The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts of America and Boys & Girls Clubs are racing to embrace Facebook and Twitter, in a range of wildy successful to so-so to frustrating experiences.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
This past March, two girl scouts from Michigan, concerned that the palm oil used in the beloved Girl Scout cookies was contributing to the destruction of thousands of miles of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia, became impatient at Girl Scouts CEO Kathy Cloninger’s lack of attention to the matter and decided to take action.
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva paired up with environmental organizations including the Rainforest Action Network and planned “A Day of Action.” The group called on individual Girl Scouts, their parents, concerned cookie buyers and even famous former Girl Scouts like Taylor Swift, Venus Williams, Katie Couric and Martha Stewart to take to the Girl Scouts’ Facebook page and leave comments asking the leadership to change their recipe and preserve wildlife like orangutans, Sumatran tigers and rhinoceroses. The group also provided information on how those concerned could tweet their sentiments as well.
The launch of their green initiative, however, was stalled nearly as soon as it launched, and the official response to the deluge of requests on the U.S. Girl Scout’s Facebook page is a lesson to similar organizations in how not to proceed.
The Girl Scouts handled the situation by deleting all the “Day of Action” Facebook comments, which criticized the group’s current practice, and then put up a posting saying the palm oil used in the cookies is sourced from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The organization also directed traffic to a link that some claimed was nothing more than talking points from the food industry on the subject.
The negative response built into blistering criticism with many accusing the educational organization of censorship, condescension, and even disseminating misleading information. Pointing to the Girl Scout’s stated support of conservation, many wondered why the organization didn’t use the clout that comes with annual cookie sales estimated at $700 million to do more to promote that green cause, especially when cheered to do by its members.
The misstep highlights how organizations can go feet first into new technologies, or make unilateral decisions about them, without fully understanding the ramifications.
One organization, however, that seems to be getting it right is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The Club is turning to Twitter and other social media to generate support for its programs and mission, ramping up their technology reputation in the process.
Realizing that its base supports are females, mostly mothers and other women, it has begun instituting a series of Tuesday Twitter parties to spread the word about its new Club Tech centers, which provide computers, software and technology instruction.
A recent invitation was sent to nearly 300,000 Twitter moms before the virtual party, and those who followed the hash tag #facesofthefuture for the hour-long event learned information about the organization in 140 character tweets, played games and competed for giveaways.
The BGCA has hired a social media consultant, updated its Facebook page to make it more interactive, and added links and updated material to its website to get on the same page as private companies in terms of using social media for awareness and also fundraising.
Not to be left out, the Boy Scouts of America has turned to social technology to target childhood obesity and get kids away from sedentary technology like console games and outside playing, illustrating how social media can be targeted towards single issues with success.
At their annual conference last month in San Diego, Bob Mazzuca, chief scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America, said to a crowd of 2,000 attendees at the close of its conference that increasing numbers of obese children were the motivation for him to launch the healthy living initiative.
The campaign brings the organization closer to its original roots — active pursuits for its young members — while helping the club reinvent itself by making the most of current technology to focus more sharply on health issues.
The Boy Scouts are now partnering with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program and are using a wide array of technological tools to promote healthy living habits.
In addition to forming partnerships, the BSA is updating its online Facebook page, which has over 130,000 “likes,” and adding links about getting fit on its website. The organization is even adding a sleeve pocket on the scout uniform so members can more easily tote mobile devices.
The Boy Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs both seem to have hit on a winner in their initial forays into social media, while the Girl Scouts have fumbled their first few plays. If nothing else, the publicity over the Girl Scout’s debacle highlights the larger discussion taking place about social media and technology — their obvious benefit in sharing and coordinating, while at the same time touching on their role in timeless issues such as how to handle disagreements.