Social Media Maturation

Maybe the title of this post should be, “Social Media Saturation.” I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps we’ve seen a cresting of the wave of the use of social media, a leveling off time, when I saw this this editorial on Mashable, confirming my feeling. Twitter was the last social media tool to scale to enormous proportions, with a current estimate of 190 million users, the size of a large country.

Clay Shirky has written that interesting things happen when technology gets boring.  Along this same theme, Seth Godin wrote the other day, “Only when an innovation is dead can the real work begin. That’s when people who are seeking leverage get to work, when we can focus on what we’re saying, not how (or where) we’re saying it.”

When I first began writing about social media for social change in 2004 it was so early in the curve that any predictions of what the tools could be used for and how was purely speculation. The reaction from many nonprofit professionals when Momentum was published in 2006 was, “Please don’t make me do this!” Last year, when The Networked Nonprofit was published, the reaction was, “I know I have to do this, tell me how.” The shift didn’t happen in a vacuum, it was accelerated because of the spread in the use of social media, the development of a critical mass of case studies of nonprofits effectively using social media and, of course, the recession that forced organizations to rethink their fundraising strategies.

I am often asked what the next new thing is in social media. It is, of course, an unanswerable question. It’s also now an unimportant question. We need to move past the Gee Whiz! excitement of the phase of development we have been in for a few years and move to the next phase of deep, sustained change in the way we organize and do our work.  We have to move beyond clicktivism and slactivism and fundamentally shift the relationships organizations have with their ecosystems, redefine the notions of inside and outside, retrain leaders with the skills they need to manage as networks, particularly listening and facilitation (why aren’t we teaching folks to facilitate meetings well. Why do we assume that people are born with the skills to develop a productive agenda, air differences and move a group forward?) And, perhaps most importantly, we need to have a better sense of what is working in the long term and what isn’t.

There has been a recent pushback on traditional, social science evaluation poppping up in recently, like on the Nonprofit Quarterly blog, Way Too Much Rigor Leads to Rigor Mortis, and this fantastic article by Bill Schambra on the futility of measurement as it is currently practiced.

I admit that I don’t fully understand this next phase. I know it’s here, and it’s goign to be fundamentally different from what has come before it, but the contours of it are still fuzzy. I’m going to have to sit down and think about this, offline, in the library, amid a pile of unopened books, which is how I do my best thinking, by osmosis!


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Allison Fine

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