Making social media sing with REO

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about optimizing social media, life, and spirit. Reach her at elgantz()yahoo.com

I have been on a unique journey that has definitely been broadening my horizons— drilling deeply into a real-estate-publishing niche focused on REOs—that’s “real estate owned” properties (not the eighties pop band) that have run the foreclosure gauntlet and are back in the hands of the financial institutions. This is a growing byproduct and reality of our struggling economy, which was so crippled by the once reckless heyday of sub-prime mortgage lending.

Yes, I guess one might say there in a murky dark side to this world—all the financial loss, property vandalism and deterioration, hassle, anger, anguish, shame, and lives in upheaval. But as there is a yin to every yang, REO sales actually provide a glimmer of hope for devastated neighborhoods and broken dreams—the promise of asset managers and investors who are committed to win-win-win propositions which involve neighborhood transformation, green renovation, and helping people live without the oppressive burdens of back-breaking mortgage obligations.

That’s where the REO Expo, June 6 – 9, and the Open Door Institute, a vibrant community for REO professionals, come into play.

I joined the mother ship, The LTV Group, about a month and half ago to develop a social media marketing strategy for the REO Expo and other corporate entities down the road. Other core businesses under the umbrella are REO Insider magazine and HousingWire magazines and LTV Creative. It’s been quite a ride—working with a talented and energetic bunch of folks, as well as a target market with a fiercely persistent, can-do work ethic. We are less than two weeks away, and the registration momentum continues to build. Here are the basics of the case study—with updates to follow.

REO Expo 2010: Social Media Strategy

Objective:
Maximize registrations for REO Expo and simultaneously—expand membership in the Open Door Institute, a new community for REO professionals, requiring dues ranging from $595 to $2995.

Key tactics:
• Driving consistent conversation and engagement activity on Facebook, Twitter, REO Pro Ning community, Linked In, and blog response. Monitor, engage, converse, and respond. In a little over a month, the Facebook fan (or like) page is more than 425-strong.

• Building a complete social media “ecosystem” across all marketing communications channels—with social media group icons inviting engagement on all outgoing emails, materials, and the REO Expo website.

• Launching a “Share Your Story” contest. The winner received free REO Expo registration, a 3-night hotel stay at the conference, and an invitation to the private reception with Emmitt Smith. The two runners up won free registration. We had some very disturbing REO tales, indeed, and interestingly, the site that provided the most involvement was Linked In—through postings on the various subject-matter interest groups.

There were many stories of persistence, accomplishment, and cast-iron stomachs, but our winner, Nelya Calev of Seattle, wove a particularly disconcerting yarn. You can read the whole story on REO Insider blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“Our guys re-keyed the house, and I went to take pictures for BPO. And as I was walking down the hallway when I saw F*&K . . . (name of the bank) written in large letter on the wall and punched holes next to it. Not a big deal, so I take pictures. There was spilled paint on the tile floor, fire place, and carpet. No biggy, right? I walked in to the master bedroom and he had little girls underwear framed on the wall . . . What kind of sick person does that? It scared the crap out of me . . . I went downstairs and he had a picture of . . . “

OK . . . I think you get the picture. Not for the faint of heart, right? She goes on to say she had to deal with crazy neighbors approaching every buyer and scaring them off. He had to babysit buyers and the buyers’ agents to get it sold.


And I thought I have had a colorful career!

The Campaign Results so far:
1. Registrations have increased almost twelve-fold since launching an integrated social media, e-marketing, and traditional materials/word-or-mouth marketing campaign a little over a month a ago—meeting and even surpassing expectations.
2. Open Door Institute Membership has almost doubled in the same time period.

Registration is online at www.REOExpo2010.com. Be sure to sign up sooner than later, because attendance is capped and the free classes that we’re being offered through the Open Door Institute and Default School are filling fast.

There’s more to come, and we will keep you updated. Or, why don’t you join us? For now, it’s time for me to fly . . .

Finding Community Where We Live

I heard Peter Lovenheim, journalist and author of In The Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time, on NPR this morning. His commentary resonated with me as I considered the meaning of community—online and otherwise. Lovenheim felt compelled to write the book after a tragic murder-suicide on his Rochester, NY street, because he suspected less anonymity among his neighbors might have saved the woman’s life.

Lovenheim wonders how people can live side-by-side and know literally nothing about each other, so he brazening invites himself to “sleep over” at the houses of his neighbors. Startling stories unfold. Throughout, he waxes nostalgic about idyllic days of neighborhood barbecues, sipping lemonade on the front porch, and sharing coffee around the kitchen table. This reminded me of that classic 1960 Twilight Zone episode, “Next Stop Willoughby,” in which the addled, frantic advertising exec dreams of a simple, stress-free, small-town life in the late 1880s. (I won’t spoil the twist if you haven’t seen it.)

In his neighborhood, Lovenheim mourns the loss of a slower pace which allowed the time for casual, incidental, face-to-face contact. “We just don’t have the old-fashioned conversations with our neighbors,” laments Lovenheim. One postman he interviewed remarked, “More than 90% of the time, customers would rather give misdirected mail back to me than walking it over to the person next door.” Could our desire for privacy and independence be trumping our basic need for human interaction?

As Lovenheim reaches out to those living in closest proximity, he finds others also secretly searching for connection and yearning for an era gone by. He asks the question—do neighborhoods really matter, and is something missing in our lives when we live among strangers? What makes a group of houses or apartments a neighborhood? Just as our IP addresses have no real meaning in terms of our identity online, our street addresses have become less important components of our personal definitions of “community.” Of course, there are exceptions, but no matter where you are, building front-yard community takes a deliberate effort.

Our lives are fuller and more hectic than ever—with dawn-to-dark work schedules, overly programmed children, mind-numbing commutes, single-parent households, and vehicles available to whisk us off to soccer games, book stores, and gyms across town. Could this lack of physical, local connection be part the dramatic revolution driving social media behavior? After all, isn’t it where we live?

We have to pass laws now to keep people from texting on their mobile phones while they drive. Facebook has become a verb, and I’m in touch with friends I never see in person through their 3:00 and 4:00 am Twitter/Facebook posts. Personal stories. Tales of insomnia. Crumbling relationships. Critically ill relatives. Job losses. Despair. Joy. Finding pig for Farmville. It runs the gamut. And when we do converse real-time, it most likely includes a conversation about the latest iPhone app. Our communication behaviors are no longer sequential—talk on phone, go next door to borrow an egg, then sit down to watch the evening news. Communication is integrated and intertwined. It’s more like a tapestry. I text my son and check email on my mobile phone—while standing in line at the grocery store. No wonder we all fried by the end of the day.

Longing for human interaction, we have moved to online neighborhoods for the same casually intimate, psycho-social interactions that earlier generations experienced in the driveway or on the front lawn. Today, the difference is we access them on our own time. Many say the Internet is detrimental to human relationships, but it’s really a double-edged sword. I contend the Web is really creating a new context and a revised process. In fact, there are a growing number of sites designed specifically to facilitate interaction within neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and subdivisions. Examples include ineighbors.org and aroundme.net. Even Neighborhood America, a large white-label online community company, has recently rebranded as Ingage Networks.

However, social media just may be coming full-circle—trending back toward geo-location. Maybe you really can go home again—virtually speaking, of course. Whether we’re tracking nearby Tweets, stamping your Passport on Gowalla, or unlocking a Swarm badge on Foursquare, we are reorienting our interaction geographically – focusing to people and places around us. The operative question on all this geo-updating is—does anybody really care? But isn’t that what they said about Facebook and Twitter?

Hmm, could a virtual lemonade stand be next? What do you think?

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to make a difference. Elaine covers social media for business, education, and nonproifts. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com

The Latest Blog-buster

I have been pondering Jason Falls’ presentation at the Dallas Social Media Club meeting last Tuesday. (Sorry, been a busy week.) He was jolly, open, and authentic. I liked what he said about the business of blogs. He asserted that his most recent research indicates that the largest segment of blog traffic comes from first-time visitors—debunking the common myth that blogs appeal primarily to a devoted cadre of repeat visitors. Instead, based on Jason contends we actually should approach the blog as we would a standard marketing piece—core marketing messages.

Jason advises that the blog’s primary business purpose should be to “win search results,” so SEO/keyword strategies are mission critical. Most visitors find your blog when they are looking for information. Doesn’t that really help clarify the whole blogging conundrum, that question I hear all the time—What should I write about? Fuel your blogging journey with topics that resonate with your target audience. Develop messaging in an informative style that will trigger comments and engagement. The bottom line—deliver information-rich, intriguing content that promotes what you sell.

On Jason’s own blog, 69% of traffic comes from first time visitors—perhaps from the search term, “social media.” Falls surveyed 300 blogging companies, and for B2B respondents, 65-68% of visitors had landed for the first time. For business-to-consumer blogs, up to 80% were virgin clickers.

As in the traditional marketing world, knowing your audience is what it’s all about. So, the essential question is, “Who is reading your blog?” It may not be your enthusiast community or virtual cult of personality you imagine, but it merits your attention. Jason’s Social Media Explorer is considered one of the most prominent voices of the social media chorus.

He’s a such a teddy-bear sort of guy’s guy—so unpretentious. In fact, after seeing Falls and Brogan in action, I’m noticing a trend. It’s interesting to me that the pioneering minds of social media seem to be these affable-bro types. Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, Giovanni Gallucci, and even Clay Shirky (with some professorial polish) are the kinda guys you expect to see gathered around the big screen at the neighborhood sports bar—just regular guys. I don’t know what I expected, but I wonder how it evolved this way. Maybe it has something to do with the “cool geek factor” of the technology side.

Why does social media leadership seem to be such a boys’ club in general—when women are instinctively wired to find and nurture social relationships. Men, hunter/gatherers. Women, nurturers of home, hearth, and connection. Aren’t women the original social networkers? Could it be that social media is blurring these gender lines of communication? I pursued this a little further to discover that only about 12 of the approximately 63 “featured bloggers” on Social Media Today homepage appear to be women.

I think about my best gal pals from my early career, college, and high school. Many of them have resisted diving into Facebook much longer than the guys I know. They said they just didn’t have time—perhaps because they experience the same social engagement achieved online through their in-person activities, such as work, book clubs, PTA meetings, Saturday afternoon soccer, Sunday school, and Bunko groups. I think about my own entry into this wacky social media world. It was quite by accident. I joked in a recent job interview that I earned an “independent study” Master’s degree when I went to work for YourCause.com, which is now a distant memory for me. Beth Kanter has been forging the cause-focused social media trail much longer than I have, so I suspect the message had more to do with our involvement that the medium.

I wonder if this is because women really do know how do to make connections innately, and this new media frontier gives the “bros” an easier, less intimidating way to bond and relate. Hmmm. Interesting notion.

What do you think?

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com

Will Social Media Make the Grade?

Integrating social media into business in a meaningful way is more difficult than I thought it would be—academically speaking, of course. In fact, it’s really ironic. Though higher education is ostensibly about forging trails, igniting discourse, and driving innovation, the reality is that the business of academia is still working on how to maximize the high-octane power of social media. Methinks it’s probably just a little too out-of-control and outside the box for those venerable educational brands.

I think the real rub is the expectation of immediate results versus the fear of unbridled conversation. But it really comes down to justifying the opportunity cost (now that’s a vestige of my 25-year-old MBA trickling out of my baby-boomer psyche). Truthfully, social media may even be the ultimate paradox. In a world of 24/7 e-commerce, instant gratification, and auto-responses, business leaders want immediate profitability and irrefutable ROI. But social media in business is more about the journey than the destination. It’s process. And that’s very hard to justify in a dollar and cents world—especially in today’s, re-orged, laid-off, downsized, bailed-out, and bedraggled business climate.

As many experts have said about social media, it is more a mindset or behavior that a channel or tool, in the traditional marketing parlance. More and more, I see how companies really need to transform from the inside out. We must radically rethink everything—communication, marketing, and sales to truly maximize the power and effectiveness of social media—and marketing, in general. The online social media space is not an environment where ROI can necessarily be calculated based on standalone, one-off calls to action—but where we build an intertwined, 3-D, online “ecosystem” that enables customers, constituents, or alumni to respond—whether it is buying the latest alumni directory, dog food, or a tax preparation service.

It also means integrating a company’s brand and grassroots employee behavior into the rhythm of the social media dance. To be successful, we can no longer be afraid of engaging through our own profiles, website, and presence. We as small business can carve out a more profitable future if we are willing to fully engage in the opportunities. Granted, social media for business is a revolutionary concept. We must be willing to test, test, test, experiment—and even fail. We must also be willing to allocate time and resources. Some ideas:

1. Perhaps this means training a core group of employees (or volunteers for nonprofits) or interns to nurture, tend, and cultivate social media farm, as Chris Brogan calls it.

2. Start from square one on the brand, value proposition, and core products. It is important to analyze and synthesize online behaviors to best understand how to trigger them. Online activity is a very different behavioral energy from the traditional one-to-one sales call transaction. We must understand the dynamics of both.

3. We must spend as much time listening and participating online at posting calls to action. Social media expert Chris Brogan emphasized this in his recent Dallas presentation. This means actively posting, conversing, and responding on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Gowalla, YouTube, the university website, and blogs. The rehearsal is just as important as the performance. It’s about igniting behavior, interest, and activity – then making the pitch.

How will we know that we are successful? When we have increased our goal of social media lead generation and revenue impact, we will know. In addition, web response tools help us continually clean email addresses, physical addresses, and contacts. Streamlined e-marketing can also drastically reduce dependence on snail mail, thus enhancing the profit margin of each project.

What are the appropriate metrics to track? We will implement a series of initiatives and promotions for each type of product offering. We will measure their effectiveness based on fans, followers, click-thrus, and incremental increases in revenue. Key indicators:

• Brand activity and campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, blogs, online communities, and more traditional news.
• Website traffic.
• Conversions of social media traffic to leads and sales.
• Daily user engagement via online communities.
• Benchmarks for measuring the impact of social media efforts.
• Content on multiple blogs and syndicated content.
• Competitive programs and initiatives within the online product/service community.

A well-meaning, yet hopelessly pedantic friend recently sent me this quote that resonates for me in this context:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com

Chris Brogan Coaches Dallas’ Social Media Farm Team

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Hire her — elgantz@ yahoo.com

Chris Brogan

I saw Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) speak last Thursday night at the Angelika—a real coup for the Dallas Social Media Club (#smcdallas). Chris Brogan is an eleven-year veteran of using social media, web technologies, and mobile applications to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals. He consistently ranks near the top of official blogger lists. Very impressive. I have been a fan of his no-nonsense blog and prodigious tweet stream for a while.

He was certainly convivial—quite clever and coy; however, I gotta admit it. I did not really receive much meat for the price of admission (and I’m not talking about the decimated appetizer bar). I’m talking figurative meat—those insider ah-ha moments and golden nuggets, those epiphanies that come from being submerged and steeped in the social media soup 24/7 and still thirsting for more.

He confessed that he wrote the talk on the plane, and I do think I saw him referring to a cocktail napkin a time or two. I will say that I loved his rapier wit, teddy-bear approachability, and keen sense of comic timing—kind of the Robin Williams of social media. Yet, there were many non sequiturs and streams of consciousness which seemed to flow off course at times. To be fair, I suspect he is used to speaking to the social-media uninitiated, so he focuses on the brass tacks (as opposed to the trackbacks). He seemed constantly surprised that we actually got his jokes. But then again, maybe social media is really just that simple:

• Be nice to people.
• Every person is in the company is in sales and customer service.
• Social media is about authentic relationship building.
• Be there before the sale – social media is about listening, helping, responding, and interacting.
• Reciprocity is what makes social media work.
• Highlight customers.
• Ask questions.
• Understand how to network effectively, and don’t stick to “just your vertical.”

I really liked this concept: “What if marketing were 2 parts helpline, 2 parts connection, and only 1 part selling?” And I liked his concept of farming and tending the garden (Hmmm . . . glad to know my blog of Aug. 23, 2009, was on the right track.) Just don’t want to confuse farming with Farmville. He encouraged us to think about planting seeds, tending, watering, and nurturing growth.

Still, I can’t help asking: Is this a ‘medium is the message’ lesson? (Chris did reference McLuhan several times . . . and Ogilvy) I’m just wondering if the 140-character, truncated messaging of tweets, texts, and pithy comments is defining the way we send and receive content—even in person? Is it impacting spoken language — reformatting and reframing our fundamental speech patterns and synapses? Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are all learning to expect and talk “tweet.”

Guess that means I’d better start brushing up on my Gowalla . . .

What would you like to ask Chris?

Connecting in Isolation

Montreat, North Carolina

I just returned from four days in a miraculous place— Montreat, North Carolina. The peaceful, picturesque village sits nestled in a perfectly pristine pocket that exemplifies some of God’s finest handiwork. Though the temperature hovered near the single digits, the still, stately Black mountains seemed to envelope the eleven of us like a lush, tonal blanket—sprinkled with glistening stars of ice in the day and shimmering droplets of light in the deep, velvet night.

The event featured many fascinating people, presentations, and workshops—intertwined with personal introspection and self-discovery. It is what many have deemed a “thin place”—a location on earth where the veil separating the spiritual realm and the material world is slightly more diaphanous—perhaps, even permeable at times.

This is a place where hearts hunger and souls search.
It is a place where the emotional epiphanies are as significant at the intellectual insights—where relationships with acquaintances deepen and the murkiness of life’s choices becomes profoundly clear.

But this serene setting was only part of the magic. The Rev Brian Blount, President of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, a commanding, compassionate presence, proclaimed during the first night’s session, “You are those God has called” to help nurture and guide our youth. And much like Dorothy, who travels to the exotic Emerald City in search of what is missing in her life, I found the most potent wisdom right there among the very people who accompanied me to this remarkable destination. Silly and seasoned; sassy and sweet; sardonic and soothing—these special spirits shared rich truths and many a poignant moment.

I was humbled and honored to be in this eclectic First Presbyterian Church entourage.

Erika Funk, Youth Initiative Minister of Broad Street Church in Philadelphia, spoke about the lack of empathy she sees in so many of our youth. Is the pseudo interaction of texting and IMing developing a false sense of intimacy—impairing our ability to measure, assess, and manage interpersonal communication effectively? Fundamentally, are we losing the ability to truly “be” with people? It’s a disturbing notion. She is concerned that our young people may be stepping back and away from those in need. “I see a fear of the homeless,” she says. She suspects this may be the consequence of this under-developed empathy and increasing personal isolation. It’s as if our powers of observation and understanding are evaporating.

“There are just fewer and fewer instructions for being human,” Funk laments.

That resonated with me. The paradox is chilling. Is our humanity really waning as we mindlessly create more and more ways to connect? ‘Tis a question worth pondering—in many realms of life—especially since turning back the hands of time is not really a viable option. If this “erzatz engagement” is the new reality, perhaps it is time to revise our expectations of interaction. Or, is it? What does it mean to the way we approach and frame our communication—now and in the future?

What are your thoughts? What do you think about the behavior changes media drives?

Peas in a Pod

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more.

Peer Factor

In his epoch-defining book, The Long Tail, WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson explores the statistically rooted theory of the same name. He suggests, “Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a high number of niches in the tail.” He romances this theory in the context of dominant market forces, including the diminishing physical requirements of distribution and the proliferation of individual content producers empowered by the Internet and new media technologies. His clarifying point is critical,“The Long Tail starts with a million niches, but it isn’t meaningful until those niches are populated with people who want them.” Ay, there’s the rub.

The Democratization of Production and Distribution.

Everything really comes down to the basic economic concept of demand and supply. The difference now is that the cost of reaching niches is reducing dramatically -– thus driving the democratization of production and distribution. In his addendum chapter, Anderson addresses the “the Long Tail of marketing.” The premise of this chapter is that the fragmentation of markets is requiring the fragmentation of marketing. More important, as I have proposed in earlier posts, the user-driven Web is turning the paradigm of traditional marketing communication on its ear.

“(With) individuals trusted more—institutions trusted less—the most effective messaging comes from peers. Nothing beats word of mouth, and as we’ve seen, the Web is the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier the world has ever seen.”

Understanding the Dynamic of Influence.

The integration of the multimedia Web and mobile technologies has forged a brave, new frontier. The medium is really no longer about the message. It’s about the relationship. Therefore, businesses and institutions must shift focus away from managing the message and move toward relating with the influencers. This means leveraging personal affiliations, relationships, and their voices. It also means listening and monitoring through resources, such as:

TechnoratI
Google Trends
Social Networks

The hyperlink is, indeed, the new response device. Traditional metrics, such as audience size and readership are becoming increasingly stale and even irrelevant. Now, response is measured in real-time interactivity—clicks and click-thrus. Action. Anderson says “The hyperlink is the ultimate act of generosity online.” Placing a hyperlink in content signifies tacit endorsement of the associated content and simultaneously gives the author a new brand of authority—the power to refer.

The Power of the Peer.

Given this new focus on the influencer, we as fundraisers could not be in a better place. The development “sweet spot” has arrived. We know that that people give to people, not institutions. And now, the cultural evolution of communication is giving our volunteer fundraisers more power and influence than ever before.

We just need to find the right tools to make them the most successful “askers”— and us the most effective “impresarios” of generosity. Let us know what you think. Ask a question, or leave a comment. Tell us know what you are doing to lake advantage of this rare moment in history.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that matters. Find her at elgantz@ yahoo.com

Tactics for Tough Times

“It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.” –John Steinbeck

Whether you are large or little, flush or floundering, it’s never too late to chart a course to flourish in the New Year. Even though recovery is still looming as a faint glimmer on horizon, we need to be vigilant about honing our skills to work smarter and make the most of the new economic realities. Here are some scrappy, do-more-with-less things you can do to jump-start your marketing program in 2010:

Contact your lapsed donors. Appeal to them via snail mail or better yet, through email. Reactivated donors can have higher lifetime value than new donors, because they’re already invested.

Express gratitude. Curtailing donor-acknowledgment activities as a means of cost-cutting can be counter-productive–and even devastating. In fact, messages of appreciation will be more potent than ever.

Take risks. Yes, even in a time of uncertainty, new tools can help you differentiate yourself in a sea of solicitations and a cacophony of causes. Social media can help you expand your base and leverage the viral power of peer-to-peer fundraising in dynamic, new ways. Discover exciting ways to streamline your process and empower your volunteers. In this Internet age, the medium is definitely the message, as well as the method!

Innovate. Effective fundraising is dependent on innovation. Everything is testable, and any idea can lead to a stronger program. Whether it succeeds or fails, there is something to be learned. The biggest mistake you can make during tough times is to retreat to a defensive position and make decisions out of fear.

Put the “Donate Now” button on everything. Don’t be shy about the “Donate Now” button. So many schools and universities, in particular, are shy about using this. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase online giving–by asking!!! Some key places to put it include:
• Your homepage.
• The homepage of your online community.
• Every email, every e-newsletter you send.

ENGAGE in social media. If you have not already, create a Facebook page that will automatically post status updates to your Twitter account. (Set that up, too.) And, investigate your LinkedIn groups. You may find that that there is already an active community of support burgeoning on these sites. Build a bridge, and interact with online savvy groups.

Investigate mobile applications. Whether you are providing mobile access to a unique resource, to volunteer offerings, or to giving opportunities, everyone is going mobile. We need to communicate to our donors and alumni where they are — in the palms of their hands — through mobile applications, texting, and mobile-friendly rendering of our communication devices. This will be essential in 2010! According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 43.3 million units during the third quarter of 2009 (3Q09), up 4.2% from the 41.5 million units shipped in 3Q08, and up 3.2% from shipments of 41.9 million units in 2Q09.

Whatever you do, keep trusting — and testing, testing, testing . . . And remember to take time to breathe and celebrate everything you have accomplished this year.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com.

Literary Device


I admit it. I like texting. I don’t know if it is the writer in me, the social media maven, mom, or bon vivant, but I am hooked. It took me a while to embrace it, but I have found the direct access to those I care about quite appealing. I can receive a quick text at work when my son gets home from school—or a little casual banter with a flirtatious friend—without the formality a phone conversation entails. I guess it’s part of the “instant,” byte-sized culture we are creating.

So, I suspect that’s why I haven’t stopped thinking about Stanford University professor Andrea Lunsford’s five-year examination of college students’ writing in the Stanford Study of Writing. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. What she discovered might surprise you. The reality is that the most popular technological tools and social media platforms continue to receive plenty of sanctimonious slander—from Facebook’s narcissistic drivel, to PowerPoint’s bullet-point prose, to Twitter’s unintelligible prattle. But in true train-wreck fashion, we just can’t seem to stop looking.

As many traditional academicians, such as University College of London English professor John Sutherland have moaned, social media and texting are “dehydrating language into bleak, bald, sad shorthand.” However, the new media guard thinks differently. The truth is that communication is evolving and morphing as breakneck speed, and we are right smack in the middle of maelstrom. Granted, it’s hard to achieve the perspective needed to make sense of it all. Professor Lunsford suggests:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization. Technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.”

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing happens online, and it almost always involves text. Moreover, they are writing more than any previous generation, ever—in history. They are immersed in a complex, often confounding, new space where writers and their audiences are now enmeshed. “The consumer has become the producer,” says Professor Clay Shirky. The rules of the game have changed, and communication mores have been literallyturned upside down.

Lunsford pins her findings to the pervasive psycho-sociological trends defining our culture. She says, “More than earlier generations, young people today are aware of the precarious nature of our lives. They understand the dangers that await us. Hence, writing is a way to get a sense of power.” Interestingly, comparing the Stanford students’ writing with their peers from the mid-1980s, Lunsford found that the writing of today’s students is about three times as long today—they have “the ability to generate more prose.” I guess expressing ideas about hard things requires hard words. And when grappling with hard things, “I don’t think it can be worked out in 140 characters,” Lunsford contends. How ironic.

Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom. Lunsford calls this “life writing.” Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up. The fact that students today almost always write for an audience—a real switch from the prior generation—gives them a different sense of focus and message impact. It’s almost as if we are narrating our own lives. In interviews, students defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading, organizing, and debating. It’s about finding a voice and taking a stand—even if it’s a review of the latest movie.

The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing, because it had no audience but the professor. It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. How about texting those LOLs and emoticons? Are they eroding the sanctity of academic writing? When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

At the end of the day, texting has it’s time and place. And, there’s the rub. It represents a fascinating dichotomy of communication. It is simultaneously immediate and intimate, yet passive. It finds you any time of the day or night (no matter where you are—except driving, I hope) in the soft, fleshy palm of your hand. But at the same time, it gives you the power to choose when and how you want to respond. To engage or not to engage—the new “text-i-quette.”

Some psychologists warn against this intimate anonymity—that it encourages risky behavior. Elisabeth Wilkins wrote in a blog post that “texting can rob our kids of the ability to interact socially”—diminishing the importance of body language and facial expressions. I think the evolution of email and texting has radically changed the way we communicate and how we express ourselves, but I’m not sure it’s something we can condemn or alter. It simply is. It is the new communications behavior and landscape, which is inextricably intertwined with the technological innovation that enables it.

What do you think of texting and the changing patterns of communication? How are they affecting us as human beings?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com

Organizing Chaos in 2010

Those who ponder the power and possibilities of social media—and its role in our organizations, lives, and culture are all positing predictions for 2010. But, at the end of the day, the big question on everyone’s lips seems to be, “What is the next big thing”? Will it be about catching the Google Wave, the open source document sharing platform—or will our growing mobile obsession drive the success of location-based applications like Foursquare and Brightkite?

Even the experts are unsure. However, I’m not sure forecasting the next Twitter is really the useful question—particularly for those us who focus on leveraging social media in a business context. Most thoughtful professionals I know—particularly in the educational advancement and alumni space—are looking for ways to harness the tools that are already in play more effectively and strategically. Approaching the social media landscape is a little like trying to take a drink from a fire hose—like organizing chaos. We all see the strength of the tools, but we wonder how it all fits and how it will make a difference in our organizations. With this concept as a backdrop, here is how I interpret my crystal ball:

1. Social Media Will Become Less Social.

First of all, I’d like to revisit the term “social media.” There is something about this nomenclature that sounds almost trivial or lacking in substance. I’d like to coin a new term – “engagement media.” It’s more active and deliberate. David Armano said on his Harvard Business School blog recently, “With groups, lists, and niche networks becoming more popular, networks could begin to feel more ‘exclusive.’ Not everyone can fit on someone’s newly created Twitter list and as networks begin to fill with noise, it’s likely that user behavior such as ‘hiding’ the hyperactive ‘updaters’ that appear in your Facebook news feed may become more common. Perhaps it’s not actually less social, but it might seem that way as we all come to terms with getting value out of our networks—while filtering out the clutter.” And I think David is spot on here. We will be looking for more sophisticated, relevant experiences—greater value and ROE, return on engagement.

2. More Enterprise Social Software Platforms Will Emerge.

As an extension of the above development, major software providers, such as IBM, SAP, and Oracle will continue to innovate and launch enterprise-grade social networking and Web 2.0 collaboration applications/suites. Already, Oracle has Beehive; Microsoft enhanced SharePoint with social media functionality, and IBM offers Lotus Connections. Targeted niche solutions will emerge to address industry and stakeholder-specific needs. Currently, many organizations are piecing together solutions with blogs on TypePad/WordPress—or investing significant amounts of time and money in developing in-house communities using tools such as Ruby on Rails.

3. Social Media (“Engagement Media”) Fundraising Will Become More Integrated.

Organizations of all sizes will see the value of fully integrated multi-channel strategies. Using social media channels alone for fundraising will not be as effective as designing coordinated campaigns and communication strategies that include traditional fundraising techniques. This includes email, your website, Google ads, face-to-face events, and managed promotion to the online and mainstream media. Beth Kanter confirms this predication and gives a great example. Just last week, GiveMN, a new online web site that hopes to encourage more Minnesotans to give and help create a stronger nonprofit community for Minnesota, raised over $14 million dollars in 24 hours using a multi-channel campaign.

4. Relevance and Ease Will Become Increasingly Important in Peer-to-Peer Fundraising.

There is no more compelling spokesperson for an organization or school than a passionate supporter. This is the core strength of peer-to-peer fundraising. And there are a range of scenarios—from a class agent soliciting annual fund gifts for his or her school, to a stakeholder requesting donations in lieu of birthday presents or wedding gifts for an organization. In fact, Facebook Causes now offers a birthday wish feature, and we will likely see more peer-to-peer fundraising applications sprouting up in the coming months. In 2010, I suspect donors will demand more meaningful interaction—not so much with organizations, but with recipients and “the mission on the ground.” Epic Change’s TweetsGiving 2009 connects friends around the world with Mama Lucy Kamptoni, who used income from selling chickens to build an innovative school in her village’s community in Tanzania. Last year, TweetsGiving, raised $11,000—with a goal of$100,000 this year.

5. Email as We Know it Will Become Passé.

As Erik Qualman says in his popular Social Media Revolution video, GEN X and Y already view email as passé. And the trend will accelerate—or rather, morph technologically. The New York Times iPhone application recently added functionality which allows a user to easily share an article across networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many websites already support this functionality, but this next iteration of sharing behavior will gradually replace email list communications—particularly through the exponential expansion of mobile phone adoption. And this will provide renewed opportunities for withering content purveyors, such as traditional newspapers and network television. So, stay tuned. Fasten your seat belt.

It’s likely to be a wild ride! What are your prognostications?