Archive - March 2012

Ripple Effect of Trayvon Martin
How Fortressy Are We?
Lessons from KONY 2012
Celebrating International Women’s Day
Social Media Academy Lessons
What MBA Programs Don’t Teach You

Ripple Effect of Trayvon Martin

Exactly one month ago today, Trayvon Martin was senselessly killed it what appears to be a racially motivated attack. The inaction of the local police to investigate and arrest the killer, George Zimmerman, sparked a nationwide protest, fueled, of course by social media.

The arc of awareness of this issue moved along a fairly predictable path: an outrageous crime is committed, the local fortresses are unresponsive, key players, in this case Trayvon’s parents, use the social media megaphone to share their story and demand justice, the networks begin to fire and a cycle of protests, petitions, blogs, and celebrity Tweets create mainstream media attention and on land protests.

It’s become the way protests begin and are carried forward, and it works.

I just saw a small paragraph in USA Today that I thought was an interesting addition to this mix. The item is in the sports section and is entitled, “ESPN Reversal.” The gist of it is that employees at ESPN were expressing their support of the effort to bring Zimmerman to justice, or at least to trial, by posting pictures of themselves in hoodies, the symbol of solidarity with Trayvon’s family, on Twitter. The immediate reaction of ESPN was to order them to stop. And then they reversed themselves after internal discussion. As the head of ESPN said, “It’s a tragic situation that’s led to much thoughtful discussions throughout the company.”

MediaBistro has more on ESPN’s decision here.

What I find fascinating about this issue is the possibility that we’re inching towards large institutions beginning with an internal conversation that leads to a policy decision on how social media should be used personally by employees, rather than the de facto alarm, shut down, calm down, it’s OK, the sky-isn’t-falling concession. Social media policies are never going to cover all of the possibilities in this fast moving world, and the hope is that employees will learn to use their common sense when using even their own channels when their affiliation with their company is public, but, we also need a new default setting within organizations that has senior staff begin with a conversation about what makes them uncomfortable about certain uses of personal channels and allows employees an opportunity to respond and find common ground.

And wouldn’t that common ground be a great place for all organizations to set as a goal to find over the next year? We’re all figuring how to use social media organizationally together, in real-time, and this is one more example of an organization becoming more authentic and agile.



How Fortressy Are We?

I came across this wonderful quiz from Rich Harwood he developed for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a notorious fortress!) The model highlights the difference between inward facing organizations and outward facing ones:

Certainly rings familiar to us folks who have been researching, writing, and talking for a few years on ways to help organizations transition from traditional command and control models to networks. It reminded of the Working Wikily model the Monitor Institute developed a few years ago of how networks work.

I’ve been thinking there might be a pre-step to Rich’s model. I was asked a few month’s ago whether I could develop a list of questions a group could ask itself to see how “fortressy” they were. So, here’s a start, I need to think more about how to score the answers to these questions, so open to help from you all on that.

How Fortressy Are We?

  • How comfortable is senior management with staff speaking as themselves on social media channels?

Not a chance! They’ll let one or two people speak for us. They’re starting to let more people communicate. We’re all on the channels.

  • How often do you hear the phrase, “That isn’t professional behavior” in your organization?

Every hour! Every day. Most days. Almost never. Absolutely never, but we don’t wear shoes, either.

  • Your communications about your organization focus on how unique and successful you are.

Of course, we have to raise money. Usually, our board expects it. Sometimes. Not often. Never.

  • How concerned are you in revealing your decision-making to the world?

Very concerned, somewhat, a little, not much, not at all.

  • What do we do when someone criticizes us?

Freak out! Call in the crisis management people. Spend a day worrying about it. Let the intern respond. Has someone criticized us?

  • Are your measures of success based largely on the number of people who participate in our efforts?

Of course! Largely. Evenly split with other measures. We never count heads or beds. Who measures success (don’t tell anyone)?

Let me know what you think of the questions/measures and what you would add or delete.




Lessons from KONY 2012

Had you ever heard of Joseph Kony before last week? Neither had I. But I had heard of viral videos, and the Kony 2012 video produced by Invisible Children is viral on steroids. Here are my thoughts as to what it means for activism.

The arc of how and why this video went viral is straightforward:

  • Fantastic storytelling. The video is personal, beautiful, moving and has a clear and an easy ask to speaks to the sweet spot of young people who are naturally good sharers (before it is sucked out of them by organizations): let’s make Kony famous so he gets caught.
  • Spadework. Invisible Children has spent years preparing for this moment by building its online and on land networks. They already had millions of “Likes” on Facebook. The combination of an amazing story and a network of ready sharers is rich soil to till for a well-made video. This is exactly the kind of spadework Komen hadn’t done, and you saw what happened to them.
  • Network momentum. Hmmm, where have I heard the word Momentum before? The dynamics for social media viralness have been constant: people share a video, blog post, picture, etc., celebrities Tweet it, mainstream media picks it up and off we go. Eventually, a video like KONY becomes the Zsa Zsa Gabor of social media; famous for being famous. My son’s comment last night summed it up when he said he watched it because 80 million other people had watched it.

Whoosh, off KONY goes, and the backlash begins. Simon Manewaring summarized the criticism as:

This post is the re-lash to the backlash. The video could have been more up-to-date on the current whereabouts of Kony, but that isn’t a disqualification in my opinion. And, yes, it oversimplifies the complicated history of Uganda and the role of one man. But remember the purpose of this video, in fact all videos like this one. This is the top of the funnel, the opportunity to reach lots of people in an emotional way and get them engaged. Finally, it’s ironic that direct mail was never considered slacktivism but online activities are, generational bias perhaps?

Very smart people who are immersed in complicated topics like Uganda are routinely annoyed with the rest of us who dip in and out;, that’s the real world, and not wanting to be immersed in the country and its issues doesn’t disqualify us from participation. We need to remember the goal of activism videos. The video is not intended to be a thesis on Ugandan history and politics – and no one is going to watch and share that one. It is a powerful, personal, moving visual story made by excellent filmmakers.

I absolutely love the idea of crowdsourcing social justice and hope other video makers and activists will continue to extend this idea.

There are a few things the organization could have done better.

  • The organization should have better prepared to move people along a ladder of engagement. There should be more in-depth information and discussion on their website on the complicated situation in Uganda for those interested in learning more to do so. There should be more specific ways people could meet, learn, share, raise money, advocate for peace and justice in Uganda on the website as well.  It’s not surprising that Invisible Children wasn’t ready to go in this way, this is exactly the kind of practice we’re all doing right now to figure out how to connect story telling to action.
  • Although the organization has done a very good job of responding to criticism quickly and openly on its website and on social media channels, it should do a better job of being a transparent organization writ large to ward of criticism of this in the first place. I’ve been following the organization since its inception and my impression is that their love of documentary filmmaker has taken precedence over organization building (like board building, although as many of you know, I have such overall disdain for most boards, I don’t know that I would count that as a good sign.)  My guess is that dynamic will begin to change based on the criticism.
  • Invisible Children now needs to keep people engaged in the “so what.” Is there progress being made on bringing Kony to justice, what is the current state of Ugandan politics, what else can people do to help?

There is one other issue raised that I think is interesting for other nonprofits to think about. Allyson Kapin wrote on the Care2 blog, “It’s worrisome that some nonprofits will now think that slick videos with a high price tag will automatically go “viral.” It could not be further from the truth. Very few videos go viral to this extent no matter what budget is spent.”

Invisible Children staff are documentary filmmakers. This isn’t a DIY, homemade video, it’s a short film. This does not disqualify activists from making their own videos. Here is a really fun video made by kids to celebrate their school:

Powerful, personal storytelling trumps production, and authenticity trumps slickness.


Celebrating International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. Hurrah! I like celebrations, and I like women, and international is cool (although as a lifelong new Yorker I am biologically programmed to disdain other places, I will make an exception for the whole wide world.)

There has been a burst of euphoria lately about the surge of social media-fueled feminist activism first around the Komen debacle, which catalyzed the Take Back the Pink effort, and this week’s protest of the even-for-him-over-the-edge misogyny of Rush Limbaugh. Tom Watson has a great article on the online reaction to Rush’s latest episode of outrageous bullying (self-promotion alert: I am quoted in the article.)

The key in Tom’s article is this, “Philanthropy measurement guru and social ventures blogger Lucy Bernholz believes that the immediate feedback loop of the social networks drove both the Limbaugh and Komen protests – even without visible leadership or a budget.”

For today’s celebration of women worldwide, I wanted to reflect on what’s been happening the last few weeks. Now, let’s be clear, the catalysts for these efforts have been so outrageous and tone-deaf that rallying reasonable people has been relatively easy. Komen really has a political agenda below the waist – who knew and how dare they! Republican wing nuts have decided that conception begins at the CVS – I thought my great grandmother fought that fight? So, again, not hard to rally the troops, but the way the troops have been rallied in new and interesting ways.

The first and most important development is that the protests were started by individuals not organizations. By the time Cecile Richards sent out an email to her donors about Komen there were already petitions up on and Facebook was alit with angry shouts. The same dynamic happened with Rush. Organizations are going to need to learn the art of followership to leverage the organic groundswell of anger that individuals are spearheading by using the social media channels themselves.

This dynamic is not restricted to these two examples. Peek beneath the hood of any recent social movement, the Philippines in 2001 when individuals used text messaging to overthrow a despot, Kuwait in 2005 when women used their Blackberries to win suffrage, the unfolding social movements in Tunisia, Iran, Syria, and Occupy Wall Street, and you will find free agents stirring the pots of democracy. Unlike past revolutionaries, though, current pot stirrers are not members of a religious institution, political party or union. He is a free agent activist and digital native, born pinging, poking and uploading videos and updates in concert with a large network of peers

Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are fundamentally reshaping protests and protesters. They are pointillist paintings, with thousands of individuals doing small bits adding up to a whole visible only from a distance. There are no Nelson Mandalas or Lech Walesas speaking on behalf of protestors. However, social networks aren’t leaderless, as critics say, but leaderfull with individuals defining their own roles, uploading videos, posting news without being asked or tasked or targeted. There are no party platforms or constitutions, no press releases and pension funds, none of the suffocating trappings of modern organizational life to slow down and suffocate a movement. There are just free agents sharing their own stories and connecting with one another.

Traditional nonprofit organizations are as confounded by free agents as governments. Occupy Wall Street wasn’t created and isn’t controlled by or SEIU or Common Cause or a political party. Free agents aren’t waiting for foundations to underwrite their efforts before going out and doing things. In the minds of traditional organizations, groups free agents call dinosaurs, a social movement doesn’t exist until they say it does. These traditional organizations are losing ground in a game of whack-a-mole with free agents uninterested in their rules, unwilling to parrot talking points, pay attention to marching orders, or wait their turn. Free agents don’t need organizations and watch with disdain as the old organizations spew out press releases and direct mail fundraising letters taking credit for the success of free agents.

Traditional organizations need to look at the world through a new lens of followership, and focus their efforts on supporting free agents with research, money, and connections to their social networks. The writing is on the (Facebook) wall for dinosaurs:  learn the art of followership or prepare your going-out-of-business sale.

And yet as heartening as the outbursts of outrage, anger, determination and power to change political systems and organizations is, today, of all days, we can’t forget that women here and around the world continue to be abused, mutilated, underpaid, overworked, under elected, objectified and overexposed at alarming and depressing rates. So, we celebrate our progress, our power and new megaphone and recognize how much work there is to be done. Onward, sisters!


Social Media Academy Lessons

The Avi Chai Foundation has just posted the final report Micah Sifry and I wrote about the social media academy they sponsored last year. Here is the blog post on the Avi Chai Foundation’s blog and where you can download the full report.

I’ve written about the Academy several times before here.

Here are the lessons learned in summary, and I hope you’ll have a chance to read the full report.

  • Participants were ready and eager to learn from one another on land and online.
  • Day school culture is just starting to find its social media comfort level.
  • School staffs are stretched.
  • The size of the school is not a determining factor of success.
  • Schools need to focus first on culture change, then tools.
  • Staff turnover is endemic in day schools.
  • Alumni and parents are ready to use social media.

Of course, these lessons are likely to be found in most traditional nonprofit organizations and schools as well. Trying to build a new culture of sharing and openess while meeting the current budgetary and student demands is extremely trying. What was great to watch was when the schools could move from, “I know I have to do this but don’t know how” lament to discovering that using social media is fun – that’s why it’s so widespread and attractive to young people. At our graduation ceremony at the Foundation, one participant, a rabbi at an orthodox school, bounced on his toes and told us how much fun he was having using Twitter to continue classroom discussions beyond the class.

Ultimately, for many of the participants, using social media meant re-learning the fundamentals of conversation over press release languages. As one participant said, “The conversation has to be meaningful and sticky – to them! No one listens unless we’re sharing and engaging. We have to be real, have to have a personality.”

We hope you will have a chance to read the entire report. Our lasting impression is that every participant, it seemed, had his or her own unique experience during the Academy.



What MBA Programs Don’t Teach You

This is a guest post written by Katherine Manning on a topic I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while; the inability and unwillingness of graduate schools to prepare students to lead in a networked world. Here’s how Kate describes herself, “Kate didn’t expect to find herself at the intersection of business, marketing, and the Internet, but with sound writing and editing skills she’s trying to make the most of her interests by writing on her favorite topics. She is an editor for an online educational resource for prospective students.”


MBA graduates hope to enter the business world equipped with myriad skills that will steer them towards success in a fast-paced industry. Truthfully speaking, however, business administration degrees are quite chameleonic and require adaptability in an ever-shifting socio-political landscape. Corporate social responsibility is a rapidly proliferating phenomenon today (especially in academia)—and one online MBA resource goes as far as to suggest that sustainability, social responsibility, and the “triple bottom line” could very well begin to replace the traditional bottom line in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, MBA programs don’t necessarily focus on the networking skills required for success in such a tangled industry as sustainability. In 2011 the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the 30 fastest growing jobs, many of which were environmentally focused. What a lot the curricula behind these job titles lack, of course, is emphasis on effective communication skills, innovation, and global awareness—these things are as critical as knowing how to manipulate numbers. With more and more MBA graduates moving on to work for some of the most admired socially responsible companies like Statoil, ENI, NextEra Energy, and Weyerhaeuser, networking skills and the ability to communicate as a member of the “sustainability” community are crucial to an MBA’s success—especially if one expects to elevate their status in the niche of social responsibility.

Grads with a keen understanding of social responsibility ultimately fare much better in the business world than those who overlook its nuances. The following are a few ideas that MBA graduates can focus on to improve their networking skills.

Having A Conversation

People spend much of their lives talking, especially those who make their living in the corporate niche. From inter-regional seminars to one-on-one sit-downs, MBA grads learn quickly that interaction with others is ubiquitous in business—and conversational skills go a long way. Talking slowly, making eye contact and choosing words carefully inspires trust and confidence in the person being addressed. Listening is also crucial—what the other person is saying and how they are saying it. Conversing with poise and confidence is critical during the interview phase, and those who can clearly and effectively articulate their points are likely to enjoy a long, productive career.

In a world of text messages and Twitter feeds, the shortest way to say something is often the best way. “The ability to speak, write and present succinctly, powerfully and in a timely fashion are critical,” says Huff Post College columnist Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, “whether you’re leading a team in the office or virtually, working with fellow nationals or across borders and cultures.”

One field that stresses concision is journalism. Reporters are instructed how to compose a thoughtful, succinct piece of writing, and editors are trained to trim down the draft even more. The terse, traditional newswriting style is quite useful in modern business, where interaction often does not exceed 140 characters. Business schools that offer dual graduate degrees in business administration and journalism include Columbia and the University of Texas in Austin, and many others incorporate journalistic writing standards into their MBA curricula.

Communicating Ideas With Humility

Idea generation is a fundamental business principle. The creative process one undergoes to generate, develop, and effectively communicate a new idea directly speaks to his or her ability level and potential for growth. Most MBA programs discuss elements of idea generation, but understanding the concept is only the first step to successfully presenting an idea in public.

Will Burns, a contributor for Forbes, stresses that ideas must be nurtured in their early stages—otherwise, they lose some of their luster. “It’s critical to somehow, in some way, preserve the idea’s energy,” Burns writes. He encourages creative minds to remain enthusiastic about their idea—even if that means posting a list of the idea’s positive attributes on a cubicle wall. This will cultivate the idea itself, as well as sharpen the individual’s presentation skills. Once the idea is properly generated, he concludes, “Then, of course, continue to improve the idea. Because you’ve preserved and protected that first impression.”

Naturally, some ideas are never fully accepted. Rather than treat a failed creative venture as a roadblock, businesspeople should draw inspiration from such an instance. “Personal humility is not inconsistent with professional ambition and professional drive,” said Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, during a November 2011 interview with Forbes. An unpopular idea is forgivable; an unfavorable reaction to disapproval often is not.

Diplomacy In A Foreign Land

The number of American MBA grads who find work internationally is currently smaller than expected—but as Bloomberg Weekly reported recently, plenty of jobs are available overseas. This is true of markets in Europe and Asia, as well as emerging entities like India, China and Brazil. Marilyn Eckerman, Director of Graduate Management Career Strategies at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, encourages graduates to have an open mind when choosing work. “The economy and job market over the last couple of years has persuaded students to be more open to geographic flexibility and mobility,” she said.

If a graduate opts for employment abroad, they must understand the implications of living outside the United States. Businesspeople in a foreign country may behave differently than their American counterparts, both with clients and one another. Many cultures place a great deal of importance on the way one dresses, conducts a meeting or even eats a meal. Adherence to these cultural details makes a strong first impression. Knowledge of that country’s economic inner-workings and familiarity with the local language also benefit expatriate businesspeople.

Business students are also traveling internationally these days. According to the 2010 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, 28 percent of current students study outside their country of citizenship. In particular, Americans are leaving the U.S. to earn an MBA abroad in unprecedented numbers. This experience introduces the student to a new culture—and offers a unique glimpse into a foreign market.

In these uncertain economic times, MBA grads must fully prepare themselves to enter the work force. It is not enough to be well educated. These men and women must also master the finer points of business administration that are not taught in a classroom.


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