Productive use of social media requires smart thinking

Jeff Patrick
Jeff Patrick

Jeff Patrick

Facebook, Twitter, social networking and social media – all shiny new technologies with great potential.

Before this wave of innovation, there was the Internet, and before that personal computers.

With each wave of advancement, a small number of nonprofits rushed in, seeing the intrinsic potential of the new technology.

The majority of groups, while open to new ideas, nonetheless waited for a clear value proposition.

A third, smaller group, quite risk-averse, waited even longer, eventually investing only after significant pressure from stakeholders.

Marketers call these groups “early adopters,” “mainstreams,” and “laggards,” respectively.

This technology adoption curve is pretty common; you’ve likely seen it before.  Far less common are nonprofits that choose a strategic position on the curve, so they can leverage that choice rather than simply living with the consequences.

Early adopters of social-networking technology are being driven by visionary leaders who see the technology as an opportunity to alter the online experience from a one-way discussion of organization to individual, to a three-way discussion of organization to individual, individual to organization, and individual to individual.

The potential rewards are massive – more quickly and cost-effectively assembling a geographically dispersed base of virtual, high-affinity, deeply committed supporters.

Socially enabling their organization’s mission, and doing it first, is an entrepreneurial  swat at differentiating their group from its peers, while assembling an asset worth millions, literally.

For a great example, check out Sierra Club’s Climate Crossroads community (

On the other hand, early adopters wrestle with a fragmented software marketplace — many vendors, no clear leaders, and the thrill of hoping their chosen vendor survives the inevitable market consolidation.

Then there are the immature software platforms – not-so-friendly user interfaces, limited feature sets, and buggy performance.

Let’s not forget the longer implementation cycles, and an incomplete framework of methodologies and best practices.

And lastly, the dearth of benchmarks.

That all translates to more risk — a greater chance that the investment in dollars, people, social capital, and brand won’t pay off.

So where is your organization?

I’ll bet that you, like so many organizations, indirectly evolved into your position on the adoption curve.

A combination of personalities, leadership style, culture, priorities, economic climate and competitive landscape nudged and shuffled you into a position without your team ever formally asking or answering this question.

Now, imagine if you took the time to formalize the process, making it an integral part of your strategic planning process.

Sound valuable?


Jeff Patrick is president and founder of Common Knowledge.

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