Monday, 29 September 2014

How I succeeded on social media

Back in September 2013 the only social media I used was Facebook for my own personal use.  Until I started my role as the O.R. Pro Bono Project Manager at The OR Society I hadn’t given much thought to how vital social media could be to an individual’s job role and to the wider organisation.
I started out small, I got myself a Twitter and LinkedIn account and then a few months later started a blog.  Before you start it is important to determine what you want to accomplish by using social media. 

For me there were several reasons for using social media:
  •          To increase the awareness of O.R. to third sector audiences, explain what O.R. is, how it can help and that free support is available via Pro Bono O.R.
  •          To engage with members of The OR Society and the wider O.R. community to inform them about Pro Bono O.R. and encourage them to sign up as volunteers
  •          Through promotion of Pro Bono O.R. to increase the awareness of The OR Society, to increase traffic to the website, to improve member retention as well as encourage new members to join.

To succeed Pro Bono O.R. needed third sector organisations to sign up to receive support and then volunteer analysts to carry out projects. 

Initially I needed to choose which social media platforms to use.  Firstly I signed up to Twitter, this was really useful for sharing information about Pro Bono O.R.  Although I needed to grow my follower base I knew this would take time so I used other twitter handles in my tweets such as @TheORSociety, @Reachskills, @NCVO etc. because if they retweeted my tweet I could reach their followers.  I also created a hash tag #ProBonoOR which I put on all my tweets so that any information or conversations could be easily found through the search function.  I decided who I wanted to follow which in my case was third sector umbrella organisations in order to keep up to date with third sector news as well as individual third sector organisations and O.R. organisations and individuals.

It is important with twitter to make the most of the 140 characters you have, it is best used for short conversations and sharing information.  I try to post opinions, questions, reply to posts whilst including my hash tag, other twitter handles and links to other places like my webpage.

Next I got my head around LinkedIn.  Firstly I spent time on making sure my profile was right, this is the first impression people get of you and it will be at this point people decide whether to connect or not so it is really important to spend some time one this.  LinkedIn for me has been my most valuable social media tool.  It has allowed me to make connections with people that I otherwise would not have had the chance to.  I joined groups which looked like good places to learn and contribute too, such as The OR Society and a third sector sub group where I can post information about Pro Bono O.R.  Through that I have made many connections with O.R. professionals.  I also joined groups that were third sector related, through these I promoted Pro Bono O.R. and made lots of useful connections.  As you grow your connections LinkedIn will then suggest people you may want to connect to.  I have made some of my most valuable connections by this means and has led to some really successful Pro Bono O.R. projects which benefits the organisations, The OR Society and the volunteer.  LinkedIn is useful for sharing short updates, connecting with individuals and groups and sharing information and ideas.  A more recent feature which I like now enables you to write longer posts and you can monitor your views, likes and comments.

Lastly I started to write a blog.  Having never had any experience with blogs my first point of call was google for some tips!  I found a host site called blogger, built up my profile and got going.  What I found important about blogging was to use eye catching titles to entice your reader to open the link and read further.  Trying to write regularly e.g. once a week and keeping your blogs interesting is important.  As well as my own stuff I often share what others have been saying.  Once I write a blog I share the link on twitter and LinkedIn with a short summary to get the readers interest.  My blog is now the centre of my social media strategy where I get most engagement.  As a platform I can extend what I’ve said in other mediums and provide more breadth and depth of information. 

Over the last year I have learnt more about social media and I must say I think a lot of it is about giving it a go and learning as you go.  I use all the social mediums weekly and will adjust what I post depending on my audience and the medium.  Once you have your audience you need to keep them interested so I keep them updated about Pro Bono O.R. and things that are of interest in the third sector and O.R. community.
The reality is that, done effectively, social media success can be achieved in an easy, straightforward manner.   The key is start small and build your social media engagement slowly. 


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

An apple a day keeps the doctor away… and, it turns out, so does volunteering.

Great article demonstrating the benefits of volunteering.
According to a 2010 study from UnitedHealth Group, volunteering is closely linked to improved health. What’s more, the study also found compelling evidence that employee volunteer programs can help businesses in key areas, such as productivity, engagement and synergy.
Aside from doing good, volunteering helps employees feel good. According to the study, over three quarters of employees who had volunteered during the last 12 months found that they felt healthier and found that they had less stress.
The UnitedHealth study found that an incredible 96 percent of employee volunteers believe that volunteering enriches their sense of purpose in life.
Other benefits included better time management skills, better connection with colleagues, new job skills and almost 71% believed that they made business-related contacts while volunteering.
Do you have Operational Research/Analytical skills? Could you use those skills to benefit the Third Sector? For more information on Pro Bono O.R. please visit: http://www.theorsociety.com/Pages/Probono/Probono.aspx
In order to sign up please complete the short volunteer details form. Signing up does not require any commitment it just means you'll receive emails about upcoming projects that require volunteers. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

What a difference a ‘year’ makes: Pro Bono O.R. one year on…

A year ago I had never heard of the term ‘Operational Research’ or in fact heard of ‘The OR Society’.  One year on the terms have become part of my daily vocabulary and one of my aims is to ensure other people have heard about The OR Society and in particular how significant operational research is and the enormous impact it can have in benefiting the world in which we live.

My first exposure to operational research was The OR Society’s annual conference (OR55) last September.  I was amazed at the ways in which operational research could be used in all sectors and how significant it was in helping to increasing efficiency and effectivness, reducing costs, helping plan strategy and much much more.  As OR56 starts today I am able to look back at the last year and reflect on how operational research has been used to impact the third sector.

I have had the pleasure of managing the Pro Bono O.R. project which is a service provided on behalf of The OR Society to Third Sector organisations (UK only) in order to provide them with access to O.R. at the cost of expenses only.

The aims of the Pro Bono O.R. scheme are:
       To help Third Sector organisations to do a better job;
       To promote O.R. in the Third Sector;
       To give O.R. analysts an opportunity to practise in a wider arena and widen their skills.

We found these were some of the problems the third sector was facing:
        ‘We have lots of different options for the future but it’s impossible to decide which to choose in such uncertain times.’
        ‘We’re under huge pressure to do more with less, and we don’t know how we’re going to do it.’
        ‘It’s hard to stay objective when we’re faced with such emotionally charged decisions.’
        ‘We know we’re doing a good job – but how can we prove it?’

A large part of my role has been promoting and increasing awareness of the project to both organisations who could benefit from pro bono O.R. and volunteer analysts who work on the projects.

Over the last 12 months we have had interest from 60 organisations, have completed 6 projects, have 13 projects that are currently being worked on, have 3 which are establishing a project scope and a further 10 that are in the initial enquiry stage.   Information on the completed case studies can be found on the webpage: http://www.theorsociety.com/Pages/Probono/Probono.aspx

I have recruited 100 new volunteers since September 2013 and we know have over 200 volunteer on the database.  Of those around 130 are active and ready to work on projects.  These volunteers are made up of both members of the society and non-members.  In the past year we have advertised 21 projects to our volunteers, 54 of the volunteers have applied to work on projects and of those 28 have worked or are currently working on projects.

It has been really rewarding to hear how successful this project has been both from the organisations and the volunteers.

Here’s what a few of the organisations have had to say:
‘We’ve benefited hugely from your work and support in all areas of the project, and from an organisational perspective you’ve enabled us to take a highly professional approach to increasing the efficiency of our charity.’

‘The work is already supporting our planning and development for next year and allowing us to focus our thoughts and decisions on the places of most importance for our organisation’

‘Brilliant – it makes the predictions of risk visible.  This will be so useful’

Here is what a few of our volunteers have said:

"It’s a chance to make a difference, practice getting to the heart of a problem quickly, meet some very dedicated people and use techniques which you might not in your every day job"

"I’ve really enjoyed working with third sector organisations and found the staff extremely positive about the contribution we make"

"Working as a pro bono volunteer is a great way to contribute some professional expertise to some truly worthwhile causes.  The Third Sector is full of people who feel passionately about their Mission, so working with them is invariably a positive learning experience"

If you are an organisation that would like to receive Pro Bono O.R. support or have the skills to become a volunteer, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Please visit: http://www.theorsociety.com/Pages/Probono/Probono.aspx or send an email to felicity.mcleister@theorsociety.com