Category - Social Media

Gladwell Gets It Wrong – Again
Lessons and Thoughts on the Egyptian Protest
Fighting the Public School Fortress
Activists and Orgs Meeting Online
Social Good Podcast: The Delicious Debacle
Free Agent Communities
Crowds Vs. Mobs
Videos of the Year

Gladwell Gets It Wrong – Again

Malcolm Gladwell has done it again. Last summer he wrote, I thought rather flippantly, about the ineffectiveness of social media in generating and sustaining social protests.

And now he has followed with a post on the New Yorker blog. (An irony-free zone for Gladwell who apparently doesn’t believe that this blog is a social media tool, and for him it isn’t as he appears to pay no mind to the comments.) He writes, “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”

Of course they did. We had a revolution in 1776 that wasn’t tweeted, pinged or posted. It doesn’t mean that the same recipe for organizing and sustaining the protests, and sharing them with the world, is the same as it was a decade or a century or two centuries ago.

The advent of social media provides three critical resources for protesters today:

  1. The ability to initially organize as the Egyptian protesters did on Facebook and Twitter to connect with their friends, but more importantly, the friends of friends, the network. It was difficult to do this previusly, but not impossible of course, because of the time and mistakes that happen with telephone trees, the expensive and danger of advertising and danger of organizing on-the-ground meetings.
  2. The power to change plans in midstream. Using tools like text messaging, Twitter or Foursquare protesters can change meeting places or times in real time, moving thousands of people at a moment’s notice.
  3. Finally, social media enables citizens to share their stories, pictures and videos with the rest of the world. This gives voice to the previously voiceless and puts pressure on other governments to support legitimate protests.

As I wrote the other day, the only drawback to a reliance on social media at this time is the ability of governments, including ours that pressured companies to deny service to Wikileaks recently, to shut down service and cause a blackout for social media users in country and out. As we’re seeing in Egypt, resourceful individuals, citizens, reporters (see Nick Kristof’s powerful tweets here), news agencies, are finding a way to share the news of what’s happening in Egypt and around the world.

Social media aren’t causing revolutions, they are aiding them. Gladwell can sarcastically imagine Mao using Twitter while missing the point entirely that Mao never needed a vehicle or a voice, but the people of China certainly do. We will never know how the protests in Tiananmen Square might have been different with social media, but we’re seeing in Egypt the power that side-to-side communications can have in starting and stirring protests.


Lessons and Thoughts on the Egyptian Protest

I’ve been watching and reading about the protests in Egypt with awe at the courage of the participants and fear for the reprisals they may face. Perhaps it’s too early or easy to generalize, but that’s never stopped me before! Here are a few thoughts about the Egyptian protests, and what makes it similar and dissimilar to recent protests in Yemen, Tunisia and Iran:

  • Are heroic leaders always necessary for overthrowing dictatorships?  The protests appear to start in similar fashion. A long-simmering unhappiness, catalyzed by an economic or political event that is spread and catalyzed side-to-side in part because of social media, particular text messaging, that spills out into the streets. This progression mirrors those from twenty five years ago in Eastern Europe. However, one drawback to the  lack of an opposition party, is that it is unclear to whom the protesters expect power be handed to. Lech Walesa, Vaclev Havel, Nelson Mandela personified their country’s opposition forces. And, in the Nobel Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, it appears the country now has it’s heroic leader. No clear leader emerged in Iran and the protests were beaten back. Is a heroic figure an essential ingredient to success?
  • How valuable can social media ultimately be for social change if access is to easily denied? What is different about these protests from those a quarter century ago is how easily and quickly the protests can grow and spread because of social media, But just as easily as social media can be a catalyst for spreading protests, the access to social media can be cut off instantly and without explanation or recourse. This applies not only to the protests, but also to the recent skirmish Wikileaks had with American companies trying to cut off its Internet access. Although the Pew Center for American Life and the Internet now considers online social networking tools, “standard tools for political engagement,” they are also easily blocked by countries or companies. We do not have open, unfettered access to the Internet here or abroad, and these recent events should support the argument that access to the Internet is a fundamental right not a privilege. It should — but, sadly, it won’t because the corporate world has a stranglehold on the democracies, and the dictatorships control the rest. If you want to be scared about the stranglehold that the telecoms have on politics and the Internet here watch Susan Crawford talk about it here
  • I wonder if there are common characteristics to the protests, protesters, countries, circumstances, dictators that make the overthrow of a dictatorship possible in some places and impossible in others? Can anyone point me to any studies on this?

It’s a fast changing world in some ways, but some things remain stubbornly the same. The desire of people to be free is certainly something that has never, and will never, change or dimish.


Fighting the Public School Fortress

I have worked with a number of nonprofits and foundations over the past few years, terrific organizations like Common Cause and the Avi Chai Foundation, traditional organizations working sincerely to turn themselves into Networked Nonprofits. To break out from behind their high walls and wide moats and focus on building meaningful relationships with wide networks of folks.

I am also doing the same as president of my synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham (new website coming soon!), a lovely 112 year old institution that has fortressed itself over many years.

In the last several weeks, I’ve also taken on the role of insurgent as a parent trying to storm the barricades of our local public school district. It has been a while since I’ve been up against a formidable fortress like this. It is fascinating to see how predictable their reactions and actions are, their knee jerk inclination to discuss and decide important issues in back rooms, their desire for continuity over disruption, the motions of listening that are really just talking at parents.

In my meetings with administrators and school board members, they key characteristics that has struck me the most has been the administration’s unwillingness to examine the relationship between the school district and parents. It has ossified to the point where few parents show up for meetings communicated by e-blasts and press releases. It begins a viscious cycle; they declare a meeting, we are tired of being talked at in edu-speak so stay home, they intuit we’re not interested, we intuit they don’t care about us. And on and on….

This tired cycle is most often broken when institutions face a crisis;  sales or donations are down significantly, an organization faces a significant loss of reputation such as the American Red Cross faced after Hurricane Katrina. In these instances, it required soul searching on the part of the organizations to use a different lens, a social lens, to change their relationship between inside and outside. And then the walls can start to crumble.

Public schools are in crisis across the country. Their funding is being cut by states, local taxes are down, public pressure is on to both increase test scores and develop and inspire a generation of creative thinkers (goals at odds with one another) making school administration one of the hardest jobs around. But without engaged and enthusiastic parents, these districts are fortresses sitting on desert islands. They are turning their back on our energy, enthusiasm, talents, resources and networks, which is a terrible loss for everyone. However, unlike organizations that rely on sales or donations, public institutions have to be forced to change from the outside most often.

And that’s what we began last night. A group of parents met and there was wonderful energy, and yes, some anger, in the room. I offered to create a parent-to-parent network online to share information about what is happening since the news coming from the administration is too often sparse window dressing, make sure we have representation at key meetings and develop strategies together of how to storm the barricades.  When I asked my network on Twitter this morning the tool they recommend for starting this work both Amy Sample Ward and Shaun Dakin recommended Google Groups.

I’ll get that started and plan to post here on our progress fighting the fortress. Should be interesting, wish it wasn’t so darn important for my kids.


Activists and Orgs Meeting Online

Pew’s Center on the Internet and American Life has just released a study that creates a strong connection between Internet users and social causes.

According to the study:

“It becomes clear as people are asked about their activities that their use of the internet is having a wide-ranging impact on their engagement with civic, social, and religious groups.”

Here is a great table from the report summing up the major differences between Internet and non-Internet users and their engagement with causes:

The flip side of these results are the 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report, a survey data from 780 nonprofit organizations courtesy of Kivi Leroux Miller.  According to this study:

  • 75% of nonprofits say they’ll email supporters at least monthly. Nonprofit Comm Trends Report
  • Facebook comes after only websites and email as important communications tools for nonprofits
  • 34% of nonprofits say Twitter is a very or somewhat important tool. Nonprofit Comm Trends Report.
  • Facebook beats Twitter, 79% to 34% as important to nonprofit marketers. Nonprofit Comm Trends Report.
  • What excites nonprofit communicators: new ways to connect w/ supporters, social media & better comm integration.

All of our problems are solved, right? Nope, because the last bullet on Kivi’s summary list is this one:

What scares nonprofit communicators: money woes, hard-to-implement comm strategies & lack of staff time.

Individuals are finding causes and becoming involved, according to a survey last year from Blackbaud donors that give online stay longer and give more and nonprofit organizations, and nonprofit organizations are increasingly, and successfully, using social media to connect with donors and activists.

And yet nonprofits are still bemoaning the fact that they cannot commit staff to social media. They could if it was important enough. How much time and energy are spent on activities that are unproductive and out-of-step with the social world, like direct mail, I wonder?

Given all of this evidence, plus the data showing the large amount of hours spent online by grown ups every month (Over 36 hours a month for people between the ages of 35-64, prime giving years), what is stopping every single nonprofit organization from putting every ounce of energy, every dollar they have, into building relationships online? What’s stopping them are senior executives and board members who refuse to believe that social media are important, who refuse to engage themselves, and think continuing to think and act in analog ways will continue to work.

That’s our challenge this year, to enlist everyone who is online, every staff person, volunteer and board member who is engaged and learning how to use the channels to raise awareness and activate people for their causes to make the case to the bottleneck people within their organizations that the above data are simply too compelling to wait another second before significantly reconfirming their budgets, staffs and structures and immerse themselves in the social world awaiting them.


Social Good Podcast: The Delicious Debacle

In mid December an ex-employee of Yahoo!, the owner of Delicious, released a slide from an internal presentation that indicated that Yahoo might close Delicious. Here is a copy of that slide showing which sites Yahoo! might shut down.

He tweeted the news that Delicious was shutting down and a picture of this slide, which immediately and naturally went flying around the web. Here is a post from TechCrunch about this event. This prompted thousands of people to look for a way to export their bookmarks from Delicious and import them to another, similar service. I saw this post from Michele Martin, a great blogger about nonprofits and social media that prompted me to think a bit more about what it means when a trusted tool shuts down, or even potentially shuts down. Strangely, and perhaps disastrously if Delicious doesn’t survive the defection of so many users, it took days for Yahoo to respnod to the rumors. Here is a post about their response.

Most of the social media tools that we use, like Facebook and Twitter, are free for the users. We invest a lot of time putting our data into these tools. What would happen if they one day disappeared?  Delicious is a very early social media tool that is widely used to bookmark websites and share those bookmarks with others. In this way a community or network of people can share what they’ve bookmarked and find useful websites quickly and easily.  I invited Allyson Kapin, the founder of Women Who Tech and co-founder of the web agency, Rad Campaign, and Michele to discuss the lessons from the Delicious meltdown with me for this month’s Social Good podcast.

I liked hearing about how Michele immediately went to her crowd on Facebook, blogs and Twitter to find an alternative to Delicious. Allyson was also very insightful about making sure we don’t put all of our network eggs in one basket and spread out among the social media channels to protect ourselves from a tool shut down. Allyson also talked about the importance of open source tools that we can preserved and supported by a community and not leave us at the whim of a for profit company.  I hope some foundations are listening to that last bit!

Hope you enjoy the podcast.


Free Agent Communities

Debra Askanase, aka @askdebra, has written a terrific post over at the Care2 blog,Why “Free Agent” Social Communities Rock. Debra builds on the concept of free agents that Beth and I describe in The Networked Nonprofit. We defined free agents as individuals, fluent with social media, raising awareness, funds and organizing for causes. It’s awfully exciting to watch as a concept that we crafted gets read (phew!) and then tugged on and made better by smart people like Debra.

The essence of Debra’s piece is that whole communities of folks are using online social networks to identify causes and nonprofit for which to fundraising. She cites several examples, my favorite being the Cake Wreck’s Blog, because it’s a great example and because, well, anything that has cake in the title is going to be OK by me!  Here’s how Debra descries this free agent community:

The Cake Wrecks blog began their Christmas Charity Countdown in 2009 to raise money for 12 different nonprofits in 12 days. As Cake Wrecks writes: “Many of you remember this crazy thing I did last year, when John and I skipped gifts and decorations and instead donated to a different charity each day for two weeks. I asked you guys to recommend places to give, and invited you to join us by giving a single dollar each day to the featured charity. But the really crazy thing is that a lot of you did.” This year, Cake Wrecks reintroduced the Christmas Charity Countdown, asking for recommendations of places to give, and asking readers to donate $1.00 a day to 12 different nonprofit organizations. Over 12 days, the Cake Wrecks fundraiser generated almost $23,000 in donations. Over 4,500 people donated, primarily in increments of less than $5.00.”
The idea of free agent communities for fundraising has all sorts of exciting possibilities like flash mobs for raising funds. My thanks to Debra for taking our idea in such an exciting direction.


Crowds Vs. Mobs

Those of us happily swimming in the social media waters often extol the virtues of crowds of people who can act collectively to generate new knowledge or new products. Beth just wrote a great post for Huffington Post providing a summary from our book on the various ways that crowds can work together to support causes. Crowds can create knowledge together (e.g. Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count), they can create a product or work of art together (e.g. Royal Opera Company’s Twitter Opera). And, of course, crowds of people can vote for their favorite Idol or candidate or grantee or sports all star online.

But there is a dark side to crowds and that is when they turn into mobs. There have been two instances in particular of mob behavior online that have caught my eye. The first was the explosion of vitriol aimed at Cooks Source Magazine and its editor, Judith Griggs. A free lance writer, Monica Gaudio, posted a story on her blog on November 3rd, 2010 about this magazine using an article of her without permission. As if the lifting of her story wasn’t bad enough, the response she received from the editor was appalling. The most egregious passage from her response was this widely circulated paragraph:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

The outrage in the blogosphere and on the magazine’s Facebook page was fast, ferocious and unforgiving.

Of course, the magazine realized the PR disaster it had on its hands and within a matter of days issued an apology and a donation to Columbia School of Journalism as Monica had originally suggested.

Two weeks later the magazine, with just two staff people Griggs and her daughter, had shut down.

Last week the Internet was abuzz with rumors that the social bookmarking site, Delicious, was shutting down. An employee of Yahoo! the parent company of Delicious tweeted out this slide from a presentation:

What to do to save years worth of tags and bookmarks many of us had been saving on Delicious? A flurry of tweets flew around with suggestions of sites to transfer information from Delicious. Beth suggested Diigo and yesterday I set up an account there and transferred all of my data form Delicious to Diigo. It’s impossible to know exactly how many other people have done similarly in the last week, however, there was a message on the Diigo site saying that it was slow because thousands of new accounts had been created to do exactly what I was doing.

Today Kerri Karvetski posted on my Facebook wall a link to this article saying that that the death of Delicious may have been prematurely reported. The article quotes a part of a blog post from Yahoo saying:

“We’re actively thinking about the future of Delicious and we believe there is a home outside the company that would make more sense for the service and our users,” the blog post says. “We’re in the process of exploring a variety of options and talking to companies right now. And we’ll share our plans with you as soon as we can.”

Thousands of users have already shifted over in the time it took Yahoo to respond to the rumors. What may have been a slideshow intended to spur internal brainstorming may have turned into a death knell for Delicious.

I’ve been thinking about how these two examples are alike and different.

They are alike in that these mobs formed instantly and widely online and they both killed an institution (I’m guessing the damage to Delicious may be irreversible, could be wrong about that, of course.)

Of course, there are significant differences between them. In the case of The Cooks Source the crowd was incensed, rightly, by the insensitive and ignorant comments from the editor. However, the Delicious example is unclear whether it was an employee trying to save or bury Delicious by making public an internal presentation. I know, there is no internal or external in our Wikileaks world, however, it seems that the intention of the presenter here was to share an early idea not make a public announcement. In addition, the Cooks Source crowd was out for blood, the Delicious crowd just wanted to protect itself even though the consequences of inaccurate information leaking out early may be that we all inadvertently put them out of business.

All in all, these examples leave me with more questions:

1. When and how does a crowd turn into a mob – and is there any way back once it becomes a mob?

2. How can a company or organization, particularly a small one like Cooks Source, react fast and widely enough to calm a mob? One answer is that they will need friends in their network to advocate on their behalf, but again, this requires an incredibly fast and loud response to calm a mob.

3. We are assuming no evil and premeditated intent on the part of the mob catalyst in both of these cases. But what if someone had an ax to grind with the magazine or with Yahoo! We’re living in an environment where widespread panic is just a mouse click away for any organization or company. Even though the process is opaque, even Wikileaks portends to do some due diligence on the information it receives to verify it’s authenticity.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, just thinking about them…


Videos of the Year

Welcome to my third annual Videos of the Year post!  This year I want to concentrate on the videos that are clearly self-made, not videos that are the equivalent of the old, professional public service announcements. Not that there is anything wrong with professional videos, it’s just a different animal from self-made content that individuals (which free agents or part of organizations) create to share a story or advocate for a cause.

Please share any videos you thought were terrific this year.

Here are my top videos of the year, in no particular order:

I had the chance to talk to Dan Savage about this video for a Social Good podcast. Two things really stuck with me during our conversation. The first was the spontaneous nature of the making of this video. Dan and Terry just decided one night to make this video, without a script, with a friend holding the video camera. The second was the fact that not only did this video go viral, but the entire It Gets Better YouTube channel went viral, with thousands of people uploading their own videos and stories. I can’t think of another channel going viral like this, it’s a really remarkable event; a combination of lucky timing and real, heartfelt stories.

One of those personal, homemade stories posted on the It Gets Better YouTube channel was this one by Buddie. If you’re not moved by this, well, I’m not sure what would move you.

This video was a contestant in the Acumen Fund’s Sanitation is Sexy contest. As the daughter of a civil sanitary engineer, I find this topic and video particularly effective.

Mark Horvath, also known as Hardly Normal on Twitter, is a remarkable free agent (now an award-winning free agent according to Mashable) and advocate for homeless people. His efforts teaching homeless people how to use social media, particularly through the vehicle of Invisible People TV, to tell their own stories and advocate for their needs are both inspiring and effective.

But, if I were to select the best public service announcement videos of the year, there are plenty of great ones to choose from. OK, twist my arm, here are my top three:

and, finally, my favorite video of the year (who doesn’t love school kids advocating for a new roof?) which is one of the winner of the Bing Competition:


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