Social Media and $110,000 for Clean Water

Apparently, you can earn a degree in social media now. This is absurd. Whenever people talk about the mystery of social media, I remember the concise (and wise) words of Internet friend (and real neighbor) Kelly Goodman of Travellious: “Get on Twitter. Say something funny. You’re done.”  Kelly was right, though you can swap out funny and use interesting or new or thought provoking, that works.

A whole industry now exists around social media — what is it, how do you use it, how do you “measure” the results. People will charge you a lot of money to teach you how to use things that they didn’t make, they will bamboozle you with numbers that are essentially meaningless (“We got 1.5 billion Twitter impressions!” “Uh, so what?”), they will pitch you on strategies that tell you the best time to post to Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and some fourth thing that doesn’t exist yet but will displace all of these at some point (except Facebook, which might be the cockroach of social media and will survive nuclear war.)

I call bullshit on about 97% of this stuff.  My experience has taught me that social media — like any media — works best in the hands of people who have an affinity for it. You can teach a friend or neighbor or customer, even, how to use social media in an hour or two. It takes a week to a month to get it, depending on how technical your student is and how comfortable they are with sharing. Sure, there’s some data, and some of it is valid, but most of what makes social media work is, for lack of a better phrase, human authenticity. Dude. Keep it real.

Social media, at its most basic (and, I think, its best)  is word of mouth. It’s “Hey, I just found this super interesting thing, you should check it out.” It’s “OMG, I kind of want to show you my ridiculous hat, it will make you laugh.” It’s “You are invited to my party, please come, bring your friends!” And it’s “I could use some help. Can you pitch in? Or maybe you know someone who can?” (At it’s worst, it’s spammy sales, one way broadcasting, and “Pay attention to me, dammit!” Unfollow.)

I Love Social Media. In bold. In initial caps. It was thrilling for me, when I traveled in Tanzania, to be able to post video shot out the window of the bus and then chat with my readers about what I was seeing. When I stopped over in Buenas Aires on my way to Ushuaia, I had a date waiting for me, a connection made through social media. I learned to make mochi by hand in Honolulu via a social media connection. I once got on a plane to Antwerp and spent the weekend with a woman I’d “met” via social media. Social media is an amazing tool for connecting dots and making things happen.

It is terrifically annoying when people use social media in ways that are inherently not social. It’s the friend who tries to sell you something when you meet for coffee, it’s the coworker who never snaps in focus to say, “Oops. Blah blah blah, me me me. Sorry. What’s up with YOU?” after reporting on their epic weekend. It’s the difference between using a tool and being a tool. It’s not broadcast media, it’s social. It’s a two way street. Or a roundabout, maybe, in which there are avenues that could lead to … who knows where? Somewhere amazing, if you follow the right signs. (The wrong ones take you to a used car lot. Be careful.)

Washing with clean, safe water

Passports with Purpose (PwP) just closed its fifth annual fundraiser. Through some insane dot connecting, about 600 socially wired people were able to raise over one hundred thousand dollars to fund a well building project in Haiti. PwP thrives through a combination of “Come to my party” and “This thing is interesting, let me tell you about it” and “Hey, a little help over here, please?” Yes, there’s a technology infrastructure, but the social media piece of it, you don’t need to pay a consultant hundreds of dollars to teach you this stuff. (In fact, if you’d like to do that, I tell you what. Why don’t you hire me for two hours and give the rest of your budget to Get on Twitter. Say something funny. We’re done here.

With some Salinger-esque exceptions, humans are social. Passports with Purpose taps into that by looking for the intersection between people who are travelers, people who are social, and people who feel compelled to make the world a little bit better than it was when we got here. We talk to people that hang out in those overlapping circles and say, “Hey, check this out, I think you’ll like it.”

It’s not rocket science. It’s just social. And it works.

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12 thoughts on “Social Media and $110,000 for Clean Water

  1. My most stellar social media happening came even before people started calling it “Social Media”. Remember Prodigy? I discussed travel to Greece with a bunch of knowledgeable people (none of whom were there for the purpose of promoting blogs, which also hadn’t been invented yet) and I met a guy who owned a sailboat in the Aegean. And I wound up sailing with my husband and six friends around the Cyclades. Miraculous!
    Then in the new age of social media, there was Passports with Purpose….I’ve already said all my words about that wonderful project. One more time-THANK YOU.

  2. As one of those people who charges other people to fiddle with social media dials and buttons on their behalf, I could probably get all offended by this… But I’m not. In fact, I agree with you. I do think when you’re talking about doing social media on behalf of a business, it’s more complicated than just “be funny,” but on the whole, I agree with you.

    This: “social media — like any media — works best in the hands of people who have an affinity for it.” This is why people pay people like me to handle social media. It’s why businesses hire marketing experts, designers, etc. Sure, they could teach someone in-house to do it. You can teach someone from the warehouse to design an ad or someone from accounting to write a press release, but the ad would look like someone from the warehouse designed it and the press release would read like someone from accounting had written it. We hire people to do the stuff we either can’t be bothered to figure out, or it’s not worth our time to figure out how to do it well enough.

    But really, this is the line that really got me: “It’s the difference between using a tool and being a tool.” I’m sick of hearing how “Twitter is just about people talking about what they had for lunch,” or “Pinterest is just about wedding bouquets and food in jars.” These are the tools du jour. How we use them determines how useful they are to us. If you’re not finding one of these social media tools useful/fun/interesting, then figure out how to use it differently or stop using it – but don’t blame the tool. That’s just dumb.

  3. Great post. I think anyone can learn the basics of social media extremely quickly, but the people who do well out of it in my experience tend to be the same people who already possess highly developed social skills. The Passports with Purpose campaign has a whole lot of emotional intelligence underlying it – it’s basically asking people to donate their hard-earned cash, one of the hardest possible gigs online. Major plaudits to the organisers for pulling it off so well.

  4. What you said. I agree with everything in this post. But this, THIS
    “It’s the difference between using a tool and being a tool.”
    is the sort of line that would invoke deep jealousy in a writer less secure of herself than I am. (OK, yeah — I’m jealous.)

  5. Social Media degree? Pffft. I have to agree with you. Communications degree, yes. But not Social Media degree. That’s like saying to an art student that they can get a degree in brushes. I received my degree in advertising and my Master degree in Professional Communications and have been working in the field for over 20 years and taught as an adjunct professor Intro to Advertising classes at University for three years. I’m excited that Social Media is changing the world of how we communicate and persuade–it’s just a new channel or medium and like all media its purpose is different like outdoor advertising (which makes me want to throw up) is to print advertising. If people are getting degrees in Social Media they’re missing a big step in understanding the basics of communication and what real meaningful data is. I can always “buy” followers or “Likes” but guess what, that’s not sustainable and it’s very short term. Don’t let anyone fool you. Especially someone with a Social Media degree.

  6. Once again, your words are so well strung together, thank you for keeping it real on all this. Learning by doing is my simple strategy.
    Congrats on the PwP success this year and great to meet you in LA, I will go see Sam at the Kapa’a uke store next month.

  7. OK, so, I’ve been appointed social media director for the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. I have intimate familiarity with the subject matter, can ‘write short’ (as in display copy heds and deks), install plenty of links and video, and have an FB and Twitter account. The issue is two-fold. 1) How do I convert my (personal/professional) FB friends to check out and ‘like’ the new VIMFF page and 2) get them to “follow me (VIMFF) on Twitter”. This is a two-fold exercise a) engage a growing segment of people interested in mountain travel/adventure to come out and support our events (the show tours nationally in a ‘Best of’ format, annually) and b) – trickier – analyzing those social media contacts (and our e-mail database of 10,000 plus) to go after/cement relationships with new sponsors to bring in to the festival. When bloggers and corps communicators are wondering or frustrated by social media, THIS is the crux of the issue. How does effort expended (someone has to understand the medium – you just can’t hit ‘send’ in HootSuite and hit all your channels accurately) which could be used elsewhere result in tangible ROI that you can take to an executive board and say, x effort = x2, ergo, 100 percent ROI. Furthermore, you need to expend effort on data capture (understanding Google Analytics) and setting up an SEO worthy blog to keep your numbers up. We’ve got the stories, and the talent to get them out there, but there needs to be both stickiness and an accurate measure of HOW that stickiness drives sales and sponsorship opportunities. And I’m well aware of what happens when you don’t have the right tool – either a person, or a screwdriver – for the job. Setting up the accounts, etc. is only the very, very beginning. There’s a lot of good advice when it comes to actual messaging in this story, but it does not go quite far enough. Thanks for listening.

    • So, hi, Steve, should you end up in Seattle, we should totally have coffee.

      Here’s my thing with social media. Yes, businesses are trying to ROIinvestmentize monitize optimize commoditize incentivize social media. And this is just one woman’s opinion: It’s SOCIAL. And when you +ize social relationships, you suck the social out of them. It’s Xmas day here, and I can see who’s programmed Twitter and who’s real. And I got into a white hot fury when, while the news was breaking about the horrific Newtown shootings, my Twitter feed was punctuated with pitches for travel specials.

      It’s several years ago now that I attended SxSW — that year it seemed like every third session was on how to sell the suits on the fuzzy value of social media. I get it, but in retrospect, I think it was much ado about nothing. What’s the ROI on attending a party? How to you optimize your trips to the water cooler? Can you monitize a conversation you have with a stranger at the bus stop… or should you?

      I’m an advocate for the organic. You absolutely can’t just “hit send on HootSuite” — that’s spam. And ROI, until you can find a way to measure ROI on word of mouth, remains notoriously hard to track. So why force it into that box? Companies have “evangelists” who go out into the world and talk about why they think such and such a product is swell… social media is different (or I think SHOULD only be different) in that it has a digital vapor trail.

      • I would happily take you up on your Seattle coffee offer!

        There’s a lot of similarity between the two cities, though Vancouver does not have anywhere CLOSE to the employment juggernaut of Microsoft and Boeing – and, well, never will. (HootSuite to the contrary…)

        I actually attended my first social media conference four years ago in Whistler, at the height of the recession. It was aimed at sports marketers, and I could hear everyone’s teeth grind when whomever the guru du jour was talked about ‘dedicating proper resources to social’ – especially since most of ’em had had their budgets cut, actually SLASHED, as the industry went through massive upheaval (hey, it’s marketing – who didn’t get dinged in that downdraft). I could literally see thought bubbles along the lines of “OK, so they’ve integrated sales and marketing and corporate communications and ‘rightsized’ by 25 percent and now you want me to Tweet every four hours?

        There was a lot of desperation in the industry at the time (and there still is, though some of the weak have been culled and the rest of ’em – well, they are simply used to the ‘new reality.’ In a sense, e-mail was of course the original social media communication (until marketers ruined it – the original spammers) and then there was MySpace, and we know were that ended, and now we have Facebook, which I really didn’t get until I had 450 or so ‘friends’ (pretty much all of ’em in media relations and marketing) so that I could study how other key people were using it (and… it’s like my brain, I figure I’m only using about 15 percent of it).

        I completely agree with your analogies – like, do companies ‘monitor conversations’ that happen in their parking lots – well, no, that would be downright creepy. (Hey, I see you bought one of those sweet new Arc’teryx packs – why did you choose it?’) How would you ever monetize that? Why would you ever think you could? And now we have user reviews, anyway, so people can figure the score, for the most part. (Most products sold in the outdoor industry are actually pretty darned good – and the cheap crap is sold to people who don’t give a rat’s ass in the first place. Plus, there’s an enormous amount of superb used gear in the marketplace as well).

        So yes, we have this digital trail of breadcrumbs out there, and all of these communications channels – even though they may be more cost effective than, say, direct mail – need to be customized for each ‘tool’. (Which is… why I don’t quite get HootSuite – but that multichannel stuff is the fluff, it’s corporate account management at the IT level that’s apparently attractive and creates the ‘revenue stream.’)

        And no, I haven’t checked my Klout score in a long, long time. I’ve just picked up the phone and asked someone out for coffee.

  8. I love your take on the whole social media world. It really is crazy how social media has become almost unsocial for many businesses. I love using it for travel the way you do, though. I took a tango lesson in Buenos Aires from someone I met on Twitter and have met so many other wonderful bloggers on the road through it, as well.

    ps: congrats on reaching such an amazing goal for PwP!

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