Not just non-profits

The Second Coming of the Online Community Manager:
[Via NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network –]

Flickr Photo: varnentFlickr Photo: varnent
Your job isn’t going to exist in a few years, and it ain’t the economy’s fault. Blame it on social media.

If you’re implementing social media smartly at your organization, you already know it raises more issues for nonprofits than it solves. Chief among them: who does it? If social media is about individuals conversing authentically with a community, who’s in charge of the conversation?

You’ll find most people responsible for social media in marketing departments. But shouldn’t program staff be involved, as well? How about leadership?

I’m fascinated by the ways social media is changing how organizations structure themselves — and in particular, how social media is redefining job titles in our sector. To whit: the second coming of the online community manager.

ReadWriteWeb has a new report out, “The Read Write Web Guide to Community Management“, that marks the ascension of the online community manager (2.0). They do a great job summarizing exactly why the role is so challenging:

The job is part customer service, part marketing, part public relations, and part web savvy. Some of the skills required are timeless and some are very new and unique to the web.

Yeah, what they said.

We used to organize our jobs by who we were talking at: people with problems (customer service), the population we want to engage (marketing), the media (pr). Now, we don’t have the luxury of simply talking AT people. Those same people are talking to us, and each other.

We all need someone to be part of that conversation.


It may be important for both non-profits and for-profits to have one person whose job entails servicing an online community. This person serves as a focal point both for the outside community and for the organization’s community.

But it can not only be that person who is involved. There need to be others helping create a vibrant community that models a human social network in the digital realm. It is very hard for just one person to be responsible for ALL online social interactions. In many cases, their personal voice becomes the voice of the group, which may not be a very useful thing for diverse organizations.

There need to at least be guest ‘speakers’ from all parts of the group, adding their own voice to help balance things out and provide a much richer ‘voice’ to the outside world. The online community manager must also evangelize the technology to those on the inside, getting them to participate. By doing so a much stronger community can be created.

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Adopting an idea

I happened to read this article from the Center for American Progress about the different groups found in polls about global warming. and was immediatley taken with the numbers. Here is the relevant figure I wish to discuss.

figure 1

I’ve read a lot about how new ideas and innovations work their way through a population (here are some handy examples). What struck me was the these percentages are actually almost exactly the numbers one would expect to see for any innovation or idea moving its way through a society. Read the whole report . Seldom does a survey’s report find people falling into similar ‘types’ seen that full scale research efforts also identified.

Look at the numbers – 18%, 33%, 19%, 12%, 11% and 7%. I’ve mentioned several times before the different groups that are found as an innovation or as new idea diffuses through a community. There has been a lot of work that indicates that there are 5 groups present as a community adopts a new idea:

  • innovators
  • early adopters
  • early majority
  • late majority
  • laggards

From the work of Beal, Rogers and Bohlen (and the Wikipedia page), the distribution of each of these types in a population follows a bell curve,

doption of innovations

Now look at the numbers from the global warming survey.They fit pretty well into these categories. Just another item to demonstrate how acceptance of a novel idea or innovation breaks down.

This can also give us hints about how far we are along the process of adoption of the innovation

If one looks at the cumulative adoption of an innovation in a community, it follows an S-shaped curve, as seen in the original paper from Ryan and Gross from the 30s:

diffusion of an innovation

This same sort of curve is seen again and again. It does not matter whether the innovation is a new hybrid corn or a new drug. It appears that this type of adoption is very dependent on human social networks. Each group informs itself based on what the previous group knows (i.e. the group to the left).

For example, the innovators tend to be highly connected with many sources of information from outside a community, acting to bring that information into a group from outside and determine whether the idea the innovators are playing with has any real use. The early adopters act as a bridge from the innovators and the rest of the community, usually adding their own input and serving as opinion leaders on new innovations.

The 68% in the middle are deferential to the opinions of people that they trust. They usually need explicit approval from leaders in their community before adopting a new innovation.So, the early middle adopt a new innovation when the early adopters do while the late majority waits until the early middle does. The laggards serve as a check on the entire group to make sure the community does not get overly excited by the innovators and their shiny new toys.

There is, then, a pretty defined path to adoption of new innovations and ideas in a community. So, where are we with regard to progressing along this curve for climate change? Well, the curve starts with 0% adoption of the innovation and progresses to 100% (or close to it), so we are obviously some place along the curve.

Examination of the curve above shows that once the early adopters and innovators have made the change (that is, when about 16% are onboard), then the rate of adoption increases tremendously, almost going exponential, as the majority in the middle rapidly begin adopting the change.

Well, we now have more than the 16% on board with global warming, so we should expect rapid change. I think that is exactly what we are seeing.

In fact, the early majority is really moving close to where the early adopters/innovators are, with even some of the laggards getting on board. Ten years ago, there was a lot of doubt that climate change was even happening. Now look at the distribution:

figure 2

Almost everyone is above ‘Don’t know” and the various ‘global warming is not happening’ choices. We are making progress. And I suspect we are well along the part of the curve signaling rapid change in people’s views.

The debate is really not going to be if global warming is happening but what to do about it, an entirely new sort of debate. And some of the debating points appear to already have been decided. For instance, carbon dioxide as a pollutant:

figure 19

or increasing fuel efficiency, something Obama just announced:

figure 20

Both of these show significant support throughout the population. In contrast, there are also some ideas that are still in the very early stages with even the early adopters unsure if they should take up the innovation:

figure 22

All in all, a great report illustrating the standard process as new ideas percolate through a population. We are well through the stages of acceptance of global warming and making good progress on what to do about it.

Just remember, once the early adopters/innovatoers have taken a position on a new innovation or idea, then change usually happens quite rapidly. So, identifying who those early opinion makers are and educating them can increase the rate of diffusion of the innovation quite a lot.

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An op-ed I wrote


I have an article published online at the Xconomy Forum called
Biotech Needs Charity, and Profit Motive, To Flourish.

It discusses the possible role of non-profit research institutions in Seattle in new drug development. It also mentions a new corporate entity called an L3C that could have some impact in this area. This permits an entirely new focus of research to occur on diseases that might not have the profit potential needed by current approaches.

I first heard about an L3C at an Idea Club that dealt with green microfinancing supported by the Sustainable Path Foundation, whose board I am on. Idea Club is a monthly forum where anyone who has an interest in the topic can attend and enter a conversation.

It is designed to be very open with little of the hierarchy seen in normal lecture-audience presentation. In last month’s meeting, someone mentioned L2C as a possible approach here in the US rather than microfinancing. None of us had heard of an L3C before so I quickly looked it up.

I realized immediately how it would inform my ideas about an article and my op-ed is the result.

So much of the health needs of our world are unattended because of the cost of development of new therapeutics. This means that only very highly profitable drugs can be developed, those with market sizes in the billions.

The non-profit research institutions in the Seattle area are working from over $2 billion in grants on several different diseases, many of which will never produce the profit needed for commercial development.

An L3C, or similar, gives them the ability to develop drugs that do not have the high profit requirements of current drugs being developed and expands the universe of approaches for finding new breakthrough therapeutics.

Essentially, the current model of near term, high profits would remain, as well as the very long term, low/no profit model of the non-profit research organizations. There would be the addition of a new model, a longer term, modest profit company, that could work on drugs that remain out of reach for current funding opportunities.

This might open up a whole new realm of therapeutics for our sick.

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“Serve others and others will want to serve you”

follow the leader by Schristia (busy with my daughter’s exams)
The Most Compelling Leadership Vision:

A distinguished woman rose to speak in the front of a room of 40 fellow employees during a Total Leadership workshop I was conducting earlier this week at a large pharmaceutical company’s headquarters.

“Joyous laughter — this is the sound I hear throughout the home I have built and now maintain for mentally ill women in Puerto Rico. They are surrounded by people who love and care for them. They are enjoying life.”

Juana, let’s call her, was telling the brief (one-minute) story of her personal leadership vision; a description of the impact you’re having on your world and the legacy you’re creating 15 years from now. When Juana sat down, one of her close colleagues said, “I’ve known you so long yet I never knew about this part of who you are. Wow!” I couldn’t help but ask Juana how I could support her pursuit of her vision. All of us were moved, and felt inclined to contribute.

People will not follow a leader if it is only to the leader’s benefit. We are social animals, using networks of interactions for live our lives. The most invigorating visions are those that lead people to a better place. Not to one that simply makes the leader wealthy.

After hearing a set of examples, I then ask the whole group to describe what was inspiring in what was just said and heard. Invariably, it is the people who speak not about their own achievement but, rather, about how they’re helping someone else who draw the most powerful emotional responses and pronounced support.

Having heard many personal vision statements in the last few days, in different groups (including, through an interpreter, securities industry executives visiting The Wharton School from China), I was struck, once again, by the power of this very this simple, yet critically important idea. Serve others and others will want to serve you. This paradox is often difficult to grasp, especially in your early years. Yet is seems to be a universal truth: People are more likely to pay attention to you — and they are more inclined to help you — when you declare yourself committed to serving others.

It is a paradox of a social animal – simply doing what is best for the individual is not as successful as doing what is best for the group. The chances for survival are much greater when the power of the group is brought into play. That is why we developed this way. Group dynamics determine what gets done.

So, an effective leader is one that can harness the group but the group evolved to really like what benefits the group, not just the leader. Thus, an effective leader is one who works for the group not just for themselves.

This is not to say that leaders can not utilize the group needs in order to create benefits for the leader. It does suggest, however, that the best leaders are those that at least appear to be serving the group. In most cases, the more the leader appears to just be gaining power purely for self-aggrandizement the less likely they are to maintain the interest of their followers.

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It has only just begun

people globe by woodleywonderworks
The Future of the Social Web: In Five Eras:
[Via Web Strategy by Jeremiah]

Expect the Groundswell to continue, in which people connect to each other – rather than institutions. Consumer adoption of social networks is increasing a rapid pace, brands are adopting even during a recession, so expect the space to rapidly innovate to match this trend. Clients can access this report, but to summarize what we found, in the executive summary we state:

Today’s social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit. A simple set of technologies that enable a portable identity will soon empower consumers to bring their identities with them — transforming marketing, eCommerce, CRM, and advertising. IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the Web will evolve step by step from separate social sites into a shared social experience. Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate. Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.

We found that technologies trigger changes in consumer adoption, and brands will follow, resulting in five distinct waves, they consist of:

The Five Eras of the Social Web:

1) Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share
2) Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system
3) Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social
4) Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content
5) Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and services


According to the article, the second step wiil not reach maturity until 2010-2012. Jeremiah has another post with some examples.

What this tells us is that we are still early in the social web revolution. But it moves fast so organizations should start getting on board now. IF they have not even started step 1, then they have a lot of catching up to do.

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