Why a perpetual state of anxiety?

Alison Fine just wrote a report on the use of social media tools among Overbrook Foundation human rights grantees, for, um, the Overbrook Foundation.  Her top-line finding: “a perpetual state of anxiety” among nonprofits about “Web 2.0” tools:

  • Overall, the grantees are firmly entrenched in the Web 1.0 world,
    meaning that grantees use the web largely as a source of information
    rather than interactivity. 
  • A small handful of grantees, for instance Witness, the ACLU,
    Breakthrough, WYNC Public Radio, are using social media in spectacular
    ways to engage their constituents in conversations.
  • Most grantees are not taking advantage of easy-to-use social media
    tools effectively. The first is the fact that only half have blogs, and
    that only half of these groups allow comments on their blogs.
  • Survey respondents and group discussion participants often felt a
    “common struggle” in understanding which tools are critically important
    to their work and were at a loss as to where and how to get help for
    selecting and using new social media tools.

Alison asks for comments.  Here’s mine, which is admittedly not based on having read the report yet:

I wonder how much of this anxiety is the product of nonprofit sector consultants and pundits hyping Web 2.0 tool after Web 2.0 tool.  

How short was the hype cycle of MySpace?  Of Flickr?  Of YouTube?  Of Facebook?  Of Second Life?  Are all of these important?  Equally?  Should all nonprofits be doing all of these things, plus blogging, social bookmarking, IM, screencasting, user-generated content, etc. etc. etc.?

I think the message that nonprofits are getting from us “yes, and wait until you see what we’re excited about next!”  I’ve seen a lot more enthusiasm for these tools than reflective analysis of their real-world value in organizations with scarce resources.  And I think that’s what’s creating a lot of anxiety.

Or maybe I’m just having a curmudgeonly day. 😉

I’m looking forward to digging into Alison’s report in depth.

(Hat tip to Beth.)

4 thoughts on “Why a perpetual state of anxiety?”

  1. Yep, the message should be how to just say no and feel okay about that. And, I think you’re having a curmudgeonly day. Having just returned from a developing country where there is both a huge hunger for these tools and some real access barriers, they didn’t reveal any anxiety.

  2. Hi, Jon, I don’t know you so I don’t know if you’re being more curmudgeonly than usual today, but I appreciate your thoughts nonetheless!

    The dichotomy that Beth points out – eager activists in a third world country who can’t get enough of the new tools, and a CEO of a large, ditinguished institution here who has to constantly raise money and meet the expectations of boards and funders (talk about curmudgeonly!) is striking. I felt that core of the anxiety was feeling like they’re working as hard and fast as they can — and yet, still can’t keep up with all of the gadgets and widgets.

    But, you’ll see in the report that it is not a hopeless situation at all, but it’s very important that these grantees focus on connecting with their constituents in more meaningful ways — not just in faster, zippier ways fueled by the latest gizmo and widget. Thinking about how to connect side-to-side, how to become more open and better listeners (this perhaps more than anything) are far more important than jumping on the latest, greatest social networking tool bandwagon.

    I look forward to hearing more about what you think once you’ve had a chance to review the report.

  3. Well, Jon, I’m always curmogeonly. 🙂

    I think part of the anxiety is that it’s not at all clear to anyone yet (no, not even us) in what concrete ways these tools are going to be useful for the missions of nonprofit organizations. I think for some organizations in some particular situations (their main constituency is youth, they already are very online savvy, etc.) there is more obviousness to the utility of these tools. But for garden variety nonprofits, I think that they see us (and others) using these tools, hear a lot of hype about them, and don’t really know which ones are going to be useful, and to what extent they will be dropping time down one big sink hole. No wonder they are anxious!

    I’m blogging, del.icio.us-ing, flickr-ing, Linking-In, facebook-ing (no, I will not twitter!) and so far, my blog is the only thing that I can be clear has lead to a (very, very slight) enhancement of my mission (that is, getting clients that I can help with stuff.) And I have my own level of anxiety about whether the time I spend doing these things (which adds up to a lot, actually,) is going to actually make a difference.

    But it is fun knowing when Beth is jetlagged, and you’re “over the hump.” 🙂

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