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Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

Artwork by Rose Fyson, made available by Oxfam International on a Creative Commons License.

Yesterday was Blog Action Day, an inspiring example of the power of coordination and generosity on the internet. Blog Action Day was founded by three bloggers in 2007 and asks bloggers to write about a single topic on a specific day. Last year Change.org took over management of the event. This year’s topic was Water, following on from the environment, poverty and climate change over the past three years. You can see my contribution here.

Blogs are one of the the greatest example of how free time is now focused creatively and expressively, rather than passively, in the digital world. The cognitive surplus this produces is fueling the web2.0 world, driving innovations in  politics, media, arts and play. In everything. The internet has opened up so many options for our active participation in cultural production and community formation. But the thing that makes it really powerful is its capacity for coordination.

Blog Action Day is an example of generosity online, as over ten thousand bloggers, the vast majority volunteers, contribute the content which makes the day what it is. But it’s the coordinated publishing of these blogs on a specific day that amplifies into more than a random collection of voices but rather becomes an event. Something worth paying attention to, worth the White House, Mashable, The Huffington Post, Official Google Blog, BlogHer, StumbleUpon and thousands of other blogs large and small, contributing to.

Water is a great choice of issue. How we share and manage water resources is going to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. As climate change affects rainfall patterns conflict over water will grow, and new approaches will be required for human habitation to continue in many parts of the world, including areas of the United States and Australia.

Water is a local issue, intensely felt by the 1 billion worldwide who lack access to clean water, and to farming communities where the rain no longer comes, or the snow melt isn’t what it used to be. But it’s also a regional issue, as countries will increasingly squabble over shared resources with wars over water the likely outcome. And it’s a global issue, a leading symptom of our changing climate, a warning that we need to do things differently.As the UNDP has written “water is the medium through which climate change expresses itself.”

The universality of this experience (we all interact with water, and therefore water issues, every single day) makes it perfect for an event like Blog Action Day. We can each speak locally but together we express a global perspective: that the time for change is now.

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Most organizations think about social media when they have a need: a fundraising campaign, an online voting competition, a new product, etc. There is something they have to share with the world, and which they want the world to pay attention to now.

But the world often doesn’t work like that. People are busy, they’re distracted, they’re already engaged elsewhere. Why would they drop everything to pay attention to you? How will they even know you have something important to say? Most times, they won’t.

Which is why a longer-term approach to social media is so important. Social media is not about quick wins, it’s about building relationships. Relationships take time to build but, once built, give a huge amount of value in return. Just as is true in your life. The way to make new friends is not to ask them to do something for you right off the bat. Better to listen, share and find common interests first.

So when you have something important to say, or, as is likely, a call to action, for example around a fundraising goal, those  you have built a relationship with already are most likely to respond.

It’s not that you can’t convert new people, hopefully you will. But your success rate will be higher with those you already know. If you need money for a bus fare you will probably eventually get it by asking strangers on the street, but you might need to ask 50 of them to find someone who believes you. Or you could ask a friend who will help you right away.

What’s more, it’s your existing community who will often push your call to action out to new people through their social networks. Which is why campaigns, with time-limited call to actions are also an important part of a social media strategy: when done right they can drive people to your accounts and expand your community.

Which gives you more people you can start building a relationship with. Which can lead to more response to your next campaign and so on in a virtuous cycle.

Which looks roughly like this:
Campaign or Participation

This is perhaps my favourite slide in the Social Media for Social Change presentation I developed at Ashoka, because it says in a single image what just took me a few hundred words to say.

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This was my first post for the Small Act blog and was published there last week.

Last week Facebook continued their two trends of appropriating the most successful features of other social networks and making what was once a closed network increasingly public.

This time Facebook has borrowed from LinkedIN Answers, Yahoo Answers and Mahalo.com, all of which allow members to ask and answer questions, building a collaborative, searchable, repository of knowledge and opinions. Beginning with a first cohort of members last week Facebook is rolling out its own Q&A platform in for the form of “Facebook Questions”.

As with anything it does Facebook’s demographic mass with a community over 500 million strong makes this move incredibly significant. The usage of this service will in all likelihood rapidly surpass those of its rivals. All content within Facebook Questions will be completely public which will bring significant amounts of search traffic.

I think this is a smart, exciting and coherent extension of the Facebook platform. People already use their status updates to constantly ask questions of each other. And anyone who wants to continue limiting their questions to their friends, which will be the case for the vast majority of these updates, can continue to do exactly what they’re doing. But if your question is of a more general nature; “Where is the best pizza in Washington, DC?”, “What’s the best company to work for in America?” or “Why do you not eat meat?”, then you might benefit from making it public, and discovering what the citizens of Facebook at large think. In that case you would ask it as a “Question”, a new option you can select below the profile update box.

What makes the Facebook service particularly compelling is that it is contextual: if I ask a question about Google my friends who work at Google will see I and if I ask a question about San Francisco my friends who live there will see it, and so on. This context and integration with our Facebook network will ensure the success of Facebook Question.

So what does this mean for citizen sector organizations? Simply put, it’s another chance to engage your community in a meaningful way. Already many organizations use their Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts as consultation tools; this will be another valuable avenue to seek the input and opinions of your members, supporters and the community at large, and anything that allows you to do that at the scale Facebook represents is of enormous value. As your community responds they will also be sharing your question through their Facebook network, further expanding your reach.

As Facebook Questions has only been made available to a limited number of Facebook members so far (and aspects of it are still buggy) we don’t know yet if businesses and organizations will be able to pose questions or provide answers directly via their Pages. I hope so, and it would make sense for Facebook to allow this. The alternative would be staff spokespeople. And regardless of who an organization chooses to manage this interaction their staff will inevitably be drawn into responding to Questions that match their employer, issues of interest and hobbies or are asked by their friends.

As is true on other social networks, if a passionate group of people are discussing your issue you should (respectfully, humbly, openly) participate. You could learn a lot from the Facebook community and they could learn a lot from you. As a platform for aggressive advocacy I do not think it will work. But as a platform for educating it will be excellent.
When you add value by educating, when you provide links to relevant information and stories, when you don’t ask for anything in return, you create trust, which leads to attention and support. In these respects Facebook Questions could big another valuable tool in the portfolio of socially-connected organizations.

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As a result of two major Ashoka events this year I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media can enhance, leverage, expand and capture the content of events. Tech4Society and the Ashoka Future Forum were the most social media-enabled events Ashoka has yet run and many leassons were learned as a result. I co-hosted a recent #4Change Twitter chat on the subject and wrote a case-study for Netsquared.

On Friday I tried to draw this all together in a webinar I delivered for Small Act (organized before I accepted an offer to work for them next). The goal was to give an accessible introduction to different ways of creating social content at events and some things to consider for small organizations as they move in that direction.

Check it out and let me know what you think:

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A couple of weeks ago I announced that I was departing Ashoka to move to San Francisco and that as such I was looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself and create positive social change.

Today I am very pleased to announced that I will be taking up the position of Senior Social Media Consultant at Small Act, a DC-based start-up which helps cause-focused organizations to use social media strategically. As part of my role I will be establishing the West coast office for the company.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited to take on this new role. Over the past six months I have got to know the founder of Small Act, Casey Golden, and Chief Love Officer (that really is her title) Kate Hays and I respect, admire and like them greatly. I’m looking forward to working with them to grow this enterprise. I know they are passionate, as I am, about helping social change organizations to tell their story, empower their stakeholders and rally people to their cause. It feels good to join an organization whose vision, product and people I believe in. In fact, it’s essential.

I truly believe that digital and social media has the capacity to help organizations large and small to empower their communities and bring about positive social change. We can do better together when we are better connected, better informed and better able to work in new ways to find new solutions to issues which confront our world.

I have gained an enormous amount from my almost two years with Ashoka and am sad to be leaving. Nothing negative is pushing me to leave, but life is pulling me to San Francisco and new challenges. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity Ashoka gave me and remain deeply committed to doing my part to bring about the Everyone a Changemaker world we need. They say that once you’re at Ashoka you’re an Ashokan for life and I hope that’s true. I’ve met so many amazing people whose support, collaboration and companionship have meant so much to me and who I hope to stay in touch with for life.

I am now excited to take all my learnings, ideas and energy and support a diverse range of organizations to use new technologies in ways which make a difference. I’m excited to explore San Francisco and connect to the vibrant non-profit technology and start-up scene there.

I finish up at Ashoka the first week of June and will start work in San Francisco in early July, after a two week drive across southern America. If you have any advice on neighbourhoods, restaurants, events or organizations for me to check out in San Francisco (or on the way over) I’d love to hear them!

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Carol Roth (@caroljsroth), Scott Stratten (@unmarketing), Mana Ionescu (@manamica) and I at Wrigley Field

I spent this past weekend at SOBcon in Chicago. SOBcon stands for Successful and Outstanding Blog Conference and is an annual gathering of bloggers founded by Liz Strauss of successful-blog.com and Terry Starbucker of Ramblings of a Glass Half Full. I was lucky enough to be invited to represent Ashoka as one of the citizen sector organizations featured on the final morning of SOBcon, the “give back” session, coordinated by Geoff Livingston of Zoetica Media.

Conferences are more than just an exchange of information, they create temporary and in some cases permanent communities. The good ones convene a group of practitioners to share ideas and co-create the experience, bringing together expertise, passion and commitment in an inspiring mix. At the very best conferences a feeling of togetherness is created almost instantly, leading to a level of openness that is rare, where people care for and want to help each other, where no-one need be a stranger to another. SOBcon was this type of conference.

What was it about SOBcon that created this atmosphere, energy, connection?

Intimacy. SOBcon took place at a human scale, with only 150 attendees. The organizers could no-doubt sell several times more tickets than this, but they know that something would be lost in the process. They are not simply looking to run a profitable event, they want to host something meaningful. As a result real relationships are made, new partnerships forged. (The flip side of this intimacy is the cost of course, with the event costing almost $1,000 full price).

Interactivity. SOBcon had more than just the usual speakers and panels, it concluded each session with time for each table to brainstorm how the ideas presented relate to their organization, business or idea. This interactivity created a strong sense of creativity in the room, and a deeper connection between otherwise-random tablemates. The Give Back session harnessed this creative energy on behalf of the featured organizations.

Openness. Thanks to the above a sense of openness was created. People shared their struggles and successes, aspirations and accomplishments with the same open good humour. No-one seemed trying to impress anyone particularly and a genuine curiosity permeated most conversations. The speakers seemed to pick up on this vibe, mostly giving thoughtful and reflective speakers devoid of the rah rah you often get from the stage.

A commitment to something bigger than itself. The reason I was at SOBcon was for the session devoted to cause-based organization on Sunday morning. Along with Ashoka Vitamin Angels, InvisiblePeople and Anixter presented about their use of social media and what they are trying to achieve. The room then worked in groups for 45 minutes to generate suggestions and ideas for us based on the questions we each posed. The passion with which everyone focused on this task, the palpable desire to help and the insight of the suggestions was inspiring to behold.

Love. There really was a lot of love in the room at SOBcon. Love for our fellow participants. Love for social media and the medium of blogging, for what it had brought into so many lives and what it allows so many to achieve. And a love for those less fortunate, a desire to give back and contribute to creating a better future for all of us.

This love came through in the stewardship of Liz and Terry, in the passion of the participants, in the honesty of the presenters. And there were some fantastic presenters: Steve Farber reminded us that “oh shit!” moments are often the indicator that we’re doing something significant, and not to be feared. Ted Murphy shared his journey with us, and what he overcame on the way (he also put up a $1000 Izea voucher for best idea for an online exchange platform, which my conference buddy Carol Roth and I won for an idea about intergenerational connections). Chris Brogan gave us some real talk about sustainability and becoming an overnight success after 11 years of hard work. Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister shared hilarious story after hilarious story.

A huge thank you to Liz and Terry for organizing such a great event and to Geoff for inviting me to present on behalf of Ashoka. It was a real honour and a pleasure.

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Cross-posted from the 4Change blog:

On March 18 the #4Change Twitter Chat took on the topic of ‘How Social Media Can Enhance Events.’ This topic seemed particularly apropos with the chat taking place immediately after the annual SXSW takeover of Twitter, and soon before the Non-profit Technology Conference and Skoll World Forum, two other conferences with an oversized online presence. Social media at events has also been on my mind recently with Ashoka hosting Tech4Society in Hyderabad India and the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington DC, both more social media-enabled than any previous Ashoka-organized events.

It is almost hard to imagine these days a significant event not having a social media component, whether this is simply individuals in the room tweeting or a resourced effort by the host. So the question is not, as it once was, “will social media be created?” but rather “will this social media enhance the event?”

As Christina Jordan posed in the pre-chat blog post, What’s the potential benefit of using social media to cover events? For whom?

Numerous benefits of a conscious strategy to utilize social media at events were suggested by chat participants including taking the stories and examples being shared to a wider (and more diverse) audience, allowing organizers and the cloud see what is resonating with attendees and creating a back-channel for attendees to interact and debate, as well as allowing those not in attendance to feed their points of view into this discussion. This can often allow people to say what isn’t being said out-loud in the room, as well as giving those unable to attend physically some sense of participating in and benefiting from the event. Social media can also assist with documentation, capturing key thoughts and currents during the day and allowing them to be looked back over afterwards. For the vast majority of events there will be no mainstream media coverage: only social media will carry and record the outcomes of these gatherings beyond the immediate attendees.

Concerns were also expressed however at the possible distraction and disruption at events, with TED pointed out as an example of an event that doesn’t allow tweeting during sessions.

So what are the key elements of a successful event social media strategy? 4 key elements were identified: Preparation; Resourcing; Aggregation and; Integration.

1. Preparation. Preparation, as with most things, is critical to get the maximum impact from your social media efforts. Tags should be identified and distributed to all participants beforehand, inviting them to take part in creating content on the day. Create groups for photos and videos to be shared and be careful to choose a twitter hashtag not already in use. If you’re doing live streaming test thoroughly. Prepare widgets for deployment.

2. Resourcing. It requires a dedicated person to effectively create social media at an event, whether they are live tweeting, live blogging or uploading video and photos. Multiple dedicated people will be required to do all of these things. Having at least one person exclusively focused on the online conversation allows multiple threads to be pulled together and background information identified. For example at the recent TEDxAshokaU event I was tweeting links to the profiles of the Ashoka Fellows as they spoke, providing crucial additional information to anyone intrigued by the quotes emanating from the room.

3. Aggregation. With most successful events generating a considerable volume of diverse social content aggregating this into one place where it can be easily accessed is critical. Most people felt that this was a job best done manually by a discerning staffer or volunteer (another resourcing issue). An example of this sort of aggregation is the Tech4Society coverage page, updated daily during the event with new blog posts and videos and containing a Twitter widget displaying the #tech4soc stream.

4. Integration. If you are integrating social media into the live event experience it needs to be seamless and well managed. Screens with running twitter streams can be very distracting to participants and presenters. On the other hand they can also provide a platform for sourcing questions, generating discussion or even choosing the agenda. If you are capturing video during the day can this be presented back to participants at the end of the day as a way of summarizing proceedings?

Video was touted as an increasingly important tool in all its forms: live streaming, rapidly-produced interviews and audience reactions and better-produced videos of presentations ala TED. It was also pointed out however that video poses particular bandwidth issues, making it inaccessible to view or event get online in many parts of the world. As a real-world example of this we were unable to upload videos as planned from Tech4Society in India due to bandwidth limitations.

At the end of the chat participants were asked for their takeaways, as is customary:
@Nidhi_C: takeaway: when planned, #socmedia can play role of a valuable audience participant, add spice to discussion, & connect
@liadavide: Takeaway: SM is a great tool but still has some way to go especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure
@karitas: takeaway: if prepared/promoted right, SM can bring live/remote participants 2gether, & add fun/useful layers 2 experience.
@tashjudd: takeaway – social media has fundamentally changed who audience of an event can be, possibilities are much wider now
@christinasworld: my takeaway – preplanning of a #socialmedia strategy is really important
@amysampleward: takeaway: sm at events has 3 audiences: presenters, present audience, remote audience. create value in/out 4 all.

My takeaway? An event without a social media strategy is a wasted opportunity. Events now provide a platform much bigger than the event itself, allowing more people to participate in the conversation and experience elements of the content. While live experiences are unique and essential social media is a lever to push the impact of the event beyond those in attendance.

Additional resources:
Social Media Enabling Conferences: A Tech4Society Case Study (Netsquared)
A Few Reflections from SXSW Crowdsourcing Panel (Beth’s Blog)
3 Ways Live Events Help Online Communities (Mashable)
Social Reporters toolbox (Delicious)

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Apologies for the lack of updates recently. I’ve been alternatively buried in work and snow as DC has experienced another record-breaking snowfall and the marketing team at Ashoka has been intensely focused on the Tech4Society conference hosted by Ashoka and the Lemelson Foundation in Hyderabad, India, last week.

As we were planning Tech4Society, the fourth and largest in a series of events as part of the Ashoka-Lemelson partnership to find and support social change inventors and innovators, I was determined that unlike the first three this conference would be fully social media enabled. I wanted it to be an example of “distributed eventing”, where the event is more than just what goes on within the convention center and is instead a platform for interaction and dissemination on a much wider scale. In this I think we succeeded beyond anything Ashoka has done before.

In the lead-up to the conference we held a “Blog Your Way to Hyderabad” competition to select the official blogger of the conference. The winner would get an all-expenses trip and all-access pass to the conference and be given the reins of the AshokaTECH blog and Twitter account during the event, to keep the world informed of the conversations, examples and insights being shared. This was a gutsy move on Ashoka’s part, giving an unknown person the responsibility of being the main conduit of information to the world about one of our most important gatherings. In every respect, however, the bloggers competition was a huge success. We received a number of excellent entries (all fo which served to spread the word about the event in the lead-up) and with the help of an outside judging panel of experts chose Elliot Harmon, a full-time blogger with TechSoup, as the winner. This was a fantastic win-win: we secured the services of a professional and experienced blogger and TechSoup was essentially able to send a correspondent to the event, something they never otherwise would have been able to do, doubling the audience and impact of his updates. You can read through all of Elliot’s blog posts from Hyderabad (and the other coverage) here.

Not everything went to plan however (it almost never does): I spent much of my week organizing a conference call exclusively for bloggers featuring two Ashoka Fellows live from the event, only to be defeated by technical difficulties on the day. Still, I think this is a promising model of blogger engagement (and will, in fact, be trying again tomorrow on the occasion of the launch of Ashoka’s new Globalizer initiative). We also sent a videography team to Hyderabad but were unable to upload their videos in real-time due to the bandwidth limitations on-site (it apparently took five hours to upload this one video).

The final stage of the Tech4Society social media strategy is to share the learnings gained from the event. We will be doing this by hosting a forum on SocialEdge and holding the next of our monthly #SocEntChat Twitter chats on March 3 on the topic of “Technology, invention and social change.”

Overall this was another huge step forward for Ashoka in how we utilize social media to increase the impact of our work. Social media helped make Tech4Society a more global event which extended well beyond it’s geographic location and those able to attend in-person. People from all of the world joined the conversation on Twitter and read in near real-time about the work being presented on the blog. Over the next week we’ll be uploading a series of videos to further share this work. And this is the most important thing social media is allowing us to do: shine a better spotlight on the incredible and important work of Ashoka Fellows. As one of my colleagues said in reflecting back on our work in this area, “the world can’t adopt and help what it doesn’t know about.”

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I put this up on Slideshare about a month ago but forgot to post it here, so here it is: the deck from the presentation I gave at the Powershift Virginia conference on using social media to affect social change. Hope you like it!

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As I wrote about at the time, Ashoka was fortunate to have been placed on the Twitter  Suggested Users list in early October. The power of this list is amazing. We had about 9,000 followers when added, now we’re over 150,000. You can see the effect here.

However, most of these new followers are not choosing to follow Ashoka, they are simply accepting Twitter suggestions for 300 people to follow to kick off their twitter experience. And it’s a very diverse/random list, ranging from politicians both left and right (although there have been complaints about twitter favoring Democratic politicians), lots and lots of celebrities of the music, film and sport variety, twitter developers, business entrepreneurs and a bunch of tweeters chosen by company insiders as interesting.

Media outlets are now reporting that Twitter is planning to “kill” the Suggested Users list. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said at a conference recently that the list was “going away” and “in its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions.” This, to me, doesn’t sound like “killing”, but rather a much-needed update to the Suggested Users model to something that will help people find users who are relevant to their interests, making their Twitter experience more relevant and enjoyable. Currently the list is too large, too broad and too celebrity-heavy to be a truly useful jumping-off point for most people.

What I’m hoping will happen is a simple change to add categories to the Suggested Users list. Instead of being show the entire list when you sign up you should be asked “What are you interested in?” and given the choice to tick categories such as “Celebrities”, “Sports”, “Non-profits”, “Technology”, “Businesses”, etc. You could choose all of them, and end up with the full list as it currently stands, but I suspect that most people would choose only a few of the categories and so get a much smaller, more focused list of people to start following.

In this way Twitter can still highlight some valuable users, and help new tweeters get over the hump when you join and have nothing in your stream, in a higher-value more contextual way. It could even be a revenue stream for Twitter (we all know they need one or two of those) if they charged businesses to appear on the “Business” list. Most lists, such as “non-profits” (or, better language, “citizen sector organizations“), should not be sold however if they are to retain any credibility.

If this change was implemented it would certainly slow down the growth rate of the Ashoka account, but those that did end of following us would be much more likely to be interested in our work, and thus more likely to participate in or support this work in some way. As importantly it would be better for the new Twitter user as it would help them to pick their filters and craft their twitter experience in a way that is meaningful and interesting to them. This, then, would hopefully reduce the significant burn rate of new accounts (people joining, updating once if at all and then abandoning the service).

It’s a new model, not death, that the Suggested Users list needs.

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