Do you ‘get’ new media?

I had the chance last week to speak to a group of non-profit executive directors from about 80 local Denver/Boulder/Longmont non-profit agencies as part of a session sponsored by the United Way on “Getting the Word Out – a Mass Communication Seminar”.  I sat on a panel with a bunch of local newspaper editors which consisted of an hour of the editors talking about the best way to fax or e-mail them stories so they’d get their attention followed by 15 minutes of me saying that instead of all of that, their organizations could actually be their own media, that there was larger conversation going on across a much broader community which they could/should tap into, and that perhaps rather than pitching stories to newspapers they should think of the newspapers as added distribution for the stories they’ve already created.   Don’t get me wrong – I think print media is great and I enjoy reading (on-line, of course) many of the local papers in my area.  But the power of new media is that it takes away the control that traditional media has on the flow of news (not to mention the determination of what is news-worthy) and puts it into the hands of the masses.  And while a story in the local paper may reach one set of constituents, a well organized (but not very costly) web site (or even just an organization blog that doubles as its web site) can get multiple messages out to multiple constituents (i.e., flickr photos of a recent fundraiser; a MySpace page to recruit college-age volunteers, dynamic web site or blog for posting updates, responding to national stories, etc.). My message was really that there’s a whole lot going on out there that non-profits (or any organization) can tap into to raise the profile of their group or cause and ultimately spread their word more broadly. The key take-away for me, however, was not all the great things that organizations can do to broaden the reach of their message or influence the media related to their work, but rather how foreign this all was to this group of relatively tech savvy execs.  Most had some kind of web-site, although the vast majority didn’t update the content on the site even monthly; and while more than half had heard of blogging (and other forms of new media), almost none had any experience either reading, commenting on or contributing. For me this was a fundamental disconnect and good to keep in mind for future conversations. I sometimes take for granted that this world in which I spend so much time has gone mainstream, but the reality is that it hasn’t yet. I was thinking of all these great Web2.0-ie  things they could do to broaden their web presence, engage their constituents in conversation and generally spread the good word; they were thinking “what’s blogging again?”

Slow and steady wins the race….

  • After putting aside initial trepidation at seeing the “Seth Levine” bar become bold in my RSS reader (and initial suspicion that some bug had infected my computer), and then after feeling a surge in anticipation after seeing the post did not start “Dave Sifry’s latest report on the blogosphere…”, I enjoyed this post quite a bit.
    Several good points here, among them for me:
    a) non-profits have real needs – I know the folks at a CRM for non-profits company and they’re doing relaly well
    b) early adopters always need to be reminded about the mainstream
    Jeff Jarvis is really inspiring on this whole new media front. Business opportunities abound!

  • I think the non-profit executive directors have plenty of company.
    A major UK/ US difference, for instance, is the ease with which some leading US academics (Bob Sutton, Mankiw etc) have taken to blogging, whereas I am willing and keen to be corrected to find any UK academic who blogs. Indeed a poll amongst my fellow PhD community produced zero response to the simple question ‘do you blog?’ I have a very eclectic set of friends most of whom ‘get’ this new-new thing but some have not even heard of blogging and I daresay, some fib their way through conversations by using some buzz-words but can crumble easily when asked questions about their real involvement.
    So staying mindful may be a good piece of advice, but would we rather not introduce these folk to the joys of Web 2.0 or whatever label it may be going by?

  • Newspapers aren’t ready to here the social media, my media, networked blog media conversation…there’re still trying to figure out how to react to Craigslist. Print, publishing, and broadcast senior execs are fixated on the historical legacy and importance of didactic, static top-down approaches to preaching to the masses. They are unwilling to recognize that the masses are speaking to each other, forming networks, and monetizing their conversations via Adsense, YPN, etc. For non-profits the Howard Dean presidential campaign should have created a malleable template for generating buzz, soliciting donations, and steering issue-oriented debate.

  • Hope that by now the Denver United Way organizations have updated their internet presence!

  • Hope the Denver United Way organizations have updated their internet presence!