Archive - October 2009

iParticipate and Social Change
It's Give List Time!
Social Networks as Communities not Competitions
Our "Aha" Moments
Is Social Capital Increasing Online?
Fun Mashup at IssueLab
Blogging Against Violence Against Women
America's Giving Challenge is Launched

iParticipate and Social Change

Greg Baldwin, President of VolunteerMatch, sent me a link to his provocate blog post, Turning Good Intentions into Action: Hollywood vs. Google.  Greg says that the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s much-ballyhooed iParticipate campaign to boost volunteerism was a bust.

The idea of the campaign was for a significant number of TV shows to incorporate volunteerism into their episodes during one week. Participating shows included Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock. According to Greg the goals of this effort was to create a surge of volunteers that would avail themselves of the opportunities available through VolunteerMatch, VolunteerSolutions, Craiglist,, and Idealist.

No surge resulted. By Greg’s estimate VolunteerMatch will net about 15-20 new volunteers as a result of the broadcasts. What happened?  According to Greg:

“on…Thursday, we had a total of 33,250 visits, which if you are doing the math, means that about 98% of visits came from someplace other than the TV. Really? So where are they coming from?

The answer of course is Google and the long-tail of the internet. That is how much the word has changed, but not everyone is ready to believe it.”

Greg’s thoughts are interesting and provokative, good fodder for an interesting conversation.

Here are my thoughts in response.

1. It is important to unhook from the zero-sum notion that the world will either be broadcast or social media in the future. It’s not going to be one thing but an ongoing mixture of the two. Of course, broadcast media has lost steam in the last ten years, but it hasn’t disappeared and won’t in the near future. We need to keep exploring and learning about the intersection between the two and find patterns and methods for them to strengthen one another.

2. I think this is largely a case of what I call “malmeasurement.” iParticipate was hyperbole gone wild. We hear this kind of language so often. That the next campaign will be a “game changer,” or create a “tidal wave” of interest, etc. The expectations that highlighting volunteerism within TV programs would be a catalyst for millions of people to volunteer was never realistic in the first place. The distance between raising awareness and action is too far through the light touch of a mention in a TV show. But that doesn’t mean that raising awareness isn’t important. On the contrary, remember those public service announcements that seeped into our consciousness, whether it was Smoky the Bear or the egg frying symbolizing a brain on drugs. Those were powerful messages that shaped a national shift on behavior. But those PSAs were run many, many times on TV when television stations were required to conserve part of their bandwidth for public service. And that is one very interesting lesson learned for me in the iParticipate campaign. If this effort was a substitute for the many years that television helped to shape the national conversation about issues through PSAs it certainly is a pale, ineffective substitute.

3. What is very interesting about this discussion is the fact that Greg knows what happened immediately as a result of the television shows. In the analog world there would be no way for the rest of us to know what effect a television shows was having out there in the real world. But, Greg knows, he’s looking at the numbers of volunteers frozen stuck after the broadcasts. Of course, this is only one measure. People tend to marinate over ideas and activities over time. A focus group with watchers of the programs would provide terrific additional data as to whether the programs affected how viewers felt about issues and what else is needed to move them to action.

4. This is an opportunity  for volunteer matching websites and organizations, and the nonprofit organizations that use volunteers, to engage with EIF to develop a longer-term strategy of how to continue to raise the importance and opportunities of volunteerism. Social change takes a long time and an enormous amount of diligence, patience and resilience to pursue. These are not characteristics often associated with the entertainment industry, which is why its incumbent on the nonprofit community to find ways for the industry to use it’s best strength, their ability to be a megaphone to share issues with  large audiences of people at one time, and couple it with the best strengths of efforts like VolunteerMatch which is to inexpensively reach people — and stay with them over time.


It's Give List Time!

The holiday season is here and with Thanksgiving and the December holidays comes our second annual Give List!

Givelist is an idea that I had the pleasure of hatching with Marnie Webb last year. It’s a very simple idea. We wanted people to help us to list ways that individuals can do to give back to their communities or give to someone else in lieu of buying presents. The point of making a list is to encourage people to participate in some of these activities, and to celebrate the creativity and passion for giving of so many people.

So, please visit the list, read the idea of others, add your own and pass it on to your friends and family! And feel free to tweet any ideas as well, the hashtag is #givelist. Thanks for sharing your ideas and your spirit with us, we wish everyone a happy holiday season!



Social Networks as Communities not Competitions

Picture 8I was struck by this article on the Financial Times website called, “MySpace Abandons Race with Facebook.” The gist isn’t surprising, MySpace is falling behind Facebook in the total slice of the social networking pie and is therefore changing its focus from competing with Facebook to being a hub for music and entertainment.

MySpace has been losing ground to Facebook for the last two years in terms of the total number of users. What struck me was this line in the opening paragraph of the article, MySpace is “conceding defeat in the race to become the largest online social network.”

It struck me because this a frame that so many people use to describe online social networks — and it is both distracting from the reality of what makes social networks powerful.

I understand from a financial perspective that which networks are growing or shrinking are of importance, but, in terms of the experience that users care about it is irrelevant. Users go where their friends are, where a person can make new friends, and where the experience is easy and fulfilling. Whether that’s the largest network, the second, third or fourth largest is irrelevant. The networks need to focus on the experience, and it sounds like MySpace is doing that.

But there is also a lesson here for nonprofit organizations. I sometimes hear nonprofit executive worry that with their resources so tight they don’t have the energy to invest in a network that may not be here in a few days/months/years. Why should we spend energy creating a community on MySpace when it may not be here next year, they say.

In this formulation, creating communities is a financial equation. It will cost me $X to create this community and then it could be gone and I’ll have lost my investment. Just as MySpace has changed its frame from competing with Facebook to focusing in what it does best, so, too do nonprofit organizations have to change their frame in this regard.

Creating relationships, building communities is not a financial issue, it’s organization capacity. Learning how to weave networks (terrific post, here, from Beth on network weaving), listen and learn online, strengthen connections to people and organizations are priorities for organizations. Becoming better at doing these things is building the capacity to be effective in a networked world.

Shying away from it because that particular channel may disappear (and none of the more popular ones will, they are just too many eyeballs on them for media companies to let them fail) misses the point that organizations need to build these communities, and continuously learn how to do it better, in order to be viable and effective in the digital age.


Our "Aha" Moments

I had a terrific time as part of a panel yesterday at Baruch College called Social Media and Technology: What Nonprofits Need to Know. The event was co-sponsored by the Personal Democracy Forum. The other panelists were:

  • Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Forum
  • Deanna Zandt, Media Technologist, Consultant, and Author of the forthcoming book: Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

The moderator was the spectacular Kyra Gaunt, muscicologist, anthropologist, technologist and every other ologist you can think of!

Farra Trumpeter was in attendance and wrote a terrific summary of the event. But a conversation began during the session on Twitter and continued afterwards that I thought was great fun. Micah Sifry, Andrew’s co-founder at PDF, was tweeting the event. Kyra asked the panelists about their personal “Aha” moments with social media. Mine was the amazing story of the women of Kuwait who used their blackberries, often beneath their burkas, to successfully pass full women’s suffrage in 2005. That was the story that led to my writing Momentum. The end of that story was this spring when, again using their blackberries and personal networks, four women were elected to the Kuwaiti legislature!

Micah started to use the hashtag #aha on Twitter and asked others to tweet their own personal social media aha moments. For hours last night, people around the world were sharing their stories. They included:

  • Micah kicked off the tweets by writing: My SocMed #aha moment was when someone in a #SXSW panel asked the mod for a #hashtag & neither of us knew what he meant
  • antheawatson: Arriving May 08 in rural IN as an Obama FO + finding group of vols with an office doing voter contact. They met on MyBo.
  • Sarah Granger: My #socialmedia #aha moment: launching Gary Hart’s presidential exploratory blog early 2003. Instant community.
  • Pierre Omidyar: @pierre: My #aha: 1996: people using eBay to defy stereotypes and connect unexpectedly with strangers over common passions.

What a great way to extend the panel beyond the walls of the conference room and an absolutely perfect way of using Twitter to share experiences. Thanks, Micah!

Note: Micah just spotted a mistake here with his eagle eye. The tweet attributed to him above about SXSW was actually from Hash Tager. Micah’s “aha” moment is here.


Is Social Capital Increasing Online?

Picture 7Jocelyn Harmon has written a terrific post called Are We Still Bowling Alone? Jocelyn rightly ponders the possibility that the use of social media tools, particularly social networking sites, is reversing the trends of decreasing social capital that Robert Putnam famously wrote about at the end of the twentieth century in Bowling Alone.

Populations the size of not-so-small countries are on MySpace, Friendster (not so big here, but very big in Asia) and, of course, Facebook. Friends are connecting to friends in growing numbers. The assumption therefore, is that we are renewing the fabric of communities as Putnam called social capital. And I believe that we are – but proving it isn’t quite so easy.

Social capital at its core is made up of two key components: trust and reciprocity. I believe that the social networking sites are doing a great job of creating and increasing trust between people. Unlike chat rooms that were a part of the Web 1.0 landscape, in the Web 2.0 world users choose their friends. And unchoose them by defriending them or no longer following them on Twitter. We choose people based on our on land connections and based on their reputation – are they friends with people that I know, do they work for organizations that I trust? If the answers are yes, then we connect with them and trust them with our information and our friends. And for the most part this works very well, that’s why the social networking sites have grown so quickly.  And we can check in quickly and easily with acquaintances, maintain friendships with people from previous times in our lives more easily than ever before. This is the phenomenon that Leisa Reichelt cleverly calls “ambient intimacy.

So, trust is growing, but as mentioned above that’s only one part of the social capital equation. Reciprocity focuses on what we’re doing with all of these connections.

Reciprocity, the second half of the recipe for social capital is defined to mean that I do something for someone with the confidence that at some future time they’ll do something similar for me. I bring someone food when they’re sick, or water their plants when they’re away, or go to their birthday party because it is the right thing to do – but also with the confidence that I can count on them to do something similar for me in the future. How is this playing out online?

Jocelyn rightly points out that some of what is happening online that is reciprocal is fundraising. I click for breast cancer because my friend Sally asked me to, and in the future, she’ll click on Hope for Henry for me. America’s Giving Challenge that is now underway is entirely based on the notion of friends asking friends to contribute to their cause. But, reciprocity online is also about helping one another. Twitter is a great place to watch reciprocity in action. Twitter followers answer questions for one another, what’s the best tool for X?, who knows the best consultant for Y?, who is going to Z event? There are many stories of a blog post about a family in need and the immediate response of a community of people quickly and generously supporting them with food, clothing, supplies, etc. David Armano spearheaded such an effort last year.

My question, the big question really about social capital in general, is how can we measure this reciprocity online — and is it growing?  And I wish I had an easy answer, but our communities are complicated online. We don’t just exist in one place, we’re talk and connect with people in lots of places online, around lots of issues and measuring where reciprocity exists around the web and how it is growing would be a pretty big task. It also outweighs the incessant focus on measure clicks as return on investment – particularly for causes. Clicks count, but they pale in comparison to the creation or strengthening of social capital that is much more important to improving social outcomes in the long run.

There are ways to begin. For instance, what is the nature of the conversation with the comments on a blog? And how many retweets does one get on Twitter when asking a question? And, how many people are talking about your issue on their blog and linking to you? And, of course, how many are you linking to? These are important, but they’re just a beginning to understanding the nature and strength of relationships that are growing online.

So, well, I’m going to take the easy way out today and say we need to figure it out, and I’m open to suggestions!  This is clearly a topic that will need revisiting over time.


Fun Mashup at IssueLab

Picture 6Issuelab announced a fun mashup contest called Research Remix that starts next week.[Note: full disclosure, I’m a judge for the contest.]

Here is the nub of the contest from the website: “Contestants will be asked to remix facts from one or more of the 300+ Creative Commons licensed reports on IssueLab with openly licensed video footage or openly licensed images and music.”

But the contest is more than a geeky wonderland of data connections, it’s also an opportunity for the participants to practice using Creative Commons licenses and a chance for the rest of us to see its power. The idea here is to build on existing data and the work that others have started without taking the work. The point of Creative Commons licenses is to respect the work of others, credit them in appropriate ways, and use it to create new and interesting products.

I’m looking forward to seeing what develops here and will keep you posted on the results!


Blogging Against Violence Against Women

Picture 5The Women’s Fund of Birmingham, Alabama in partnership with NBC 13, organized a blogger event on October 7th to raise awareness of the terrible toll of domestic violence on women and communities. The event, called Voices Against Violence, was a gathering of local bloggers at the NBC offices to blog about the pervasive, awful issue of domestic violence.

Here is how Emily Jones Rushing, the blogger for the local community foundation, described the event: “Bettina Byrd-Giles, Virginia Jones, Sunny Slaughter, Cutressa Williams, Andre Natta, Daniel Walters and, yes, the Community Foundation’s chief blogger, Emily Jones Rushing, got to spend time with each other across the conference table as we interviewed police officers, judges, social workers, counselors and members of the Women’s Fund’s giving circle, Voices Against Violence.”

A great example of the blog posts that came out of the event was one by blogger Bettina Byrd-Giles who interviewed the author Tahiera Brown, about the event:

BB-G:  How will the Blogathon help?

TB:  I believe the Blogathon will help: 1) To educate the public.  With public awareness, more people will become involved.  2) To raise funds to help organizations such as the police department, the YWCA, therapists, and many others.

There’s so much to love about this event!

First, the importance of the partnership between broadcast media and social media was clearly highlighted here. Rather than being threatened by the bloggers, NBC and the Women’s Fund recognized the importance of building a strong relationship with them. The future won’t be social media or broadcast, it will be social media AND broadcast – in some combination that we are still developing.

Second, the group as a whole recognized the power of meeting on land not just online.  Bloggers don’t often meet one another in person. The idea of organizing a get together, to build relationships with one another, is so powerful and transcends the topic of the moment. Today, this group banded together to decry domestic violence, tomorrow it may be homelessness or job training or responding to a natural disaster. The topic doesn’t matter as much as the longer-term relationships do, and these was a terrific first step towards building a network of bloggers that serves Birmingham well.

Speaking of first steps, that’s the third important point about this event. It’s a great step, but still a first one. The bloggers, the Fund and NBC, and other partners like the Community Foundation, and local nonprofits, need to continue to build a strong ecosystem of organizations and individuals that can raise awareness of issues and mobilize for events and causes.

Brava to Birmingham, keep going!


America's Giving Challenge is Launched

Today, at 3 pm eastern time, the second America’s Giving Challenge is being launched by The Case Foundation.

Over the next thirty days, literally until November 6th at 2:59 pm eastern time, thousands of individual activists will champion their favorite causes and vie for the largest number of friends raised on the Causes application on Facebook. The top friend getters each giving at least $10 each will win $50,000 plus the money they raise using Causes. Prizes for causes that raise the largest number of friends in a day will be awarded $500.

Participants can register to compete, view details and donate to a cause they care about at

I urge participants to take a quick peek at the assessment report that Beth and I wrote about the first Giving Challenge go round, chock full of suggestions and lessons learned from the first round.


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