Jews and Social Media: Aligned values reinforce an Authentic strategy

by cv harquail on September 21, 2009

Can your organization’s core values make it easier for you to extend yourselves onto social media effectively?

For some organizations, absolutely yes. Consider the opportunity for one Jewish organization as it considers its social media strategy.

200909211207.jpgLast week I had the chance to work with a group of non-profit Jewish professionals in charge of youth community outreach for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). They invited me to run a workshop on Community & Branding, with an emphasis on tactics for being more authentic as they extend themselves into social media.

When I work with organizations attempting to express themselves authentically with social media, often the first challenge is understanding how using social media effectively will compromise or confront their organization’s core values and standard operating procedures. As anticipated in the elective I taught at Darden in 2000 to 2002 on Leading in the Digital Economy, and now becoming clear to social media experts and early-adopting organizations, the movement towards ‘interwebbed’ interaction through social media challenges some long-held notions about control, command, and hierarchy.

For any organization looking to become a more “social organization”, the values, attitudes, and behaviors necessary for success in online interaction (within the organization and across the organization’s boundaries) can contradict values that  implicitly and explicitly guide them.

This might not be the challenge facing the Union for Reform Judaism.

Values supporting a Social Media Strategy

As I learned more about this particular part of the larger organization and considered their list of shared values, several of these values seem (to me) to align with the shift in values that transparency, inside-outside interaction, supporting the ‘customer’ on social media calls for.

Of the URJ’s values (outlined on the site), these appear to be to be particularly well-suited to a social media strategy:

The need for community to provide an outlet for the individual needs of all Jews

The need and desire to work together to foster each individual’s connection and commitment to ensuring the vibrancy of our movement

The acceptance and encouragement of alternate modes of Jewish experience

The understanding that we are to be a light unto the nations by fostering an environment where every individual can meet and exceed their potential as Jews and citizens of the world



Emphasizing and enacting the value of Community is precisely what social media is about… ‘all’ the URJ needs to do is to recognize that by providing online community for their clients and participating in the larger Jewish online community they are putting this core value into action. While it may be that some of the attitudes and practices that go with face-to-face community building need to be adapted to online community building and participation, this will require only adjustment in tactics, not in core values.


Emphasizing and enacting the value of Partnership seems like another direct application of URJ values to the Jewish youth who are online. They not only need to work to become partners with each youth client, but also to become partners with the communities that these Youth are already part of. Enacting the value of partnership, the URJ has a built-in, positive posture towards connecting person to person, community to community and person to community.


Emphasizing and enacting the value of Pluralism could help the URJ accept and respond to the generational differences between how their clients (e.g., Reform Jewish youth) understand and use social media and how the URJ as an organization might want to use social media. This value could help them establish a posture of understanding and adapting to these preferences, rather than enforcing or propounding a particular kind of relationship between social media, youth and the URJ organization.


Emphasizing the value of Moral Self-Growth asks the URJ to start with the ‘self’ as a resource for finding moral balance, sustaining good character, and being part of the community. And where better to focus their efforts for self-growth, as individuals and as an organization, than on their own authenticity?

As each individual URJ staffer puts his or her Jewish values into action, and as the URJ organization as a whole reflects on who they are together, they will be more effective at using social media to express their authenticity. Moreover, any obstacle that comes their way, whether it is something personal like a discomfort with sharing authority or something collective like a discomfort with sharing authority, can be approached first by returning to the question “How can we be true to our values as Jews and as a URJ organization as we respond to this challenge?”

Espoused Values to Enacted Values

Of course, as an outsider (neither a member of the URJ nor a Jew myself) I can’t say know how well the organization holds itself to these values. The URJ, like most organizations, may experience a gap between what they espouse and what they actually enact in their behavior.

However, the URJ has an advantage, in that the challenges of working effectively with social media to connect with their clients/community will invite them to put their organization’s values into action. incorporating social media into their current outreach and internal practices gives the URJ a chance to close any gaps between the values they espouse and what values they enact.

‘Simply’ (in quotes because it isn’t easy) by working to be better Reform Jews and challenging themselves to be authentic in each of their social media forays, these non-profit professionals can both reinforce their organization’s shift to being more social and engage & enact their organizational- and personal – values.

200909211203.jpg Social Media as an invitation to Authenticity

Most organizations struggle in their approach to social media, often because the values that undergird social media practice conflict with some of the values that are fundamental to the organization. Not necessarily so with the URJ…

There seems to be a promising overlap between the opportunities of adopting new technology, the necessary transformation of the organization, and the pursuit of the organization’s collective purpose. Instead of being challenged to change their core values, the URJ is instead inviting itself to be more Authentic. This seems like a positive and powerful strategy for incorporating social media.

Photos from National Federation of Temple Youth stream on Flickr


Rabbi Laura Baum September 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

As the rabbi of an online synagogue ( that launched more than a year ago – I can say that our Jewish and humanistic values definitely align with what we do on the web. Technology is one more tool we can use to reach people. We see Judaism as a constantly evolving religion – and the tools of social media help us continue to participate in that ongoing evolution. We value creating a contemporary Jewish experience.

Lisa Colton September 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Your comments are insightful. I believe social media is a huge opportunity for values driven organizations like the URL because the social media community puts so much emphasis on transparency and authenticity. I appreciate that the URJ youth programs have jumped head first into social media with NFTY and camps on Twitter in the past year, and I look forward to seeing how they adjust their uses after working with you. We’re also giving away Shel Israel’s book Twitterville where he talks about many of the same themes you’re addressing here. URJ tweeters and others are welcome to leave a comment on our blog to be entered to win it!
.-= Lisa Colton´s last blog ..Hey Northern New Jersey, It’s Your Lucky Day =-.

CV Harquail September 25, 2009 at 10:06 am

Rabbi Baum and Lisa C.-

Thank you both so much for your comments! I went to both of your sites and they are exciting in the ways that they are unfolding the values of Jewish Community online! The challenge of creating a ‘contemporary’ experience is important to more than marketers, and for more than just outreach. It’s clear that by participating online, community members actually get “to be” (parts of) themselves.

Lisa, I was particularly touched by the ways that your temple community is working to put into practice what you learned from the community survey. Social media can’t address all of those needs, but for those who are ready to be more online, it can help to reinforce the connections. Still, nothing matters more than a rabbi/leader who knows your name, or communicating to members that you want them to stay after the formal events, to be together.

Lisa, I also saw some interesting comments on your post, where folks are interested in the overlap between the organization and the person doing the twittering for the organization. Might I suggest that you check out the posts here on brandividuals, and also on whether to twitter with a person or a logo? It would be interesting to consider whether the advice for product brands works or does not work for ‘value-based communities’ like religious congregations.

Please do keep me in mind if/when you come up with interesting challenges or surprising insights! cvh
.-= CV Harquail´s last blog ..Jews and Social Media: Aligned values reinforce an Authentic strategy =-.

Comments on this entry are closed.