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Why short-termist thinking is killing social media potential

06/10/2010

Steve Bridger is a well-respected (rightfully so) and experienced online community builder.  His blog this week was interesting and challenged pervading views that social media isn’t successful for organisations.

“The so-called failures of social media to deliver are misplaced; rather they are the result of our own failure to commit – to sustain an online presence for more than a fleeting, one-night stand.”

Personally, I think this makes sense. If we all gave up learning to swim after the first uncomfortable width, we’d never appreciate the benefits of being able to snorkel or scuba dive in the future.  Experience of hindsight tells us that some things will be worth persevering with.

However, following meetings with several community groups and fundraisers recently, I’ve been forced to think a bit differently (or perhaps more sympathetically).  Social media effectiveness can be viewed through a number of different lenses, all of which impact very heavily on people’s perceptions of investing in digital activities.  The summary of their views looked like this:

  • Fundraisers don’t often have the luxury of time before financial pressures bite and this leads to them potentially devaluing activities which do not make cash registers ring on a regular basis
  • It’s difficult to attribute financial value to social media so Finance and Commercial Directors are reticent to commit to developing longer term plans
  • Volunteer managers need to recruit volunteers to deliver projects in the immediate and short term as well as further down the line
  • Community groups are often under-resourced to deliver what they perceive as core objectives, let alone social media programmes (which aren’t perceived as core)
  • As yet there is no proven, widely-available formula which can be lifted ‘off the shelf’ and applied by smaller or less technically-oriented teams.

These all seem to be tangible reasons not to invest the time in social media that Steve so passionately talks about.  But why?  In my humble opinion, the common factor seems to be time-pressured Return On Investment (ROI).  What we expend in terms of time and money needs to make a return of XXX this year.  This accounting period.  This month, even.  There seems to be less and less opportunity for experimentation, for learning, for slower-burn but ultimately more fruitful endeavours.

And I think this short-termist approach will ultimately damage our organisations and our communities.  After all, wasn’t it such an approach that led to the economic crisis we are all trying to escape?

I don’t hold that just because technology enables us to do something we should automatically do it and an ipad just doesn’t turn me on.  But we really can’t ignore the fact that if we don’t plan and act with at least some focus on the future, we won’t have a sustainable future.  That means using technology to build sustainable communities alongside other methods.  Experimenting with new ideas alongside more proven tactics.    Securing future donors and volunteers whilst working with today’s counterparts.

Basically, as Steve suggests, investing sufficient time into programmes that will benefit us beyond the end of this financial quarter.

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