• “Doing” digital technology

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    “Digital technology” is something like a buzzword in social entrepreneurship communities. It’s a step up from “social media” (as a buzzword, not in reality) but it still carries some of the same resonances. Ok, but what exactly can digital technology really do for you? For your social business? For the world?

     Courtney E. Martin, author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors, wrote a piece at the beginning of December for the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “Transforming Democracy Through Digital Technology: Five lessons from groundbreaking women,” which was essentially a delineation of what she learned from moderating a TEDxWomen conference panel called “Power of Technology to Transform Democracy.” Whether or not democracy can be “saved”  — and by technology no less — was the bigger question here. Martin broke it down into five easily digestible lessons from the panel: 1) “It’s not just you. No one’s got it quite right yet;” 2) “Don’t build it. They won’t come;” 3) “You are not the target user;” 4) “Data is where it’s at;” and last but certainly not least, 5) “Optimism is the technology we need most.” The point is that everyone is struggling and trying to negotiate digital technology with larger questions of democracy, civic action and citizenship. Martin’s last point, about promoting optimism, was echoed by the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. But the Girls Who Code ‘About’ page isn’t filled with optimism, really at all. Take a look at some of the stats:

    Today, just 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and less than 10% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders. Yet females use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts and represent the fastest growing demographic online and on mobile, creating more than two-thirds of content on social networking sites. Technology companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment, and companies with women on technical teams increases teams’ problem-solving ability and creativity. 

    The numbers speak for themselves. By 2018, there will be 1.4 million computer science-related job openings, yet U.S. universities are expected to produce enough computer science graduates to fill just 29% of these jobs. And while 57% of bachelor’s degrees are obtained by women, less than 14% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.

    And yet. “Forget the bells and whistles—a lot of these entrepreneurs voiced that the most difficult hurdle they face is getting people to believe in the political and democratic process again,” Martin wrote. “All the websites and apps in the world can’t substitute for the fundamental power of people believing that a) this nation is still ‘perfectible’ and b) they are part of the solution.” And so, maybe the reality of it all is that technology isn’t the place for answers but a place to create more questions about how to innovate, which means, how to fail and push forward in light of whatever it is you want to do with social entrepreneurship.

  • Framing the conversation differently

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Image via BBC’s coverage of the US presidential debate, published October 4, 2012

    If your Twitter feed is anything like my Twitter feed, United States debate nights can sometimes feel like the busiest (and buzziest) time of all. Of course, the great thing about Twitter is that you can edit who or what news source you want to garner information from. Everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Chris Rock parodies to Guardian journalists and my local Toronto weekly weighed in on tonight’s election. I’m sure, if you follow writers and journalists and, well, perhaps anyone with an opinion and an affinity for live-Tweeting, you got your dose of the 2012 U.S. elections, that is, unless you steered way clear of the Internet in general. (Smart cookie.) What is the role of and for social entrepreneurship in the realm of politics? In June, in the wake of the Greek election, Jon Henley of The Guardian wrote about how “social enterprise is one answer to economic strife” when it comes to the so-called Greek crisis. “[I]t is simplistic – not to say untrue – that there is ‘no sense of community’ in Greece,” Henley illuminated. “It is just that it rather got forgotten. Projects like these fit Greece’s current needs, and its mood.” What fits the global mood? Or perhaps more importantly, the global need? Certainly, the way in which global politics are shaped by U.S. imperialism means that the debates, even though they may not mention social entrepreneurship and its impact, matter. Of course. Entrepreneurship and small business has, for decades, been an important source of rhetoric in U.S. politics because of is alignment with self-help, work ethic and, of course, the American Dream at large. JJ Ramberg, the host of msnbc’s Your Business, said this in Forbes earlier in October:

    Small businesses (especially new small businesses) are a strong driver of job growth in this country and right now there is a tremendous amount of attention paid to entrepreneurs. In the first presidential debate, the candidates said the words “small business” more than 25 times. Many of the big issues such as taxes and healthcare have also been framed around how they affect small businesses.

    The question is: how do we get social entrepreneurship to be part of the conversation? And how should it be framed differently than the tune of small business?

  • Ways to use social media for social business

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

     This list is by no means exhaustive, but it can help the small social business owner start up and consider their social media options. The best thing about social media is a low-cost way to spread your message – and meaning – in the way that maximizes productivity. But, yes, it can be time consuming. And that’s time that’s precious for start-up social businesses and enterprises that already have their resources spread thin.

    Canadian entrepreneur Amber Mac was featured on the Lavin Agency’s YouTube channel and she discussed how, for some, social media can be overwhelming. It’s true that even though there’s an immense amount of stuff (What stuff?!) available on our smart phones, laptops and hey, even on our digital wristwatches. Mac notes that there are statistics to prove that many people are less productive in the workplace. “It’s about using the right tools and being smarter,” she said. “You don’t need to live inside Twitter all day long.”

    Remember: be effective and be productive. Don’t waste your time, because in the end, your time is your company’s resources.

    Frame content for distinct platforms

    “Social media” is a broad, broad term that encompasses everything from web-based technologies like blogs to mobile-based technologies like iPhone apps. The list goes on and on, of course. For businesses, it’s important not to lump all of it together. Here are a few tips for creating distinct content among those social media platforms that you do decide is best for you and your social business. For instance, I advise not to cross-post Twitter and Facebook (or any platform!). Twitter is a place where you can tweet 12, even 24 times a day and you won’t necessarily annoy your readership. It’s the norm. But Facebook is a slower paced friend, and its users gravitate toward image-friendly links and albums. So utilize that to the best of your ability.

    Say what you mean

    If you’re doing a mini study on LinkedIn about what you think your customers would like (or not like), ask them straight up! Or maybe even use a platform like Survey Monkey if you think your customer base is strong enough in terms of participation rate. Don’t beat around the bush or undermine the intelligence of your customers.

    Mix it up

    Pictures and links and questions, oh my! These are a few of the things that make social media users click, share and engage. It’s important not to get stuck in a rut of the same old, but rather, make a conscious effort to vary your content. If anything, ask yourself what you’d like to see from a company that you love.

    Use hashtags and participate in Tweet Chats to maximize your reach

    Moving World collected a resource of the top 13 hashtags for social entrepreneurs, enterprises and investors. No need to memorize them, but keep them in mind, especially when prioritizing your messaging.


    Keep an eye out for new social media platforms that are taking off. For instance, while many people jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon, it hasn’t yet completely taken off in the social business world. If you set yourself ahead of the curve, you could reap the benefits. In the case of Pinterest specifically: do you have awesome images of your product and/or service? Consider new platforms and if you think it would work for you but don’t just join and use your time if not.

  • Thoughts on SSIR’s ‘Driving Innovation and Impact with Digital Media’ webinar

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org

    As a community manager for SocialBusiness.org, I was eager and ready to tune in to Stanford Social Innovation Review‘s webinar today, “Leading in a Hyperconnected World: Driving Innovation & Impact with Digital Media.” The line-up was pretty impressive: Ben Hecht, President & CEO, Living Cities; Claire Diaz Ortiz, Head of Social Innovation, Twitter; Steve Downs, Chief Technology & Information Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Regina Starr Ridley, Publishing Director, Stanford Social Innovation Review.

    Essentially, it all came down to this: how can we use digital and social media effectively? By “we,” I’m specifically referring to the collective “us,” those of us who are in the realm of creating social change whether it’s through business, charity, government or civil society. The go-to example for Twitter-meets-transformation is the Arab Spring. Ortiz explained how the events that went on there “took on a new face” because of those who could access the viral information. For instance, the #jan25 hashtag was started by a 21-year-old female student in Egypt.

    Hecht also explored the change-making aspects of digital media and pointed to paradigm shifts. He said there is an “increased understanding that in fact to solve the world’s problems you need to work together because it’s so complex.” Because of the extent of the complications that the world is (and has been) knee-deep in, we can’t rely on one actor; collaboration is key.

    It’s no surprise that people (especially “web-y” people) tend to romanticize the impacts of digital media. In explaining another paradigm shift, Hecht mentioned the ubiquitous argument of how the “means of consuming and sharing news and information is widely democratized and inexpensive.” True. But what about the digital divide? Even if we look within and not across countries, it’s clear that access isn’t at all equal.

    “A report last year by the World Bank estimated that every 10-percentage-point increase in the availability of broadband boosted economic growth by 1.2 percentage points in developed countries,” Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish wrote in the Globe and Mail in 2010. The global digital divide has similar implications.

    However, even if not everyone has access to the same information—and access to how that information is disseminated—”ideas can go viral,” as Hecht confirmed. I mean, just look at the #Kony2012 campaign. And so, during the webinar, there was talk about real-life engagement, so to speak. That is, what happens to all of this online action, networking and communication? Where does it go?

    Hecht asked, “How do you go beyond short-term media and move it into the long-term commitments that are needed for change?” Aptly, Ortiz responded: “Socia media is the tool. There has always been a tool.”

  • Five socially oriented Pinterest accounts to follow

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org.

    The social sector is often given flack for not jumping on the bandwagon fast enough when it comes to new technologies, and especially, social media. But when resources are strained, tweeting your latest innovation sometimes seems like the last thing on your mind. Times, indeed, are a-changing. Everyone, everywhere, in whatever industry, is taking social media seriously. (And often, too seriously.)

    To those who care (or pretend to care): it’s been ordained that Pinterest is the web’s latest social media darling. Of course, Fancy, Pinterest’s potential rival, is also getting a lot of love lately, however, Fancy focuses on, well, selling. Products are the name of the game with Fancy, whereas Pinterest’s platform more easily allows for the sharing of ideas.

    When it comes to social good, however, Pinterest isn’t exactly a mecca of sharing. In early February, Mashable rounded up 15 of the Most Popular Pictures on Pinterest. This was it in a nutshell: baked goods, sappy quotes and wedspiration (wedding inspirations, duh). But socially oriented Pinterest accounts are out there. And there are more than this list, obviously. But here are a few that the Social Business Pinterest account follows, likes and repins.


    What? Spicy kimchi stew recipes, out-of-this-world environment-friendly architecture concepts and “the most craptastic urban rebranding efforts ever” (Grist’s words, I swear).

    What’s the cause? The environment—and the independent journalism industry that cares about it.

    What to expect? All green everything.

    Notable board? This made us LOLZ

    Project Repat

    What? This social business pins the best of their hypervisual tees, circle scarves and bags.

    What’s the cause? Recycling excess t-shirts while creating jobs by collaborating with the worker-owner cooperative Opportunity Threads.

    What to expect? Fun mixed with sass. My bet is that their “Glenn Beck is a moron” printed bag will take off faster than you can say “ASAP.”

    Notable Board: Repat Roadtrip

    Echoing Green

    What? A mix of sweet-and-simple quotes, social innovation reads and visual explanations of why the non-profit does what it does—and does it well.

    What’s the cause? A network and hub for entrepreneurs, students and investors looking to build innovative solutions to global issues.

     What to expect? Inspiration. I know, I know, Pinterest is supposedly alllll about inspiration, but Echoing Green’s boards, from ‘Intriguing Infographics’ to ‘Social Innovation’ and ‘Purpose,’ are aimed to rouse you toward action.

    Notable Board: Social Innovators Collective

    Amnesty International USA

    What? The range here is broader than broadway. Everything from marketing posters from the organization itself to film recommendations and facts. Unlike smaller social business and nonprofit Pinterest accounts, Amnesty predominately pins their own content.

    What’s the cause? You already know: Amnesty is the biggest human rights organization in the world. 

    What to expect? Variety.

    Notable board: Little Activists

    Much Better Adventures

    What? Surfing, skiing, hiking. Repeat.

    What’s the cause? Working to make travel local, ethical and sustainable.

    What to expect? Photography so trippy you’ll think LSD made a comeback.

    Notable board? Morocco Planning