Tweeting Up a Hurricane in #NOLAGA

by Florence Broder

From Bloggers’ Alley to a Schmooze Up creatively titled NOLAISM (New Orleans Innovators and Social Media), social media of all kinds was definitely on the radar screen of this year’s General Assembly. So much so, that JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman made it a point to say that by the closing plenary there had been over 4000 tweets about the GA.

What made this year’s GA different than last year’s? JFNA was aggressive early on in promoting the #NOLAGA hashtag over Twitter. Major Twitter influencers in the Jewish world like @estherk, @jewlicious, @jewishgps, @rabbiyonah, @benjilovitt and the über tweeter himself, @daroff latched on and it helped create buzz. Their presence at the GA was announced in the JTA’s Fundermentalist blog. Long before the conference, tweeple were simply posting that they were excited about meeting up with old friends. After all social media is first and foremost about being social!

Beyond the influencers many more Federations have an active presence on Twitter and on Facebook. Darim Online CEO Lisa Colton, moderated a panel titled, Ten Commandments of Social Media: New Rules of the Game for Federations, featuring UJA-Federation of NY, Federation CJA, and CJP Boston as case studies. A common thread that ran amongst all their presentations is that more than ever the “establishment” is beginning to understand that social media is a two way street. They recognize the need to take risks – meaning they are more comfortable with losing control of their brand. This panel was one of many that dealt with issues of social media to build community and for fundraising.

Another critical factor was that this was a much younger GA and there was simply a fervent energy in the air. There were 600 Hillel students and more NextGeners than ever. With them they brought their tech savyiness which filled a significant void. They were armed with their smart phones, laptops, and more. Additionally, their presence demonstrated that they are interested in sitting at the Jewish communal table along with everyone else.

But what does this shift signal? Is there something deeper happening to the psyche of the Jewish community? If the Futures Conference is any indication, it appears that the establishment is finally making peace with the fact that they can’t do “business as usual.” They have to meet the younger generation where they are to bring them into the fold. Last year’s GA was about about bargaining and this year we saw that they are moving toward acceptance. These are big steps after years in denial.

A Twitter debate currently ensues regarding what next year’s hashtag should be for the GA in Denver, illustrating once again that JFNA’s audience is now taking control of the brand and running with it. The suggestions have run the gamut of #CoGA, #SkiGa, #DenCoGA, #GA11 and more. Will every Jewish communal institution be able to relinquish control of their brand? How will they be able to appease their audience? How will the establishment move to attract the next generation of leadership? How will they keep up with latest technologies to ensure that they keep speaking the same language the youth are speaking? No matter what the answer, it’s clear the NextGeners have used technology to launch a coup and have a seat at the Jewish communal table.

Florence Broder manages social media for the Jewish Agency for Israel.