A front row seat for the social media revolution.

I have spent the last decade chronicling the breathtaking shift in power from institutions to individuals. Social media have catalyzed this shift by enabling anyone, anywhere to speak, critique, organize, protest and start a business. Customers, clients, donors, volunteers and other constituents who are now empowered by social media are speaking, but no one is listening. The organizations that hear them and make them matter will be the ones who do well in the future. In the process they also rejuvenate their cultures with a refreshing mix of smart safety and relevance that is less exhausting and more productive for everyone. I call this new way of working and leading Matterness. I look forward to continuing to write and speak about how we are living and working together to create a more prosperous, equitable and just society.
The NFL: Followship Not Leadership
What Makes the Ice Bucket Challenge Go
Hashtag Activism #Fail
A Civility Pledge
Online Harassment
Facebook’s Default Setting
Mapping Relationships Between Influentials
Postal Service Lacks Matterness

The NFL: Followship Not Leadership

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 12.34.00 PMYesterday, Ray Rice was expelled from the NFL for hitting his wife. Of course, we have known this for seven months. We didn’t learn anything new yesterday, but we saw it for the first time. And that changed everything. Unfortunately. What yesterday’s reaction from the Ravens and the NFL did most of all was highlight their lack of leadership throughout the entire incident. Four days after the incident, there was a video of Rice dragging Janey Palmer off the elevator they had both walked on and dropping her on the floor like a sack of potatoes. What else did the NFL and Ravens need to drop the boom on a player who like all players has a clause in his contract calling for ethical behavior? Apparently they needed the world to see a video of the incident.

One of the silliest things I heard yesterday were people complaining that the NFL hadn’t bothered, or weren’t offered, or didn’t ask for, this video. What did they need it for? Rice hit Palmer and then dragged her off the elevator unconscious. Why does anyone need to see it to know that what he did was awful, inexcusable, and given his reaction after the incident, probably not the first time he has hit a woman. The NFL didn’t need to see it to know it was horrible, what they needed was leadership dedicated to a clear set of principles about player behavior that they will adhere to whether there is a video or not.

Organizations are becoming more reactive to online media than ever before. This is followship not leadership, organizations blowing this way and that based on what their fans, customers, donors, volunteers are seeing and feeling at any moment in time. Leaders are the ones that articulate how they expect employees to behave, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and what the consequences are for bad behavior.

What Makes the Ice Bucket Challenge Go

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 2.12.12 PMIn the midst of a dreary summer of war and disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge has popped out as an opportunity to have fun and support a cause collectively. The essence of the challenge is that people post videos of themselves pouring buckets of ice water over their head and challenge three other people to do the same – or give money to ALS or another cause.

The effort started as a friend-to-friend campaign a few weeks ago and has hit the celebrity circuit this week with Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart (a lame effort at her hairdresser’s) and LeBron James. (here is a compendium of some celebrities getting cold and wet.)

There are lots of reasons to love this effort:

  • It is just plain fun to watch someone have a cold bucket of water poured over their head (in summer, not winter!)
  • It was started by individual free agents rather than an organization. These are always my favorite kinds of events because they reflect what people want to do not what organizations want them to do.
  • It’s a wonderful cause to support.

But there is something very specific to this effort that makes the Ice Bucket Challenge different. One of the most powerful aspects of social media is the ability to tag specific people publicly and make them both known and accountable. Naming three people and giving them just 24 hours to take the Challenge or give a donation is the real go-go juice for this effort. And it is what makes this effort both a viral campaign and what I call an action cascade.

An action cascade is the ultimate goal for any cause. It is more than a viral video that people watch and pass on to friends, it is an effort that engages a lot of people to do something very specific in support of an organization or company.

There is never any way to know when or why an effort will go viral. Most simply don’t go anywhere at all. But for those that do, it is imperative for the potential recipient of an effort that it includes very specific, bite-size and time limited tasks for people to do to show their support.

Bravo to the free agents that created the Ice Bucket Challenge!

Hashtag Activism #Fail

There has been a lot of talk this year about #hashtag activism. Campaigns have included #yesallwoman in response to the dreadful shooting by a misogynist shooter, Eliot Rodgers, in Isla Vista, CA. There was #cancelcolbert in response to a racist joke by comedian Stephen Colbert.

Perhaps the most visible campaign is #bringbackourgirls in response to the kidnapping by Nigerian terrorists of hundreds of women and girls.

More than 3 million people tweeted the hashtag since the kidnapping occurred last month. The tweeters included the First Lady:

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There was good news today that 63 of the kidnapped women and girls managed to escape and return home safely. They weren’t released nor were they rescued, they escaped by their own wiles and courage.

The question is, therefore, what is the point of hashtag activism?

It clearly raises awareness of an issue. However, all social media are capable of spreading an idea or sharing news because, by definition, social media enable messages to be scaled instantly and inexpensively. Hashtag activism enables people to join the conversation by the hashtag. Well, maybe, but, again, a conversation on Facebook or a blog would do the same thing. In addition, there is a risk of someone, or a group of someone’s, hijacking a hashtag. It feels new and shiny. This is what I concluded when I saw this infographic outlining popular hashtag activism campaigns this year – not one of which has made a difference in regards to policy or behavior change, the fundamental goal of advocacy efforts.

My real concern is that hashtag activism is another example of what I call front-end democracy. We are signing petitions, retweeting activism messages, watching Upworthy videos. But to what end? When and how do we get to policy change?

That’s our charge for the second decade of social media activism; to move from front end to back end democracy.

A Civility Pledge

I’ve been thinking and talking to folks like Henry Timms of the 92nd Street Y and Andrea Weckerle about the need for a new civility online. The Libertarian ideals around which the Web was built are no longer sufficient for the level of civility we need to ensure the civility of our online commons. Matterness requires greater civility because we cannot be heard in a cacophony of personal attacks. As Andrea told me, “We need to show our personality online, but we cannot risk being attacked.”

We need a conversation about what it means to be respectful to other people in spaces where others can easily slide into harassment and demagoguery. There is no legal recourse for online harassment unless it extends to death threats. Therefore, we are going to need to depends on visibility and social norms to raise the bar to move past the current default setting of “boys will be boys.” We have to demand accountability without sliding into vengeance.

We need an online civility pledge.

Here is a draft intended to begin a conversation for a short, simple set of ways we need to behave together online:

  1. Words matter. Since 90% of human communications are non-verbal, the intent of words absent the body and voice of the writer can be easily misunderstood. Words need to be chosen carefully to convey the true meeting of the writer. Because it can be so difficult to understand the intent of a writer online, emoticons and symbols should be used often to convey the feelings of the writer.
  2. Stop Bystanding Start Acting. According to the 18th century philosopher, Edmund Burke, “Evil wins when good men do nothing.” Too many of us are watching incivility and not doing enough about it. Perhaps it has to do with the origins of the web as a rough-and-tumble space, but it’s no longer an excuse to do nothing. We need to defend one another and the civil space we are trying to create with vigor. We need to come to the defense of victims quickly. Bullies need to be punched in the nose quickly wherever they prey on people.
  3. The Stranger Test. Anyone considering sending out a smart-ass message should write it and then stop. Now imagine saying the same thing to a stranger on the street, someone who didn’t know your sense of humor. If the stranger isn’t offended, you’re good to go.

Please let me know what is missing and how we can get folks to sign onto this.

Online Harassment

I had two very interesting conversations yesterday with experts in the field of online harassment, Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign and Andrea Weckerle of CiviliNation. Allyson posted this inforgraphic about the rate of harassment between men and women online:

There is a lot more to the infographic of the results from a survey of over 1,000 net users about where and when and how they are harassed, but this is the part that really caught my eye:

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(You should go here to see the entire infographic)

Of the adults who reported being harassed, 57% were women and 43% were men. And also note, that the question wasn’t, “Have you been sexually harassed?” It was, “Have you been harassed?”

This continues a long trend of women being subject to ridicule, stalking, hate and misogyny online.

I talked to Andrea about it. She founded an organization dedicated to trying to create a more civil web. Andrea wants people to step out into public online and make themselves real and even vulnerable, but to be smart about it. She pointed out, and Allyson confirmed on Facebook, that there are no laws against online harassment. Even if it gets to the point of making it impossible for someone to exist online. Unless death threats are involved, general harassment, name calling and intimidation are fair game.

Given how integral the web has become to most people’s every day lives, this seems like an extraordinary impediment to trying to keep the web civil. Platforms can block or cancel the accounts of offenders, but we all know that if someone wants to harass someone badly enough they will find other online pathways to doing so.

Rather than the feds trying to take over the web and provide a fast lane for the telecoms, perhaps focusing on new laws and a new civility online would be a worthwhile national focal point.

Facebook’s Default Setting

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 3.23.55 PMFacebook’s big announcement this week that they are changing the default settings for new users (from public to friends) and existing users (a reminder to check one’s privacy settings) was yet another red herring in the ongoing public posturing by Facebook of appearing to care about users’ privacy.  Facebook is what it has always been: a company much more interested in their bottom line than our privacy.

Every organization has cultural norms built into its DNA. I call these default settings, and they are as stubborn and inflexible as the Facebook newsfeed setting that keeps going back to showing me the most popular posts rather than the most recent ones that I want to see. Default settings are the invisible scaffolding supporting key decisions. Facebook’s primary default setting is to do everything they can to profit from the information that users are creating and sharing. Every decision they make about privacy has to be filtered through that lens.

Facebook has never believed in the importance of our privacy, but they are terrified of people sharing their content less – or worse, somewhere else. Their real default settings is stuck on, “self-interested profit-seeking,” according to PJ Rey.

The company has always pushed the outside boundaries of privacy in search of a sustainable (meaning Wall Street worthy) business model. We, the users have always been commodities.

Here is the choice we have to make: we will continue to be manipulated in order to supersize Facebook’s profits or we can choose to gather somewhere else.

Mapping Relationships Between Influentials

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 1.01.21 PMThis month’s Social Good podcast is about a company called Relationship Science (RelSci) that has built an enormous database of the connections between influentials. I don’t usual feature a company on the podcast, and at first glance I thought it was yet another big box filled with names of people who give a lot of money and sit on boards, but then I looked deeper and found something very interesting.

RelSci isn’t just drawing lines between people, it’s filling in those lines in. I often talk about the ties between people or organizations in networks as being empty straws. The stuff running through the straws is social capital. As Laura Meacher, head of business development of RelSci describes on the podcast, Neal Goldman created RelSci to do more than map connections, it is measuring the depth of the relationship between people. It doesn’t help to know that two people went to the same college. We need to know if they have a relationship based on that tie. Did they go at the same time? Were they members of the same fraternity? Do they sit on any alumni committees together now?

These aren’t regular folks that RelSci is mapping, these are the 3,000 most influential people in the world (according to the company) and people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who are not going to be hanging around LinkedIn waiting for your friend request.

My other guest on the podcast is Spence Medford, VP of Institutional Advancement at The Henry Ford. Spence talked about the ways that The Henry Ford is using the mapping from RelSci to find ways to connect with potential board members and donors. He made it clear, though, that even if the relationships and connections exist, it’s still up to the institution and people like Spence, to close the deal with people. No matter how much mapping you do, it is up to the organization that wants something from someone to build a new and genuine relationship with the person they are targeting.

Here’s a really interesting article about RelScience and it’s founder Neal Goldman.

And here is a really interesting talk Neal gives about RelSci:

Postal Service Lacks Matterness

This is a picture of my mailbox:







As you can see, is resting on the ground next to the post. Two weeks ago I heard a crash in the middle of the afternoon and came outside to find the mailbox like this. For a few days, our mailman delivered the mail in the box. And then the mail stopped.

[Side note: I ordered a new mailbox and post a week ago, it came, but it’s plastic, so it’s going back.]

I didn’t really notice that the mail had stopped because I don’t care much about the mail, it’s just a bunch of bills and junk mail (that’s from a Seinfeld bit.) But my husband cares deeply about getting his mail. He came back from a trip on Monday and realized we weren’t getting our mail. Yesterday he went to our local post office and asked the clerk why our mailing isn’t being delivered. She said he had to speak to the postmaster. Here is their conversation:

Husband: It seems our mail has stopped being delivered.

Postmaster: That’s right.

Husband: Can you tell me why?

Postmaster: Sure. Delivering your mail is a safety hazard.

Husband: How exactly is it a safety hazard?

Postmaster: Bending down and delivering your mail is a safety hazard. It won’t be delivered again until you get a new mailbox.

Husband: Why didn’t you tell us?

Postmaster: I didn’t have a telephone number for you.

[Side note: Apparently looking in the phone book the Postal Service continues to distribute was too much trouble.}

Husband: Well, then, couldn’t you put a note in the mailbox telling us that?

Postmaster: It’s a safety hazard.

According to the official USPS regulations I found online regarding the size and location of residential mail boxes, “Subject to state laws and regulations, a curbside mailbox must be placed to allow safe and convenient delivery by carriers without leaving their vehicles. The box must be on the right-hand side of the road in the direction of travel of the carriers on any new rural route or highway contract route, in all cases where traffic conditions are dangerous for the carriers to drive to the left to reach the box, or where their doing so would violate traffic laws and regulations.”

Hmm, is bending down a bit to delivery the mail really a safety hazard? I admit it might less than ideal for our mailman, and perhaps I should have been more sensitive to his hardship. But, seriously, a safety hazard?

I have been writing about matterness lately. It is the sweet spot between people and organization; it is where the desire and talents of individuals meet the needs and interests of organizations. This is a perfect example of an organization that clearly doesn’t give a hoot about matterness. Of course, we all know they never have, that’s why they are the punchline of so many jokes. However, one would think they might have made a few changes in the last few decades to rectify that in light of the competition. In addition, we live in a very small village, the job of the local postmaster doesn’t seem so overwhelming that making one phone call would be unreasonable to expect. This lack of matterness is not only the absurdity of the situation, but the utter powerlessness to be heard. I suppose we could appeal to the next postmaster up the chain, but that certainly doesn’t seem likely to end in a different outcome.

Trying to make the USPS care about its customers is an impossible task. The culture of this slow moving, antiquated, dying institution is constitutionally (pun intended) opposed to caring about customers. What they don’t understand, what so many organizations don’t understand, is that the outrage of matterness is extraordinarily sticky. This is the super glue of sticky stories because it is so absurd. This is the kind of iconic story that will be told and retold many times over (which is in part why I shared it here with you, please retell this story!)

More important than trying to make the USPS fortress change, this is also a cautionary tale for all organizations. Making your constituents feel like they don’t matter is infuriating, demoralizing and demeaning. Organizations measure their internal processes and external outcomes. Are we efficient? Are we productive? Are we meeting our goals of selling our products, or serving our people, or changing the world? Every organization needs to add a new question to the mix, “Do you feel like you matter to us?” Only in that way will the power of matterness begin to work for organizations and not against them.

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