Social Media for Discovery not Decision Making (full quote from the Brookings Web forum)

I finally tracked down the quote from the Brookings Web forum from June 28, 2011 "How Social Networking Can Reinvigorate American Democracy and Civic Participation" (page with video and link to transcript here). It was from Macon Phillips, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Digital Strategy at The White House." Here's the full text of his comment:

MR. PHILLIPS: I mean you can say one other thing about that is that it’s – I think generally, at least right now, the social media tools are used for many things, but they’re certainly not used for decision-making, but they can be used for discovery. And OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy], which is a sort of part at the White House, is doing a lot of stuff on expert net and these initiatives that are really focused on bringing new experts into policy-making process, so if we’re going to invest in clean energy, can we actually find the 150 experts on clean energy who are on Twitter and put them on a list and follow them and see what they’re working on right now, and that’s – I think there’s a tendency, particularly with the political side, to look at these things as like mass public engagement, but there’s also real opportunities to find niche pools of expertise to get input, and that’s been all the more important on the government side.

In the nonprofit world, this idea is a great retort to people who say "social media doesn't work for us." They see to think that sending out the same message on Facebook that is ignored when it arrives in a nonprofit bulk rate mailer is designed for the same result -- decision making. It is (or should be) designed for discovery. Translated into the nonprofit world, that means not asking for money. ("What, you mean we have all those email addresses and we're not asking them for money?")

Instead of offering people more and more opportunities for involvement with the organization as they give more and more money we can take advantage of the automated tools and social media to offer that involvement right from the start. This means that people can observe, comment, listen, get involved, participate and become part of the organization without giving a dime. It doesn't cost anything to let people become a friend or a follower, and while they are lurking, they can see what's happening and how they can fit in. This is all part of discovery.

And when they do make a decision to get involved in a financial way, automation again rides to the rescue with microdonations. We still need the gala dinners and annual appeals, but we can now solicit five or ten dollars contributions. 

It's very hard for some people to come to grips with this reversal of the process in which access and belonging are free. And the difficulties that people have adjusting to this new model can be equally different for staff, boards, and potential donors.