For today’s post, we’re trying something a little different.
After completing over thirty interviews with some of the most generous, patient, and thoughtful social media managers, volunteers, and communications managers known to non-profit-environmental-organization-kind, I thought it was only fair to (temporarily) give up the rights to my digital recorder and let someone else have a shot at the Q&A experience.
Today, I’ll be answering some questions about the research process, the conversations I’ve had so far, and what comes next. My always obliging and hopefully kind interviewer will be Lizzie Boer, a friend and fellow internaut/graduate student.
But enough stalling — the mic is on and the questions are coming!
Lizzie: Hello, blog! I’m excited to be here today. To start us off, how many people have you interviewed for this project?
Brynn: I’ve done 38 interviews with 38 incredible organizations. Most of the conversations I had were one-on-one, but there were a handful of group chats and conference calls, so I would say, all together, I’ve probably spoken with around 45 or 50 people.
Lizzie: How did you choose who to interview? Were there any organizations that you knew you wanted to talk to when you first started out?
Charity Navigator was immensely helpful when we were first putting the list of who to contact together. I didn’t have a set idea of say 5 or 10 organizations that I wanted to talk to more than anyone else. The point of the project was to get a more representative sample of who is out there, what they are doing, and how they are, or are trying to, or would like to, use social media to get it done. Mainly, we were hoping to find that balance, and I think that we did accomplish that, thanks to the incredible variety of organizations and individuals that were willing to share their time with us. The one constant across all non-profits is that you never have enough time to do all of the things you’d like to do in a day or a week or a month, so the fact that so many people were happy to sit down and talk about their ideas, and their work, and their goals — was amazing.
As far as deciding who to contact, well, obviously there wasn’t enough time to speak to every single non-profit working on environmental issues, so there had to be a way to narrow down the number of potential organizations without just scrolling through my newsfeed and messaging everyone I follow. In the end, I actually did end up interviewing a lot of the organizations I was already following on social media, but I was also introduced to some new groups that I hadn’t come across before.
Lizzie: And you follow them now?
Brynn: Of course!
Lizzie: What was your typical interview like? What did you want to talk about when they answered the phone?
Brynn: The typical interview was different from every previous interview, because every organization is so different, and many of them approach social media or other online organizing very differently either as a result or as a strategy. But, there were also some common threads. Most interviews lasted around an hour, some were closer to two. Generally, we started out talking about the participant’s position and background, because there’s such a variety of social media work in organizations. Sometimes I was speaking with a communications manager, or an intern, or even the director. Where social media “lives” inside an organization is just as interesting a topic as what its goals are or how it’s used.
After that, we would usually end up discussing how social media is managed within the organization, who is involved, how it is planned, the basic day-to-day experiences and goals, along with any upcoming or current social media campaigns or pushes. We didn’t have a set list of questions that we wanted answered, but there were some general themes and points, like the value of social media or its goals, that we wanted to make sure were discussed. Typically, the people I spoke with were answering those questions before I asked them. I think social media has a way of leading the conversation itself. People often want to talk about the same big ideas, the same goals, the same ways of measuring or using platforms — even though the how or why can be night and day from one conversation to another, the what was always fairly consistent.
Lizzie: Do you have any terrible interview horror stories that you want to share?
Brynn: Ha! Luckily, no. No, I don’t.
Lizzie: What was the most surprising thing you learned during the interview process? Did you find what you expected to find, or were things different from what you expected?
Brynn: The most surprising? I would say that some of the most surprising things I learned were in the individual stories of campaign victories, both online and off, that these organizations have achieved — often despite their relative size or resources. Large organizations, small organizations — they’re all doing so much, and it’s very inspiring.
There’s also a real sense of community that was brought up in a number of conversations, which just doesn’t exist in traditional social media literature or other marketing. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised by that sense of community, because I’ve been involved with environmental movements and organizations in my personal life as well, but the number of times that a close relationship between social media and community was discussed — I wasn’t expecting to find that so often, and so I did find that surprising.
Lizzie: What happens now? What do you do with the interviews once they’re over?
Brynn: Aside from the second set of follow-up trace interviews — once the interview is over, the rest of the work begins. Listening, and typing, and reading over the interviews helps me to re-evaluate my original research questions and think critically about the next steps. Is my research still asking the questions I want to ask? Does it reflect what I’ve learned? Are there any new questions or ideas that have emerged? From there, it’s just about finding, collecting, and organizing the information that I’ve gathered over the past year and a half, from organizations as well as social media literature, best practices, resources, media geography, and more. Once that’s done, I’m able to start writing up the results to share them with my research team, the university, and the organizations I’ve worked with.
Lizzie: What do you think you’ll find, knowing what you know from the interviews you’ve had so far?
Brynn: I think it’s a little early to write that in internet concrete, but I can tell you that organizations are incredibly diverse in their approaches to social media, even though most of them want the same things. I think it says a lot about how quickly social media has emerged, and the varying perspectives on its power and potential.
Lizzie: Do you think you’re a good interviewer? What makes a good interview?
Brynn: I certainly hope so! I don’t think a good interview is about having the “right” questions or the “right” answers, it’s more about the conversation. I learned so much, and about so much more than social media. I’m so excited to share that with my participants and I hope it’s useful to them as well. I think the best interviews are just good conversations with goals. That’s probably my best definition, if there is one.
Lizzie: Do you think I’m a good interviewer?
Brynn: The best.
Well, everyone — there you have it! A completed interview with the interviewer, which will now be transcribed, posted, and presumably coded to reveal key themes and trends in my interview patterns.
I’d also like to offer a very special thanks to Lizzie for taking the time to get to know my research and ask me all the questions I can’t ask myself.
Do you have any questions that weren’t answered in today’s interview? Post your own in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!