Time to Rethink Your Approach to Social Media?

March 16th, 2010

Last December, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Internet, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hosted the DARPA Network Challenge to explore the role of the Internet and social networking in contemporary communication.  Whether influenced by recent events, like political protest in Iran or Columbia, or not, the rules of the contest were simple.  DARPA moored ten eight foot red weather balloons in different locations across the continental United States, and teams tried to track them down as quickly as possible.  While most of us were putting the finishing touches on our holiday shopping, a team from MIT tracked down all ten balloons in just under nine hours.

For skeptics, social media sites like Twitter have long been easy targets of criticism, but as David Carr recently noted in the New York Times, “On Twitter, anyone may follow anyone, but there is very little expectation of reciprocity. By carefully curating the people you follow, Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people in their respective fields, whose tweets are often full of links to incredibly vital, timely information.”

Twitter has been establishing itself as a business tool in a number of innovative ways. Connecting users with services and products as diverse as the locations of mobile food trucks, to direct marketing for just about everything under the sun, improving customer feedback, and raising the profile of businesses big and small by sharing information.

The demographics of Twitter users may surprise you, but its usefulness should not.  As Clay Shirky notes in his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, “It will be hard to wait out Twitter because it is lightweight, endlessly useful and gets better as more people use it. Brands are using it, institutions are using it, and it is becoming a place where a lot of important conversations are being held.”

Reconsidering?  In the current climate of economic uncertainty, social media offers potential growth for philanthropy, whether you’re fundraising or friend raising.  Take a moment to follow up with some useful advice: There is plenty no more than a mouse-click away.  Develop a simplified approach that best fits you and your organization, and let your imagination and creativity run wild.  Whether someone is trying to find a cupcake truck in Beverly Hills or working with people they’ve never met to find a weather balloon, Twitter is changing the way we relate to one another.

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