I recently ran across a post of Larry’s in which he describes how social media is not only a useful communications tool — but how it can also help foundations do a better job of philanthropy.
So I contacted Larry and asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about it for a bit. Our sixteen-minute conversation was terrific, and touched on a number of interesting issues, including the groundbreaking Changemakers initiative.
According to the Wall Street Journal, at least for those who pay to subscribe, the number of volunteer contributors to the massive Wikipedia has plummeted. 49,000 editors dropped out in Q1 2009, compared to just one tenth that in Q1 2008. . . .
[But] Wikipedia is [still] the fifth most popular web site in the world. It gets something like 325 million visitors per month. In the last twelve months, the traffic has grown 20%. It’s not about to collapse.
But it is changing. It is a different animal than it was when it was founded in 2001. It used to be freewheeling, dependent on consensus. Now it is dependent on hierarchy and swift corrections.
It’s become an institution. It now has institutional concerns (perpetual survival, reputation) that it did not used to have.
Many public leaders who establish initiatives find themselves facing the same inflection point.
In the new Citizen-Centric World, the relationships and roles of institutions and citizens are changing. People are demanding that public institutions cater to them, rather than fitting their behavior to the needs of the institution. There are examples of this in education, in politics, in nonprofits and philanthropy, and elsewhere.
One big change is that accountability is becoming something completely different than it used to be. Time was when “accountability” for public institutions was to institution-defined metrics. But people are now bringing their own metrics and judging institutions on their own criteria. Transparency is the new accountability.
Some institutions are trying to be responsive to the new accountability. They are trying to be transparent. Because this is a new area, they are having mixed results. Case in point: the “jobs created or saved” numbers as they relate to the stimulus package. . . .
This morning, as I went outside to pick up the many newspapers to which I subscribe to home delivery (I’m old school that way), I saw an extra bundle in the middle of the driveway. It was a free print version of a new online newspaper, being helpfully delivered to my doorstep.
My immediate thoughts were very negative. More to recycle. More to pick up every morning. More to read.
But my main thought was: No one asked me if I want this, they just toss it my way for me to deal with. This is the anger that so many feel when confronted with intrusions in daily life, and why spam is so objectionable. No one asked me. The implicit statement by the organization doing the spamming is: “Our goals are more important than your convenience.”
In the commercial world, junk mail has long been despised for just this reason. But, as the imperative to communicate more effectively spreads throughout the nonprofit and public sectors, we get more and more such unwelcome messages.
I get emails that seem to be directly from the heads of small- and medium-sized community benefit organizations from which I had never heard before. I am suddenly on new lists. They all tell me to click here, or respond there, in order to unsubscribe, which is nice. But I don’t unsubscribe, as I sort-of know the people and don’t want to hurt feelings.
This has caused me to pay far, far less attention to my email inbox than I used to, because I cannot control what comes into it. That’s the “push” approach to social marketing.
Meanwhile, information streams over which I do have control, like Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds, have become my main source of information.
The Pull World
That is the new, “Pull World.” There is a new best practice being developed before our eyes when it comes to social marketing. As is often the case, the nonprofit or community benefit sector is a bit behind the curve. It seems like they are all suddenly discovering targeted email newsletters, just as their utility is flying out the window.
What works in the Pull World? Useful sharing. This is what can drive effective social marketing in a world where mindshare is moving from passive receptacles (reading my Inbox) to active engagement (who am I following, what feeds am I reading). When organizations share usefully with me, I go ahead and pass those messages on to my own network.
The Pull World requires discipline from any organization. It’s not easy to move from a Push mentality to a Pull mentality. It’s even harder when you factor in the organizational needs that must be met – even in the public benefit sector, organizations are not in business just to share and make people feel good, they need to survive and thrive. That means, in many cases, that their marketing messages must get out there.
It is a fine line to walk between letting people know what we are up to, and just plain vanilla PR that will be ignored. There’s no magic bullet, and different organizations are answering this question in different ways:
Some organizations designate a few people to be their public face and unleash them to share however they choose.
Some organizations try to create an engaging mix of equal parts organizational PR, sharing of others’ work, and just useful information regardless of source.
Some organizations try to create communities where users create and share material that has to do with the organization.
Since there is not a consensus set of best practices yet, many organizations are trying all of these and more tactics all at once. For someone looking for The Answer, it may be dispiriting to learn that there isn’t one. But that’s just how things go at the beginning of adoption curves.
For now, most of these strategies are playing out in social media, but as the novelty of Twitter and Facebook wears off and they become unremarkable platforms, I believe these overall approaches may migrate across platforms.
The Push-Pull World
Eventually we may get to a Push-Pull world, where organizations will put out messages for people to pull down on the various sharing platforms, and will also have a set of close-in friends who have given permission to be pushed to. A great deal of an organization’s attention will be directed toward moving people from the Pull category to the Push category.
Thinking about that helpful newspaper in my driveway, it’s an attempt to create a Push relationship. But because it starts with Push, it is inherently intrusive. It’s essentially a strategy that goes like this: “We will push something into your life (a newspaper) and if you don’t complain we will keep pushing it. Our revenue model (display advertising) depends in part on the numbers of such packages we are pushing. We hope that eventually you will act in some way on something that is contained in one of our pushed messages, which will allow us to point to impact as well as reach.”
I wonder if strategies like that one will survive. They’re expensive, both in wasted material (newsprint), wasted energy, and wasted goodwill. On the other hand, maybe enough people respond, and they push enough numbers, to make it worthwhile.
But I think things are changing and someday soon we will chuckle at some of what we take for granted nowadays. The same way we chuckle at press releases sent by postal mail.
When will we get there? I don’t know. What will that look like? I don’t know that either. Some of today’s experiments will pan out, others won’t.
Now, I have one last admission to make. I do have an email list to which I send every week or two. I think that everyone on it wants to be there. But just in case, please let me know if you ever get an email you don’t want from me. It won’t hurt my feelings.
Meantime, I am going to spend a little more time on my sharing usefully.
Mobile professionals are not the only ones who have discovered the usefulness of the smartphone. More and more public leaders are busting out Blackberrys and iPhones when they are out and about. At my recent talk at the National League of Cities conference, there were throngs of mayors and other elected officials staying connected at the back of every room.
After about a year of getting the wheels turning slowly with their new operating system for mobile telephones, it looks like Google’s Android system is about to hit it big, big time. More phones than you can shake a stick at are set to drop over the next few weeks and months. I’ve been using the new flagship, the Motorola Droid on Verizon, since the day it emerged. I really put it through its paces.
Overall, Google, Verizon, and Motorola have hit it out of the park with this phone. My only downchecks are the D-pad (I want a little trackball) and battery life (better than the G1, but still could be improved).
I am proud to count Noelle as a friend. I recently noticed a piece in her blog, Gone Public, in which she lays out some directions she suggests we need to go in order for new media (all media, really) to be of most benefit to civic life.
Our conversation was very fruitful and it’s well worth your time listening!
In a workshop last week on new technology for engagement at the National League of Cities conference in San Antonio, we had a room full of more than a hundred mayors, city council members, and other municipal officials from across the nation. We thought it would be a good idea to start the session out by asking them to tell us the one question they were hoping would be answered when it comes to new technologies. We passed out index cards and asked them to write it down. We got sixty back, about two thirds of the audience.
What we got in return was a snapshot of public leaders’ anxieties when it comes to integrating new technologies into existing operations. They shook out into four basic areas: Finance; Reach; Implemenation and Use; and Legal and Security.