Monday, January 5, 2009

The Year Ahead

We know we're a bit late making our predictions for 2009; more than ever, it seems, people are divided over how they think social media will be used differently this year to make change in the world. We at Cause Global know it's going to be a tough year for many social advocacy groups; we're hopeful that widespread cost-cutting will help clarify what works [and what doesn't]. At the very least, results will be more critical than ever. Impact will be measured more harshly (no more anecdotes allowed) and low-cost social media will be used more widely by businesses and nonprofits, alike, to find new levels of support.

Here's some of what we forecast:

* Managing transparency will get harder. As more cash-strapped nonprofits and social change organizations use social media—successfully—to drum up new supporters and re-engage existing ones, they'll find themselves facing larger workloads amid growing demands by new members for more individualized attention and more frequent interaction. Look for new "donor relationship management" strategies and software—along with an array of new job titles [donor relationship manager, anyone?] all aimed at better handling the roars of the crowd.

* Smaller will mean better. Many more social networks will start closing their doors to the general public, opting instead to become smaller, invitation-only groups based on members' influence and thought leadership—what Chris Brogan of New Marketing Labs calls a trend towards "velvet ropes." Look for leaner and meaner social action networks—action-oriented, semi-gated communities organized around specific projects. Members will, increasingly, be recruited based on the skill-sets the group needs to become more effective. Think grassroots re-organization, online, of what had been brick-and-mortar—sans the top-down, hierarchical org charts of older groups that tended to hinder teamwork, rapid response, and innovation.

* De-friending will become de rigueur. The social graph—not just who you know but who you're connected to based on your interests, location, your favorite causes, your profession, and so on—will shrink. Look for people to start dropping out of online social networks or becoming more selective about who they invite into their own. Increasingly, it's not how many people you can recruit to the cause. Now it's more about who can be effective that matters. Social capital—one's individual networking clout or a group's cache among thought leaders and coolhunters—will become as (or even more) important as fundraising savvy when it comes to effective social problem-solving. In the early days of e-commerce, companies began using the power of the Web to learn which customers cost them the most, then "fired" the most expensive. As social networks continue to reshape the philanthropy space, also look for more cause groups to start proactively shedding supporters who no longer participate with their dollars, time, or connections—or who fail to get results or become too demanding online. We also predict a surge in online services aimed at helping groups and individuals update, downsize, and more effectively manage their "friends" lists.

*Flash causes will proliferate. The convergence of mobile and social media will play an increasingly important role in social problem-solving, making it possible, instantly, (read cheaply) to organize, raise money, or gather attention online. Look for more on-the-fly, online "swarms" to be organized at home and abroad this year to express rapid dissent or support, or drum up volunteer aid to individuals or organizations in a heartbeat—depending on what's happening now.

* Twitter will emerge as a top new tool for social change—that is, of course, if it can tackle a series of security issues that hit the free social messaging service again today. [For more about today's Twitter hackers, see this post on the PC World blog.] HubSpot's recent State of the Twittersphere Report estimates that there are some 5 million people in the Twitter community, and that it is growing by some 10,000 new accounts per day. Key to more growth will be the types of conversations the community will have; we believe more of the tweet-stream will become cause-focused as Twitter integrates a search function—and as mobile, cause-action groups wrack up more successes using Twitter as a "citizen watch" or group-protection device in dangerous geographical and political areas. [Check out HarassMap, which enables women in the Dar El Salaam neighborhood of Cairo to anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phones. Look for Twitterized versions in China, Japan, and the United States in 2009.] Twitter also will help more groups pass or tank controversial legislation, educate citizens on the fly against public health dangers, and raise fast cash for the needy. [For more on this, check out's recent Tweetsgiving campaign, which raised $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom in Tanzania.] We also see Twitter becoming an even more popular tool for citizen-whistleblowers and journalists of all stripes.

* More companies will get social. The sputtering economy will push more companies and business interests bent on social purpose into the social media space. Blogger Ann Handley says "dwindling budgets (will) suddenly make low-cost social media look like the pretty girl at the ball." We also predict more CEOs will attempt to harness the social Web to promote themselves and their company's brand values online—as well as push for increasingly sophisticated communications strategies to keep some things out of the digital fishbowl, but successful implementation of either will be spotty.

*Impact-measurement will go micro. Cause-wired activists will devise new ways to micro-measure donor impact to keep supporters feeling more continuously engaged, online and off. A new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life project shows people expect the level of online engagement they experienced with President-elect Obama during the campaign to continue; since the election, social media experts agree that cause-wired donors and supporters of all social initiatives need now to be continuously reassured by the organizations and people they patronize that they are making a difference. While it's somewhat easier to measure progress in a political campaign by a candidate's standing in the polls or how many primaries he or she has won, it's harder to measure donor impact on, say, the alleviation of poverty. Look for major new ways by those in hard-hit social sectors to measure small [or minor] progress. We also predict an increase in the use of rapid-response teams by social action organizations expanding their activities online. Watch for nonprofit fundraising executives to start de-emphasizing traditional solicitation strategies in favor of impact measurement marketing and community organizing.

*Video games will find broader acceptance as social problem-solving tools. The serious games movement will make major strides this year using game technology to raise awareness of social problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poverty, global warming, and the genocide in Darfur. Still skeptical? Know that Food Force, a game that teaches children about hunger, has been downloaded more than 4 million times; Darfur is Dying has been played by some 3 million people and has generated what GamesforChange founder Suzanne Seggerman says are 50,000 real-world actions [including letters to members of Congress]; Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a game about poverty in Haiti created with inner-city youth in New York, is being played by more than 2 million young people around the world. Look for newer games and wider use of them in the classroom and by more causes to reach new supporters, at home and abroad.

And that's just for starters. For JD Lasica's annual list of the coming year's top social media events, click HERE. And elsewhere on the Web, here's one of our favorite musings about the year ahead, from Sean Stannard-Stockton. His recent New Year's Resolution post on his terrific blog, Tactical Philanthropy, urges those in the philanthropy field using social media this year to "make better mistakes tomorrow." Stannard-Stockton writes:

"The field of philanthropy is a bit like an uncharted wilderness...As a field, we still have an aversion to admitting that philanthropy ever fails at anything. But as everyone knows, admitting a problem is the first step to fixing it...Rather than resolve that next year we will do more, do better, do faster, let us humbly resolve that in 2009 we will make better mistakes than we did in 2008, mistakes that are a result of daring, well-informed risks—mistakes that demonstrate our willingness to embrace the unknown and try things that other people tell us can't be done. Let's make mistakes that we can be proud of..."

What are some of your predictions for the year ahead? Go ahead, tell us what we missed.

(Illustration by Miroslaw Pieprzyk for

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