn't just about providing content online, it's about providing a fully functioning online presence - both internally and externally.

Megan Keane, TechSoup Global's Online Community Manager, shares why online communication tools are essential for her work:

In my day-do-day work, I work a with a team that is mostly remote, so we do the majority of our meetings online or via web/phone conferencing versus face-to-face. 

Building on Megan's explanation, Christine Huber suggests one tool in particular:
I use Skype for international calling and it's saving me money because it's free. The value made me decide to switch and my clients were already using it. 

...and Qui Diaz provides her strategy for gaining internal support and participation for the online tools that she's introducing for digital project management and asset management:

Starting at the top w/ Dir. Planning to intro 2 tools the team can watch me use > trust > try. Flickr & ManyMoons 

Qui's steps for getting management and team buy-in for online tools is a valuable starting point to getting the whole team on board.

For some, moving resources and communications online is a simple process, for others it's a painstaking learning experience. The one big lesson here, though, is to listen to your audience. Whether it's a client, a donor, a service recipient, or someone who just wants more information about your enterprise or organization, they will always give you clues and information about how you can best provide information and communications both on- and offline. 

About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.