A front row seat for the social media revolution.

I have spent the last decade chronicling the breathtaking shift in power from institutions to individuals. Social media have catalyzed this shift by enabling anyone, anywhere to speak, critique, organize, protest and start a business. Customers, clients, donors, volunteers and other constituents who are now empowered by social media are speaking, but no one is listening. The organizations that hear them and make them matter will be the ones who do well in the future. In the process they also rejuvenate their cultures with a refreshing mix of smart safety and relevance that is less exhausting and more productive for everyone. I call this new way of working and leading Matterness. I look forward to continuing to write and speak about how we are living and working together to create a more prosperous, equitable and just society.
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Doctors and Inattentive Care
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Shutting Off Comments
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Readying Your Cause to Matter More to People
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The Gift of Making Others Matter
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Action Cascades Over Viral Videos
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Fearless Leadership in a Social World
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Verizon and Anti-Matterness
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Why Giving Matters More Than Receiving

Doctors and Inattentive Care

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.50.00 AMFront page of the New York Times: Doctor’s Strive to Do Less Harm by Inattentive Care. This is as close to a headline in the Onion that the times can get!

Here is the nut sentence in the story, “The effort is driven partly by competition and partly by a realization that suffering, whether from long waits, inadequate explanations or feeling lost in the shuffle, is a real and pressing issue.” Better late than never, I suppose, but it makes one wonder about the amazing amount of Churn and hubris that goes into medical care that just now raises these issues. The doctors and hospitals interested in looking at their systems from the outside in, from the patient’s perspective, seemingly for the first time, are reducing the number of times patients are woken up in the middle of the night for unnecessary checks, giving medication during the day rather than in the middle of the night, and actually starting to use the endless survey data that has heretofore just been stuffing up databases.

Hurrah, but if they fix too much of the Matterlessness that routinely greases the medical wheels, what will we have to make fun of, just airlines?

Shutting Off Comments

One of the fundamental tenets of working with social media is that they are fundamentally conversational vehicles.  Someone says something and anyone out there can answer back. Not always civilly, but generally so. The biggest threat to organizations in a social world is not multiple voices but silence. Silence means irrelevance.

Tablet, an online publication, created a new policy this week. According to Capital New York, Tablet has changed it’s commenting policy because, “the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse)…”

Again, according to Capital New York, Tablet is among a growing list of media companies including Bloomberg and Popular Science that have turned off comments. “Moderating such forums is expensive for companies with limited resources, and a lot of reader conversations have moved to social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.”

But Tablet didn’t turn off comments, they are charging for them! The charge will b $2 a day, $18 a month and $180 a year. And the publisher made it clear that this isn’t a monetary decision, but a way, they believe, to make their comments more civil.

There are two issues here. The first is making it difficult to comment directly on the site. Disempowering readers by not allowing them to engage directly, presumably, with the author and publisher is antisocial in a world now set to social as the default setting. We have come to expect that we will be able to engage with journalists and publications directly.

Tablet generally gets a handful of comments on stories. A few get more, like the this article on interfaith marriage mentioned in the Capital New York article that received a lot for the site, 85 comments. My quick scan of the comments revealed absolutely nothing rude or offensive. Instead, there is a thread of agreers and disagreers – exactly what anyone designing a site would hope for.

A lack of civility shouldn’t be seen as a problem but an opportunity to engage the overwhelming majority of readers in an opportunity to help solve the problem. The fact that the perceived lack of civility by Tablet is a conversation stopper rather than a conversation starter tells us more about Tablet than about the web. Basically they view readers as a passive group of eyeballs rather than a community of smart, resourceful people able to help. By engaging the community as problem solvers, it is possible that Tablet may have found a reader or two out there that might have volunteered to help moderate the comments and block trolls.

Moderating comments makes a lot more sense to me than the solution that have unveiled of having commenters pay to comment. Trolls are very determined people, why would Tablet think that paying $2 would keep them away? The people they will lose are the people in the middle, the ones who don’t feel strongly either way and aren’t going to bother to pay to comment. So, really, all Tablet has done is let the extremists, both positive and negative, win.

I hope Tablet will rethink this policy. It’s a terrible idea. Instead, I hope they will come to view their larger readership as potential problem solvers and co-creators largely dedicated to civility.

Readying Your Cause to Matter More to People

Book wheelIn discussing Matterness with people, I use the analogy of viewing the world through a backwards facing telescope. Inside looks huge, overwhelming really, while out there looks very small and irrelevant. By turning the telescope around to the way it is intended to be used, and making people on the outside matter more becomes the primary concern of the organization.

Great Nonprofits asked me to outline first steps for organizations that want to make their people matter more. Here is a link to the post on their site and here are the steps:

  1. Think Abundance. Do you spend more time in meetings discussing what could go wrong or what could go right? Is your organization afraid of what people out there could do to harm your organization, or are you excited about engaging in their natural creativity and enthusiasm? Are critics treated as whackadoodles intending to do harm or as friends who are frustrated and want you to do better?
  2. Start Speaking With Not At Your Constituents. Stop using social media to just broadcast messages at people and start using them to ask real questions the answers to which are important to your efforts.
  3. Work with Your Crowds. Get in conversation with your crowds wherever they are. Ask them to do something creative with you, learn something together, gather information and intelligence, co-create an event together – before your ask them to buy a ticket!
  4. Gather Your People On Land. Gather ten or so donors together in someone’s home and talk about your cause with them. Discuss whether and how you make them feel like they matter. Do your communications feel personal? Does it feel like you only communicate with them to ask for money? Are they learning more about the cause?
  5. Figure Out What Scares You Most About Social Media– And Do It. Find a friend to teach you how to tweet, and spend a half an hour a day on Twitter. Talk to a critic on your blog, directly, like a human being, for the world to see. Encourage your younger staffers to use social media to talk about the organization (with some ground rules and talking points) and let them make mistakes. The sky won’t fall – I promise.

The Gift of Making Others Matter

It is a sad week in our family. My husband’s aunt Beverly passed away from cancer on Sunday, her funeral is this week. It was far too soon for such a vibrant, energetic, life-loving person to go.

Our last visit with her was about two weeks ago. During our time with her she told us a powerful story that perfectly captures why it is so important to make other people matter in your life.

When she was first sick a friend asked her what he could for her. As was her nature and habit, she said she was fine and that there was nothing he could do. Bev expected him to say something like, “OK, well, just let me know if there’s some way I can help.” Instead, he called her selfish. She was shocked. I’m the sick one, she thought, how can I be selfish? He read her mind and said, “You’re selfish because you are not giving me any way to feel better by helping you.”

We matter when we help other people. We can help other people matter more by giving them meaningful things to do. Shutting them out by saying, “I’ve got this,” is basically telling people that they don’t matter, that they have nothing to offer and no gifts to give.

The next time your organization sends out an update on a program or a press release or a request for donations, think about adding specific, meaningful things they can do to matter more. Not window dressing, not a vote that won’t be counted or just saying yes to something you’ve already decided. Give them something important to do to support your efforts – send an email to five friends to raise awareness of our issue, post a review on Yelp, bring toiletries to a shelter, come and answer phones for a night. They’ll feel better and your cause will be better.

Action Cascades Over Viral Videos

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 12.15.52 PMInvisible Children announced yesterday that it is closing its doors. You may not know the organization, but you almost certainly know their signature effort, the Kony 2012 video.

The video is very long, 30  minutes, on an obscure topic and was an instant viral sensation. It now has over 100 million views on YouTube. The video was an amazing piece of storytelling, alas, it was filled with half-truths. Moreover, the organization however was a mess roiled by mercurial and incompetent management.

All organizations should be managed better than Invisible Children or risk rightly going out of business. But there is another lesson here worth considering.

In Matterness, I discuss the need for organizations to shift their thinking from viral videos to action cascades. A viral video is a stand alone event. It certainly feels good to have lots of people watching what you have produced and sharing it with others. But there needs to be something to do baked into it. Max Siderov took the viral video of Karen Klein being bullied on a school bus outside of Rochester and turned it into an action cascade by raising money for Karen on Indiegogo. [Note: I put the link to the video of Karen being bullied here for context, but I don’t recommend watching it, it is cruel and shouldn’t be honored with a viewing.]

Organizations are too often rushing to create content that they hope will go viral without enough thought of giving people quick, easy and meaningful things to do to support an effort.There is no  way to guarantee that something will go viral, but there are ways to ensure that people could take constructive action as a result of watching it. The best actions to encourage are very specific ones. Not just share the video, but send it to three friends and ask them to do the same.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was an action cascade. The effort spread so widely not because of the videos, but because of the personal challenge to other specific people to do the same or donate within 24 hours.

My advice to people creating stories is to make sure the story is emotional and well-told, but also make sure it is connected to bite-size actions to turn it into a cascade of doing.

Fearless Leadership in a Social World

An article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review I wrote about the pivot that organizational leaders need to make to focus on Matterness.  “We need a different kind of leadership to enable organizations—whether traditional legacy organizations, start-ups, or all-volunteer networks—to focus on Matterness. Organizations that enhance Matterness are open to the input of constituents, and encourage leaders to be real human beings with flaws and vulnerabilities. They value Matterness relationships over transactions, and focus on facilitating crowds of people with their own good ideas and resources, rather than trying to own them. These organizations follow as often as they lead, listen more than they speak, and co-create with their crowds rather than dictate to them.”

Verizon and Anti-Matterness

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 12.27.04 PMAs you all know, I am currently immersed in Matterness, the space where organizations make their people matter more. Where they listen more than they speak, engage as real human beings and work with not at people. The only problem with this mindset is that it makes the inevitable instances of anti-Matterness are even more startling and stark. In addition, the usual suspects like a doctor’s office or a telecom are almost too easy to criticize because, well, you know why.

Nonetheless, I need to tell you about how much anti-Matterness is baked into Verizon.

We had a service call scheduled for last Tuesday. They sent an email saying the service person would be here between 8 am – 8 pm. Hmmm, seems like a pretty big window. So, I called and was told they couldn’t make the window any smaller. So, I did what I do and took to Twitter. And there I got an immediate response, the service technician would be here between 3-5 pm. Here was the rest of our conversation via Twitter:

  • Why wouldn’t the telephone people tell me this?
  • Because they don’t have the data.
  • Why do you have the data?
  • Because our group focuses on escalated complaints.
  • This wouldn’t be escalated if the telephone people told me this.
  • That’s our policy.

Of course, the anti-Matterness here is egregious, but there is also something else interesting going on. Verizon considers Twitter the place where customers go to yell at them. Now, they get yelled on the telephone, too, but Twitter yelling is public for the world to see. Therefore, the job of the Twitter group is to quiet complaints very quickly. Instead of the whole system being engaged in making customers matter, the system is organized to give out as little information as possible and to mollify customers who start to squeak. This really is a Bizarro-world way of working with customers.

If anyone has any insights as to why Verizon works this way, I’d love to hear it.

Why Giving Matters More Than Receiving

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.06.51 PMOn the heels of the wildly successful #GivingTuesday (first estimates put money raised at nearly $46 million just online, more than double last year’s total!) the idea of giving is in the air.

My friend Lisa Colton told me an interesting story today. She was facilitating a board retreat recently and asked the participants to pair up and talk about when they felt that they really mattered. The room was abuzz, she said, as the participants shared their stories with one another. When they reconvened she asked, “How many people heard stories about feeling like you matter when you receive something?” One person raised their hand. Then she asked the opposite question, “How many people heard a story about feeling like you mattered when you gave something?”  Forty-four hands went up. 44!

Of course, the old axiom, “It’s better to give than receive,” immediately comes to mind. But in an organizational context there is more to it than that. People want to be of service to organizations that they care about. However, as organizations became more professionalized over the last century, it seemed to be easier, faster, more efficient, less painstaking, for staff people to do more and more, for organizations to hire people to do jobs that volunteers used to do. Just because volunteers may not be available on Tuesday mornings anymore doesn’t mean that people don’t want to participate in meaningful and creative ways to help organizations. Instead, too many organizations have substituted fundraising for engagement.

Social media provide great opportunities for people to matter by contributing in lots of ways. People can help raise awareness of an issue, problem solve, gather people for discussions, do online research. The opportunities are almost endless for the ways that people can matter more to organizations. The challenge is for organizations, and their leaders, to see this as amazing opportunities to involve many more people in many more interesting ways! #GivingTuesday is a beginning, now we need a year round effort by organizations to make everyone matter more.

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