While only a few years ago there was a push for non-profits, and businesses in general, to build websites for their organizations, the rapid advancements of the internet and the extreme popularity of social networking sites have made it so that simply having a website is no longer enough. Organizations are now expected to have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, and a Blog; they might also have a YouTube, Pinterest, or LinkedIn account and produce podcasts, videos, or electronic newsletters. These expectations put a strain on organizations as they work to keep up with advancing technology. Two books that address this phenomenon are New New Media by Paul Levinson and The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. New New Media is a general look at various emerging and established online platforms defined by the author as “new new media” and discusses the impacts and uses of them, both for an organization and an individual. The Networked Nonprofit narrows the discussion to the use of social networking sites by nonprofits. Both of these books are useful in understanding the current online trends and provide insight into using advancing technology to its highest potential.
New New Media
As mentioned, this book by Paul Levinson provides an overview of various types of online platforms, which Levinson has coined the term “new new media” to describe, and discusses some of the impacts and uses that these types of media can have. Levinson is an author and communications professor, as well as the writer of the prominent tv-review blog “Infinite Regress” and frequent guest on television and radio shows. His book New New Media is written in a fairly informal, easily accessible tone and draws heavily on the authors personal experiences.
To discuss the term “new new media,” Levinson makes a plausible argument for its use, though it has yet to catch on (more common terms that are somewhat synonymous include “social media” or at times “Web 2.0” or “Web 3.0”). Levinson provides several ways that “new new media” is distinct from the “new media” of static websites or e-mail. He has stated the following characteristics as being the requirements of his “new new media:”
- The consumer is a producer
- The producer is almost always a non-professional
- The main purpose of producing new new media is not to make money
- New new media is always free
- The medium varies in both length and media platforms (ex: sort tweets vs. long blog posts)
- Various forms of new new media are interconnected and might compete with and/or complement each other
As can be seen, these features put this new wave of online interaction into a whole new category, despite the fact that the sites in which these characteristics can be seen are vastly different from each other.
After providing the justification for the use of his new term, Levinson goes into detail about blogging, YouTube, Wikipedia, Digg, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, and podcasting, dedicating a chapter to each. For each of these online activities, he provides descriptions of what they are and how they are used, reasons for why they can be considered new new media, and a collection of stories or anecdotes about their use, many drawing on his own personal experience. He concludes the book with three chapters on various overarching topics that relate to new new media in general: potential downsides and negative consequences of new new media, use of new new media in the election of 2008, and hardware used to access new new media. Each of these chapters gives readers insight of the use of new new media from different angles.
Overall, New New Media provides a great introduction and discussion on the various different new new media platforms. It is most useful for someone unfamiliar with how these sites work and/or interested in learning about how the sites have evolved and how they continue to spark new and interesting interactions. Some of the key ideas I took away from this book include thoughts on blogging, Wikipedia, Twitter, and the concept of online friends and followers.
Levinson’s discussion on the nature of blogs was interesting for several reasons, but some of the key ideas I got out of it pertain to the personal touch that can be seen in blogs and the permanence of blogs. Blogs are platforms for expressing unfiltered ideas and sustaining ongoing interaction through comments, but they are at the same time under the complete control of the author of the blog. Most blogs tend to be personal, as these features encourage users to think about “objective” things in relation to themselves. Blogs are often responses to external occurrences, something that Levinson mentioned when talking about the relationship between news media and blogging. The permanence of blogs is the interesting topic Levinson hit on relating to blogs. He argued that while blogs definitely last longer than news via radio or television, blogs may be even more permanent than print books. His argument is that blogs may have a further total reach because they can be accessed immediately, universally, and (so long as the author doesn’t remove them) they last forever. These two things, the subjectiveness and permanence of blogs, were two points that have stayed with me throughout blogging, and use of social media in general, since reading New New Media.
Another key take away comes from the chapter on Wikipedia and the lack of ownership of the material found there. This was my first introduction to thinking about how a community-driven approach towards accomplishing a task, with little to no compensation, might work. This phenomena can be clearly seen on Wikipedia, but I’ve also found that it applies to on other platforms as well in a somewhat similar fashion to the free agents that Kanter and Fine discuss (which I will describe in more detail below).
In regards to Twitter, one analogy that I really liked from Levinson’s discussion was that “Twitter takes the classroom to a global level” (page 136)–that is, the interaction and fast changes from mass communication to interpersonal communication that takes place in the classroom is very similar to what happens on Twitter. This analogy helped me understand that nature of Twitter, making it easier to join the culture of that platform.
My final take away from New New Media is a somewhat overarching theme that came up across several chapters; that is the concept of friends online. Levinson discusses, either briefly or in depth, in each chapter what it means to be connected with others on that platform. He also discussed the change in attitude towards friending people online. While friends on platforms like Facebook are typically grounded in real life friendships, friends (or “followers”) on Twitter or a blog are less likely to be. These relationships can vary and are still evolving, but I found the idea to be interesting to consider as I go about friending and following others online.
The Networked Nonprofit
In many ways, the Networked Nonprofit is a guidebook for non-profits in their use of social media. With the unique needs of non-profits in mind, Beth Kanter and Alison Fine discuss the various ways that social media can be utilized to gain support and call people to action. Beth Kanter, a well known blogger, and Alison Fine, an award winning author of other books on the subject, are both experts in the fields of both social media and non-profits. The Networked Nonprofit offers an accessible guide to what it means to be a networked non-profit, how to become one, and what to do as a networked non-profit. Each chapter also contains reflection questions and a variety of additional sources that may be consulted for further information. This book is written for anyone working with a non-profit offering theories and guidance for how to fully realize the potential that social media offers. It is straightforward, helpful for beginners and experts alike, and offers many examples to support the ideas it presents. For all of these reasons, it is a great resource for non-profit organizations, as well as anyone who wishes to learn about ways to leverage social media use in their favor.
Five specific areas that I found to be key from this book include free agents, social capital, working wikily, engaging with others online, and keeping things simple. The first of these, “free agents,” is something I have seen when I look at my friends and causes that they support, but was definitely new to think about in terms of a common occurance that can be leveraged. The book describes how free agents are people who will support organization in various ways at various levels for various reasons, but they are not necessarily loyal to a single organization. The book points out that it is important for non-profits to be continually welcoming to newcomers, as well as to embrace those who have “left” the organization and come back. To really reach this population and utilize the power of social media, Kanter and Fine encourage non-profits to embrace this new way of operating and welcome free agents and newcomers with open arms.
Social capital is another concept that I learned from this book. Social capital is defined in the book as “the stuff that makes relationships meaningful and resilient” (page 33). Increasing social capital is extremely important in order for weak ties to become more connected, and social media offers great ways to facilitate this connection. As the book points out, people are easy to find online and on many channels, talk is cheap, serendipity is enhanced online, and reciprocity is incredibly easy. So this is something that is important to always remember when using social media as a non-profit.
The term “working wikily” was another important piece of understanding I took away from this book. “Working wikily” is essentially a way to describe an organization that has a strong, open, and positive social culture. These organizations are engaging in conversation, being active, taking risks, trying new things, valuing individuals, overcoming the “we’ve always done it like this” attitude, realizing that informal does not mean unprofessional or poor quality, and trusting staff to be able to send these messages and respond quickly—rather than wading through organizational bureaucracy. The authors argue that everyone in an organization should be using social media—and that it should be clear who is actually saying things because pseudonyms or misrepresenting where messages are coming from hurts the credibility of an organization. I found these ideas very important in understanding how social media should be used by an organization.
Engaging with others online is in many ways a no-brainer concept, but sometimes can sometimes be forgotten when organizations and individuals are too focused on getting something in return from others online. This is why I found Kanter and Fine’s discussion on it to be another key idea in the book. Listening and engaging with others is a shift from thinking only about what you can get from others to thinking about building relationships. The book encourages non-profits to “become intentional about relationship building efforts” (61). Listening is the first step to this and only after you have listened can you join into the conversation and turn it in a direction favorable to your organization. I found this to be an important lesson that Kanter and Fine repeatedly emphasized throughout the book.
The final major lesson I found in The Networked Nonprofit is to remember to keep things simple. One of the most memorable quotes in the book says “once a simple process becomes a technique, it can only grow more complex and difficult” (90). I see this as very true; sometimes people make things more complicated than they need to be or get too hung up over not doing things the “right way.” Kanter and Fine emphasize avoiding this outcome in various ways throughout the book, from concepts like giving up control of the environment, being transparent, trusting others, and asking for help.
While each book discussed important aspects of electronic communication, I found The Networked Nonprofit more useful in terms of application to a larger picture while New New Media is better for in-depth understanding of individual platforms. While both of these things are important, personal familiarity with platforms is becoming more common and I think that future students might benefit more from focusing more on the message and less on the tool. By focusing more on what the various social media tools do and how they are received and interacted with by others, rather than on how a particular site is set up and if a students likes using it or not, the conversations can push beyond superficial levels more quickly. This different perspective is more emphasized in The Networked Nonprofit, which is part of what made the book so interesting. I would not eliminate discussion of individual platforms altogether, but work to focus the conversation on broader impacts of the way that the platform operates. As for non-profits, I highly recommend that they read The Networked Nonprofit. I do not think they would benefit from the approach that New New Media takes in discussing the platforms, but do think that another book, or perhaps collection of online articles and blog posts, describing each platform and it’s uses would be very beneficial for non-profits as well.