Social Media For Learning and Problem Solving In Disaster Situations

By Kelly Meeker, OpenSesame Social Media & Community Manager

While social media has a terrible reputation for tempting people to waste time and talk about Justin Bieber, social technologies have tremendous capacity for enabling humanitarian and development professionals to learn, iterate and adapt their practices quickly in challenging circumstances.

(For those who haven’t experimented with Twitter yet, check out the six minute crash course I built for friends who were bugging me to help them “learn to use Twitter.” It’s quick and it will cover the basics. Both that course and another entitled “Beginning Twitter for Professionals, Part 2” are available to LINGOs Member Agencies via your LMS. In addition, I’ll be presenting on Twitter for learning at the LINGOs member meeting in October.)

With famine and drought situations in East Africa, many NGO staff members are faced with incredibly challenging, dynamic relief situations, where the best solutions are never obvious and rarely consistent.

With limited resources, social media creates an opportunity to network with peers all over the world. Social media is the gateway to the personal learning network (PLN): A network of peers where you share your challenges and experiences. You may be the only person with your job function in a 500 mile radius, but social media can help you build a support network based on ideas, challenges and topics.

How do I get started building my PLN?

A strong PLN will help you find information rapidly, get advice, learn from experts as you go, and find support from peers. In turn, you will have opportunities to share your own experiences. Here’s how.


  1. The first step is to figure out where your peers are hanging out. This doesn’t just mean “on Twitter” or on “LinkedIn”. It’s the next level of analysis from there. Is there a hashtag chat on a topic of interest to you? If you’re a training/learning professional, how about #lrnchat? If you work with social entrepreneurs, how about #socent? If you’re seeking advice on using social media, how about the LinkedIn forum on social media for nonprofits? Still new to technology altogether? Try liking “Gettin’ Geeky” on Facebook, where Gina Schreck shares great tips and how-tos on getting social.Ask your peers, coworkers and friends. Next time you attend a conference, find out what the hashtag is and take part in the conference backchannel. Form online relationships through your preferred social networks to reinforce and extend the relationships you have offline.
  2. Create your profiles and introduce yourself. Whether it’s any of the Quora, LinkedIn forums or hashtag-based chats mentioned above or something you find or found, use your profiles as an introduction to who you are, what your affiliations are and what your experience is. Use the same keywords to describe yourself that you would when searching for people to communicate with. Don’t make it hard for people to understand why they would want to network with you. Provide links to your sites and other profiles to make your network connected and multi-faceted. 

3.    Get involved. Start talking. Don’t be bashful. Many people feel unsure about jumping in conversations (perhaps because they view these conversations like the kinds you encounter in real life). Don’t be. People are having these conversations in open forums because they expect, value and welcome new voices and new ideas. If you have something to say, say it. (For more on this, read on.)

4. Curate and share. Once you’ve started building your networks and engaging in conversations, think about how you can make the network richer and more effective. Can you create Storify records of useful Twitter conversations? Can you introduce new voices? Do you have internal resources from your organization that you could share? Do you have a blog where you could feature new ideas and the leaders in your PLN?

 So once you have started building my PLN and you some online connections, you’re probably wondering what kinds of conversations people expect and want to engage in.

  • Share what happened today. Did you develop a new approach to conflict management? Did you find a great resource, blog post or idea? Curate the resources that you use to succeed, and look for people doing the same.
  • Share your organization’s resources and best practices. Within reason, share the point of view your organization has developed over time. 
  • Experiment. The flipside of sharing the ideas you develop on the job is being adventurous and experimenting with the new tools, ideas and suggestions you encounter through your PLN.
  • Ask for help. Do you need help with finding the right person in a distant country to help you clear a shipment through customs? Do you have a challenge with finding the right application or software package to help you solve a problem? Ask. You will find references to new tools or to people have solved the same problems. I’ve been consistently surprised and thrilled and the new connections and helpful ideas I’ve built on social networks.
  • Say thank you. People appreciate hearing that their advice and ideas are being put to work. Say thank you and highlight how your PLN has made you better at your job.

In closing, you can start by reaching out to other LINGOs members through the @LINGOsOrgTwitter account and LinkedIn forums, not to mention the Oct 2011 Member meeting. These are great starting places to find nonprofit professionals focused on organizational learning.

The well-developed PLN is social learning at its finest: Technology providing opportunities for employees in challenging situations to communicate with peers, sharing the challenges and solutions, and improving performance and programs along the way. 

Start Building Your PLN at the LINGOs Member Meeting

I will be giving a presentation on using Twitter and social media for learning and networking at the LINGOs member meeting next week. If you have specific topics of interest or questions you’d like me to cover, please send me an email.


Kelly Meeker is the Community Manager at, a marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. Connect with her at @OpenSesameNow. She’s a communications professional and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali 2005-2007).

To see Eric Berg’s post about the LINGOs Meeting, please click here.