Connected Citizens

The power, peril and potential of networks

The Communication Network blog published by Bruce Trachtenberg described the recent report from Knight Foundation titled:Connected Citizens.

The report describes 5 promising trends for citizen-centered social action:

To quote:

  1. Listening to and consulting the crowds: Actively listening to online conversations and openly asking for advice.
  2. Designing for serendipity: Creating environments, in person and online, where helpful connections can form.
  3. Bridging differences:  Deliberately connecting people with different perspectives.
  4. Catalyzing mutual support:   Helping people directly help each other.
  5. Providing handrails for collective action:  Giving enough direction for individuals to take effective and coordinated action.

And their conclusions:

“neighbors are banding together and making a difference in their neighborhoods as the public infrastructure deteriorates … making progress on complex social problems will require the participation of many citizens and perspectives.  There will be more connectivity, transparency and decentralization.  And people will continue to network for both social purposes and self-interest. ”

Hard to dispute.

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There are way too many rules

To build your social media community.

Be kind, nice, interesting, present, transparent, focused, timely, informative, funny, relevant, personable, engaging, wise, … , tweet daily, update your Facebook page weekly, your Blog monthly, …

I am losing track.

Some of these rules and suggestions were developed by those who extrapolated their personal experience to building their audience. And that maybe OK for the non-profits interested only in building an audience or raise donations.

Tough call. The net will attract many different constituents who may not share a common thread.  Volunteers, members, staff,  donors and other related organization will respond differently to a call-to-action.

I propose to begin (to quote Stephen Covey) “with the end in sight.” Who are your constituents and how can you bind them into communities of common interest.

An example: A JCC can build an audience around its cultural program with blogs or a Facebook page that highlights future talks by speakers, add bios, themes, comments, reviews, books published by past and future speakers (they and their publicists will thank you), articles and Op-Ed’s by community members and past speakers … There is much to talk about.

A benefit to members or contributors could be early announcements of ticket sales or more aggressively, a discount if bought during a brief window. It provides valuable word-of-mouth traffic. Comments and discussions indicates interest in new/different topics, and should create even more word-of-mouth traffic.

Suddenly, the community is contributing to the program by freely and willingly advertising it with their friends and family, subscribing (early) to the program and providing insight on which future programs they might like to see. The blog and/or Facebook page should also provide links to other activities at the Center.

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How to Use Interns In Your Social Programs

Now that the season for interns is fast approaching, it’s time to read once again Jeremiah Owyang’s blog on the subject — Highlights:
• Lean on Interns to learn about technology
• Pair interns with senior management for reverse training
• Develop strategy first, then share it with your interns
• Give interns a safe place to communicate
• Direct your interns about your audience and relevant data

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Jumping the shark

Jon Hein defines the expression (according to Wikipedia) as follows: “It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it ‘Jumping the Shark.’ From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.” It’s a cross-over, a point where you have to suspend your understanding of a TV show, a program, a movie, a technology and recognize you are crossing a threshold where things will not be the same.  Think of the fall of Berlin Wall, Netflix, Google, mobile phones, iPad, iPhone, … These events/products changed the way we do things — we can now respond to an email at 2am, getting images of fabrics from interior designer instead of having to make the trek, and we can make a restaurant reservation while on the phone, we can buy a book on Kindle without lining up at the register, …

Has media jumped the shark?

Traditional media includes TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and trade journals — they are broadcasting channels. Information is communicated out. Their success depends on how the market responds, do customers line up to buy the advertised Pepto Bismol the following week? The audience you reach reflects the demographic of the readership, viewers, and circulation.

Social media is different. You consciously build the audience or community.  Every friend or connection is a building block of how the community will evolve. If you focus on family when creating your Facebook page, you’ll discover more second and third cousins than you thought you had.  If you focus on college friends and their friends, you’ll collect more friends than you can name.

We are jumping the shark yet again.  Social media is subsuming traditional media. We are learning about news, movie and product reviews on Facebook more than from newspaper and TV.

The danger is mistaking one for the other. Using social media as a broadcasting channel weakens your bonds and connection with your community. Broadcasting narrow messages such as “Happy Birthday Joe” is distracting and appears out-of-place to your audience.

As transition from broadcasting to narrowcasting, be aware of the community you are building.  The community will define how you communicate with them and how they will respond.

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How to bridge the efforts of the local community with national headquarters?

When it comes to Social Media, there is a disconnect between the local, grass roots community and national headquarters. They are talking to different audiences about different things.

The community has a narrow local focus, interested in executing day-to-day operational outcomes: making sure volunteers show up on time, checking the weather forecast to trigger rain date plans, complimenting the longest-serving member, and recognizing the top fund-raiser. National headquarters is concerned about how its brand is represented with grant makers, partners, volunteers and prospective donors.

One is concerned about broadcasting, the other narrowcasting.

The other disconnect comes from the audience itself. We have become more selective in who and what we respond to. National messages are not always suited to local community volunteers while messages about changes in rain date are not appropriate for grant makers or high value donors.

How to reconcile the two?

National can bring the message to the local community, but the local community needs to remain the ultimate arbiters of what and how the message is delivered. Shades of “you can bring the horse to water….” But how to nudge them forward. Here are some ideas:

  • A clearing house of what works and doesn’t work across the organization
  • Ideas, suggestions and messages affiliates can adapt to their community
  • Train and inform affiliates on different Social Media channels
  • The infrastructure to promote coordination and collaboration

Today non-profits and the private sector address each solution separately: agencies, consultants, bloggers on one side, seminars, trade shows, trainers, webinars, … It is fragmented and expensive. Getting a federation with hundreds of affiliates on the same page only adds to the cost and complexity.

The solution is to manage your online presence by providing a single rich source of information, a process management system and clear guidelines for developing and maintaining your social media content.

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Volunteers, donors and brand capital

In “Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great” Jim Collins identifies the three resources non-profits must nurture:

  • volunteers,
  • donors and
  • brand capital

When it comes to social media, those resources provide specific contributions.

In politics we call them bundlers. They gather contributions from many within a group and pass on to a candidate. A similar class of contributors has emerged with nonprofits. In her recent book “The Networked Nonprofit,” Beth Kanter lists 5 types of supporters (listed by engagement level): Happy Bystander, Spreaders, Donors, Evangelists, and Instigators. They are influencers who support your cause by letting their social network know of their interest (low) or constructively support your cause or mission by communicating with their followers (high).

It’s good practice to recognize and stay close to your influencers

Social media is more than a new communication channel. It is becoming a competitive necessity. New non-profits, large (Gates, Clinton, … ) and small (charity:water), have demonstrated its effectiveness to raise both their profile and donations. The challenge is to find out what works.

Brand Capital
With non-profits, the donor trusts that the brand will deliver its promise. Break that trust, lose the donor.

Remaining relevant with your constituents requires listening and engaging on various channels to learn where the conversation is heading. Not just to address negative comments, but also to build on your reputation and trust with your influencers. Sometimes, it may require changing “the way things are done here” by pursuing opportunities (how programs are implemented, which program to pursue, where to find supporters) suggested by various constituents.

The role of the Community Manager (I like Jeremiah Owyang description of that role) is growing to match the resources Jim Collins highlights.  The hardest part remains: assigning the Community Manager an appropriate role within the organization.

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I am sticking with Community Manager

The industry is still experimenting with titles to describe the folks responsible for social media. I have heard many variants in the last six months and find they settle Chinese Menu style into several categorize:






Social Media
Strategist or

It can be confusing. We kinda of know the job description requires four specific domains: community, communication, organizational and technical.
Here are preliminary descriptions and responsibilities for each:

  • Community
    • Engage with members and respond to their needs
    • Listen to the conversation to make sure it stays on track
    • Create and maintain social media channels where our members and prospects participate
    • Surface and address negative press
    • Identify and follow key influencers
  • Organization
    • Identify people and departments who can contribute news and information about the organization
    • Craft tweets and posts, pictures, video that can promote the organizations
    • Coordinate announcements and events with marketing, development, programming, PR and communication
    • Identify and report on how the organization is perceived
    • Develop strategies to make the organization more effective with SM
  • Technical
    • Develop and maintain an appropriate and integrated link building strategy
    • Identify new channels and tools that could improve the effort
    • Analyze the “reach” of various SM channels
  • Communicate
    • Develop an organizational process to identify relevant content, news or events
    • Work with various departments to find how to best communicate with the various constituents
    • Develop appropriate and timely ‘copy’

Nonprofits are discovering new ways to use SM, so this list is incomplete and forever changing. But I like the title community manager because it focuses on the constituents as opposed to the (SM) tool. And the community is interactive which makes it harder to shepherd than sending out email blasts every few months.

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