The ROI that would be king

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.

crown2The pursuit of social media ROI (return on investment) continues to vex me. Last week, my blog post featured some comments about its confounding elusiveness and sparked lively discussion—on and offline. It’s still a very hot topic—at conferences, webinars, cocktail parties, bunko nights, and marketing strategy meetings going on as I type.

Once again, I turn to one of my master media mentors—Clay Shirky. He says:

“A revolution does not happen when a society adopts new tools. It happens when a society adopts new behaviors.”

And I think that quote sums up the core conundrum. At the end of the day, social media is really not “a program” at all. It is a fundamental shift in the way customers, donors, constituents, and employees consume and produce information. It’s behavior—a change in the way we are in the world.

Therefore, the future of marketing is not about telling people things—but about doing things with and for people. Think about it. How do you calculate ROI on messaging coming from your target audience? How do you calculate ROI (an old media metric) in a new media environment? It’s a brave new world, indeed—where we are “creating an environment for coordination and collaboration.”

Even if you consider the question in old media terms, isn’t it like trying to figure ROI on your phone, your conference room, or your fax? Few of us really think about these things in relationship to ROI. But since it’s the Internet, there is still a certain geek mystique. We are a little squeamish and feel the need to “ROI everything”—even if it means constructing elaborate parallel expense models based on paid Google adwords or other media buys. But the truth is, social media will soon be the rule—not the exception. Cost of doing business. David Spark addresses some of these issues from a refreshing perspective on socialmedia.biz. The requirement that everything fit in a discrete ROI queue is simply unrealistic and soon, anachronistic.

Perhaps, a 21st century take on this question would be Return on Engagement—taking the focus away from the justification of hard costs and considering opportunity costs. What do we sacrifice if we are not involved? What are the benefits—tangible and intangible—of spending your time monitoring and creating conversation? What business or donor involvement have you created?

Rules of Engagement

talking Still, even in the ROE context, just having a blog, Facebook account, or Twitter profile does not a social media strategy make. The fabric of social media success is woven from many threads and yarns, including compelling content, irresistible contests/quizzes, provocative video/photos, and authentic voices. You wouldn’t use just one traditional channel to market your product or organization, so it is probably not useful to think that one Twitter account or a blog post by itself can somehow produce ROI—or even ROE—overnight. Attributing a direct revenue equation to an isolated social media marketing activity simply isn’t relevant or accurate. Though weak individually, coordinated social media activities can certainly move the needle.

Engagement fosters affinity, trust, commitment—and ultimately, investment. Marketing has become equal parts science and art. Remember, creating a blog on WordPress of Blogger is free. Right now, Facebook and Twitter are free. So, social media’s costs are mostly labor, time, and creative energy. Therefore, social media success really comes down to commitment, clarity about your objectives, and getting over your fear of exposure—a horse that has already left the barn, I might add. Also, it helps if you have something to say that will interest your audience. Whether you call it—ROI, ROE, or RBI (wait, that’s baseball), here are some thoughts on how to plan, launch, and execute an effective social media plan:

• Focus on conversation, content, and benefits—not tools and technology
• Highlight intangibles
• Justify qualitative, as well as quantitative objectives.
• Compare costs of alternatives, benefits, and of not doing anything.
• Use pilot projects to test and evaluate
• Streamline data collection
• Get buy-in by using a cross-functional team or committee
• Release your fear

The pre-social media business universe was built on linear measurement. I think it’s time to consider using a different kind of yardstick—something with multiple dimensions and constant movement, something we have yet to invent. If small is the new big and free is the new economic engine, what are the new metrics? Is it time to get comfortable with a whole new level of ambiguity. 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?”

Finessing Facebook

facebook-currency
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 her at SocialFuse.

Randi Zukerberg of Facebook delivered the keynote address at the recent Summer of Social Good Conference hosted by Mashable! It was the quintessential industry summit for social media and cause geeks. Randi’s presentation was covered by the Wall Street Journal – conjuring up the ubiquitous question I hear in the field – “I have a Facebook page. Now, what?” And that is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Actually, $4000 would be nice—or even $40, for that matter.

Given this conundrum, one of the most interesting announcements was Facebook’s plan to pilot “virtual charity giving” to users. Initially, the proceeds will support micro-lender Kiva, Project Red, the World Wildlife Fund, and Tom’s Shoes. Plans are to roll out the feature more broadly after testing.

In a test starting this week, these alpha organizations will each offer 1-2 gifts at $5 or $10 each. Facebook users will be able to buy these gifts for friends, and the proceeds will go to the charity associated with the gift. This is essentially an extension of an increasingly popular offline concept – the idea of giving a gift to a recipient’s favorite charity as a present.

This isn’t the first time Facebook is experimenting with virtual gifts for charity—earlier this year, they launched a similar initiative upon hitting the 200 million member milestone. However, as Facebook moves further into gifts and payments, perhaps rivaling PayPay, charity gifts may become a staple of the site.

According a Facebook, “This is an alpha initiative and is not available to other charities at this time, but we may open up the program to new partners in the future pending the results. It is our goal to give our users a way to support the causes and issues that are important to them on a global scale.”

Still, nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter reported, “Skeptics in the audience tweeted about the limitations of tool-centric campaigns and wondered if, at the end of day, there was any on-the-ground social change. Or was it all hype?” To these folks, I say that the tools are only as effective as the strategy which drives them. They are just hype if they are not seen as an integrated component of an overall engagement strategy.

It’s really all about expectations. A one-off viral campaign may pull in a thousand dollars, a couple of hundred, or none — but the process of building awareness and affiliation for the duration should be is a core value. Creating real commitment takes time—and typically, a variety of contacts and “touches,” a we say in development. As a seasoned nonprofit professional, I cannot overstate the importance of the cultivation process. Seldom do you meet a new visitor at the door for your museum and say, “Excuse me, can you give me $50,000, today.” You date before you marry. Yet, there are cause sites on the web that are attempting to raise money in more of a “one-night-stand” style. “Hey, you know me. I like this organization. Give me money.” But to be effective in the long term, organizations must learn to capture that casual flirtation in the Facebook discussion sting and weave it into the overall cultivation effort. That’s why seamlessly integrating the Facebook page with the organization’s website is so important.

After all, Facebook has exploded in popularity, because it gives our intimacy-starved lives a way to forge and maintain human relationships in a frantic, chaotic world of drive-thrus, drop-offs, and pick-ups. We are communicating but not interacting. Though they may seem trivial at times, these online conversations are feeding us and the things we hold dear. But after all is said and done, nonprofits must first state their cases for support—then ask for investment.

So, even with the newest “virtual giving gadget” on Facebook, I still believe the gold in the online interactive community is just that – interaction. We are offering like minds and hearts ways to connect around life-changing missions. Isn’t that what we truly thirst for—shared passion and an authentic soul connection? You may be thinking, “Golly, Elaine, it’s a stretch to consider that self-actualization is a viable byproduct of Facebook, but the act of participation can help donors and advocates move along that path more rapidly.

Here are a few other high-level thoughts:

• Don’t rely on groups on Facebook. Be sure to create a “Fan Page” to take advantage of the viral potential. See the example of my SocialFuse landing page.

• More than 8 million Facebook users become “fans” of new pages each day, and the site’s fastest-growing demographic is users over 35, who are more involved in fundraising efforts.

• Be a little less “formal” and try a few fun updates and other content that communicates truth and personality sans spin—especially photos and videos.

• Try not to clutter your pages with too many applications. Leave room for conversation.

In addition, big companies, including Target, Intel and Kellogg, have been polling the site’s 250 million users as to where they should be donating money or goods, so an engaged Facebook fan base can benefit organizations on many levels.

What do you think? Let me know how you are using Facebook?

No more waiting in the weeds: Make time to grow your social media garden

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 her at SocialFuse.

gardenI recently read Josh Catone’s Mashable post on the “5 Essential Tips for Promoting Your Charity Using Social Media.” I applaud Josh’s concise synthesis of the basic-level concepts defining social media. But I really think it’s time to help organizations get specific and tactical. We need to move from musing to mastering. Many of the organizations I advise are still befuddled and overwhelmed by social media. They seem to view social media as some separate, daunting frontier they need to confront and invade. However, in many ways, social media is really just a new, better way of helping nonprofits do what they do best – engage. It’s made for us! We need to move the conversation from “Why should we?” to “How should we?” It’s now more of a functional shift than a philosophical one. Josh’s recommendations are well-taken and commonly held. Yet, here are some additional thoughts to ponder to take your strategy to the next level:

Build a Plan and Work It.
Josh instructs that you’ll get a much better return on your investment in social media if you take the time to actually engage your followers, friends, and constituents. He warns that we should not just broadcast information. We should consume it, as well. Indeed, this is the way social media works, but the question is – How do we work this? To foster relationships, organizations need to officially delegate responsibility for regular care, feeding, and cultivation of online communities to staff, trained volunteers, or perhaps, an outside agency or consultant. Simply creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile will not produce results. Start by assessing the following:

• Your Goals – SEO, PR, traffic (to drive awareness? advertising click-thrus? conversions?)
• Your Audience – Where do your constituents/stakeholders live? What do you want them to do?
• Your Resources – You, interns, staff, agency, consultant? Budget? Communication tools?

Social media is organic – much like a garden which must be regularly tended and even weeded. It’s all about activity and careful attention. Here are some specific tasks to help your garden take root and thrive:

• Create and update blogs and tags at least once a week.
• Respond to all blog comments within 24 hours.
• Pose questions in and respond to queries in relevant Linked In discussion groups.
• Tweet at least once daily and retweet (RT@) content relevant to your mission.
• Respond to Facebook comments promptly, and update Facebook status at least daily.
• Post high-value content, such as videos, articles, and blogs across key social media platforms.
• Identify the A-List blogs and cultivate positive relationships with as many as possible to persuade them to blog about your issue. Or guest blog for them.
• Drop html links with target anchor text related to a specific call to action, relevant product, or web resource for an additional SEO lift and traffic increase.
• Start and update a custom, branded community such as Ning to drive engagement and enhance SEO on your own site.

Create a Human Persona.
Social media is your opportunity to put a face on your organization and to humanize interaction. Those who are immersed in social media are not really looking for a press release or canned “mission statement.” They are hungry for intimate, behind-the-scenes, authentic access. Think about ways to make the private public. This is the messaging that will attract and embrace.

Create Valuable Content.
Josh recommends sharing only the highest quality content. This is key. I was speaking with a friend just today about the challenge of being inundated with information. With so much competition for the attention of constituents, you need to make sure the content you publish and share is relevant and real. So, be sure to consider the context and the medium. Perhaps, consider experimenting with videos on your website – feature video testimonials from donors and/or recipients. Social media is about storytelling – truth that touches the heart.

Create Community Instantly
Social media gives you the power to spread information quickly. Using social media platforms to issue a call to action online can trigger viral campaigns rapidly, economically, and effectively – enabling you to reach new audiences. Plus, using tools, such as #hashtags on Twitter, can help you create improvised communities around issues on the fly. Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They’re like tags on Flickr, but you add them directly to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag. Read more about them on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Create a Social Media Culture.
Just as everyone in a healthy organization is a salesperson, everyone in your organization should help cultivate your social media presence. As Josh says, if everyone at your charity is connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll be able to engage many more people than if just a couple of folks are tasked with using social media tools. But, in the realm of the tactical, you should not expect this to “just happen magically.” Create a social media policy – even if it consists of a simple public relations calendar of messages, events, or campaigns to discuss organization-wide. Include your staff, donors, and even recipients. And don’t forget your board of directors. Nonprofits are constantly seeking ways to engage boards in resource building, and social media is a great way to involve boards of directors – especially when it comes to tapping into their potentially powerful spheres of influence.

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
-Voltaire

How are you cultivating your social media garden? What’s helping you thrive? Let me know if you need help planting the seeds. Find me at SocialFuse.

The New General Store

general2Think back to the days of the old general store. We knew our merchants in the neighborhood personally—around the corner and down the road. We knew exactly what they sold and where they stood. They were members of the community, and they earned trust through referral and association. Enter the industrial age—efficiency trumped personalization. People didn’t mind where they shopped—as long as goods were cheap and abundant. Soon, the suburbs emerged, and the impersonal, monolithic box stores were born. In many ways, we are now coming full circle. Perceived value of anonymous, depersonalized transactions is waning.

Consumers are once again seeking personalization, even intimacy, from business interactions—large and small. In terms of accountability and integrity, marketing spin is no longer enough. It can even ring hollow. The Internet has rendered a heightened expectation of veracity and transparency. Now, we are quick to question the authenticity of advertising and the sincerity of sales pitches. Once again, consumers want to know the store’s owner, the business dealings of the board’s president, and the organization’s endowment investment practices, etc. Focus has returned to key customers and core consciousness. The beauty of social media is that it allows us to accelerate cultivation of these open, honest relationships. Through social media, businesses can make themselves more accessible, more personable, more real, and almost instantly differentiate.

Integration. ROI. Relevance. These are all terms buzzing around the implementation of social media. My niche is nonprofits, but the same questions are swirling about for small businesses, as well. I hear many people say they need to be able to measure ROI and justify the expense. The concern is understandable in our strapped economic climate, but the truth is that we can’t afford to ignore social media! It is more than just the shiniest tool in the drawer or a trend relegated to eager interns. It’s becoming the new communication standard –- expected and demanded by an enlightened, savvy class of consumers and/or donors who require personal, real-time engagement, instant response, and interactive branding.

And it’s applicable to every type of business. Cafes, retail stores, professional services, and grassroots nonprofits can use social media to build online reputations, propel trust to new levels, and jettison concerns about the time required to manage the process. It’s a dance—not a speech. In fact, the magic is in the mambo! Here are 4 essential ways to get started today:

1. Think locally.
Consumers are using local social networks, such as Yelp and The Examiner to find businesses and make recreational decisons. And they also get the “social proof” they need when making choices. They use comments and reviews to determine the “best” listing and make the buying decision. Because these sites attract people ready to make a decision, small businesses can see a great return from local social networks. Many of these sites will let business owners “claim” their listings and add information, such as phone numbers, store hours, menus, etc.

2. Create on online destination and sales pipeline.
When you think about social media, you may focus on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites. You may not immediately consider a dedicated presence on your own site. It makes enormous business sense to aggregate your social profiles in one place. And, remember to make your profile decisions carefully. Choose your “tent posts” strategically. Don’t pepper the world with a plethora of profiles. In fact, consider creating a blog or custom social community on your own site. Why push your consumers to connect with you on other sites, but not give them a reason to visit yours? Building and writing a blog may seem time-consuming, but it creates a way to connect with users through your own web address. Additionally, creating useful content such as how-tos or industry insights will attract and engage customers. For business owners or nonprofit execs who are daunted by the prospect of regular blog updates, build a “Connect” or “Community” page. This offers readers a way to find your business’ most active profiles and join you on those social sites. The page could also include a short bio or how you use each social site. Giving consumers a reason to visit your site is extremely important. A blog or “social hub” can pull consumers to your site and directly into the sales process.

3. Jump into Facebook and Twitter.
Everyone is talking about Twitter and Facebook, but you may be stumped about how to actually get started. With Twitter, you can cater to your customer or donor needs, requests, and complaints instantly. In a world where everything needs to be done yesterday, a quick response can create a lifelong customer and fervent brand advocate. On Facebook, a Fan Page allows a business to visualize and build a community, similar to Twitter. However, unlike Twitter, you can add and customize a great deal more.

At the very least, you should update your Fan Page “status” to keep consumers informed and engaged. A more advanced technique would be to add things like coupons or Google maps directions to the storefront.

4. Discover crowdsourcing.
Finally, consider creating a custom wiki, which harnesses the phenomenon called crowdsourcing. In other words, use your customers to give information to other consumers. Wikipedia is often cited as a successful example of crowdsourcing, despite objections by co-founder Jimmy Wales to the term.

The easiest way to do this is by creating a wiki for your FAQ or Customer Service knowledge base. Let your consumers enter the problems they’ve had via a public forum (the wiki), and provide your responses publicly as well. Although showing problems may seem backwards, it’s a very effective way to retain customers and generate new sales in the new context of social media.

Consumers know that mistakes happen, and they now expect their questions will be answered quickly. Also, with a public wiki, customers can reference response to the concern, saving time for both you and the customer. With minimal moderation, a wiki can build trust in your business and make your customer service more efficient.

The contextual shift is about engaging in dialogue, and opposed to delivering a message. How are you making the transition? Let me know.

The Art of Social Media

imagespalette1 As the cacophony of social media voices continues to intensify around nonprofit causes, the world of arts and culture is really just beginning to embrace the potency of online engagement tools—in provocative, new ways. For many organizations, the experience is exceeding online engagement and becoming what I call “meta operational” – creating the illusion of participation in the core functional tasks organizations. This creates a dynamic, new way to thinking about participation and volunteerism—especially for those more casual observers or inquirers. As we say in the performing arts, we are finding new ways to break down the fourth wall.

Nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter said in a recent post that “the internal is the new external. “ The line between internal and external discussions (and functions) is thinning. We are moving toward a real-time operational transparency. And this concept is giving birth to innovative paradigms of collaboration with external audiences. For example, anyone can now participate or contribute to a strategic planning discussion or exhibition scheduling session which is shared online in a program’s blog or community forum.

Artists and Art Museums
Another example of this is the The Extraordinaires iPhone Application I discussed in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. With the microvolunteering app, individuals can actually participate in the organization’s central curatorial tasks. What a notion! With The Extraordinaires, one is invited to do the academic work—actually tagging and categorizing images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. In addition, the Brooklyn Museum has also introduced a $20 annual “socially networked museum membership.” It’s called “1stfans” and offers exclusive event invitations and access to artist-created content on the protected Twitter art feed (@1stfans). And the “Tag! You’re It!” introduction to applying keywords to their images. A key factor in this new mindset is that leadership must be comfortable with discomfort. “The leadership of the organization understands that social media and connectedness has an impact on the organization and they need to embrace it,” Kanter asserts.

Other artists and museums are using social media thoughtfully and in big, bold ways (but not necessarily requiring big budgets). They’ve capitalized on the audiovisual nature of the Web to showcase the storytelling and community-building aspects of their work. For example, emerging art spaces can learn a great deal from Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, where the exhibitions aren’t the only cultural experiences. Visitor options at WalkerArt.org include “Connect,” “Join,” and “Blogs” with content on design, education, new media initiatives, and visual and performing arts. They also publish art history and analysis podcasts on the museum’s iTunes U channel, and curators’ comments are available real time through the mobile system Art on Call.

walker
National Symphony Orchestra’s “Tweet Suite”
And in the performing arts realm, the “Tweet Suite” experiment is getting lots of buzz. The National Symphony Orchestra recently experimented with tweet tactics during Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony at Wolf Trap. Though many were dubious, the orchestra tweeted notes of explanation from conductor Emil de Cou during the performance. (Example: “In my score Beethoven has printed Nightingale = flute Quail = oboe Cuckoo = clarinet — a mini concerto for woodwind/birds.”) Those interested sat in a designated area on the Wolf Trap lawn with their BlackBerries, iPhones, or other mobile devices. They followed @NSOatWolfTrap Trap to gain a new perspective on the score. And, you could also follow along without actually being at Wolf Trap at all. Though there has been a crescendo of moans in response from classical purists to the techno-intrusion into the traditional concert experience, innovation is important to integrate to insure a continuing appeal to audiences in a world full of so many voices and media competing for our time and attention.

What so you think of Tweet Integration and Meta Operation? Let me know.

Finding Faith in Social Media

Mo Ranch 2009
Mo Ranch 2009

Theoretically, I know that church is much more than a building or a weekly activity on the to-do list. But no other experience proves that more clearly than my annual trip to Mo Ranch outside of Kerrville, Texas in the pristine splendor of the Texas Hill Country. Though I consider myself an inveterate urban gal, there is something so ethereal, so transformational about the majestic beauty of the grand, sweeping vistas of the Presbyterian Mo Ranch retreat. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes—even as I type this.

Leaving behind responsibilities, have-tos, and the clanging of electronic gadgets is actually no easy task (particularly challenging for my teenagers). No Internet, no cell phones, no WiFi—but, oh, some amazing connections—of the human kind. I relished the hours of talking and listening, of singing and laughing, of weeping and praying. One of my fellow retreaters suggested this environment gives God the space to utter, “Can you hear me now?”

The stillness reminds us of the clutter and clatter we muddle through every day—increasing in density and volume with every new Tweet, Ringtone, and Poke.

But, it’s our reality—and our opportunity, really. Just as there is a time and place for sharing the view of a thousand glittering diamonds strewn across the deep dark blanket of a Texas night sky, there is also a place for connecting in new, unexpected ways through the mysteries of new media.

I have been thinking a great deal about using social media to enhance my church community and perhaps the lives of other congregations. I see it as a natural way to build the community of God with bold, new voices— beyond Sunday morning and the bricks and mortar of the tangible place called church. In her article, “The Church on Facebook” in The Christian Century, Lenora Rand makes a compelling argument on behalf of virtual community for churches. As she points out, “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are.”

Church is carrying out the work of God in our lives, homes, and communities. I am so proud of the work of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas—serving about 1,500 meals a day through The Stewpot in conjunction with The Bridge to those in desperate need, as well as sponsoring other youth and adult-driven community service projects around the city, the country, and the world.

On Sunday morning each week, we meet with others of like mind and beliefs to worship; however, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can provide a valuable, even profound extension of our community-building opportunities. In our hectic world, we can look to Facebook, Twitter, or other online communities to provide a safe place for revealing our truths, sharing our frustrations, supporting each other in sorrow and joy, and even praying for one another in specific ways. We are hungry for a place to share our burdens and offer shoulders.

Often, the authenticity and truth of much of the communication on Facebook and Twitter astounds me. Admissions can range from cries of hopelessness after a layoff, to the anguish of life upheaval after divorce, to the utter joy of a child’s first steps. It’s a way to connect, engage, and soothe frayed emotions, weakened bodies, and aching hearts—woven into the fabric of our over-scheduled days and sleepless nights.

Last week, I wrote about the concept associated with Twitter called “ambient intimacy.” Commenting on my blog post, one of my readers clarified that blogger Leisa Reichelt originally coined the term. Reichelt says, “Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”

Some may say—who cares?

But she contents, “There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catch up with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.”

Social media a powerful, intimate way to share the human experience—and perhaps even the Holy Spirit as we reach out to touch souls in an evolving, increasingly complicated world.

There are so many contradictions
In all these messages we send
(We keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in?
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin’
It’s waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

from “Learn to Be Still,” The Eagles