My Top 10 Social Media Moments

Over the years, social media has challenged, amused, embarrassed, inspired and enlightened me. In no particular order (but numbered, so I can call it a “top-10” list) here are some of my favorite moments:

10. Opting out of a page in ” the Facebook” in early 2005 with the quip, “I just don’t see why anyone would want one.” doh.

9. Sending what was meant to be a funny tweet about spending my 12th night in a month at JFK’s Terminal 5, only to get a reply from someone I didn’t even know 5 minutes later confirming my *prepaid* reservation at the Marriott down the street.

8. Discovering the Twitter backchannel at an academic conference–and getting WAY more value out of it than I ever had from any plenary, panel, or keynote.

7. Watching bloggers who had never actually met greet each other like long-lost sisters the first day of a social media conference. Being baffled. And then doing it myself the next year.

6. Finally “getting” Facebook as dozens of people from my graduating class (most of whom were never really “friends” in high school) came together to support a classmate whose baby daughter was born with a hole in her heart.

5. Watching a dozen inner-city teenagers actually fact-check–and spell-check–their homework, because their audience was the world (aka Wikipedia)…instead of just their over-earnest teacher.

4. Being brought up on stage and called out as the only person in the audience of a social media conference still rocking the flip phone.

3. Seeing my blog called “wise and delightful” in a tweet from someone I would have been tempted to faun over had I we ever been in the same room.

2. Realizing that one of the projects we’d funded through TippingBucket had helped to launch the Arab Spring.

1. Signing the check for our first $1,000,000 crowd-funded grant. (This one hasn’t happened yet. But it will.)

Those are my moments…
What are some of yours?

Mirror, Mirror in the Cloud

It’s been a while since something dramatically altered the way I think about social media, so I figured this insight warranted a post:

During the launch of the #domosocial experiment, Josh (our undeniably brilliant CEO) made a pretty big deal of an ex post facto pardon for an employee who’d challenged one of his tweets.

And it bothered me.

My colleagues tried to explain that Twitter simply wasn’t the right forum for a challenge like that, which just irked me more because for me, social media is the perfect forum for “spirited debate.”

Then suddenly, I got it!

When you interact with people on social platforms, you do it on their terms.

Listen for a while. Try to understand the value they’re looking for from social media. And then try to give it to them.

It’s not pandering. You don’t have to become some sort of social chameleon. This is really just another example of the subtle mirroring that makes so many aspects of life easier (and more successful).

So, by all means, challenge and debate with the theorists. Send personal messages to the socialites. Pass interesting news to the information sponges. Sincerely compliment the promoters. Respond to the conversationalists. And don’t call out the brand-conscious CEOs.

Count Me In.

Like (I imagine) most employees here with a more-or-less established social media presence, to describe my initial reaction to yesterday’s presentation as “reserved” would be generous. If I’m honest, the internal monologue went something like this:

“Um. No. My social networks are my space. And I use them the way I want to. They’re not a part of me you’re entitled to benefit from as an employer. I’ve cultivated what little influence I have carefully—and I have it at least partly because I don’t use it to market stuff. And the fact that I just know you’re going to ask me to (even though you say you’re not) just proves that you really don’t ‘get’ social media…”

Well, I’ve taken some time to process some of that rather self-righteous paranoia, and while some of those reactions expose really interesting questions I hope we’ll explore as we build this case, I’ve ended up pretty excited about the whole thing.

Here’s why:

1. This is a real-time case. “HBR cases are so 1999,” Josh quipped in the launch meeting. And he’s right. The technology to invite a community to observe and analyze business process in action has been around for several years now. Domo (and Josh) might just have the balls to actually do it.

2. In contrast to nearly every other corporate social media initiative I’m aware of, #domosocial is not just social for social’s sake. It’s not even social for brand’s sake. One of the hypotheses the experiment sets out to test is that increased exposure to and engagement with social media on the part of strategists, engineers, designers, developers, even sales people, will make the product better. And that’s an audacious goal I can get behind.

3. The #domosocial experiment acknowledges (while throwing a punch at) the truism that “geography is destiny.” Lindon, UT is most emphatically not Silicon Valley (heck, I opt for a 40-min commute because it is so not Silicon Valley.) But the idea here is that effort and engagement can offset distance—that you don’t have to carpool to soccer practice with employee #2 of the next big thing to get, and stay, on the cutting edge of what’s possible. It just takes a little more work.

So, yeah. Count me in for the experiment.

Too Busy to Blog

too busy to blog
Lately, whenever I think to myself, “I really need to start blogging again,” the mental response has been instant and consistent: I’m too busy.

The revelation here is that while I do lead a full (borderline overflowing) life, it’s not actually scheduling that makes me “too busy” to do some of the things I’d really like to do. In fact, for me, “busy-ness” doesn’t have much to do with time at all.

Busy, for me, is a mind game. Come to think of it, last time I had this revelation I think I called it “cognitive white space.” (yes, I am apparently an exceptionally slow learner)

Feeling “too busy to blog” is less about the time to sit at the computer and write and more about the mental state to come up with something worth writing. When I feel “too busy,” what I’m really experiencing is a mind too cluttered, too frantic to process my life. When mentally too busy, I can’t step back and take in the big picture, make connections and weave meaning out of my somewhat schizophrenic interests and engagements. The peculiar corollary is that with a “free” (that’s the opposite of “busy,” right?) mind, I seem to develop an astonishing capacity to take what we typically think of as “busy-ness” (the calendar variety) in stride.

And just like the kind of busy-ness that has to do with blocks of time on the calendar, this kind of “busy” is entirely up to me.

Mayday! Mayday!

OK, so the title of this post may be a bit melodramatic, but the experience has been intense (and insightful) so I figured I’d share.

TippingBucket is in what’s known in aviation as a departure stall.

A departure stall happens when a small, but usually heavily-laden, plane takes off down the runway–even lifts off–but simply can’t get the airspeed to climb. Now, this would be no problem if it weren’t for the 100-year-old oaks…or skyscrapers…or mountains that lie between the plane and it’s destination. But a plane attempting anything more than a 5k hop across a flat, uninhabited desert simply has to climb.

But here’s the key: the problem of a departure stall can’t be solved with a longer runway. Since about June, when the financial engine started sputtering, my primary focus has been extending the runway; scrambling every month to get the bare necessities covered for that month and losing sleep at night over where the funds would come from for those bare necessities next month. Miraculously, that runway has extended under us a month, sometimes a day, at a time for the past 6 months.

But the plane still isn’t climbing. And the only way out of a departure stall is more airspeed. Back off the angle of attack. Lighten the plane. Take another shot at takeoff.

So, we’ve touched down for a bit, tightened processes, focused in on our core mission, and are gearing up for another shot at getting TippingBucket not only off the ground, but 35,000 ft high doing acrobatics at the forefront of the crowdfunding movement where it belongs.

Work the Edge

On my last trip to Portland, a group of fellow social entrepreneurs and mentors enjoyed lunch. Predictably, some of us had victories to celebrate while others it seemed were nearing the end of their metaphorical rope. A string of evaporating deals, missed deadlines, and ‘complicated’ international relations had left one colleague emotionally dangling from a knot at the end of said rope.

As the rest of us commiserated, one of our mentors leaned forward and simply said; “you just keep working the edge.”

Lunch ended, but the phrase kept coming back to me. It’s been months now, and I don’t think the full meaning has crystallized yet, but this much I know:

Whether we’re tucking into a massive slab of steak, turning a misshapen hunk of granite into our generation’s David, or trying to vanquish diarrheal disease in the Central African Republic, the best approach (sometimes the only one with any hope of success) is to consistently work the edge.

Attack whatever bit of the problem is most accessible. Nip away at it where it’s thinnest for now and some day (probably sooner than you think) the impenetrable, dark, tangled heart of the thing will (miraculously, but also reliably) have become “edge.”

The Irresistible Offer

Pearls of Wisdom from Liz Straus on how to build a value proposition that is truly irresistible.

Connect with their Intellect : It has to make sense. “I know the fiber and whole grain in Frosted Mini Wheats is good for me”

Satisfy their Emotions : It’s got to feel good. “The hint of sugar on Frosted Mini Wheats makes me feel like a kid again–makes something that’s good for me enjoyable.”

Fit Effortlessly into their Lives : It has to be easy. “Neither the fiber nor the frosting will get me to eat Frosted Mini Wheats if I don’t eat breakfast.” [But, convince me that it’s a great snack for when I’m stuck in traffic, or that my three-year-old will love them and you might have a chance.]

*Note: don’t confuse attractiveness with irresistibility. Attractiveness grabs, Irresistibility retains. One is about you, the other is about them.

Dirty Development?

Got a note the other day from one of our donors:

I think this site is a great idea, and I went ahead and added my drops to the bucket, but I have to admit that I feel a little funny giving money to a country whose government is so violently homophobic. I know that’s all too common in sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s certainly no reason to deny children clean drinking water, but it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

And there in a nutshell is one of the great dilemmas of development work. In most of the countries with the greatest need in our world, social conditions are–shall we say–less than ideal.

By giving anything–money, resources, volunteers, even attention–to these countries, are we not somehow complicit in their corruption, their repression, their cruelty? Are we not somehow saying that it’s okay to be violently homophobic, to treat women like cattle, to make those who oppose you conveniently ‘disappear,’ to rule by fear and perpetuate idignity, to live in splendor while millions around you starve?

On the other hand, should all citizens of a country suffer because their government embezzles millions from the aid they receive? Should children continue to die of malaria because the government oppresses their mothers? Should peasants remain landless and destitute because their courts can’t be trusted?

Where’s the line? and how do you know when you cross it?

I don’t really have an answer–and the deeper I get into this world, the more often I get that “bad taste in my mouth.” Still, I believe in compassion, I believe in cooperation, and I believe that it is better in the long run to dig in and engage with a problem (even if you get your hands dirty) rather than standing on the sidelines waiting for the situation to be less messy.

Ghandi vs. Robin Hood

(or, Whether to Accept Federal $ through a Congressional Earmark)

Had an unexpected conversation this week–with a DC lobbyist (referred by an angel investing group we’ve been working with) who seems absolutely convinced we would be a “slam dunk” for some of the millions of federal dollars congress will allocate to various non-profits through this summer’s appropriations bills.

“Some” meaning on the order of 10x what we’ve spent on everything we’ve done so far—enough to finish building out the site, update the iPhone app, create a Facebook app, start our fellowship program, host a social entrepreneurship training conference, and establish our evaluation endowment. (Not to mention start paying some of our employees a livable wage…)

So, what’s the catch, right? There isn’t one—except if you consider the fact that the money would come through earmarks in the bill a catch.

The IDEALIST says that earmarks were originally developed as way to empower members of congress to bypass the crippling bureaucracy of the executive branch agencies to fund time-sensitive projects for the good of the people.

The CYNIC says that earmarks are a symbol of all that’s wrong with government—a loophole exploited by corrupt politicians and lobbyists too mired in the morass of personal and political favors to even see it’s wrong.

The REALIST says that such diametric thinking is almost always an oversimplification and that the practice is still used in both those ways to accomplish both those ends.

The PRAGMATIST says that if they’re going to toss money around (and they are), we might as well be open for the pass, especially if we can catch it without getting our hands dirty.

Those are the voices screaming at each other in my head. What do you think?

Social Entrepreneurship: Economics of a Generation

Not often does a blog post get me to drop everything and respond. But suggesting that social entrepreneurship training sets up an entire generation for failure gets my attention.

The argument (proposed by Josh Cohen and Aaron Hurst of the Taproot Foundation) centers around the burgeoning demand among the emerging US workforce for careers that allow them to make a living and a difference, and social entrepreneurship and innovation training universities have begun providing in response. They conclude:

“Leading social entrepreneurship program Ashoka offers only 110 fellowships in the United States, and other social entrepreneurship opportunities are equally limited.
With 100,000 MBA graduates annually, social entrepreneurship is not a scalable solution for engaging Generation Y in work that fulfills their desire to make a positive impact.”

So…we’re setting this incredibly driven, innovative, ethical (even compassionate) generation up for failure because we don’t have a fellowship available for all 100K MBAs–not to mention the millions graduating in other fields equally committed to making a difference in the world?!

Last I checked, huge demand and limited supply was the perfect recipe for opportunity, not failure.

Social Innovation fellowships, though wonderful programs and responsible for much of the ‘boost’ the field has received in recent years, are NOT the essence of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship/enterprise/innovation is about perceiving opportunities, engaging stakeholders, and iterating solutions. And the field is flexible and emergent enough to allow each of those self-actualizing individuals to make a difference in their own way.

So, no, we don’t need a new conceptual framework. We need to dig in and get our hands dirty, engaging with a generation determined to make a difference as the myriad faces of “social entrepreneurship.”

PS: Check out Nathaniel Whittmore’s response here