Posts Tagged ‘socialnetworking’


Monday, July 18th, 2011

The growing buzz around social media is making  jumping on the social bandwagon “de rigueur” for more and more nonprofit organizations. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most are embracing social media without really understanding how it  works, how it can help them meet their goals, and more often than not, without a real plan. 

Nonprofits that turn to social media to keep up with the Joneses but without a clear sense of direction or purpose, will likely fail.

Social media engagement is not like a switch that can be turned on and off at will.  Online relations need to be developed and nurtured over time and organizations that want to take advantage of these powerful new tools must be prepared to invest in listening, participation and genuine conversation. A good place for them to start is by distinguishing between their tactical and strategic objectives and opportunities.   

At a tactical level, social media platforms and social media engagement can be particularly helpful in facilitating consistent and targeted contact and engagement with an organization’s key audiences.

Twitter for example, can be used to start conversations and carve out relations with influential reporters or politicians.   

In addition to using Twitter to engage with important external audiences (mainstream media, political influencers, potential third-party supporters), organizations can use social media to connect and engage their membership, the sector they represent and the general population.

One low-cost way to do this is to create a Facebook Page around an issue of concern to the sector the organization represents  and around which an online community of interest already exists.  An example of this is the Facebook page created by InterChange Public Affairs to support FCM’s campaign to increase the number of women in municipal government.   

This tactic can be used to support efforts to mobilize an organization’s members, its sector and public opinion in the run-up to a key legislative vote, policy announcement, election or simply to raise awareness around a particular cause.

It is important however that organizations not fall into the social media “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” trap. A platform does not a social media campaign make.

Scoping out whether a community of interest around an issue or issues exists, its scope, level of engagement and top influencers are all critical first steps before undertaking any kind of social media campaign. This is particularly true if the campaign is designed for short term tactical impact.  

Absent an existing and broad-based conversation around an issue it can be very difficult to mobilize sufficient numbers to create political room for an issue. In fact, a social media campaign that sputters can have the opposite effect and serve only to demonstrate the absence of interest and support for an issue.

In the absence of a well-established online community or ongoing online conversations around an issue, a social media platform like Facebook can still be used to initiate engagement, amplify messaging and build a network, but its use should not be positioned or branded as a social media campaign.

Listening should be step one for any organization contemplating social media engagement.

Unlike full blown social media engagement where an organization openly and transparently shares information, responds to comments and queries, and actually becomes part of a community, listening is the first—but essential–step in successful social media engagement. 

As a general principle of social engagement, listening uncovers the nature of the conversations within a particular community. Just as you would not arrive at a cocktail party unannounced and attempt to monopolize the conversation, listening within a social media network allows you to determine your comfort zone and ease into conversations.

Whether it’s from a business perspective, a public institution, or that of a nonprofit advocacy association,  listening allows organizations to determine who the thought leaders are in a given community and what it is that makes them most relevant. Listening allows organizations to determine what content is most relevant and why. And most important, listening allows them to hear what people are saying about them, their brand or their issues.

Listening is easy and there are a number of tools available, from simple online search tools to advanced brand and reputation management platforms.

More strategically, social media can be used to expand and diversify an organization’s communication reach. In the short run, it can be used to grow its network by identifying like-minded influencers and encouraging conversations. In addition to expanding an organization’s network, this will amplify its message by promoting the sharing of content on multiple platforms.  

In the longer term, social media has the potential to fundamentally transform how organizations view and conduct advocacy, engage their members and staff, raise funds and develop policies.   

While tactical social media engagement is largely transactional and focused on achieving short term objectives, strategic engagement is based on a vision of emerging technologies as enabling transformative change.

From an organizational perspective, strategic social media engagement needs to rest on four things: a corporate vision of technology that embraces and facilitates change, the resources to implement it, a sound understanding of the dynamics of social media engagement and a well-established social network.


Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Remember the 80’s TV drama The Equalizer? In it, the protagonist, a world-weary former CIA operative recruited clients for his pro bono vigilante service through a newspaper ad: “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer”.  If the election last week of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary means anything,  it looks like when it comes to political campaigns, social media might just be the new Equalizer.

Nenshi entered the race with the odds stacked against him and more than a few problems. He had little profile, little money, little mainstream media attention–a March Calgary Herald story looking at potential candidates mentioned his name dead last–and was up against a slate of mostly established candidates.  

What he did have was imagination, and a creative and pragmatic team around him. Making a virtue out of necessity, Nenshi’s team leveraged existing social media platforms  to created a buzz around his non-conventional candidacy. Over six months that buzz became a roar, as polls chronicled a remarkable rise from also-ran, to contender to winner.

But Nenshi is not the first to use social media in an election campaign (remember Obama), in fact his opponents also included social media in their communication tool kit.  So why did his efforts translate into ballot box success when others such as Rocco Rossi in Toronto ( also running for mayor until he dropped out of the race two weeks ago) used social media aggressively but failed to create the same buzz?

Some have suggested that his biggest achievement might have been getting students and young people out to vote in much higher numbers. And a quick scan of election results suggests they may be right. With almost 54 percent of eligible voters casting ballots, turnout was the highest in nearly three decades and according to some, pointing to higher than normal participation of students and other groups who traditionally stay home on election day.

But it would be a mistake to reduce his campaign’s success to a simple question of social media use by young people.  If that were the case why did the other campaigns fail to tap into that market?

A summary analysis of the social media platforms used in a number of other municipal political campaigns in Canada shows differing levels of technical and communications savvy. And while a few are just cobbled together, most appear to feature sound social media integration and use.

So, what what the difference?

While it may be too early to venture a definitive answer, I see a three key factors at play: integration, conversation  and a fresh narrative. 

The difference  between a social media campaign that works and one that stumbles can probably best be summed up with one word: Respect. 

In the social media context–in fact, in any social context–respect means being honest about who you are, why you’re there, caring about what others have to say and encouraging them to say it.  As I’ve written before, phony doesn’t stand up well under the collective glare of an online community.  

Nenshi’s social media efforts had a laser-like focus on encouraging conversations and using these to fuel online efforts. And these conversations were genuine, with the most immediate interactions (on Twitter) being directly with the candidate.

Respect is the first precondition to a meaningful online conversation. The second precondition is actually having something relevant and interesting to say.  Too often, political social media sites are used to push talking points–safe, typically bland, and mostly self-serving.    

While hardly revolutionary, Nenshi’s policies were fresh. His online content was original, interesting and humorous. It was the kind of content that not only catches your attention but makes you want to share it and in so doing, tap into the full power of social media. 

The third pre-condition to a successful socia media campaign is recognizing that it is not a silver bullet. Social media campaigns have to be integrated within a larger offline effort. Successful campaigns leverage and synergize. Social media can facilitate those synergies–the Nenshi campaign got it.  

Social media was used to inform and mobilize, but much like with the Obama campaign, online conversations were also used to empower and facilitate offline, water-cooler conversations. This created a powerful dynamic that drove  traffic online in an ongoing and growing cycle. 

So, what does this say about social media as a tool for political or community engagement and mobilization?

First, that social media campaigns will likely fail if not predicated on a genuine readiness to engage in conversations.

Two,  social media platforms will not mask the lack of a narrative or fresh, relevant and interesting content, but will likely expose it.

Three, social media campaigns should be integrated with other offline efforts to create synergies.  

Four, and most important, social media has the potential to take an idea, a cause or a campaign from the sidelines into the mainstream and transform an also-ran into a winner.


Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Everyone who tweets as a professional sideline owes player agent Allan Walsh a debt of gratitude for reminding us to think twice before we tweet.

Walsh, who represents Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, caused a stir in cyberspace when he posted an unflattering tweet last week about Halak’s teammate Carey Price. 

Walsh, who has since deleted his message, later claimed his tweet was just “tongue-in-cheek” and chastised his critics for not having a sense of humor.

This latest Twitter faux-pas illustrates the risk inherent to real-time micro-blogging as well as the conflict between genuine, transparent conversations—the essence of social media—and brand management. People who use Twitter or other social networking platforms for brand support or marketing must always walk a fine line between being too conversational and too contrived.

Phony doesn’t work, but too chatty can get you into trouble.  I guess the lesson is–as Allan Walsh learned–when tweeting,  it’s best to use your outside voice.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Getting to 30

In an earlier post about social media and Woodstock, I wrote that we may not know our audience until it shows up (as happened at Woodstock in 1969) and that social media makes it possible for an organization to plant its flag on the web and have people rally around. Our recent experience validates that premise, with an important caveat: organizations must invest in an ongoing conversation with their community.

Last May, as a pro bono contribution, we created a Facebook fan page for a campaign to get more women into municipal government. The campaign is led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). While the campaign has attracted some mainstream media attention and has pockets of support across the country, it’s far from a household name.

We thought we could help by setting up a virtual space where people from all parts of the country could meet, interact and organize, with the fan page becoming the organizational hub of the campaign. We developed the fan page and a companion Twitter account and launched them in June, seeded with our own contacts.

Today, the page has more than 770 fans and the number continues to grow. Fans come from all walks of life, including politicians (provincial, municipal and federal), journalists, students, academics and business people, demonstrating that support for the cause is widespread and cuts across demographic and gender lines.

Facebook was the obvious choice for this, because it’s free, simple to set up and familiar to millions. We chose the fan-page format over a group page, because the fan page supports interaction. Facebook’s huge user base made it easy to connect with interested people and for fans to incorporate our page into their existing social media routine.

Other advantages of the fan-page format for a campaign are that it’s visible to unregistered users and indexed by search engines. Particularly important is Facebook’s news feed. When fans interact with the page, the news feed sends the post to their friends. As these friends also interact with the page, the news feed spreads the word to an ever-widening circle, recruiting more fans and promoting the campaign.

However, we found that we couldn’t just “plant our flag” and have people rally round. Active engagement is crucial to generating and maintaining interest in the page. People respond to fresh comment and content; they lose interest if the page goes stale. As well, campaigns have goals, and organizers need to encourage conversations that support those goals.

On October 1, we formally turned over management of the page to FCM. We expect it will become a key element in the effort to bring more women into municipal government. We will be watching with interest as this community continues to develop. You can show your support for more women in municipal government by becoming a fan of the page at

Forty Years after Woodstock, the Buzz Goes On

Friday, August 14th, 2009

What does Woodstock tell us about social networking?

I wasn’t at Woodstock for those “three days of peace and music” in August 1969, but I knew about it.

I was a recent graduate, mopping floors at a White Tower Hamburgers stand in Washington, D.C. I heard from a friend there would be a big concert at Bob Dylan’s farm in New York. He got the Dylan part wrong. My brother, a teenager in New Hampshire, heard about it too. He was one of the thousands who drove there, walked miles from the highway, got in free and slept in the rain.

Neither of us saw the guitar-and-dove Woodstock poster until much later, and neither of us saw any advertising. We heard about the concert from friends, as did many of the 400,000 people who went. When they showed up in Bethel, N.Y., they jammed the New York State Thruway and created a civil emergency.

All this was before Twitter, Facebook, texting or even faxes. Woodstock went viral when viruses just caused colds. So what does this tell us about today’s social networking boom? Two things: first, web-based social networks are effective because they tap a basic human urge to share what you know (whether your facts are right or not); second, sometimes we don’t know our audience until it shows up.

One lesson from Woodstock is that this mammoth flowering of the “counterculture” was a wake-up call to many in a divided America. Those who sang in the rain realized they were part of something big, maybe a movement. Older people found reasons to think these strangely dressed kids weren’t evil. Marketers saw a huge pool of potential customers, people who rejected materialism but would spend money on what they cared about. And politicians found the times really were a-changin’.

Today, social media makes it possible for an organization to plant its flag on the web, start a conversation and wait for people to rally around, creating a community in the process. Communications advisors and marketers used to tell us to identify our audiences, then target them with tailored messages. Now audiences identify themselves as they coalesce around a cause, a band, a brand or a viral video.

No one knew “Woodstock Nation” existed before Aug. 15-18, 1969. After that weekend, it was impossible to ignore for decades. More recently, we’ve seen social media used to generate the grassroots political movement that carried Barrack Obama to the White House. We’ve seen thousands of tweets about the Iranian election. And we’ve seen bloggers stoke fears about U.S. healthcare reform. What other social forces are germinating, waiting for an issue or call to action?

We do know that the communications model built on audience segmentation and manipulation is history, outrun by instant mass interaction. Audiences appear in a tweet and boil up over a blog post. Knowing whether the froth will harden into a political position or enduring brand preference takes time. Meanwhile, if we want an audience for our cause or a market for our brand, we must tell our story and stay tuned for the response. Most important, we must keep listening. Forty years after Woodstock, the buzz—and the beat—goes on.