What’s the Next Layer on the Stack?

pancakesI was privileged to speak to a class at Southern Methodist University last week on social media for nonprofits. Nina Flournoy, the charming, accomplished corporate communications professor, was taking a very practical, professionally focused approach to the material. Clearly, the bright, enthusiastic students were hungry to comprehend the marketing power of social media.

They asked great questions – What makes something go viral for a business or nonprofit? How do I know what to post? When to post? How do I find my audience? Looking back on the day, my insights were many, but I was surprised to notice that though we may be asking similar questions, our points of view were remarkably different. Facebook, Twitter, and social media are as much a part of their daily lives as the telephone or the iPod. In fact, they live perpetually connected lives. Therefore, looking at these social media sites as marketing channels to be managed or positioned can feel incongruent. Social media is simply how they live, how they interact with the world and each other. It’s second nature—breathing, eating, sleeping—and tweeting! The reality is here:

As part of a slightly older generation of professionals, I am still experimenting with ways to integrate, coordinate, and differentiate somehow. But whether you are Generation X, Y or Z, I think these are questions we as marketers must address right now, in the moment. We are all trying to figure out how to weave social media tactics into the overall marketing mix—and manage them effectively. As we know, setting up a Facebook account or a Twitter profile is just the beginning—definitely not the whole story.

Content is king—but even more important is the conversation it triggers. Social media is less about information and more about participation. And geez, that is very hard to schedule! It is an activity, behavior, and process. Therefore, the question is—does the user experience have value? I think that’s where businesses and nonprofits are stymied. They look at social media and ask, “how is this relevant?”

And yet, that’s probably the flawed interpretation. Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In are really relevance-neutral. They are only as effective as their context. Sage North America recently released survey data that “88 percent of U.S. and Canadian nonprofits are using some form of social media, although less than half of this number have been using it for more than a year.” The surprising news is, “Of those who have not adopted a social media campaign, 45 percent indicated that it was because they were unsure of its relevance or advantages. Others said that they were unable to devote the time or resources.” The other hesitancy seems to be an uncertainty about integrating existing online transactions with social media environments. “91 percent of nonprofits said that they raise funds online, yet only 58 percent of these respondents said they use social media for fundraising.”

The challenge is to embrace the social media landscape in a valuable, productive way. That is, from a business perspective, we need to find a way to aggregate the vast, messy world of social media into a usable set of metrics, messages, behaviors, and/or outcomes. As I have written in earlier posts, it’s the new success measure—ROE, return on engagement.

At the end of the class, the SMU students asked me the question, “What’s next? What’s the next big thing?” What a fabulous and provocative question. There is some buzz about this among thought leaders. They suggest it is the question is really “What’s next on the stack?” We need to think about the media communication world as a stack or a progression. Many point to aggregation, dashboards for marketers, and consolidation tools. Chris Vary of Weber Shandwick and the Dallas Social Media Club says he suspects Twitter has probably peaked in terms of growth, so we should keep our eyes on the social media horizon. I have read there are 11,000 registered third party apps built on top of Twitter and probably more for Facebook; therefore, I’m thinking the cycle dictates some sort of consolidation or filtering.

Thinking back on my visit to SMU, where I earned an MBA and an MA, I am dizzied and overwhelmed by the acceleration of change. When I was sitting in those same chairs in the Hughes Trigg Building (well, maybe replaced since then) twenty-ahem years ago, I was thinking about taking my box of punch cards to the guy who worked on the other side of the little window in the mainframe building. No PCs. No Internet. No email, even. Still had the old Smith-Carona and Liquid Paper, for heaven’s sake! So hard to fathom.

gartner-social-software-hype-cycle-2009
Gartner Social Media Hype Cycle

And now, I can’t imagine a day without my iPhone and HootSuite. I guess I’m sort of a hybrid. As I wrapped up my remarks, I waxed a little nostalgic and encouraged the students to stay open, curious, and highly, highly adaptive.

The human condition is evolving at hyper-speed—intertwined with high-velocity technological innovation focused solely on expressive capability. As NYU professor Clay Shirky observes, “The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

So consider this—social media as we know it right now will not be recognizable in 3-5 years. What do you think is next? Are you ready?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation. elgantz@ yahoo.com

The New Peer-to-Peer Potential

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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.

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?