Follow up to the RVA Nonprofits & Social Media Study

Okay, well it has been a very long and exciting summer and things are settling down a little bit with my new job so I figured I better come back to finish the write up on my dissertation. Previously I provided the results of the study examining the current status of social media use among nonprofit human service organizations, which you can find here. Now at the request of a fellow @VCUsocialwork PhD alum (@Jon_Singletary) and his current community organizations class, I have decided to include the implications of my study along with a bit of a discussion. I am going to try and stick to what I wrote in my dissertation since I have since become a little burnt out on the topic, which I hear is understandable. In all actuality, I am still pretty excited about this topic 😀

The following is from the last chapter of my dissertation and since I own the copyright I figure I can post it here without any repercussions.

The current status of social media use among nonprofit human service organizations is that HSO’s initially adopted social media to engage with the community. Although many HSO’s continue to do this, promoting the HSO’s programs and services has also become a top priority. This is primarily done using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to share organizational newsletters, photos from projects, links to the HSO, and other information with their online community at least twice a day. Human service organizations have been using social media for more than five years and most plan to continue using social media in the future. Although HSO’s reported using social media less than ten hours a week, they were generally satisfied with the outcomes but admitted more assistance is needed.

Although the current status of social media use among HSO’s appears promising, many aspects of using this new medium require more attention. The evidence in this study may not confirm whether the digital divide of social media among HSO’s is decreasing or increasing; however, the study does suggest that HSO’s could benefit from additional assistance. McNutt & Menon (2008) argue the digital divide is particularly problematic where “situations of e-government activity has increased technological hurdles for participating in rule making and lobbying the legislature” as organizations may be left behind (p. 37). Expanding knowledge and technological capacity may be the first steps to closing the gap.

The digital divide is an important implication to consider when thinking about the participatory culture of social media. Henry Jenkins (2006) explains that focusing on expanding access to new technologies only takes one so far if there is not also a contemporaneous fostering of the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy these tools towards certain ends. Access is important, but the development of a new skill set and knowledge is equally significant. This development stems from interaction via individuals using social media to work with a networked mindset, acting on the principles of openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making, and distributed action (Scearce, Kasper, & Grant, 2009). This is the social media ecology concept discussed in chapter one, which involves the platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, but also involves the user-generated activity of participatory culture to share information, connect with others for peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and a more empowered conception of citizenship. Closing the digital divide will be a multifaceted effort, but the use of social media and the participatory culture that it engenders will undoubtedly help to shrink the gap.

A second implication of this study is the need to think strategically about how to use social media. Many social media experts (Kanter & Fine, 2009; and Mansfield, 2011) assert the variety of benefits of using social media in the nonprofit sector. However, little empirical evidence exists that examines human service organizations directly. This study represents one of the first attempts to fill this gap in the literature and provide a foundation for future inquiry. Increased understanding of the current status of social media use among HSO’s will aid in assisting organizations with defining goals and thinking strategically about fundraising, promoting the organization, increasing transparency and accountability, as well as how to engage the community and support the organization in a way that is mutually beneficial.

The evidence from this study indicates a strategic social media plan should begin with a discussion around how to use social media and who should be involved. This means identifying who or how many individuals are responsible for the social media activities of the HSO and determining the best way to balance promoting the organization with community engagement so as to foster trust and maintain a genuine connection with the community. Respondents within this study seem to understand that social media users do not simply want advertisements, but rather real interaction with the organization. This can be done through transparency and accountability in addition to thinking creatively about community engagement. Finally, a discussion about how or whether to engage in fundraising via social media should also accompany a strategic social media plan so that precious resources are not wasted on efforts that result in diminutive dividends. Online fundraising is becoming increasingly fruitful and important (Ingenhoff & Koelling, 2009; and Rosenburg, Rooney, Steuerle, & Toran, 2011) ), but respondents in this study seem to understand that cultivating a genuine relationship with their online community will have greater dividends for the HSO in the long term.

The current status of social media use among HSO’s validates how technology is changing the way people interact. This has a profound impact on HSO’s as well as social work practice. McNutt & Menon (2008) argued, “social work advocates cannot ignore the promise that cyberspace and technology offers” (p. 38). This study demonstrates that social media cannot be ignored and that it encompasses more than just advocacy. One of the main tenets in social work is about creating connections and empowering vulnerable and oppressed populations. Social media offers these opportunities for those who care about social justice issues to empower others, share meaningful stories, raise awareness about particular issues, and to connect with others in more powerful ways. This connection is not meant to supplant the traditional face-to- face interaction, rather it is meant to support and enhance it. This is happening right now with the flow of content across multiple media platforms, which encourages people to seek out connections, new information, and to move towards a participatory culture. This is the cultural shift of convergence described by Henry Jenkins (2006). This study illustrates the profound motivation for adopting social media as respondents recognize the incredible potential for connecting with individuals and increasing community engagement for the greater good.

The power of social media and participatory culture resides within the people who are passionate enough to mobilize and respond to an issue. The ideological underpinnings of social media combined with the social purpose of HSO’s explain why this combination is a natural fit. The social media ecology and participatory culture described in chapter one encourage sharing, learning, openness, and impact individuals in deep and meaningful ways through the creation of trust and empowerment. Human service organizations also work to create trust and empower those whom they serve. Obviously this can only be done when the tools are used in an appropriate manner. However, this is one of the greatest and most exciting aspects of this new medium.

This study provides a foundation to explore best practices and offer suggestions for future research. The fact that a number of human service organizations are using social media and believe it to be valuable is an indication that this area of inquiry is important to social work practice, administration, and advocacy. The path of social media in social work holds incredible potential and should not be diminished or simply relegated to other professions. Others use this new medium and social work cannot afford to be left behind. The ecology of social media represents a new paradigm of building community, empowering others, developing a new skill set, and connecting for the greater good.

Wow, I actually  haven’t read that since I defended my dissertation last spring and it is actually pretty good. In the months sense I have started to delve into more of Henry Jenkins work around participatory culture and I am currently reading Howard Rheingold‘s new book Net Smart. I’m interested in understanding more about how social media can help nonprofit organizations, but I am equally interested in helping social workers understand how social media, the tools and the practices, can help with macro-level social work. Inherent in this should be a basic understand not only of the technology, but what it means to participate in the digital environment. You can check out Jenkins and Rheingold for more information around that, but that is essentially where I would like to go next.

I am also interested in knowing if or how many schools of social work currently incorporate social media into their macro practice courses. I know I am and that Jon is at Baylor U., but what else is being done? (Jon if you are interested in partnering on this topic just let me know lol). I see major implications, mostly positive but also some negative, for integrating social media into this realm of social work practice. I have some ideas on where to start, which I will be sharing at CSWE in November so if you will be there please stop by. Okay, I generally try to keep things short and I have gone on with this post. As always, please contact me if you have any questions or leave a comment on this post. You can always contact me via twitter @JimmySW. Thanks.


Dissertation Update…Proposal Complete!!!

I can’t believe how long it has been since I have updated, let alone actually blog. My excuse, dissertating… It completely consumed me. The good news and the point of this post is that my proposal is complete. I sent it off to my committee for review last week and my defense date is on the 26th. I do need to put together my presentation for the defense, but I think that should come together rather easy.

In case you are wondering, I am working towards a PhD in Social Work and my dissertation focuses on social media use among nonprofit human service organizations. I blogged several times about where my dissertation was going, but this is finally it. The dissertation proposal consists of the first three chapters of the dissertation and represents your rationale for doing what you want to do as well as a plan or research protocol. Once the project is complete, I will have to revisit each chapter to change to what actually happened because research can often be a muddy process. It’s supposed to be clear, but as my 10th grade math teacher used to say…”clear as mud.”

I am excited for the project as I haven’t found anything in the literature that focuses specifically on nonprofit human service organizations and their use of social media. If you know of anything, please let me know!!!!  I am conducting an exploratory analysis utilizing a cross-sectional survey design. I’m hoping to obtain a large enough sample to help out with the generalizability of the results, but time will tell. The study is meant to provide a foundation for the rest of my career and add to the literature on this emerging area. I believe social media has the power to change organizations for the better, but it’s unclear how that actually happens. Hopefully my results will help to shed some light on this area.

Once I defend my proposal I will post more on my theoretical and conceptual framework for the study as well as more about what I am doing. For now, it’s back to work. Wish me luck 😀

Dissertation Update…Degree of Persistance (PhD)

I can’t believe how fast time flies. So fast that this post is going to be pretty short. A colleague of mine said the other day that the Phd degree is not a measure of how smart you are but rather a measure or degree of your persistance.

I think it is so true because I’m really not that smart 😀 Well….actually there is some smarts in there, but persistance is such a great word because there is so much one needs to do to complete this degree. I have been working all summer on this dissertation proposal and I will continue to work on these chapters even after it is accepted. The fact is that getting PhD often means going through various hoops. I don’t mean that in an unintelligent, non academic way. But rather there are many hurdles one has to overcome to get the PhD, and there are probably tons of PhD’s out there that really are not that smart!

At any rate, I continue to persist in reaching this goal of mine and I will finish. In the mean time I hope to come back here to offer some more insights on the use of social media in the nonprofit sector. Which reminds me, I have a potential title for my dissertation so please let me know what you think.

A descriptive analysis of the current status of social media utilization among nonprofit Human service organizations.

Also, if you know of any funding sources to defray the cost of data collection, please email me or @reply on twitter @JimmySW. It would sure help out a log 😀

Quick Update

I know it has been a while since I have blogged and sorry that this post has to be so short, but things are just busy right now. Finishing up with summer school has been hectic and I’m also trying to work on a house project. Yeah, I actually do some minor construction. Jack of all trades, master of none 😀


Anyways, this post is about my dissertation. I am currently writing my first three chapters and my focus is still on how Human Service Nonprofits are using social media. I’m planning on conducting a survey among local organizations to explore the use and participation of these organizations on social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If you know of any good resources about participation or participatory culture, feel free to share. I am spending a lot of time with Henry Jenkins stuff right now, so I’m hoping to lay a good theoretical foundation for my project. Okay, well I said this would be short so there it is.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Dr. Seuss continues to Influence me!

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! This was a favorite Dr. Seuss book of mine and I never really new when I read it that I would travel so many places and experiences so many things. This also seems to be holding true for my dissertation as it continues to emerge into something actual or concrete. What I mean is that I am still focused on studying social media use in nonprofit organizations and I am particularly interested in what this has to do with making the organization sustainable. However, I am very interested in doing a dissertation that is feasible! Many individuals have continually told me that my dissertation just needs to be adequate, I just need to finish and get out of the building so I can move onto other things. I agree and don’t look at my dissertation as a game changer or something that will change the world. I figure I have my career for that.

A couple weeks ago I was presenting some of my research at VCU’s Graduate Research Symposium and was introduced to a gentlemen who works in one of the research center’s on campus. A few days later I would meet with this gentlemen in his office to discuss my research and a project his center is beginning to work on. It seems so serendipitous that we would meet and that his project closely resembles what I imagine doing for my dissertation. I don’t have all the specifics but essentially the center would like to build communities of knowledge both face to face and online. Utilizing social media, evaluating it with social network analysis, and possibly doing a few other things is very interesting to me. The project would actually provide a bit more focus as the organizations that would be surveyed ultimately work with the Autism population. I think what they have in mind is very do-able and hopefully as we continue to meet to finalize the details I will be able to report back on more progress. It’s just interesting how things turn out.

Late Night Dissertation Update

So it’s late Friday night, well actually it’s early Saturday morning, but I just can’t seem to sleep. Perhaps it’s because I’m back on this horrible sleeping schedule trying to work on this little dissertation thing. Whatever it is I decided to post an update of where I’m at, and for me it’s neutral! That seems like a weird way of putting it but it has taking me all week to feel this way. I ran into some roadblocks this week trying to discover how to measure sustainability in a somewhat objective way. Again for those who are new I am interested in understanding what makes a nonprofit organization sustainable, and not just eco-friendly (which is important) but sustainable in a way that allows the organization to keep operating. Look back at my previous post for a better definition.

I have spent the last 3 months trying to identify what makes an organization sustainable and how to measure that. I’m neutral because although I seem to have come to a dead end, it’s only for now. That is, I have spent 3 months researching and creating my own model for sustainability but it’s a model that is not very parsimonious. So basically I have created a research agenda for my career, which is a good thing. The bad thing is that I am no further along on my dissertation now than I was 3 months ago 😦 Oh well, I’m taking it in stride and moving forward with some other ideas on how social media influence organizational practice.

Really quick though, as I plan to write a more comprehensive post about my model later, but here is a snippet. The conceptual model I am thinking of as to what makes an organization sustainable consists of three concepts.
1) Financial sustainability
2)Responsiveness to the external environment
3)Adaptive Capacity

Now the reason my model is not that simple is because each of those concepts, and it’s likely I will add a few more, consists of several other variables. For instance, financial sustainability can include fundraising, social entrepreneurship, strategic partnerships, etc. Responsiveness to the external environment stems in part from contingency theory in that an organization that understands and responds to the environment will be more Fit. In my model the environment consists of the community where the organization is located, the online community the organization wishes to develop, and even the broader market in which the organization has to compete. Adaptive Capacity is the idea that the organization needs to become a learning organization. The organization must learn from its stakeholders, the environment, and become open to change (among other things).

As I have searched the literature to come up with my model I have thought of various ways in which to implement and test it. The problem is every way I think of requires at least 2-3 years of research, and I think that is just way to long for a dissertation. Thankfully my dissertation chair is helping me to understand that I need a project that is feasible and adequate. So as I said before, at least now I have a full fledged research agenda 🙂

Where does this leave me now? Well I am leaning back to some research I did a year ago looking at how organizations are using social media to help with capacity building. I want to focus my questions on Nonprofit Human Service Organizations to understand why they are using social media and then how it might help with capacity building. Part of the reason for this is there are many scales that I can use to capture capacity building efforts. However, I will likely need to adapt the scales to be more congruent with a social media focus. Luckily I am meeting with a professor next week who I hope to have as my methodologist and he is AWESOME. Okay, I am finally running out of steam. Until my next update, have a great week and thanks for reading my blog.

What is a Sustainable Organization?

If you follow my blog then you know that I am in the process of writing my dissertation. Dissertating, as many doctoral candidates affectionately describe it, can be a tedious process with frustration, heartache, blood, sweat, and tears. Luckily for me, I am only experiencing some of those characteristics.

For the past month I have been trying to identify the critical domains of sustainability within nonprofit organizations that ensure continued operations amid a host of challenges. Upon swimming through the literature I have made a bit of headway in determining a few. I’m sure there are more but this is what I have so far:
-Financial sustainability- i.e. marketing, grant funding, social enterprise, fundraising (basically a diversified funding base)
-Programmatic sustainability- i.e. enacting successful programs that demonstrate quality and other factors requisite for continued funding.
-Strategic Partnerships- collaborations, mergers, and partnerships in a myriad of styles
-Leadership- strategy (this is almost a catch all) includes being innovative, effective governance, accountability, and transparency.

Now let me back up a little bit to define what I mean by sustainability, or a Sustainable Organization. I define sustainable organizations as those that are able to use their capacity for continued operations, programs, and generally keeping their doors open. Parts of the academic literature see this as survivability, but I think sustainability is more than survivability. Survivability to me conjures images of scraping by or trying anything possible to maintain, which can have adverse effects. I actually like the United Nations definition of sustainability as well. “Doing what is required to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I think that this definition, however, lacks the necessary preparations for long-term sustainability. I see this definition as scraping by in the present, which often happens among many nonprofit organizations that don’t have the necessary capacity.

The The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (Essential Texts for Nonprofit and Public Leadership and Management)
discusses the idea of the Sustainability chasm as the inability to adapt successfully to market pressures through technology, professional marketing, corporate partnerships, sophisticated fundraising, and complex government programs. I think this chasm exist not only because of the lack of sustainability planning, but because of a general lack of capacity. Capacity building has been identified as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, abilities, processes, & resources that an organization & communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast changing world. This sounds very similar to sustainability, doesn’t it?

The way I see it, capacity building happens in concert with sustainability planning. I say in concert because I think both of these ideas are a circular process. I would generally start with capacity building, but keep in mind the focus on sustainable practices/approaches. Once sustainability is thought to have been achieved, then begin thinking about another area to work on. But don’t forget that just because something is “Sustainable” means that you can forget about it. NO! You must continue to nourish it and work on the capacity side of it so that any environmental or market pressures do not force it to collapse or become useless. That is unless of course it needs to be let go, because sometimes programs may or should come to an end.

Okay, now that there is a clear picture of what I mean (or maybe now it’s about as clear as mud), how does this relate to technology and specifically social media? Several social media strategists (actually probably hundreds) will talk about many ideas like ROI, metrics, and cultivating relationships, which is all good, true, and desperately needed in the nonprofit sector. BUT I want to step back a minute and evaluate what I am calling “Readiness.” Well, I call it readiness right now, but there might be a better term for it, and feel free to comment with your idea 🙂

What do I mean by Readiness? Social media is still relatively new, and increasing numbers of nonprofit, for profit, and public organizations are beginning to adopt its use with out really knowing what it’s all about. Reasons include fear of being left behind, the potential to leverage networks and increase funding, volunteers, etc. etc…. However, I wonder whether these organizations are thinking critically about their adoption of social media? How to sustain a social media strategy? Whether they have the capacity to support a strategy? I believe that as an organization moves to implement the use of social media, they would be wise to engage in a strategic planning process based on these questions, or similar questions.

If you are using, have used social media, and are trying to implement where you are, you could be finding that it’s not as easy as it seems. I recently had a friend express some of his frustrations with this as his organization moves to adopt social media. The fact is for some it can be anxiety provoking, the idea of giving up control of the message, granting increased access through these new channels, and what about the TROLLS???? These are valid fears, and all the more reason that organizations need to think critically about their social media strategy.

As I move forward with my proposal for my dissertation, I am hoping to survey many nonprofit organizations about their READINESS. Questions may include:
-Do you have a social media strategy?
-Where do you hope to see the greatest ROI on your social media strategy?
-What is your plan to sustain your SM strategy?
-What was your process of implementation for social media?
-How do you measure the impact of your SM strategy?

These are just a few questions, and again, if you have more then please leave a comment. I would greatly appreciate diverse perspectives on this as it helps me to stay on the ground with my thinking.

My hope is that through my dissertation I will be able to find some value in moving nonprofit organizations to adopt social media in a more meaningful way. Stay tuned…

Sick…Colds….Sick…No Sleep…

What kind of a picture does this past for you? This has been my nightmare of reality this past week as both my daughter & I caught the same cold. Things are getting better, but after two straight nights on the couch I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Thankfully, she started sleeping well again on her own.

Basically, what I am trying to say here is that I am a bit behind on all my work. I started two other blog posts that I have yet to publish. One being on the Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, and the other on sustainable nonprofit organizations. Yes, I finally completed reading the book and thus I have started my review but need to finish. I hope to have it up later this week or by Monday. The second post is on sustainability, although it’s probably not the sustainability you are thinking of. It is important to think green, and I love renewable energy solutions, but I am thinking more about an organization’s survivability. You will have to look for that post to come as well in the next few days. So until then, hoping you are feeling well this week and enjoying life.

First post about my PhD

I’ve decided to start blogging about my PhD studies in hopes that it will provide an outlet as well as keep me engaged in the process. I hope you find it interesting.

Last October I successfully passed my comprehensive exams and became a PhD Candidate. Sounds so prestigious, but in reality it was the most humbling experience I have gone through. It was tough and I’m glad it’s over. This post isn’t a reflection on that process, as I seem to have blocked most of it from memory, lol, but rather I wanted to discuss my dissertation topic.

During my doctoral studies I have focused on nonprofit management and administration. Generally speaking I have been interested in Organizational Practice, but I have specifically been interesting in technology, capacity building, and leadership. I have decided to look into the area of Sustainability and have embarked on an extensive review of the literature to decipher what this means. So far I am more confused than enlightened. Some of the things I have grappled with this week are fairly basic. For instance:
-How is Sustainability defined?
-Are there certain dimensions to sustainability?
-How is sustainability different from capacity building?

I just realized I should specify that when I am interested in sustainability, it is not environmental sustainability, although that is extremely important. I am more concerned with how a nonprofit organization maintains its sustainability or its ability to keep its doors open.

Okay, so as I have looked through a bit of the literature I have only found a few clear cut examples of sustainability.
–Financial Sustainability
–Programmatic Sustainability

As I have looked at the literature I am seeing a few other dimensions that may also impact sustainability.

Once I settle on several dimensions of sustainability, I hope to uncover how technology can impact these dimensions. I have already seen how under financial sustainability aspects such as online marketing and other technological tools can be important. Currently I am thinking of designing a study that either surveys nonprofit organizations about these dimensions/aspects, or an intervention study on how to measure these dimensions/aspects with technology. This is where social media comes in.

I did some qualitative research previously looking at how nonprofits are using social media for capacity building and one of the questions that emerged was how to measure the impact of an organization’s use of social media? Beth Kanter provides some great insight on how to measure ROI. However, I am not aware of any empirical evidence to support these ideas. I am confident that it is emerging in the literature, but this is why I feel it can be important to conduct this type of a study. Providing nonprofits with evidence of what actually works is critically important in times of economic uncertainty, for securing funding, and maintaing sustainability.

Well this post is getting a bit long, but this is the start of my dissertation. I hope you find some value in what I present here as well as grapple with my ideas and comment with some of your own. I look forward to your conversations.

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