From the Bazaar to the Cathedral

Social media = the bazaar
Social media = the bazaar

I had an energizing partnering conversation with a dynamic nonprofit consultant this week. It’s one of the things I love most about my work—networking and brainstorming with passionate, bright professionals about maximizing support of nonprofit organizations. Carlo Cuesta is part of a firm based in Minneapolis called Creation in Common. Love the notion. And, I love the Twin Cities, because I spent my salad days (in addition to most of my snow days) there working for the glorious Guthrie Theater—one of the foundational forces of our nation’s regional theater movement. In its vision statement, CIC states, “Engaged collaboration is the ultimate method in which to create vibrant communities working in harmony toward a shared vision. Knowledge is in constant motion and is formed through playful interaction, the active exchange of ideas and concepts, and the testing of solutions that lead to enlightening truths and courageous failure.”

This is a perfect description of social media.

There is much lively banter and conversation across the various Web 2.0 groups I frequent about nonprofit engagement in social media. Do nonprofits get it? How should they do it? Are they really ahead of the private sector curve? Does anyone know how to measure ROI? Why should they spend the time? How do they integrate into my communication plan?

All of these are valid questions—and worth answering as soon as possible. But one post I read definitely sums up my feelings. Richard Lewis, a new media pro, says, “The most important consideration for the use of social networking is that if you choose not to participate, you are still part of the discussion, but you just do not have a voice.” It’s all about finding your own, distinctive, effective voice in the sometimes overwhelming cacophony.

Actually, many analogies are emerging around social media— “the cocktail party,” “circus,” etc. But, I really liked Carlo’s concept – “the bazaar.” Marketing has been carried out to date more “cathedral style.” Organizations traditionally deliver messages as if we were speaking to a focused, almost sedentary audience—their congregations, if you will. The social media landscape really is a more like a flea market or a bazaar. It’s a free-for-all of experiences and ideas with the incessant, media-driven competition for attention and interaction. It’s about distraction and short attention spans. Carlo contends that our task as marketers is create that bridge or portico—that provides a path into the organization’s “cathedral.”

What a useful image! Yes, we do need to lead friends into our figurative cathedrals. Perhaps we can do that more effectively by offering opportunities to engage and converse on our very own web sites. Through our own hosted, customized communities?

But, we also need to meet the fish where they swim. Such as:

• Twitter — micro-blogging
• Flickr, Picasa — photo-sharing
• LinkedIn, Facebook — social networking
• YouTube, Vimeo – video-sharing
• WordPress, Blogger, Typepad – blogging
• Slideshare, YELP – Info-sharing

The context has changed—and to succeed, our tactics must be decentralized, as well. We are communicating and responding in real time—on the fly and with a whole new mojo (as my teenage son would say).

So, it seems our goal in the long run is to cultivate and empower these various communities of affinity—whether they emerge in our own cathedrals—or in the hearts of those we serve in the remotest corners of the vast virtual universe.

What are your thoughts?