The Art of Social Enterprise

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach — providing the practical tools you need to thrive in the brave new media world — listener, writer, blogger, speaker, creator, actor, mom.

I attended the 15th annual “Food for the Soul” Stewpot Art Program exhibition at the Bradshaw Gallery at the Dallas Public Library downtown today.  Impressive does not begin to describe the breadth and emotion of this remarkable work. Such raw energy and delight for souls in such turmoil.  On view through Dec. 28, this breathtaking show is part of is a community art outreach program serving the homeless and at-risk populations of Dallas through the Stewpot ministry at the Dallas First Presbyterian Church.  But it’s really so much more than that. I think this program exemplifies a new “brand” of social initiative that not only strengthens our nation’s rapidly fraying safety net, but empowers individuals through creative expression and supports financial self-sufficiency through micro-commerce. Love it!

I must admit I’m still struggling to synthesize by own artistic voice, so my heart is full when I see these developing artists talking about their work with such confidence and aplomb. Watching a program on ADD on KERA/Channel 13 tonight, I was struck by the quote, “We have found that success is not really depend on how much we know; it’s dependent on how we feel about yourselves – our self-esteem.” Well, these artists are definitely moving in the right direction—and what a win-win-win to support them. The artists receive 90% of the sales of their work, and The Stewpot receives 10%.

I found a small piece by Charles William I could not live without – an intricate ink drawing of intertwined harlequin figures. I was mesmerized by his precision and sense of whimsy–with a disturbing edge.

Take a moment to visit the show and be part of social entrepreneurship that’s part solution, part treasure and part blessing.

Hours are 1:00 – 5:00 on Sundays, closed on Monday, open 10:00 – 5:00 Tues and Wed., 12:00 – 8:00 on Thurs and 10:00 – 5:00 on Fri and Sat.

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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?

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?

Global, Social, Ubiquitous, and Cheap

Professor Clay Shirky
Professor Clay Shirky

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.

I have just discovered Clay Shirky, New York University Interactive Technology Professor and my new favorite media provocateur. He talks about social media in the context of the broadly transformed media landscape with massive cultural implications. He spoke at the NTEN conference in April, and Blackbaud Blogger Chad Norman documented several quotes that he claimed “blew his mind.” And, indeed they do mine, too! Shirky has remarkable vision and shrewd insight. His fundamental premise is that cell phones, the Web, Facebook and Twitter have radically changed all the rules of the media game, allowing ordinary citizens to access extraordinary new powers to engage in and impact real-world events. It’s a fascinating concept that certainly informs the way we think about social action as a whole. Further, in considering Shirky’s observations, I’m wondering if we could be on the verge of a systemic reinvention of how we address society’s most pressing needs across the board? Could the “nonprofit organization” as we know it be ripe for transformation? In a presentation on TED, Shirky makes a sweeping claim:

“The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

He goes on to say that only four other periods in history have manifested such revolutionary change:
• In the mid 1440s, the invention of the printing press, movable type, and oil-based inks.
• About 200 years ago—the invention of the telegraph, followed by the telephone—
enabling 2-way communication, slow text-based conversations, then real-time voice
conversations.
• About 150 years ago—recorded media, other than print—introduction of photographs, then recorded sound, then motion pictures—all encoded into physical objects.
• About 100 years ago—harnessing the electromagnetic spectrum to send images through the air—radio and television.

Reviewing the 20th century, Shirky suggests, “The media that’s good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. The media that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations.” The Internet has shattered this model—in several salient ways.

Bill Cheswick's map of the Internet
Bill Cheswick's map of the Internet

First, it natively supports groups and conversations simultaneously. Now “many can talk to many,” as opposed to “one talking to one” or “one talking to many.” The other big change is the Internet is carriage for all other media. Everything exists side by side and intertwined. And the marriage of the Internet and mobile technology has taken this a step further—making media global, social, ubiquitous, and cheap. And this reality has enabled the third big shift—the consumers are now the producers. Shirky suspects there are now more amateurs producing media than professionals, leading to another one of those provocative quotes—”Media is increasingly less just a source of information and increasingly more a site of coordination.”

So, I have to ask— where does this leave the “marketing communications professional”? What exactly is our role now? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself recently. We are no longer about “carefully crafting and conveying messages” – but about ““creating an environment for convening and supporting.” As marketing professionals, are we becoming party hosts, rather than communicators? Hmmm. How does this new media model integrate with the current structural framework of business? There is the rub. This is a shift to be reckoned with. But consider the other conundrum . . .As drivers of organizations, how do we make use of this new landscape? And how does the traditional nonprofit organization adroitly adjust to this new media environment?

I can’t help but think about social entrepreneur Manny Hernandez’s success with a non-traditional approach to social action—transitioning his initiative from independent social media communities to official nonprofit status, as opposed to the reverse. His success in creating support networks for diabetes through free Ning tools is an example of the phenomenon Shirky describes as the value of “social capital,” rather than “technical capital.” He aptly observes that “tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” Wow. Another revelation. He adds that the real innovation happens when the tools become second-nature for the user. Manny’s post titled “How To Create Social Change Without Forming a 501-c3” details how he drove the development of his communities independently — TuDiabetes (almost 10,800 members) and EsTuDiabetes (almost 5,400 members) before deciding to establish a nonprofit organization, Diabetes Hands Foundation. You can read more about his transition from the social media cloud to nonprofit organization on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Personally, I have been on both sides of this question, but the rapid-fire change from just a year ago makes it difficult to discern a definite path or any firm conclusions. Having worked for nonprofits and with a for-profit, cause-focused, social-media start-up, I have experienced the challenge of engagement from many vantage points. I believe the key is to optimize the global-social-ubiquitous-cheap equation in ways that leverage “social capital” and capture the imaginations of the wide web of user-consumer-producers. Definitely a brave new world! And an energizing, astonishing, and sometimes befuddling time of recreation.

How do you think nonprofits should adapt?

What are you?

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.

ringquestion I am the first to admit it. I am an anomaly—a distinctive amalgam of eclectic experiences and pronounced passions. I am a seasoned, accomplished professional, schooled in the most traditional marketing media techniques; but I have also journeyed to the cutting edge of the vast social media abyss. It’s largely uncharted territory for my brethren “of a certain age,” so carving out my professional niche while straddling disparate worlds, approaches, and generations can be a challenge.

In fact, I am still processing a recent conversation with a respected nonprofit headhunter in Dallas. The silver-maned, super-savvy staffing pro peered over his polished tortoiseshell reading glasses, took a breath, and asked, “So, Elaine, what are you?” The silence was palpable. I’m thinking in my rattled brain things like—single mom, daughter, job-seeker, brunette, social media consultant, and . . . derailed.

He continued, “So really, are you a fundraiser, or are you a marketer? Which one? I think you need to decide.” My first reaction to that was, “Well, of course, I’m both, and that is the value that I bring to my clients and my employers.” I’m not sure he bought that, because he added, “Well, you have to understand that my client needs to churn out hundreds of funding proposals.” I think he was just a product of his context—his pre-Web 2.0 consciousness.

All weekend, I have pondered that three-hour conversation and its many nuances. Lots of food for thought as he expertly excised ever decision I have ever made since age four. Invasive yet thought-provoking. Later, I mused that I really do hate labels, but I understand they are a necessary evil in the recruiting biz—especially with this economy with such a buyer’s market. But, I suspect I do have to address the question—what (or who) am I, anyway? And what is it I am on this earth to accomplish?

I know I have I entered the social media space for a reason—even though I am not your typical demographic for the job. And I believe more strongly than ever that social media is becoming the new norm and the essential vehicle for product and service communication—whether it’s for nonprofits or for-profits. It’s merging the accepted definitions of marketing, sales, public relations, market research, customer service—and even fundraising for nonprofits.

socapThe recent Socap 09 Conference is a salient example of this invention and innovation. It exemplifies our morphing toolbox for addressing social needs. The whole realm of social enterprise fascinates me. Though the concept of the “social entrepreneur” may even seem like an oxymoron to some, it’s the emerging reinvention of society’s approach to achieving results in the social sector—a new way to think about ROI and change the world.

Socap09 in San Francisco brought together a unique mix of the world’s leading social innovators—traditional investors, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, new media evangelists, NGOs and nonprofits, wealth managers, development agencies, venture capitalists, MBA students, and other groups interested in the growing opportunities related to social capital. These folks account for a new breed of philanthropist—the social catalysts. Last year’s conference gathered more than 650 leading global investors and entrepreneurs from 26 countries. This year’s sold out again and featured speakers from the Skoll Foundation, Food Inc, LINKtv, Invisible Children, Global Giving, the World Economic Forum, Virgance, Kiva, Change.org, Ushahidi, McKinsey, The Economist, and many others. The opening keynote will be given by Sonal Shah, director of the White House Office for Social Innovation.

Founder Kevin Jones said, “In these turbulent times, social innovators in the public and private sectors, from foundations to social venture funds to development agencies to grassroots Web 2.0 activists, are working together to build a new economic foundation for the world.”

I heard about one panel that particularly intrigued me. Having worked with a fledgling cause website, I know this space can be tricky and challenging. “The Future of Social Innovation on the Web” panel was facilitated by Dennis Whittle of Global Giving and featured Premal Shah of Kiva.org, Jonathan Greenblatt of Our Good Works, Steve Newcomb of Virgance, and Ben Rattray of Change.org.

Beth Kanter attended and interviewed several of these guys after their presentation. She reported that Premal talked about the need for creating “magic for users” and building in workflow software that actively facilitates relationship-building through a clear process of engagement. In talking about the next Web transition, he said, “If Web 1.0 is about one-way communication, and Web 2.0 is about two-way communication, then Web 3.0 is about building a bridge between two-way online communication and offline actions and impact.”

Ben Rattray commented on the effectiveness of social media platforms—now and down the road:

“The vast majority of social good platforms have failed because they have modeled social-good platforms on commercial applications. We assumed that if we created a generic platform that people would start their own actions. They don’t. It isn’t as easy to throw up an action on the web as it is to throw up a video. The vision is to provide a platform for collective social action, so it is easy for people who care about an issue to connect. There must be catalytic organizations. If you build the platform, will spontaneous organizing happen? No! Synthesis of grassroots organizations is needed to channel social change.”

And from Premal Shah:

“Kiva is at the intersection of money and meaning. There is going to be a socially responsible investment. There is a third access – it is not about ROI or social impact. It’s the user experience that drives adoption. Never underestimate something that is fun and has short feedback loops. If we want people to engage, it has to be easy, fun, and addictive. Return on experience versus investment.”

Clearly, the line between for-profit and nonprofit is blurring. It’s less about “what you are,” and more about what you can achieve.

Stay tuned, hold on tight, and think about it . . .
“What are you?” or better yet, “What do you want to be?”