Category Archives: Small Businesses

Does Impact Investment Signal a Paradigm Shift?

There is a fundamental shift in how some are approaching business and philanthropy. Whether you call it impact investing, philanthrocapitalism, or social business, these emerging practices have the potential to be a paradigm shift in our economic landscape. Or do they?

Amy Bell, Executive Director and Head of Principal Investments for JPMorgan’s Social Finance business unit, writes that “impact investing is the deployment of capital with an expectation of financial return, where the success of the investment is also contingent upon achieving a stated social or environmental goal.”

Massive amounts of capital are being “deployed” as Bell describes it. JPMorgan Chase alone has allocated more than $50 million. Goldman Sachs invested $10 million for the US’s first social impact bond. The list goes on.

Is this just a continuation and expansion of corporate social responsibility or is this a deeper change? For decades (if not centuries) nonprofits have encouraged the corporate sector to give back. Nonprofits argue that corporations themselves are economically sustained in many ways because of nonprofits: low-wage workers access discounted healthcare at community clinics and pay reduced-rate tuition at their children’s preschool; higher paid workers are recruited with promises of an area’s operas, cultural life, private schools, and hospitals; and any employee can access a community’s religious services, clean beaches, summer camps, and more.

Eventually, corporations began to catch on and, in large numbers, began partnering with nonprofits through sponsorships, grants and, eventually, cause marketing. Corporations realized that cause marketing could increase sales, increase employee engagement, and could have a positive impact on the community as well. Well-crafted relationships between corporations and nonprofits can lead to very good things for all involved.

But impact investment seems to go a step further. By investing capital in projects through organizations – many of which are for-profit – that create social good and at the same time provide a financial return on investment, impact investing has the potential to fundamentally change the donor’s experience. It completely shakes our business vs. philanthropy mindset. Impact investing says, “We can do both at the same time.” And the underlying assumption is that if we can do both, we should.

But can we do both? In some cases yes. Bell offers the example of Wilmar Flowers. JPMorgan Chase has invested capital in this African-based business with the expectations that Wilmar will grow from purchasing from 3,000 to more than 5,000 African-based small farms, affecting more than 250,000 households. It’s not clear how this arrangement differs from a typical business loan except that, in this case, the business might have previously been considered too high risk. Given Africa’s shaky economic performance, investments like this could be a very positive move towards economic development.

Bell writes that at JPMorgan Chase, “We have increasingly sought to bring the full resources of the firm to bear on these issues over the last several years.” She later writes, “By marrying the expertise within our traditional banking businesses with the financial and philanthropic tools we have available, we are excited about the potential to increase our positive impact and to redefine how we all think about returns.”

There is a delicate balance between maximizing social good and maximizing profit. Imagine walking a tightrope with a barbell in your hand. If one side drops too low, the whole act could fall. If the profit weight is too heavy, the social good is compromised. If the social good weight is too heavy, the lack of financial return may scare future investors. Both goals must be held at equilibrium.

And in some case, we cannot and should not do both. In the wake of 9-11, hundreds of thousands of people were stranded on Manhattan Island. Fear and panic was everywhere. Local fishermen and those with boats self-organized to give people rides to the mainland. 500,000 civilians were rescued in less than nine hours. It was the largest sea evacuation in history. This voluntary organization was completely spontaneous. There was a tremendous return on investment for those who contributed their time and resources, but it was not a financial return.

Is impact investing an emerging paradigm shift? Probably. In fact, there may come a time when the public expects all businesses to operate with a social mission. That day may come sooner rather than later. But the 9-11 boat lift teaches us that the opposite is not necessarily true. Not all social missions can offer financial ROI.

Nonprofit or For-profit? – NPQ Newswire

I’m intrigued by the social enterprise movement, if we dare call it that. In my recent Nonprofit Quarterly Newswire I look at the choice one social entrepreneur had to make.

As ThinkImpact grew, its founder, Saul Garlick, had to make a tough decision: remain a nonprofit, or change to a for-profit model? To do so, he had to consider some key elements: ownership, transparency, and profits.

Read my Nonprofit Quarterly Newswire by clicking here.

Unpaid Interns May Be Too Expensive – NPQ Newswire

Summer interns: We love them and we hate them. But do we have to pay them? That is a question much debated. Most recently, that debate has been taken up by a federal judge in Manhattan, who ruled in June that Fox Searchlight had broken minimum wage laws using unpaid interns on the set of Black Swan. This ruling, which may or may not be overturned upon appeal, signals that the legal and financial risk of unpaid interns may be greater than previously considered.

Read my newswire to discover why: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/22569-unpaid-interns-may-be-too-expensive.html

Social Enterprise Meets Flipping Boston?!

Unable to sleep this week, I’ve taken to watching Flipping Boston and Flipping Vegas. These shows chronicle the process of entrepreneurs who flip distressed houses. Over the course of a few weeks, the houses transform from dilapidated shacks to pristine palace-like homes. And, of course, the entrepreneurs make a nice profit.

As I watch this, I have to ask. . . Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

In a nutshell, the criteria for social enterprise are:

  1. Profit motive
  2. Social mission
  3. Results/impact oriented

Technically, “House Flippers” would qualify. They have a profit motive (cha-ching!). They offer a social good (improved home prices, neighborhood beautification). And they have clear, measurable results (increased value of house and neighborhood).

But if we consider them social entrepreneurs, shouldn’t we consider all business as such? After all, the addition of any job to the economy is a welcome — and much needed — social benefit.

Yet many might take offense to thinking of “House Flippers” as social entrepreneurs. In some ways, so would I.

Something is clearly missing in our definition of social enterprise and it has to do with #2: Social Mission.

In the case of my late night TV shows, the social good is there. The neighborhood looks better. Property values increase for all residents.  The construction provides job opportunities. However, the social good is a byproduct of the profit motive. The entrepreneurs don’t (presumably) start out with the goal in mind to add value to anything other than their own pocket books.

I think we hold (or at least want to hold) social enterprise and social entrepreneurs to a higher standard. But how do we do this?

  • Should the social mission be more, less, or equally important to the profit motive?
  • Should the intended beneficiaries be consulted?
  • Should the entrepreneurs do market research regarding the need they attempt to fulfill?
  • Should the entrepreneurs do market research into other organizations attempting to meet the need both locally and across the country?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself every day.

Our current definition of social enterprise needs to stretch enough to encompass the moral and ethical implications of doing good. Yet stretching the definition is not as easy as it looks.

3 Lessons from the Peace Corps

This week is National Peace Corps Week and many of the world’s Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and returned volunteers (RPCVs) are sharing their stories. This past week was also a special week for my campus: USD hosted the international AshokaU conference for Changemakers. I had the opportunity to attend the TEDx event on Friday night where social entrepreneurs and education “futurists” shared their stories.  This woman sold chickens, killed and plucked on demand, out of her home.

In honor of both of these events, I thought I’d share the lessons I learned about changemaking from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I spent 2002 – 2004 as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in a little town called Sabaneta in the state of Santiago Rodriguez. My primary project was to create a business education training program for women with microfinance loans. I also worked with a local nonprofit organization to open a community-based preschool for low-income children.

During this time, I learned:

1) Go where you’re wanted, not just where you’re needed. Peace Corps only goes into countries and communities where they have been invited. Volunteers are matched with host country organizations that have invited the volunteer to help. The volunteers are placed in communities where the local leadership has agreed to and extended a welcome to the PCV.  As a result, the projects I worked on had unilateral and I also was assured that law enforcement would be friendly. (This was not necessarily true when I crossed into Haiti, for example.)

This simple lesson is profound. It’s about respect. As an educated person from the United States, I have no right to impose my views or ideas on people in other countries. That imperialism has happened far to often in our history. However, when invited, we can dialogue and work together in ways that are generative for both parties. The same lesson is true when I work with vulnerable populations in the United States.

2) Start with a cup of coffee. Even after being officially “blessed” at every level, it was important to start by getting to know those who lived and worked around me. For me, that meant three to six months of visiting the homes and businesses of the women I would work with. I sat on their front step and drank coffee. I helped them sell goods out of their colmado (small store). I watched them kill and pluck chickens for customers as they waited. As I did this, I was able to gain trust and come to understand valuable parts of the culture I would otherwise have missed. (But don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I still missed or misunderstood huge parts of the culture. To some extent, that is to be expected.)

This investment of time paid tremendous dividends when it came to designing a project that worked and that was embraced by the community.

3) Look deeply. I hit many bumps along the road. My microfinance project partner wasn’t as gung-ho as I wanted him to be. The teachers in the preschool kept playing with the toys. As much as I wanted to mange these problems and make them go away, they could only be solved by looking. The first class of kids for the preschool program. They are playing in a small sandbox outside.

I had to look deeply at my project partner’s life. He spent 8 – 10 hours a day on a motorcycle driving up and down bumpy, dusty dirt roads. His kid was sick and he only had enough money for diapers for special occasions. Of course he didn’t want an additional thing (me!) added to his plate. Of course he was defensive at first. I needed to back off and give him a greater sense of ownership in the project.

I looked deeply at the teachers in the newly founded preschool. I saw that, like the children they served, they had never seen toys like this. They had never painted or drawn as freely as we encouraged. They had never dug through a sandbox. Of course they were more interested in playing than teaching. Of course they had trouble adjusting to a fixed schedule. These things were foreign to them and I needed to adjust.

These are just a few of the lessons I learned during my two years in the Dominican Republic. They’ve guided my career as I work today with nonprofits.

I’ll have cookies, granola, and some greater good, please

Examples of social enterprise: Girl Scout cookies and "Your Choice Brands" Granola

Examples of social enterprise: Girl Scout cookies and “Your Choice Brands” Granola

Social enterprise is one of the hot new buzz words these days. Other buzz words include social entrepreneur, impact investing, philanthrocapitalism, and social innovation. These words sound really exciting, maybe a bit foreign.

Don’t panic. Social enterprise is less confusing or foreign than it sounds. In fact, we see it almost every day. . . After all, it is Girl Scout cookie season.

Girl Scout cookies are a prime example of social enterprise:

  • There is a profit created by the sale of cookies.
  • There is a social good realized when the girls learn entrepreneurship and when the money from the sales provides funding for the overall program.

Not so scary anymore, huh?

Now, let’s talk about practice. There are two primary ways in which a nonprofit can be or have a social enterprise:

1) Earned Income: nonprofits engage in social enterprise activity when they create earned income. These business-like activities create a profit for the agency which then is reinvested to further the mission. For example:

  • A nonprofit theater company charges for a ticket to a performance.
  • A nonprofit hospital charges patients for services.
  • A disaster preparedness agency sells earthquake kits.

2) Creating a for-profit company: nonprofits can actually create and own a for-profit company.The for-profit provides a revenue stream for the nonprofit corporation.

There are lots of other types of social enterprise which I’ll discuss in further detail in other posts. These include cause marketing, L3C corporations, Benefit Corporations, and cross-sectoral partnerships.

In case you’re curious, the granola pictured in this post is from a for-profit social enterprise (L3) called “Your Choice Brands.” Consumer can log onto a website and donate a portion of the proceeds from the purchase to the nonprofit of their choice. . . I’ll tell you more about these types of social enterprises another day.

The bottom line though is that social enterprise is not rocket science and you don’t have to be Gandi-like to be a social entrepreneur.

Learning to Listen

I am learning to listen.

This lesson is coming through many forms, most recently via a lecture I attended by Otto Scharmer of MIT entitled Leadership and Mindful Transformation of Capitalism: from Ego-System to Eco-System Economies.

Otto asked the audience two core questions:

  • Where do you experience a world that is ending/dying?
  • Where do you experience a world that is beginning/waiting to be born?

In thinking about these questions, only one answer came to my mind. The world that I experience to be ending/dying is the world that believes that problems are external.

In my work with nonprofits, I have come to learn that problems are—at their core—thinking problems. This means problems must be resolved internally first, then externally. What do I mean by this?

  • Problems with the environment are, at their core, a problem about how we conceptualize our relationship to the earth.
  • Problems with poverty are, at their core, problems about how we structure our economy and how we conceptualize our relationship to fellow man.

I did not always believe this. I used to think that “poor people” needed help. To that end, I spent many years in many countries in direct service. What I have learned is that direct service is powerful (there is tremendous power in any act of service to another human being), but it isn’t enough. If the core of the problem is a thinking problem, our work must also be on a different plane.

In thinking about this new work, I am compelled to listen more deeply. But how?

Otto described four levels of listening:

  • Downloading: is taking the information you receive and applying old opinions and judgments to that information.
  • Factual listening: is taking the information we received and acknowledging any data which disconfirms what we thought we knew.
  • Empathic listening: is seeing through another person’s eyes and thereby establishing an emotional connection.
  • Generative listening: is opening our awareness to that which exists and to that which might exist. We allow our attention to connect to an emerging future, waiting for that which wants to be born.

According to Otto, as we move towards generative listening, we let go of the voices of judgment, cynicism, and fear. Instead, we move to a position of openness, engagement, and, eventually, embodiment.

While all this sounds beautiful, I have not yet answered Otto’s second question. Where do I experience a world that is beginning/waiting to be born?

I don’t know, but I’m listening.

What do you think?

For more information about Otto Scharmer and his work on Theory U, visit: http://www.presencing.com/

The Photos that Betray Us: GPS technology, mobile phones, & nonprofits

By next year, all mobile phones in North America will use GPS to capture locations.  Many already do. This information is extremely useful in the case of emergencies. It will help us to find missing persons and to respond to disaster victims.

There is a downside. A huge downside.

Mobile phones have cameras. Many newer phones automatically tag photos with your name, location, date, time, etc. This information helps the phone to organize your photos.  If those photos are shared online, the information stored in the photos is also shared.

This is called Geotagging. According to Socialbrite.org’s Social Media Glossary:

“Geotagging is the process of adding location-based metadata to media such as photos, video or online maps. Geotagging can help users find a wide variety of businesses and services based on location.”

Why might it be unwise to automatically share this information? If you takea photo at home and then post it online, a thief or predator can learn your address. If you take a photo at a domestic violence shelter, an abuser can use the address to find his/her former partner. This is true even of the photos we take of staff or facilities at domestic violence shelters.

I spoke recently with Deacon Johnson, creator of pixelguard, an application which allows users to decide what information is stored in their photos. He designed the app shortly after becoming a father. He realized the danger of social sharing and wanted to protect his child.

In talking with Deacon, I realized how important it is to be savvy about the information in our photos. By removing the data stored in photos, we are protecting clients, donors, and staff.

Nonprofits have been quick to adopt social media. In fact, more than 97% of nonprofits are using social media of some type. However, few have explicit social media policies. Even fewer are dealing directly with issues of privacy and security posed by social media.

This is definitely an issue nonprofits will want to look into. As a Nonprofit Nerd, I can think of many causes that should be thinking about these issues:

  • Domesticviolence safe houses
  • Organizations working with abused children
  • Health care organizations
  • After school programs
  • Drug and alcohol treatment centers
  • And many, many more.

By removing the information in our photos, we reduce the risks associated with publishing photos online. We don’t eliminate risks but they are reduced somewhat.

Consistent with Deacon’s mission to protect children, the pixelguard app is free for public schools.

This post is a part of our “Stay Tuned” blog series where I interview experts on a variety of topics. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, please add it in the comments below.

The Tightrope Walk of Corporate Philanthropy

“The business of business is business.” This quote by Milton Friedman illustrates a contentious debate in corporate philanthropy which rages to this day.

The US currently ‘allows’ corporations to donate to nonprofits. This wasn’t always the case. It was argued many years ago that the businesses owe it to their shareholders to invest in the company, not in society.

There is a fine line between the interests of business and the interests of society.  Don’t both parties benefit from an educated, well-equipped work force? A robust arts culture? Streets free from graffiti and gang violence? Of course. After all, we’re in this together.

There are many ways for a business to contribute to the nonprofit sector. For example, businesses can donate dollars or product, can co-create social marketing campaigns, can co-market products which increase revenues for both the business and the nonprofits, and they can fund nonprofits which advance political agendas.

In each of these options, business has an opportunity to

1) contribute to society and

2) advance their own self-interest.

Some of the benefits to businesses include increased consumer confidence, brand exposure, and employee engagement.

This is okay. Really. As long as it is done in an appropriate, ethical manner, it’s okay that business benefit.

Many nonprofits will cry that businesses should be supporting the nonprofits without realizing any direct benefits. That is ridiculous. When any one of us donates to a nonprofit, we are fulfilling a self-interest. Whether it is a tax deduction or just a ‘warm glow’ from a good deed well done, we benefit. In fact, if you really look at the nonprofit sector, it is very difficult to separate the gift from self-interest of the donor.  Heck, it is difficult to separate the self-interest of the staff from the self-interest of society. . . We are a very, very muddy sector.

Business is an important part of society. A very important part. Business provides jobs, allows us to purchase the goods we need (and many we don’t need), and business contributes to security nets like Workers Compensation, Social Security, Family Medical Leave, etc. All of this is important.

Business walks a tightrope when donating to nonprofits.  Let’s not make it hard for them to contribute. When corporate philanthropy is done thoughtfully, we all benefit.

Resources:

What do you think? Comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Policies as beach reading?!

“Social media culture eats policies for breakfast,” might be the 2011 version of Drucker’s wisdom, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

It is very tricky.

We can look at this from a perspective of managment vs leadership. For the purposes of today’s discussion, let’s establish some broad definitions:

Management: delineates and controls work product. Essentially, management gets things done.

Leadership: inspires and facilitates the achievement of a larger vision. Essentially, leadership moves us forward.

Typically, polices are a function of managment. They define scope of work and frame boundaries of authority. They are usually boring, dry, and not very inspiring.

Let’s face it – in general, policies aren’t beach reading.

Social media polices – to be effective – are a function of leadership teathered to managment. What do I mean by this?

Social media polices must accomplish two seemingly divergent goals:

  1. Instill caution. (management)
  2. Inspire creativity. (leadership)

Policies instill caution by articulating key boundaries such as client privacy, legal compliance, and ethical considerations. These very same policies must also inspire creativity by encouraging innovation, honoring relationships first, and putting immediate goals aside for long-term community building.

For many managers, writing social media policies may seem like a lesson in chaos. It probably is but, given the ever-evolving nature of social media, that is unavoidable.

As Frank Barrettt says, “Say yes to the mess!”

For many leaders, writing social media policies may seem like an exciting tight rope walk.

It is. And it is a dangerous one. Proceed with caution.

In 2011, we must learn to walk the very thin line between strategy, policies, and culture. Social media culture is ever changing. Policies must keep pace and anticipate changes. They must inspire creativity and instill caution, doing both in a way that moves the online community forward. If we miss the mark, we quickly become the “breakfast” of pop culture.

Social media polices should be great beach reading. Are yours?

For resources as you write your policies and learn the ropes of social media, sign up for my weekly enewsletter.

Free E-Course: Social Media 101

Click here to register for your free e-course: Social Media 101. This free four part e-course will give you a basic understanding of the scope and benefits of social media for business – including nonprofits.

The course will be emailed to you once a week for four weeks. Topics include:

1. Social Media 101 – the Big Picture
2. Social Media 101 – Marketing and ROI
3. Social Media 101 – the Benefits
4. Social Media 101 – Getting Started

This course also includes: some light (optional) homework, lots of resources, and tips you can implement right away.

Who should take this course?
– A CEO who is reluctant to join social media
– Someone trying to convince a CEO
– Anyone wanting to know the basics

Not sure if you should jump on the social media bandwagon?

Check out this video:

Register today for this free e-course.

Questions? Ask me below or on Twitter.

 

A Lesson in Twitter Handles – Learning from the New York Times

Many companies struggle to determine who owns the social media account – the employee or the company? Without clear policies, companies risk losing the fan base they worked so hard to establish. This can be devastating. Just ask the BBC – they lost 60,000 followers.

On Twitter, the biggest concern is determining the best Twitter Handle (or username). We want to increase brand exposure and yet success depends upon personality and genuine connection. How do we be humans online when wearing the mask of a brand or logo?

The New York Times (NYT) manages the balance well. Let’s take a look.

Official New York Times Wellness Twitter Account:
The twitter handle for the official NYT Twitter account is @nytimeswell. This Twitter handle clearly “belongs” to the company; however, when you look at the page, you can see personality right away. Blogger Tara Parker Pope’s photo and name are clearly displayed. You can also see her personal Twitter handle which includes her full name and no reference to the NYT.

Click on the picture below to enlarge.

It is clear that followers are following the company; however, followers are interacting with an individual. This profile builds trust and establishes a relationship.

This profile also protects the NYT. If Ms. Parker-Pope is promoted or leaves the company, the Twitter handle is still useful to the NYT. The company retains the account and its 100,000+ followers (assuming they like the next personality just as much).

If the official Twitter handle were a blend of personal and professional such as @Parker-Pope_NYTWell, the account would be difficult to salvage.  The NYT would have to create a new Twitter account and ask its 100,000+ followers to follow that new account. It is doubtful all followers would transfer; the NYT would lose valuable exposure.

Tara Parker-Pope’s Personal Twitter Account:
Blogger Tara Parker-Pope’s personal Twitter handle is her full name: @taraparkerpope. It does not include the name of her company.  She does indicate in her profile that she is a blogger for the NYT. This allows for maximum exposure for both her and the NYT. Parker-Pope’s followers can also follow the NYT and vice-versa.

Click on the picture below to enlarge.

If Ms. Pope is promoted to a different position or leaves the NYT, she should be able to retain her personal account without concern. She can easily change her profile information to reflect her new status. If her personal Twitter handle were a blend of her name and the company, this change would not be so easy to navigate.

Why is it imporatnt to separate personal from professional?
Rarely do individuals stay in one job for more than a few years; however, social media is here to stay. Companies must think long term.

It is dangerous when a company’s presence online is dependent on an employee’s twitter handle, especially an employee’s twitter handle which includes the compnay name (such as @joe_ABCcompany). There are two major risks here:

  1. First, when the employee is no longer at the company, the Twitter handle is no longer useful to either the employee or the  company. The followers must either chose to follow a different account or be lost completely. This loss is completely avoidable.
  2. Second, it is unclear who owns the Twitter account. Does it belong to Joe or to the company?  These questions are leading to some very interesting (and unfortunate) legal debates.

Social Media Policies
Social media polices are key. Policies should state upfront how decisions are made. A good social media policy will:

  1. Provide guidance as to the naming of company accounts
  2. Provide guidance to employees as to how to avoid the question of ownership of their  personal accounts

The NYT Wellness account is one great exampel of how to balance personal and professional on Twitter. Do you know of other examples  Please share here.

Social Media Policies – 6 Mistakes NOT to Make

We all want to keep our organizations safe online. How? Below are six common mistakes made in regards to social media policies.

1)     Mistake #1: A policy of DON’T. When writing social media policies, it is best to write about what staff can do, rather than focus what they can’t do.  When we focus on what we can do, we are focusing on opportunity and action rather than avoidance and reaction. We want staff to be thinking about possibilities, not paralyzed in fear.

2)     Mistake #2: Not paying attention to the fine print. It seems simple but many organizations don’t read the guidelines for social media sites. As a result, they make decisions which later haunt them. If you’ve ever created a Facebook Profile page for an organization, you might know what I’m talking about.  It’s no fun to work on your site only to have it revoked because you didn’t read the sites’ directions.  Policies are a good place to remind staff to follow all site-specific regulations.

3)     Mistake #3: Going too narrow. The policies should focus on the
big picture. They should include concerns such as privacy, safety, and
values.  They don’t need to mention the nitty-gritty ‘how-to’ instructions on individual sites because sites change frequently. Should staff have ‘how-to’ instructions on individual sites? Sure! Those guidelines are very helpful but don’t need to be a part of your policies.

4)     Mistake #4: Not involving HR. The HR director must be involved in this process. There are so many potential challenges which your organization might confront up to and including potential termination of employees. This is extreme but does happen. Writing polices which avoid these challenges requires that HR be at the table.  If you still aren’t convinced, check out some of the articles on my Social Media Polices Page.

5)     Mistake #5: Not having a social media savvy lawyer review the policies. We aren’t experts in the law and new cases are being decided every day. Don’t give your policies to a tax lawyer to review. Do you research and find a lawyer who understands the issues. It’s worth the money.

6)     Mistake #6: Not having policies. It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand but that won’t help us here. For one thing, the staff engaged in online outreach need direction. I’ve talked with many staff and the one thing I hear over and over is this, “I need guidance. I think I’m doing the right thing but I’m not sure.” When it comes to social media, the field is literally being created before our eyes.  Nobody expects senior leadership to be experts; however, it is important that staff have clear guidance and know what pitfalls to avoid. Together, you make a great team.

What’s your biggest question about social media policies? Let me know below and I’ll address it in an upcoming blog post.

Making the Switch: Marketing in Today’s World

At a business networking event, I met a marketing representative from one of those private fly-by-night schools. I’m not a fan of the institution (hence I’m not naming names), but they were in the middle of a fantastic marketing campaign. I told the woman how impressed I was. Her reaction surprised me. She asked,

 “What do you like about the campaign?”

This is key. I made a comment about her work. She immediately turned the discussion to me and how I, the potential consumer, relate to the brand.  

She engaged me. This is demonstrative of what Social Media is doing for marketing today.

Social Media asks the consumer, “What do you think?” Publically.

In traditional marketing, a company or nonprofit establishes a brand and then representatives spread the espoused message. The message is what the company says it is. No discussion.

Social Media provides a space in which a company must engage their constituency – customers, donors, clients, patients, community members, legislators, etc.  It shifts marketing activity from the “preaching”
of a pre-established message to a public dialogue. Yes, there is still the traditional branding in the sense of a logo and messaging; however, the goal is not to deliver a brand sermon. The goal is to engage in conversation and to be in relationship with your constituents.

Relationships require work. My colleague says, “Relationships are not 50/50 but 100/100.” You have to be willing to hear what the other person has to say. . . . Proceed with caution.

When you invite the public into a relationship on Social Media, you are holding perhaps the most public forum possible. An online discussion is available to the entire world. It is not limited to the number of people that can fit in a gymnasium. It is not limited to the speakers officially on the agenda. It is not bound by the same relationship dynamics we honor when meeting in person (handshakes, meeting agendas, subtle throat coughing, etc.).  It requires an entirely new set of rules.

This can be very unnerving, especially for those trained in marketing many years ago. This definitely isn’t Kansas.

As you can imagine, there are challenges and major risks associated with social media. Here are just a couple:

  • Negative feedback
  • Difficulty starting a discussion
  • Difficulty facilitating a conversation when it turns hostile or deals with difficult subjects
  • Privacy issues for all parties

These challenges aren’t insurmountable. In fact, some are tremendous opportunities.

I said earlier that the consumer was in charge. That isn’t entirely true. Nonprofits and small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to start and shape the discussion. Here are just a few of the tactics used:

  • Sharing a message and asking followers to repost or retweet
  • Creating an event and ask followers to invite others
  • Starting a discussion online
  • Asking for feedback
  • Providing useful information or shocking statistics
  • Hosting a contest where people have to create content such as a video, photo caption or short essay

Traditional marketing worked for many years. It is one of the reasons large companies like CocaCola or nonprofits such as St. Jude’s were able to grow. Today, marketing is different. Consumers want to engage. They want to feel like they are a part-of, and they want to help in the myriad of ways possible via Social Media. Marketing must both allow for and shape that interaction.

It is a relationship and it takes work. Are you ready?

Question for readers: What has been the biggest surprise for you as you begin to use social media for business?

Social Media Policies – from 175 to 5

If you are looking for templates to create a social media policy, look no further.

The Social Media Governance website has more than 175 different policies you can peruse.  It includes policies from companies of different types, sizes, and sectors.

If you are writing your organization’s first set of social media policies, this website is a must-use resource.

The question is – do you have time to read 175 different templates?

If you are like most CEOs, the answer is no. You don’t have the time to read 175 templates. Nor do you have the time for a lawsuit down the road.

When crafting a policy for a specific company, you might whittle down the list by
looking at a sampling of polices in 5 major categories:

  1. Look for policies written by law firms. Why? They
    might know a thing or two about not breaking the law.
  1. Look for policies written by communication and marketing firms. Why? They would understand – and want their staff to take advantage of – the unique opportunities of social media. These firms are likely to give leeway in policy to allow for innovation and experimentation. This is important.
  1. Look for policies written by organizations in your field. Why? They might have insight into sector specific issues which should be addressed in your policies.  In social media, it’s not about new laws. It’s about how the old laws and regulations – like HIPAA – will be applied.
  1. Look for policies written by organizations (large and small) with a successful online presence. Why? They are obviously doing a decent job of a) risk management and 2) fostering creativity. A good set of social media policies will do both. It is a delicate balance.
  1. Look for policies which are general, not specific to a social
    media site.
    Why? Sites come and go. Sites change their format and rules. If your policies reflect a site, they will soon be out of date. Instead, policies should guide social media activity overall. Let the staff sort out the details of how to apply the policy to an individual site.

The list of policies available on the Social Media Governance website is truly remarkable. I’m delighted it’s there as a resource. These suggestions above will help streamline your search so you can hone in on those policy samples most illuminating for your organization….. and when you have crafted your social media policy, don’t forget to add it to the database!