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Organizing Everyone October 12, 2009

Posted by moving4word in Understanding social media.
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What have you done on the social web today? Perhaps you checked your email, uploaded pictures from your weekend on Facebook, and are now reading this blog as inspiration for your own :). How has the explosion of internet-based social networking changed your life and what will these media mean for our society’s future? Clay Shirky addresses these complex questions in his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

According to Shirky, the internet becomes socially interesting when it becomes ubiquitous and seems as ordinary as pen on paper. In his words, “revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” Social tools allow people to easily create the associations with others that they naturally crave. Traditionally, to coordinate large groups of people working for a common goal, organizations needed a costly hierarchy of management to lead employees. However, social media essentially erases transactional costs allowing people to organize with greater speed, flexibility, and reach.

Shirky outlines how these tools help people to share, cooperate, collaboratively produce, and take collective action. Social media grant everyone the opportunity to publish and share creations for free without filtering for quality content. Though much of the resulting material is junk, this shift has enabled amateurs to share, and ultimately threaten, the credibility traditionally enjoyed by professional journalists. Shirky presents Wikipedia as an example of collective production. This tool functions because people who share an appreciation for education and knowledge can come together to mutually contribute to and monitor contributions to a global encyclopedia. Although contributors can take different roles (adding information, editing grammar, etc.), Wikipedia avoids permanent sabotage because users care about the project.  In a current example of collective action, bloggers have undermined the current Ralph Lauren campaign by criticizing the model’s unrealistic body size and encouraging consumers to boycott its products.  Thus, collaborative social tools work “when people are committed to their outcomes… when they augment community, not replace it”.

Collaborative Production

Collaborative Production

Blogger, Bridget Mcrea identifies cyber-stalking and cyber-vandalism as potential social media risks. Shirky also recognizes social media’s dangers. For example, girls participating in YM’s online discussion boards were supporting each other to remain or become anorexic. Conversely, other marginalized groups such as homosexuals and former members of religious groups can form communities of support and interest. Overall, Shirky suggests that, by allowing people to fail and explore their options cheaply, the benefits of social media tools will outweigh its disadvantages.

In My Opinion

 Shirky’s book is very well-written and offers practical insight in to how and why social media tools are effective (Check out August Jackson’s blog to see a video summary of the book).It seems that Here Comes Everybody emphasizes social media’s openness and decentralization. However, can these tools survive in such a rule-bound culture? Although I’d hate to see it happen, can’t these tools just as readily be controlled by The Man? Also, Shirky admonishes the Abbot of Sponheim for protesting the demise of the scribe in his book, published in moveable type. However, it seems that by writing a book himself, he is hardly an exemplar of the mass collaboration that he champions.

Everybody and the Groundswell

Whereas Groundswell  describes how traditional businesses can create a social media plan and engage social media users, Everybody explains how the people in the groundswell organize themselves to create content and take action. Li and Bernoff’s idea of using social media tools to of talk to, energize, support, and embrace a company’s audience relates closely to Shirky’s description of power law distribution. The most active users account for most social media activity and propel these tools to operate by engaging many other users. Thus, by talking to, embracing , supporting and embracing consumers, organizations can identify their most active users and use them as company advocates. Also,  both books emphasize relationships on created throughsocial media instead of the tools themselves.

Power Law Distribution

Power Law Distribution


UrbanPromise could also benefit from understanding the power law distribution. By tapping into the social media activity of its most connected supporters, it could find new donors and volunteers. Although UrbanPromise currently has only two U.S. locations (Camden, NJ and Wilmington, DE), social media tools like Meetup.com could help avid supporters around the country to start chapters in other impoverished cities. More than anything, Shirky’s book gives hope to non-profits like UrbanPromise by suggesting that social media tools empower ordinary people to create successful organizations stemming from their mutual passion for a common good.



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