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

Accounting for Generosity

We forget that there is no hope or joy except in human relationships.
— Antoine de Saint Exupery,Wind, Sand and Stars

moneyOne of my newest colleagues posed a provocative question last week. He actually has no shortage of insights, and I certainly appreciate living in an environment where questions are as highly valued as answers. Indeed, his inquiry is at the heart of what we do. What inspires alumni to give to their alma maters? More broadly, why do we give in general? At face value, this seems like a simple question, but the longer I work in the field of philanthropy, the more I understand its complexities. Actually, a myriad of responses come to mind—to address a critical need, to save a life, a response to the right appeal from the right person at the right time, a passion for a cause, a sense of obligation, guilt, helplessness, or quite simply— we are asked.

Traditional fundraising methods prescribe a deliberate approach built around the carefully managed steps of cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. I remember hearing a development consultant stating that he could not imagine a better profession. He described an almost spiritual dimension—saying he felt truly privileged and honored to be in the presence of others when they are exhibiting generosity. And I think he had a point.

In fact, I addressed the sacred component of giving today. Though the Church historically and adroitly integrates giving opportunities into its core experience each week, the last quarter of the calendar year provides an opportunity to renew one’s annual tithing commitment. Making the direct correlation between generosity, one’s income, and one’s spiritual journey is quite powerful, indeed.

But research has shown there may also be a scientific component. I was fascinated to see the results of a study by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University. The concept of a “neuroeconomist” is intriguing in its own right, but his work links the trait of generosity with oxytocin, a hormone released by the brain in response to social stimuli. The study showed that participants who were given oxytocin gave significantly more money to a stranger than participants who took a placebo. Whether or not there is a “fundraising drug,” (what a concept?) I think the epiphany here for all of us in the social media space is that meaningful, real engagement opportunities can create an environment that nurtures of generosity and an increase proclivity to give.

“The hormone causes a general feeling of attachment to other people, even strangers,” Zak says. That may help explain why people donate to victims of natural disasters or to others who are in need. “Oxytocin is a social glue that holds us all together and makes us care about other people,” says Zak, who has shown links between the hormone and trust in past research.

“If you have enough nurturing, if you’re in a safe environment, you might be more likely to release oxytocin the next time you encounter a positive social stimulus,” Zak says. Interestingly, he says that about 2% of people constantly have oxytocin being released by their brains, so they stop reacting to it. “Those people lack empathy,” Zak says. Although they can still learn appropriate behaviors, the reactions are not natural for them. Ha! I think I have met some of those people. Oxytocin means “swift birth” in Greek.

Whether you consider the hormonal reaction or not, it really all comes down to relationships—more about the intangible than the tangible. It is often first an emotional impulse of the heart, followed by a logical justification. We are all interconnected as part of a larger human web, and I’m not necessarily talking about the WWW variety here. We are human beings driven by:

Compassion. Regardless of cultural and familial experience, people everywhere are moved to respond when others are in need.

Pleasure. Brain scans confirm what we experience feeling of pleasure when we give. In a sense, it’s really “hard-wiring.”

Habit. If we watched our parents give, we likely internalized that impression. We understand—on even an unconscious level—that this is what good people do.

Belief. Whether we consider charity to be based on religious beliefs, philosophy, or universal values, we as humans recognize an essential imperative to take care of each other. These ideas are larger than self-interest and benefit.

Responsibility. When others are hungry, sick, frightened, without shelter and livelihood our society is put at risk. Our education institutions are driving solutions to many of society’s most pressing issues.

Legacy. When we give we know that we influence the future, sometimes only immediately and sometimes for a very long time. By creating a memorial endowment fund we keep our name and memory alive in the community long past the obituary.

The unknown. We may even have unknown reasons for giving—some even unknown to ourselves.

What do you think? And how is social media impacting generosity?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media, fundraising, and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation.

Hire me: elgantz@ yahoo.com.