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?

Accounting for Generosity

We forget that there is no hope or joy except in human relationships.
— Antoine de Saint Exupery,Wind, Sand and Stars

moneyOne of my newest colleagues posed a provocative question last week. He actually has no shortage of insights, and I certainly appreciate living in an environment where questions are as highly valued as answers. Indeed, his inquiry is at the heart of what we do. What inspires alumni to give to their alma maters? More broadly, why do we give in general? At face value, this seems like a simple question, but the longer I work in the field of philanthropy, the more I understand its complexities. Actually, a myriad of responses come to mind—to address a critical need, to save a life, a response to the right appeal from the right person at the right time, a passion for a cause, a sense of obligation, guilt, helplessness, or quite simply— we are asked.

Traditional fundraising methods prescribe a deliberate approach built around the carefully managed steps of cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. I remember hearing a development consultant stating that he could not imagine a better profession. He described an almost spiritual dimension—saying he felt truly privileged and honored to be in the presence of others when they are exhibiting generosity. And I think he had a point.

In fact, I addressed the sacred component of giving today. Though the Church historically and adroitly integrates giving opportunities into its core experience each week, the last quarter of the calendar year provides an opportunity to renew one’s annual tithing commitment. Making the direct correlation between generosity, one’s income, and one’s spiritual journey is quite powerful, indeed.

But research has shown there may also be a scientific component. I was fascinated to see the results of a study by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University. The concept of a “neuroeconomist” is intriguing in its own right, but his work links the trait of generosity with oxytocin, a hormone released by the brain in response to social stimuli. The study showed that participants who were given oxytocin gave significantly more money to a stranger than participants who took a placebo. Whether or not there is a “fundraising drug,” (what a concept?) I think the epiphany here for all of us in the social media space is that meaningful, real engagement opportunities can create an environment that nurtures of generosity and an increase proclivity to give.

“The hormone causes a general feeling of attachment to other people, even strangers,” Zak says. That may help explain why people donate to victims of natural disasters or to others who are in need. “Oxytocin is a social glue that holds us all together and makes us care about other people,” says Zak, who has shown links between the hormone and trust in past research.

“If you have enough nurturing, if you’re in a safe environment, you might be more likely to release oxytocin the next time you encounter a positive social stimulus,” Zak says. Interestingly, he says that about 2% of people constantly have oxytocin being released by their brains, so they stop reacting to it. “Those people lack empathy,” Zak says. Although they can still learn appropriate behaviors, the reactions are not natural for them. Ha! I think I have met some of those people. Oxytocin means “swift birth” in Greek.

Whether you consider the hormonal reaction or not, it really all comes down to relationships—more about the intangible than the tangible. It is often first an emotional impulse of the heart, followed by a logical justification. We are all interconnected as part of a larger human web, and I’m not necessarily talking about the WWW variety here. We are human beings driven by:

Compassion. Regardless of cultural and familial experience, people everywhere are moved to respond when others are in need.

Pleasure. Brain scans confirm what we experience feeling of pleasure when we give. In a sense, it’s really “hard-wiring.”

Habit. If we watched our parents give, we likely internalized that impression. We understand—on even an unconscious level—that this is what good people do.

Belief. Whether we consider charity to be based on religious beliefs, philosophy, or universal values, we as humans recognize an essential imperative to take care of each other. These ideas are larger than self-interest and benefit.

Responsibility. When others are hungry, sick, frightened, without shelter and livelihood our society is put at risk. Our education institutions are driving solutions to many of society’s most pressing issues.

Legacy. When we give we know that we influence the future, sometimes only immediately and sometimes for a very long time. By creating a memorial endowment fund we keep our name and memory alive in the community long past the obituary.

The unknown. We may even have unknown reasons for giving—some even unknown to ourselves.

What do you think? And how is social media impacting generosity?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media, fundraising, and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation.

Hire me: elgantz@ yahoo.com.

The New Peer-to-Peer Potential

hand
The Giving USA Foundation/Giving Institute released its Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year ending December 31, 2008 in June of this year. Notably, despite the impact of the recession and arguably the most challenging economy since the Great Depression, total giving to charitable causes in the United States reached an estimated $307.65 billion.

The key finding here is that individual giving continues to account for the largest percentage of overall giving at 75 percent of the total. Individual giving is an estimated $229.28 billion, (down by 2.7 percent over 2007 with a -6.3 percent adjustment for inflation). Education organizations received an estimated $40.94 billion, or 13 percent of the total. Gifts to this type of organization decreased 5.5 percent with a -9 percent adjusted for inflation.

As fundraisers, the path is clear. Individuals represent our greatest opportunity for recovery and growth. That said, our methods of securing individual donations definitely deserve some scrutiny and consideration—especially in light of rapid-fire technological changes impacting the landscape.

Just how can we maximize individual giving? And what are the fundamental trends and challenges influencing the proven solicitation process?

Throughout my career, I have heard mentors chant, “People don’t give to institutions; they give to people.” It is a time-tested fundraising adage, and it defines the essential nature of one-on-one solicitation at the very heart of fundraising. The process of one person asking another to give is what fundraising is all about. One-on-one meetings and conversations are the moments where the school’s case for support is made most effectively with a blend of passion and hard facts. It is the personal relationships between volunteer solicitors and donors that generate funding and continuing support for institutions across the street and across the globe. Research, cultivation and stewardship are all part of the solicitation process, but nothing happens until—we ask.

As we learned from the game-changing success of Internet fundraising in the last presidential campaign, closed–door handshakes and smoke-filled rooms are anachronisms. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Obama groundswell was the return of grassroots participation—the return to people. That is, people reaching out—one to another—to ask for support. Whether online or on the front porch, people asked— peers and strangers.

The automation of the contact process was nothing short of amazing—phone scripts downloaded seamlessly to kitchen and dining-room computers all over the nation and people giving up their Sunday afternoons to attend calling parties with cell phones in hand. Real-time tracking reports updated party calling returns as it the volunteers were dialing—thus enlivening the competitive spirit along with the political passion for change.

This was the fruitful marriage of personal peer-to-peer power and technology.

Today, the world of online fundraising tools and platforms is evolving rapidly. Social media is a radical new milieu impacting the time-honored one-on-one tradition. Think about Facebook CAUSES with more than 33 million monthly active users and social action sites such as www.change.org. or www.care2.com.

Everyone is trying to figure out how the infuse electronic appeal with the authenticity of human emotion. Photos, audio, video—innovations are expanding exponentially. Charity:Water has used video as the medium for its organization’s message very effectively.

So, what are some other opportunities tools and methods? I am interested in learning how schools, universities, and institutions are absorbing these tactics. What’s working? What’s not? What’s changing? What needs to change? How can we best automate and streamline the peer-to-peer solicitation process?

In a world with so many demands on time and attention, we as fundraisers will be more successful if we can appeal to the behaviors and preferences of those making the asks—our volunteers, ambassadors, and emerging Gen X leaders of today and tomorrow.

Contact me at elgantz @ yahoo.com.

Getting smart about online communities

capI am excited about my new focus on helping universities, colleges, and private schools provide continuing, multi-dimensional value to their alumni through social media—and specifically, custom online communities.

The opportunities for engagement and exchange are rich and powerful in a higher education environment. Leveraging the strength of the profound personal connection through the “ambient intimacy” of online interaction can ultimately help increase giving, boost admissions referrals, and engage more alumni in meaningful ways. For alumni associations, the applications are very compelling:

• Increase investment in affinity products and institution-related activities.
• Enrich and deepen the institution’s “brand” experience for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.
• Promote and strengthen the foundations of affiliation (class year, school/college, dorm/Greek organization, student activity, professional focus)
• Position the institution’s community to positively impact loyalty-related outcomes, such as annual giving, association membership, reunion attendance, and etc.

The challenge is maximizing the ongoing value of an online community by balancing institution content control with user participation. Remember, it’s about relationships—building on the ephemeral—memories, experiences, and bonds based less on practical deliverables and more the emotions of affiliation.

In his August 2009 Wall Street Journal article on corporate branded communities, The Fans Know Best, Dr.Uptal Dholakia of Rice University contends:

“Allowing discussion and activities like networking and socializing leads visitors to participate in the site for emotional and social reasons. It keeps them coming back, and thus strengthens the bond between them and the company (and each other). Part of giving up control is also giving visitors the freedom to complain and criticize the brand, or to wax lyrical about a competitor, to their heart’s content.”

Therefore, our task becomes more focused on orchestrating, monitoring, and responding–rather than drafting, editing, and deleting.

Though Dr. Dholakia is speaking of the corporate sector here, I think the ideas can be applied to association communities, as well. Visitors frequent communities, because they enjoy the experience—not because it is something on the to-do list. Think about the silly quizzes on Facebook. The “fun factor” should not be underestimated as a key driver of engagement. Yet, it’s possible for universities and colleges to deliver real value in the process. We must not forget the truly “social” component of social media—providing a platform for witty banter. And universities alumni already have a built-in affinity. The potential is boundless—to create what I call the “perpetual reunion.” It’s 365/24/7 engagement.

Dr.Uptal Dholakia offers a high-octane example of community-building savvy from the corporate world:
lego
“When Lego Group set out to develop Mindstorms NXT, the latest version of its game for building programmable robots, it enlisted help from a group of adult enthusiasts whom it found on Lugnet.com, the largest unofficial community of Lego fans. While the marketing target for Mindstorms is mainly teenage boys, the people that Lego reached out to were men in their 40s and 50s who knew each other from communicating and working together on elaborate Lego projects on Lugnet.com.

The group’s members, according to a Lego spokesman, contributed ‘incredibly valuable insights’ in hardware, software, design and usability based on their own experiences. The company credits the group with helping to make Mindstorms NXT appeal both to adults and ‘a new, younger generation of robotics enthusiasts.’”

Just think of the application for a university community—building connection between alumni, faculty, and staff—students and even prospective students. Not all colleges and universities are systematically monitoring their “unofficial” user-driven groups on LinkedIn, Fan Pages on Facebook, and Twitter feeds. But tracking and engaging these communities can provide a wealth of opportunities, alliances, ideas, innovations, and energy.

What are your thoughts? To learn more about unleashing the power of the web, contact me: elgantz @ yahoo.com.

Listening Lessons

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. Find out more at SocialFuse.

“To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.”
-Chinese Proverb

ear
I attended a meeting of social media aficionados last week—the Dallas Social Media Club. It was a vibrant group of new-media-savvy folks with cutting-edge interests and razor-sharp wits. I loved the energy in the room and the combination of slightly smug awareness and wide-eyed curiosity about what might replace Twitter as the next techno-networking phenomenon. Officially, “the Social Media Club Dallas focuses on social media practitioners in corporate, agency, and PR roles—primarily interested in how the medium to large enterprises are leveraging social media to reach, engage, and most important, drive revenue.”

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Thursday evening’s confab consisted primarily of “vendor” types—as the speaker, Chris Vary, VP of Weber Shandwick’s Digital Division, noted when he conducted a quick poll of the room. I think this strongly indicates that the social media charge is still led by the practitioner-evangelists, and that most businesses, small to large to small (including nonprofits), have still not seen the proverbial light. On a practical level, they have not figured out how to integrate it into everyday operations.

As I have posited in past posts, I believe this is because it is more than a change of media. It is a change of mentality. That’s a tougher paradigm to shift. Clay Shirky is one our most articulate voices around the gestalt of this communication transformation, yet it’s still a bit slippery.

As I interact with nonprofits and small businesses, I struggle to identify ways to provide high-value impact. So many complain that they have set up their various social platform accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In, but they sit dormant—like throwing a party and no one attends. Still, nonprofits and for-profits are tentative about investing—staff time, budgets, mindshare to the care and feeding of these communities without tangible proof of ROI. I was amazed when the PR big wheels at Weber Shandwick had to cajole their Fortune 10 client— General Motors, to commit to social media. It took three years. They had to construct some sort of elaborate expense metaphor quantifying projected Google pay-per-click costs.

So, more and more, I’m thinking it is really all about listening. I’m not too keen on the concept of “active listening,” because I think that is redundant and a little cheesy, as my teenage sons say. “Passive listening” is simply not paying attention in my book. (That reminds me of some relationships I’ve had.) That said, I think businesses should first approach social media as a listening tool, as opposed to a communications tool—an ear as opposed to a mouth. I think that helps marketers diminish some of the execution-related tension. All of the social media gurus—from Beth Kanter to Seth Godin, recommend starting with listening. However, I’m now thinking this should be the fundamental objective—allowing other opportunities to blossom.

Really, social media is a gift to market research professionals—a way to gather real-time and real customer feedback inexpensively. Then, the way we respond can dramatically enhance, strength, and embellish our brands in this new context of conversation. Crafting the response becomes the artistry. We can provide customer service, build relationships, or even soothe the ruffled feathers of cranky influencers/bloggers. This must be authentic, customer-validating, spin-free conversation.

Chris Vary talked about the new PR being the “virtual newsroom.” He is definitely on to something. We as public relations and communications professionals must me become more like monitors than marketers. Great places to start include: (Begin with the free ones.)

Technorati
Google Alerts
Social Mention
Delicious
Twitter
Radian 6

RSS feed rules:

Your feed dashboard becomes your roadmap. Set up Google Reader, iGoogle, or Bloglines to track—organization names, names of key leaders/board members, other players in your space, industry terms, your URLs, possible controversial subjects, etc. Get creative with keywords. And as Beth Kanter advises, involve the entire operation in the process. Here’s Beth’s great presentation:

Move social media out of the silo of the communications department. Empower all of your employees as listeners. Then, your social media strategy looks more like a training initiative for your various constituents and stakeholders. Brainstorm keywords, learn how to respond effectively, and handle red-flag issues. This is where social media gets organic, integrated, and exponential in impact.

Are you listening?

Change of Heart?

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. Find out more at SocialFuse.

“It is not enough to stay busy. So, too, are the ants. The question is what you are busy about.” Henry David Thoreau

heartimageSeth Godin has ignited an Internet firestorm with his recent blog post condemning nonprofits for their aversion to change and their resistance to embracing social media in a passionate way. I think he has hit a nerve, but I suspect the emotional reaction is indicative of a much deeper, lurking tension at the very heart of the public sector.

As I wrote on this blog last week, social media is more a functional change in the way we live – as opposed to just the newest bright, shiny gadget. Clay Shirky calls it “the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.” Seth, this is a vast, ubiquitous, socio-cultural revolution. Perhaps, that explains why nonprofit and for-profit enterprises, alike, are a little reticent about just “showing up” haphazardly on Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you may recall, Seth laments, “Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way.” I think it’s more than “showing up.” Although, one of my favorite quotes is Woody Allen’s, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I guess it’s complicated, as they say on Facebook. Perhaps we all need to just start swimming and learn to stay afloat as we go. Regardless, I think communicators have a daunting task ahead—no matter where they play—figuring out how to harness the enormous power within some sort of workable plan.

Still, I have to admit that on some level, Seth’s righteous indignation about an entire sector defining itself by “what it is not” (i.e. nonprofit) resonated strongly with me. As a wordsmith and amateur psychologist, I think this negative identity creates an inherent tension or incongruity of purpose. Perhaps even a self-esteem problem?

I was reminded of a brilliant closing session speaker I saw at last year’s Governor’s Conference for nonprofits presented by Austin’s One Star Foundation last year. The dynamic and innovative Valerie Keller, CEO of the Outreach Center in Lafayette, LA, spoke to this group of passionate Texas nonprofit leaders about this very issue. Her fervor took on the urgency of a battle cry—as she chided the well-meaning, often overly self-effacing social sector for settling for this dismissive “non” moniker. This concept also aligns with what I discussed last week when I mused about the emerging imperative for the nonprofit sector to rethink the ways it does business and functions at a core level.

In Valerie’s case, she definitely walks her talk. She has successfully reenergized a social service agency in a struggling region of Louisiana through creative public/private entrepreneurial partnerships and a social enterprise model. Social enterprise—now, that’s a term that jazzes me.

uncharitableAnother thought-leader in this area is Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable. Dan harshly critiques the underlying value system that confines our charities and other nonprofit organizations. Pallotta sheds light on the frugal, almost prudish constraints the public expects from nonprofits—everything from banning paid advertising, to perpetuating substandard wages for nonprofit employees. He examines the public’s unconscious expectation that nonprofits behave differently from for-profits and points the finger at Americans’ Puritan heritage of self-denial and frugality. That’s an interesting notion that may not tell the whole story—but may contribute to the perception.

We say, “Grow, grow, and do more . . . but, uh, don’t spend money!” On some level, we seem to want the nonprofit sector to shun the very strategies and tactics that drive the business sector. There’s the rub—a fundamental disconnect. Further, Pallotta argues that the public tends to fixate too tenaciously on fundraising ratios and low overhead costs as the only relevant success measures. These arbitrary efficiency calculations do not always translate into results—or impact, for that matter. Instead, he calls for donors to focus on this:

“What has the organization achieved, and what can it achieve with my donation?”

Pallotta challenges us to speak up on behalf of nonprofits and actively educate donors on the necessity of cost-effective administrative expenses and business techniques that can build the best launching pads for nonprofits and—the change they seek to create.

What do you think?