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Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Bubble - zzub nik on flickr
I’ll never forgot the republic referendum held in Australia in 1999.

The polls had looked bad in the weeks leading up to the vote, with the combination of those genuinely in favour of us continuing to be a constitutional monarchy and those unwilling to vote in favour of the specific republican model on offer holding a modest but firm majority but I never lost my optimism. It just seemed too ridiculous that we’d turn down the chance to take the final step of legal independence from Britain. Yes, it’s symbolic, but that’s precisely why it was an important step. And as the day arrived the polls were tightening right on cue.

The day of the vote was sunny in Sydney and I had a great time handing out how to vote cards for the Yes campaign. At the time I lived in an electorate that generally voted conservative, being older and wealthier than the average, but it felt clear that the majority were voting the way I wanted that day. The energy from those taking out how to vote cards was very positive and they clearly outnumbered those taking the cards from the No campaigners. We’ve got this! I thought.

I was at a party when the results came in. It was relatively early in the evening when the outcome became clear. It wasn’t even that close. We’d lost, 55 to 45, and didn’t carry a single state.

I was stunned. Mortified. Outraged. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. Almost everyone I knew was voting Yes. My family, my friends. Even in the moderately conservative seat of North Sydney the vote had clearly favoured us. How had we lost? How could the rest of Australia have made this appalling error? The emotional hit was worse than anything I’ve experienced after an election. I was confused, angry and sad.

And I wasn’t the only one. The mood of the party went sour quickly. Someone admitted to voting No and was set upon (verbally) by a couple of people. More arguments broke out. I wasn’t even in the mood to drown my sorrows or ramble philosophically and so left.
It turns out that North Sydney was something like the second highest Yes vote in NSW. And my friends and family were nowhere near representative of the feelings of the population overall. I was living inside a bubble, and was disorientated when it burst.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read “Hashtag Feminism” in The Monthly, a review of a recently released collection of feminist writings from the Destroy the Joint organisers called Destroying the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World. The author notes a disjunction between the feeling expressed in the writings that Destroy the Joint had been an establishment-shaking, world-changing movement of real social significance and that fact that she herself had never heard of them before, and nor had anyone she knows.

This is what most of politics is like most of the time. We all exist within our bubbles. There is no neutral ground upon which to stand and assess “mainstream opinion.” Those who claim to speak on its behalf rarely resemble the masses they pretend to be one of.

The reviewer of the Destroy the Joint book felt that “many of the contributions to this book highlight, for me, the insularity of hashtag activism: social media as echo chamber.”

But life is an echo chamber. We live in a particular place, surrounded by other people who live in that place. We interact with others in a particular industry or cultural community. We seek out those who share our interests and values. And, yes, social media reflects these general barriers to infinite understanding which exist in human societies.

As is so often the case the new thing being discussed, in this instance social media, is being pointed to as a reason for our insularity when in fact it merely reflects it. It takes effort to seek out and understand the viewpoints of those unlike us. Few of us do it enough. It’s easier to consume content I mostly agree with or about things I am already interested in.

However  in identifying this shortcoming of social media, and of the Destroy the Joint movement, but really of humans in general, it’s easy to miss the real story here. We’ve always been insulated from the full spectrum of human experience and opinion but before social media our isolation could very well be an entirely individual experience. In so many domains people previously believed that they were “the only ones,” whether it was gay kids in the country or women frustrated with the general level of misogyny in our society or someone obsessed with blues in the suburbs.

Now for whatever it is is you’re into there’s others like you forming communities online. And yes, deep engagement with a community is perspective-skewing, but so too is watching the commercial TV news each night (you might think, for example, that we are suffering from a crime wave or a weak economy).

For those who have become involved in feminist activism as a result of Destroy the Joint I have no doubt the experience has been genuinely world-changing, discovering a community of others who feel strongly about the same issues as them and are prepared to do something about it would be incredible empowering and exciting. Have they won the battle against misogyny in the last nine months? Of course not. But they are active and involved and speaking up and changing lives and inspiring active citizenship and that’s actually pretty awesome.

This is how it works in a democracy. We find others who care about the things we do and we work together to convince others and affect the changes we feel are needed in our community. And social media has given us a powerful new set of tools to do this convincing and connecting, to learn from and to share our experiences and to support and sustain each other in the long-term effort to create a better future.

Image by zzub nik on Flickr made available on a creative commons license.

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Yesterday afternoon I listened as K exhibited patience and tact beyond what I would have been able to muster while dealing with a customer service nightmare with Blue Shield of California, her health insurance agency. She has probably spent an hour+ on the phone with them three times in the past week, trying to get what seems like a simple issue resolved.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that when she originally signed up in mid-November she wanted her insurance to start December 1, as she had other coverage until then. When her card was initially issued it indicated a start date of mid-November. She called up to request that this be changed to December 1. Not a problem the guy said and sure enough, a few days later, a new card arrived with a December 1 coverage start date.

Now Blue Shield is insisting that her coverage actually started in mid-November, and that additional funds are therefore owed. The start date can’t now be changed because a change needs to be requested within 30 days. When K explained (over and over again) that she did request that change well within 30 day deadline multiple customer service reps have just robtically repeated that their computer doesn’t show this. What their computer does show is that a card was re-issued, a card that gives a new start date of December 1. They “don’t know” why this was sent; the computer doesn’t tell them. Might it be because K had requested it, just maybe? Sure, that might be the case, but without a record in the computer there’s nothing they can do. And this isn’t just talk, the customer service staff literally are not empowered to actually solve problems. Their job is entirely to deflect blame and get you off the phone.

At the end of the call the Blue Shield woman asked “is there anything else I can do to help?” and K replied “I just want to feel that I’ve been heard and I don’t feel that.” Long silence. K: “Hello?” Blue Shield Woman: “Sorry, what do you want? My mind went blank for a minute there.” She literally couldn’t retain focus to listen to the response to the question she asked! And precisely what that response asked for was being heard. Oh irony.

This all got me thinking: surely any service that involves this type of customer interaction is ready to be dominated by a company that empowers its staff to treat people like humans, like the valued customers they are, and actually solve their problems? Just as Zappos.com was seemingly just selling shoes but was really selling itself based on superior customer service, in any sector with relatively interchangeable products companies win with service. And, honestly, it’s not so hard. Zappos allowed their people to act like real people, not script-reading automatons, and gave them the tools and permission to actually solve problems. Not only is this much more enjoyable for the customer it is also much more satisfying for the staff.

We should stop being so impressed with companies that exhibit these characteristics in the public domain such as social media but not in the private and more regular phone interactions. Comcast comes to mind. They are regularly cited for their great Twitter-enabled customer service through their @comcastcares, but have you dealt with their call center recently? It’s the typical frustrating and dehumanizing experience. What does it mean when a company makes a show of great customer service publicly but fails to follow this philosophy in their call center? It means it’s not real, it’s customer service theater, a performance designed to disguise the fact that for many people there’s no where else to turn but venting on Twitter.

Let’s save our congratulations for companies who treat both their staff and their customers in a more humane way, empowering all their customer service staff to actually perform services for their customers, rather than just pretending to behave this way in public.

Photo by Michael B via flickr (Creative Commons license).

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“Community Manager” is the job title of the moment but beyond those with this written on their business cards the truth is that anyone doing social media work on behalf of an organization is doing community management work. You are the face of the organization, front-of-house, the link between internal organization and external community, at least online.

So then, what sort of link are you?

I think there are two basic profiles for a community manager: the bridge and the wall. One represents an open stance, the other a defensive posture. Initially both can appear the same, can project the same enthusiasm, share the same great links, ask the same questions.

The differences are profound however and emerges slowly but surely over time, as the community becomes aware of just how real this engagement is. Or it emerges very quickly, in the face of a crisis. In either case your organizations openness and accessibility will ultimately characterize what sort of a community manager you are.

Characteristics of the ‘Bridge’ Community Manager:

  • You are an open channel of communications between community and organization
  • The views and interests of the online community are genuinely taken into consideration in organizational decision-making
  • You are considered senior within your organization, with the trust of the executive
  • You consider your first job to be representing the community within the organization
  • You share interests with and consider yourself a part of the community
  • You acknowledge your mistakes quickly and openly
  • When you ask questions, the answers matter, and responses are fed back
  • You think of your community as collaborators

Characteristics of the ‘Wall’ Community Manager:

  • You are considered a junior role, without internal influence
  • You consider your first job to be representing the organization to the community
  • You have little in common with your community, they are “they”, not “you”
  • You ask questions, but the answers don’t go anywhere
  • Mistakes are downplayed or denied
  • You think of your community as donors

If your organization is employing you to be a wall, and many, if not most, organizations feel most comfortable starting here, then your job should be to help evolve your role into that of a bridge, and in so doing transform your organization for the better.

What do you think? Do those lists look familiar?

Photo by Jay Cables of a Banksy piece, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Favourite videos of the moment

I love video on the internet, the combination of the most powerful communications medium with the most powerful distribution platform ever invented. Here’s some videos I’m loving at the moment:

 

Banksy and the Simpsons

The brilliant Banksy directed the ‘couch gag’ (ie. opening credits) for a Simpson’s episode that aired earlier this week. It’s very dark and a very pointed comment about the corporations behind The Simpons. It’s hard to believe it was okayed by the network exec’s. So how to read the fact that it was? They have obviously calculated the doing so won’t hurt their image in any meaningful way. And here we all are, talking about The Simpsons, which could probably use the publicity boost. So is this then an example of anti-corporate art being used for the benefit of a corporation? Brilliant subversion or sell-out? You decide:

 

When Memes Collide

Blendtec are famous for their brilliant and innovative use of online video for marketing. They’ve been at it for a few years now making “Will It Blend?” videos where they reduce the buzz topic of the day (the iPhone for instance) to dust in one of their industrial blenders. Here they get really meta and blend this year’s social media darling Old Spice in the blender while blending their format with the famous Old Spice ad. Well played.

 

Envision: Step Into the Sensory Box

Amazing, gorgeous light art. These guys must have a pretty amazing projector.

 

Social Media Revolution – Refreshed

Social Media Revolution is a classic YouTube video created by Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, now with 2.3 million views. A couple of months ago he released an updated version. If you haven’t watched it, you should:

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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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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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