The last time we chatted with social media expert Allison Fine, in 2010, her second book, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Social Change (co-authored with Beth Kanter), had just been published. In that book, Fine and Kanter exhorted nonprofits to become comfortable with the social media tool set and to use those tools to encourage two-way conversations, simplify their work, and make themselves more transparent to stakeholders, constituents, and potential donors. A valuable follow-up to Fine's first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (which won the 2007 Terry McAdams National Nonprofit Book Award), The Networked Nonprofit helped shift the conversation around nonprofit adoption of social technologies and cemented its authors' reputations as thought leaders in the field.
Earlier this week we caught up with Fine as she was preparing to launch her latest book, Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, and found her to be as funny and passionate about the power of social technologies as ever.
Philanthropy News Digest: Your new book argues that we're living in a time of tremendous change and disruption, and that one result of all this change is a shift in power from institutions to individuals. If this is the age of the empowered individual, why do so many people feel so overwhelmed by forces outside their control?
Allison Fine: We are moving from a world ordered by institutions to a more chaotic one where any person can use the social media toolkit to, say, start a newspaper or a business on their computer, share their artistry online, or organize a protest. This kind of disaggregation is freeing but also noisy and a little bit frightening. What do you pay attention to when unfiltered information is flying every which way? That's why I wrote the book. Everybody can have a voice, but it is up to organizations, particularly cause-driven organizations, to ensure that smart and reasonable voices are heard.
PND: "Matterness" is a multi-layered concept. How would you explain it to someone who isn't tech savvy and whose idea of giving back is to write a couple of checks to her favorite charities at the end of the year?
AF: I don't think of "Matterness" as a tech idea, I think of it as a fundamentally human notion: every person deserves to matter, but we need organizations to sustain any kind of change effort. Rather than embrace that idea, however, organizations continue to work hard to distance themselves from their own constituents in order to sustain the illusion of control. In a disaggregated world, a world that has gone from three TV channels to thousands on cable and online, only organizations that treat their constituents like real people with their own unique talents are going to survive.
Hurrah and thank you to anyone who wants to write a check to their favorite cause! But here is an experience a lot of people can relate to: a friend of mine wrote to her college and said she didn't have any money to give but she could mentor some aspiring undergraduate female scientists. The college wrote back and said, "We'd rather have a check." This unresponsiveness has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the default settings embedded in organizations, settings that assume people on the inside are smarter than the people on the outside and that if everyone just did what they were told, everything would go fine. There are a huge number of people who want to bring their talents, intelligence, networks, and good will to causes who are being locked out right now because the organizations behind those causes are in the habit of only asking for donations. Reordering the relationship between people and organizations is the core of what needs to change.