Buzz Pill?

Is there a magic social media pill? We all seem to be looking for it.

As a professional riding the social media tidal wave, I’m engaged—in witty Facebook banter, of course, but I’m also digging deeper—doing some serious soul-searching about the role of social media in marketing, how best to execute it, how to manage it, and how to leverage its power to make clients and associates successful and happy. I guess taking a hard look at my path is sort of a mirror to my life—as some of my most enlightened friends would say.

Yet, it’s surprisingly tough—on all levels. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, iPads, Nooks, etc., social media is embedded in every fiber of our awareness. Personally, I feel unhinged without my Apple. (Remember Eden?) With something so pervasive, so woven into the fabric of our daily behavior, one would think clarity and monetization would be a cinch. But not so fast. It can be difficult to put the buzz back in the bottle! It is not enough to simply offer up content and post updates.

Brand advocates and marketers who want to take advantage of social media are encountering a tangled web. They are finding they need to design a fully integrated program of active and ongoing engagement, connecting customers with the actual human beings in their organizations who can meet their needs. It’s part Marketing 101 and part online alchemy, I suspect. Gosh, maybe it’s really not about the technology at all. It’s the humanity. Could it be that the stuff that happens offline is what really makes social media sing?

For instance, Dell currently engages with customers through what they call the “four pillars” of the company’s social media ecosystem:

  • 100,000 employees
  • Dell.com–ratings, reviews and customer feedback relating to Dell products and services
  • Dell communities, such as IdeaStorm, a platform launched in 2007 that is designed to give voice to customers and enable the sharing of ideas
  • External platform communities, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

That first pillar represents one of the biggest changes in Dell’s use of social networking, lately—and possibly the most powerful. Although social media initiatives began with public relations teams at Dell, employees now play the role of brand ambassador across the company, notes Buck. This requires a purposeful, dedicated engagement plan, as well as policy development and training to ensure that the employees who will be representing Dell clearly understand company guidelines regarding the appropriate use of social media.“Our employees play a vital role in our social media outreach, and, to date, we have trained more than 8,000 Dell employees to engage with customers through social media,” says Michael Buck, executive director of global online marketing. “Dell’s Social Media and Communities University is a key enabler for the company to leverage the power of 100,000-plus employees as brand ambassadors, confident that they have been empowered to use it the right way.”

Perhaps the most effective social media strategy is to train your company’s employees to use social media—whether 3 or 300,000, fully integrating the support process and empowering interaction with customers/prospects on behalf of the company. This has not only spread the marketing buzz, so to speak, it has also building the brand across the farthest reaches of the vast social media psycho-sphere. To infinity and beyond!

Where are you going?

2011: From “Oh, Wow!” to “So, How?”

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach and consultant — providing the practical tools and action plans you need to survive and thrive in the brave new media world. She is a listener, writer, blogger, speaker, actor, and mom. Contact her ellagantz@sbcglobal.net

What have you always wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask? Register for Breakfast and Blogs, a very social session with Elaine to find out. Start off your New Year with real social media sizzle.  Thurs., Jan 13  — 9:30 a.m.– 12:00 p.m., $10 at La Madeleine Preston Forest.

I’m really not sure how many people do this sort of thing, but I am actually going back to my predictions for 2010 – to compare them to what really happened.  It was as daunting and perplexing a task as I imagined. Especially since social media evolution is anything but linear. One thing we do know it that Google Wave never quite hit the beach.

My most significant memory from last year’s missive was actually my delight when Chris Brogan actually chimed in. Wow. Now that’s what I call social media He wrote:
I like and agree with the first four. I disagree with 5. Email is still the main protocol of the Internet age. I *wish* it were different, but definitely not in 2010. Great post.”

My number #5 was: “Email as We Know it Will Become Passé.”
So, I guess we’ll begin with the end – #5. Well, as Chris Brogan said, email did not go away in 2010. But, I venture to add this was probably just slightly premature. With Facebook’s Messaging Hub beginning to bubble up and mobile technology/SMS infiltrating our lives in terms of behavior, I think we are looking at more of an email mutation than elimination.  When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made her prediction that email is “probably going away” at the Nielsen Consumer 360, many balked, but her point about teenagers is well-taken. Stats she cited indicate that only 11% of teens email daily, and as we know, teenagers are really “the beta testers” for future techno-media trends. In fact, I have my own focus group right here in my own home. My 18-year-old would rather text than talk. He has Facebook up on his laptop whenever it’s turned on, sends very few emails and never uses the speaking function on the phone. My 14-year-old son is really text only. Good thing I have unlimited texting, or I we would be under a bridge somewhere. He never opens up email or even Facebook. Should Mark be worried? Hmm. We’ll just wait and see.

The most interesting shift between late 2009 and late 2010 is that the questions people are asking have changed dramatically. People don’t seem to be asking, “Hey, what’s the next big thing?” “What’s the next Twitter?” It’s more about implementation and impact – “What’s the most effective platform for my business?” “How do I integrate this into my daily operations?” “Where’s the best ROI?”  It’s no longer “oh wow!” It’s “so, how?” Social media tools and behaviors are now a given, our modus operandi. We just need to figure out how to do it. The old advertising model of trading money for attention is the anachronism. The new formula is trading time (even  energy) for attention. The activity is just as important as the message.

“Social Media Will Become Less Social.”hmm
I’d still like my term – “return on engagement.” It’s more active, deliberate and participatory. However, I think our trajectory has been very different from what I expected — largely due to the meteoric growth of Facebook. Engagement is now defined by the quality of the experience itself, rather than some tangible outcome. The value I spoke of last year was a slippery concept, because “value” can now be defined in brave, new terms, as well. Who knew Farmville and Mafia Wars would become the new American pastimes? Who could have predicted you can actually buy Facebook points in the grocery store? And the metric that “one-third of women 18-34 check Facebook when they first wake up in the morning,” according to an Oxygen Media study?

“More Enterprise Social Software Platforms Will Emerge”oops
Enterprise platforms continue to exist, but boy was I wrong on this one. I did not see the mobile app locomotive, powered by Apple, flying down the track. I think the branded in-house community concept has quite literally jumped the rails. And, to think, I was once so on board with that idea.   Simply, there is an app for that – in fact, what many signify as the emergence of Web 3.0 – targeted, segmented, defined and delivered to the user on demand. So, interesting how things can change in a year. Still, we may be moving in this direction yet.  Fast Society, a new iPhone app, allows the user to create small groups to text with on the fly, and the groups last for three days. Facebook is also providing ways to communicate with smaller networks. Facebook’s new Groups Feature allows segments friends into personal, professional and interest-based communities to better manage privacy. Watch for more of these smaller, closed networks to launch in 2011 as people seek deeper connections online.

“Social Media (Engagement Media) Will Become More Integrated”bingo
I think I get the winning buzzer for this one. Organizations of all sizes are embracing the value of fully integrated multi-channel strategies. Using social media channels alone for marketing, customer service or fundraising will not be as effective as designing coordinated campaigns and communication strategies that include traditional communication techniques. This includes email, website, online ads, SEO, face-to-face interactions, print advertising, social media platforms, blogs, events, and managed promotion to all media. This has become pivotal to social media success in general. Integrate and align with overall objectives. It’s a must.

“Relevance and Ease Will Become Increasingly Important”yep
There is no more compelling spokesperson for an enterprise or organization a passionate customer, employee, or supporter. This is the core strength of word-of-mouth advertising and peer-to-peer fundraising. And there is a range of scenarios—from a class agent soliciting annual fund gifts for his or her school, to a customer making a recommendation for a new restaurant on YELP! The brand voice is now filtered through the customer in his or her own geographic and psycho-graphic universe.

As we look to 2011, we can’t deny or ignore the brand power of Facebook “likes,” which will become the core advertising and promotional objective for many businesses on Facebook. “Like” strategies will become increasingly sophisticated and integrated into the overall marketing strategy.  For instance, instead of doing A/B testing between two photos to see which generates more Facebook “Likes,” the savvier brands and agencies will be leveraging technology that can simultaneously deploy 10,000+ ad variations to yield the lowest CPA (cost per acquisition) of those “Likes.” The art and the science.

Finally, there’s mobile and SMS. The app has arrived and has consolidated the expansiveness, chaos and clutter of the worldwide web to the simplicity and focus of a tiny button the size of a stamp that fits in the palm of your hand.  . . . Oh, wow!

What are your predictions for 2011, infinity . . .and beyond?

6 Ways to Make Your Neighborhood Your Business

Elaine Gantz Wright is a speaker, writer and social media strategist, helping neighborhood businesses expand word-mouth-marketing exponentially–driving referrals, repeats and revenue.

It’s ironic to consider how we have come full-circle –from the vast global frontiers of the wild and woolly worldwide web to the intimacy and personalization of going local.  Does this mean the bloom is off the rose for our passionate love affair with the cavernous, impersonal box store on the edge of town? Are we heading back the personal service of Mr. Drucker the general store? Can’t help but thinking of Dorothy’s iconic line –“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

As we return to our own backyards, we have a remarkable opportunity to use the newest communication tools to create this new personalized customer relationship. It’s time to put the social in social media– in a way that produces tangible results for neighborhood businesses and independent merchants. Here a six things you should do right now:

1. Build an organic online hub – a socially empowered website
Your website is more than just a static online brochure. It is the center of your customer-generating universe. Think about its connections and ability to attract and refer. Incorporate a blog, social widgets, easily sharable content, compelling visuals, video, clear calls-to-action, contact forms, site analytics, best-practice search engine optimization (SEO), links to your social media profiles—and a fresh, updated design.

2. Create your business’ awareness and revenue generating social ecosystem.

Create and energize three branded platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla — and depending on your business, your choice of YouTube, LinkedIn or Flickr. Manage , monitor, engage, and respond. Learn the basics about using Facebook —creating pages, managing privacy, encouraging conversation, posting, creating quizzes, inviting fans, messaging fans, promoting the page, etc. If you don’t do anything else, think of this as your golden triad:

  • Facebook
  • Blog (Subscription/email)
  • Multi-Media (in-store and online – video, audio, photography, print)

3. If you have an email list, optimize, segment, and grow it.
And if you don’t, start it today. Think of your email address as direct path to your prospect or customer—another essential ingredient in your social media marketing mix. It’s your own CRM (Customer Relationship Management System)—a customer “intelligence base” that you can use to segment, target, and attract—in conjunction with your website and social media platforms.

4. Frame an integrated promotion plan

Create promotion in-store and online promotions and associated materials to capture prospect and customer email addresses, as well as drive Facebook engagement and You Tube, Flickr and/or Linked In participation. Leverage this affinity, along with email campaigns, to help increase repeat business and referrals through:
• Special, private events
• Quizzes
• Contests
• Polls
• Voting
• One-day-only specials
• Cause marketing opportunities
• Customer spotlight and how-to videos
• Submit-a-photo campaigns
• Gift-card purchase
• Co-promotion coupons with surrounding non-competing businesses

5. Train your customer/client –facing staff.

It all begins and ends with outrageously good customer service. Make talking about Facebook a priority. Make it part of your customer banter and in-person relationships. Work from the inside out; make the social media message more social, and watch the referrals flow. Coach your staff on how to manage your business’ presence enterprise-wide in an authentic, human and engaging way.

6. Claim Your Business of Google

This will instantly improve your Google search listings, and/or locate you on Google Maps, which gives help make finding you much easier—on and offline. Next, you may want to consider a listing on Yelp (primarily restaurants, but now expanding to travel, leisure and entertainment). You might even consider placing posts and/or ads in Craigslist, so that people seeking out your services on that site would know how to find your physical location.

Do you have a question about neighborhood marketing?

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

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

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?

Does “Unfriend” Really Have Lex-Appeal?

This morning, Rex Petrasko, my savvy, smart, sincere executive vice president, closed our daily meeting with the announcement that the New Oxford American Dictionary had proclaimed the Word of the Year for 2009 to be “unfriend.” I smiled at him knowingly from across the room, because I had heard the confounding announcement hours earlier on NPR as I brushed my teeth.

When I heard the brief news byte, I paused for a moment, swallowed hard and considered the irony. First of all, how interesting that the Word of the Year would be a social media—even Facebook word. And “unfriend,” no less. How perplexing that the Oxford folk embraced the negative version of the verb-ized noun “friend.”

Unfriend: (verb) To remove someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. As in, “I decided to unfriend my boyfriend on Facebook after we had a fight.”

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford ’s US dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal.”

Christine, I think I beg to differ. “Unfriend” has a limited appeal, if at all, and it is particularly disconcerting in this age when people are desperate to connect on some level—electronic or otherwise. Friend, blog, text, comment, post, and tweet are all new inhabitants of the morphed communication lexicon. They are all terms for a new mode of behaving—a new way of being—not so much communicating.

I commented on my Facebook page status today that the Word of the Year might be indicative of the dark underbelly of social media. Merridith Branscombe, a Facebook pal and spirited, sassy woman from my Northwestern sorority days, commented, “It is fairly strange that friend somehow transformed to a verb; and that ‘unfriend’ is Word of the Year? I guess it’s not on the underbelly anymore, but in plain sight.

She is absolutely correct. It is in plain sight. We are connecting and disconnecting in plain sight—in front of God and everyone, and “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said. Social media is less about communicating and more about behaving. At one point, my ex-boyfriend seemed more disturbed about my “unfriending” him on Facebook than about the actual breakup of the relationship. It gives me pause. Are we all more concerned about the virtual ramifications of relationships than the realities? Something to ponder—especially when we are all so hungry for valuable, real, authentic connection, and online experiences that are truly worth our time and attention in this choatic, often superficial world.

More and more, we are defining ourselves by how we interact, as opposed to what we say. The way we describe ourselves is really irrelevant. We are—how we are, as opposed to who we are. Same goes for businesses. Our customers are defining our brands—not vice versa.

“Unfriend” means that we no longer wish the “offending” person to be part of our online inner circles—our intimate online world, our defined universe. Our walls and tweet streams are sacred ground in many ways. They document our inner most thoughts and our profoundest dreams—our vulnerability and our humanity. As I have mentioned in other posts, “ambient intimacy” has come to describe the visceral nature of social media. Considering that an old boyfriend still might be lurking around as a so-called friend feels invasive, almost voyeuristic. But, how incongruent this seems in a word of open-source and “shareware.” It’s a paradox, indeed.

As the social web continues to explode with opportunities for connection and synergy, conversely, the need to maintain personal autonomy and control somehow intensifies. What do you think?