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?

Tweet Surrender: The Truth about Twitter

tweet_twoThe decibel level of Twitter buzz only continues to crescendo. Harvard Business School is even studying the complexities of Tweet-ology. A Harvard MBA student examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May of this year—to try to understand the phenomenon that is Twitter. We hear it referenced almost daily—and more and more, you can follow just about anyone or anything on Twitter, but what’s really going on? And this begs the question—just how do we make it work for us?

Continuing along my own journey of social media comprehension, I have to admit I was startled by this recent data—especially in comparison to what I know about other popular social media sites, such as Facebook. The researchers discovered that 80% of those sampled were “followed by” or “followed” at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social media site members have at least one friend (measuring these stats for sites at similar levels of development). This suggests that entrenched, active users really do understand exactly how Twitter works. (Unlike much of the non-Web 2.0 world.) The initiated get it — not really too much of a revelation, methinks.

However, it’s the metrics around gender behavior that particularly intrigue me. Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. And, men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or perhaps they have more stringent criteria for reciprocating relationships. This seems somehow counter-intuitive, though—especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter—45% are men, and 55% are women.

Even more enlightening is— who follows whom:
• A man is two times more likely to follow another man than a woman.
• A woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman.
• A man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.

This cannot be explained by different tweeting activity, either, because both men and women tweet at the same rate. These results are remarkable in light of previous social media research. On other social networks, most of the activity is focused around women. Men seem to follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.

Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women. The researchers conjectured that perhaps men and women find the content produced by other men on Twitter more compelling than on other social networks. And maybe, men find the content produced by women less compelling because of the lack of photo sharing, detailed biographies, etc. After all, men are visual creatures.

Or could the cryptic nature of the 140-character-post limit and truncated URLs inhibit more meaningful sharing—that women often prefer? It’s a thought-provoking question.

Overall, Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical online social network. On Twitter, there is a small, very active user group. Specifically, the top 10% of Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. Oh, there’s that old 90/10 rule again! Fundraising 101, indeed. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for only about 30% of all production.

From this perspective, Twitter is actually more of a one-way, one-to-many communication vehicle than a two-way, peer-to-peer network. Perhaps this is why it has logged greater success in the fundraising realm for nonprofits than some of the other more widely distributed social media options. Worth considering. The leaders initiate and the followers acquiesce. Hmmm . . . a whole new way to think about the social web? Perhaps a new social science. I wonder.

What do you think? @ellagantz