The Latest Blog-buster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Facebook Valentine

Dear Reader, my sincere apologies for such a lengthy gap between posts. I so appreciate your attention to my musings, and I have missed you sorely. Contact me at elgantz @ yahoo.com if I can help you with social media, marketing, or communications.

On Friday, January 8, 2010 I received a Valentine’s Day card from my Mother. She has always been quite enamored with all things mail—postal, that is, so I am never surprised when her cards arrive in multiples and even early, but this was significantly early, even for her. I remember a palpable queasiness in the pit of my stomach, but then, I had felt vaguely uncomfortable about my stubbornly aging parents for weeks. Then, late in the afternoon on Friday, January 29, I received a call at work that my Mother was in the ICU at Parkland. She had been rushed there after a devastating stroke.

I think my heart broke that day.

This was the beginning of an agonizing journey, including my father’s concurrent debilitating health emergency and affliction in February. I will refrain from the intricate detail, but I can tell you that pondering and writing about the theoretical vicissitudes of social media and well—just about anything—became somewhat daunting when dealing with all-consuming family health crises, especially when they came in duplicate, simultaneously—and when the relationships involved had been historically complicated in the best of times. I have been forced to recalculate, reconfigure, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize—everything. And pray most of the time.

Then, consider all of this in the context of an abrupt job “separation.” It’s just one more wave in what a friend has called my “Life Tsunami.”

OK, Universe, you have my attention! Now what?

Still, as a single mother of teenage boys, I have become quite adept at riding the “survival roller coaster” for the last ten years. Yet even Monsieur Maslow, guru of all things needy, would posit that I have many blessings to count amongst the mayhem—and you better believe I am grasping for every possible nugget of gratitude as I navigate the debris sprinkled across these choppy seas.

Fundamentally, I am enormously grateful for reconnection with my sister, Melissa, as we pilot the blind turns, brick walls, and back alleys of the frustrating health care labyrinth. My boys have shown considerable compassion and maturity inside the ominous hallways of ICUs and rehabs—and my friends and church family have provided me with exceptional support. But, one of my most surprising and cherished blessings has been social media—specifically, Facebook. I’m not talking about ROI or conversions or leads. I’m talking about the kind of value for which there is no metric, no Google analytic.

In those darkest moments of loneliness and fear, reading the sincere, heartfelt messages of my friends, near and far, recent and from years ago, on Facebook has been a true gift from God. The arrival timing of some of these messages has been nothing short of Divine.

This sounds somehow saccharin—even to me, but this precious prose has served a miraculous refuge of comfort and warmth for me—when nothing else in my rattled world has seemed steady or solid. The magic even came in the form of timely medical advice from Ann, a Northwestern pal I had not spoken with for years, who had actually worked with stroke rehabilitation patients. Amazing! So, in honor of those special souls in my life . . . here’s my true inspiration. I share a sampling of some of my favorite Valentines—even though it’s March:

From Stephen:
The point is that we do not know why these things happen, and it seems like at ‘our age’ things should be easier. I am sure I am not the only one who knows and is encouraged by the fact that you will come through things wonderful, wiser, stronger, and maybe happier. Thoughts and prayers are with you.”

From Kim:
“Everyone of us is called upon, probably many times to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job; and onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute— driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another— that is surely the basic instinct—crying out, ‘High Tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.’ ” — Barbara Kingsolver

From Joe:
Prayers ascending, Elaine. May God’s abiding presence bring you strength, courage, wisdom, and peace to face this onslaught of challenge.

From Laura:
You are a gift to me, and I love you very much!

From Carol:
“Holding you and your family in The Light.”

And from Amy . . . just hours before everything changed professionally:
“We can’t take all our fortitude and will and force the outcomes we want. But we can open our hearts and time to letting God be right in the middle of everything for us. Daddy and I just said goodbye to his Mom. We didn’t find God in the worrying about what to do for Granny next; we found God in the small stuff, like brushing her hair, and in supporting each others’ choices and process of holding on while letting go. Whatever you face, I trust you will face it with the openness and authenticity I see in your eyes when I look at your pictures. And you will never face it alone.

With deepest gratitude! Share your mystical experiences . . .I would love to hear . . .

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

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?

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.

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.