Young people in our programs do not remember a time without computers. They are adept at interpreting face-to-face interactions and web-based experiences. As social networking becomes the number-one activity on the web and teens increasingly own cell phones, young people expect to communicate instantly. For them, e-mail is sooo yesterday.
Is your program keeping up with the pace?
Over the past year, my 4-H colleague Karyn Santl and I have worked on a project to answer that question for eight northwest Minnesota 4-H county programs. We set three objectives:
- To determine communication needs for county 4-H programs.
- To increase knowledge and skill levels of 4-H staff, volunteers and members to use communications technology. We are working with counties that demonstrate interest, infrastructure capability and staff capacity. In February I facilitated a team of youth and adult leaders from Clearwater County through the POST (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology) Method to create a prototype county 4-H program Facebook Page. That team will reconvene in the fall to review the POST strategy, evaluate impact of this page and make any necessary changes.
- We are in this phase now, beginning to train and support teams of youth, adults and staff to develop communication plans.
We are focusing on 4-H program staff, youth, adult volunteers and parents. Through focus groups and an online survey, we have made three key common-sense discoveries:
- "Jumping in" to social media communication tools, such as Facebook, without established interest and a strategy is not a good idea. The audience must have interest in and ability to use the technology. That includes program staff.
- Mail and email are the top two ways county programs currently communicate with 4-H families. They are also the preferred delivery modes for the recipients overall. However, youth were more likely to prefer social media. Your communication strategy should consider using different modes for different age groups.
- Lack of technology infrastructure in rural areas can pose a barrier to web-based communication in youth programs. Limited access to high-speed Internet and the quality of cell phone coverage are two of the barriers noted in northwest Minnesota
Karyn Santl and I will present the process and findings of this project so far in a webinar at 11:30 am-1 pm (US CST) on Wednesday, May 11, "Communicating with the Net Generation."
Work on the third objective will focus on training and implementation. But we continue to ask questions. Have you used technology to communicate about or within your youth program? Which ones?
What barriers do you see to keeping up with the pace of change in communications technology? Tell me what you are seeing where you are.