Submitted by Tori Tuncan, of Lend4Health
I was flattered when @PeterDeitz told me he was going to include Lend4Health in his keynote address at the Connecting Up Australia conference. And when I read his transcript and saw his slides, I was intrigued. Peter had analyzed my use of Twitter and shared at the conference that I use it to communicate, in small increments of time, with those who choose to follow my tweets (which, for today at least, is 1,284 people). Peter's analysis of my "method" made me stop and take a look at what my "method" really is because, certainly, it has not been strategically planned out or even really considered until now!
I started using Twitter on September 24, 2008, and my first tweet was, "Working on two new loan requests on Lend4Health." I had no idea what Twitter was or what it was for, but I had heard of it in the traditional media channels. I actually joined Twitter because I had just submitted my entry into the Ideablob contest and there were links to share your entry on "social media" so I clicked on Twitter and that was that.
In the beginning of my Twitter usage, I became obsessed with reading tweets and the links therein. I "favorited" almost everything, and I basically used Twitter as a personalized library. I followed anybody who seemed knowledgeable and well respected in areas like social media, social entrepreneurship, health issues, autism, non-profit technology, philanthropy, micro-lending, and Islamic finance. It was amazing to me that I could get all this great, intelligent information and that, because I could choose to follow specific people, the stream was already "filtered" and oftentimes already "digested" for my specific needs and consumption. That stream was fast-running and wide, but I learned as much as I could, asked questions, and connected with people and ideas I would have never known otherwise.
After a while, Twitter became my "home away from home." Lend4Health.org was my home, my spot, my domain. It was comfy because it was mine, and the visitors were friendly because they liked what I was doing. On the other hand, Twitter was kind of like going to a different conference every day, but with many of the same attendees. I was challenged by the thoughts and ideas presented there, but since I was seeing the same attendees day after day, I became familiar with their styles and moods.
At the same time, I had gotten onto Facebook, first to connect with old friends from elementary school, high school, and college, but then to connect a bit with some "autism friends" -- those who I knew from the Yahoo group I frequented. Interestingly, after I started a Lend4Health Group on Facebook and posted a blurb about it on the site, I noticed that "Lend4Health'ers" (loan recipients and lenders) started to join Facebook themselves. This was interesting to me -- that people joined the Facebook social networking site specifically because I (Lend4Health) was there. It also surprised me that Lend4Health loan recipients would get on Facebook and join the same group as their lenders. To me, this was humbling honesty and amazing transparency. For anybody who might fear that the loan recipients were scam artists or would run off with the money, this Lend4Health group on Facebook demonstrated that these people were real people. They were not ashamed to interact with those who lent money to them, and they were not running away incognito; rather, they were putting their faces and their profiles right there. You might not know in which house they lived on the planet, but you had access to them on Facebook.
At that point, even though there were Lend4Health'ers on the Facebook group, they weren't really my "friends" in the Facebook sense. At the time, I now realize, there were three very separate communities: (1) The Lend4Health community (the families and lenders with whom I mostly communicated via email); (2) my Twitter community (analysts, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and bloggers); and (3) my Facebook community (family and friends).
At some magical point, these three worlds started to converge; these silos started to crumble, and bridges took their place. I remember around the beginning of 2009, when I started working on Lend4Health full-time, some of my Twitter followers made loans on Lend4Health. And some Lend4Health Group members on Facebook started to "friend" me and each other. And, very slowly at first, some Lend4Health'ers started to join Twitter.
This convergence is still happening, and it is still to be seen what this will mean for Lend4Health. What is happening right now is that this larger "Lend4Health community" is overlapping in very un-planned, very organic, and very exciting ways:
- My Twitter followers are starting to make loans, tweet about it, and re-tweet my updates.
- My Facebook friends are starting to inquire about my strange status updates, post Lend4Health links, and make loans.
- Lend4Health families are starting to join Facebook and/or Twitter.
- Lend4Health lenders and recipients are starting to follow each other on Twitter; friend each other on Facebook.
And while this is still a very new development in the Lend4Health Journey, I can feel the energy rumbling and coming closer when I put my ear to the ground and really listen.
Individuals Within the Crowd
Currently, I realize that, although these groups are converging, each individual member of a group has a preference for his/her communications. There are some who resonate best with email. There are some who are Facebook addicts and who have tried Twitter but didn't "get it." And there are those who live and breathe Twitter.
So, as somebody who is trying to keep this diverse community engaged, get messages out, and respond to their queries, I believe I have two options. (1) I could try to make them all form-fit into my preferred method of communication, or (2) I can make myself fluid, flexible, and resilient enough that I can be in all of these places. While option #1 would be easiest and most time-effective for me, I believe doing so would push some community members away, most likely never to return again. Certainly, I could pick up new supporters to take their places in number, but each one of these supporters is an "early adopter" to the Lend4Health concept, and as such I think of them as the most important community members. These early adopters are the ones who believed in Lend4Health in its infancy and awkward adolescence yet took a risk to participate, so these are the people who may later spread the word most passionately. As such, I have chosen option #2.
I engage with lenders, curious observers, and loan recipients wherever they are, and wherever they feel comfortable, whether it be Twitter, email, phone, Facebook, or in person. My business card (which I hand out in bulk at autism conferences) includes all the ways I can be found: web, email, Twitter, Facebook, and cell. My email signature (which I use when posting personal questions and comments on autism-related Yahoo groups) includes all of these channels as well.
Is there a risk involved with this? Emphatically, yes. I worry that I will miss a Facebook post from a potential loan recipient. I worry that I cannot successfully "archive" within a specific email folder, an important, relevant communication I receive in a fleeting tweet. I worry that I am so scattered across these tools that I am not present enough on any one of them.
I have recently started using Twitter and Facebook as integral pieces in my (as of yet un-strategic!) communications strategy. Whereas I used to update lenders via email when a loan repayment was made or when a family sent a progress update on their child, I now also post this information for the masses on Twitter and (easily via TweetDeck) on Facebook. The goal is different. For the lenders, my goal in communicating this information via email is to give them updates on their money and their investment, and to keep them engaged on a consistent (usually monthly), ongoing basis. However, when I post this information on Twitter and Facebook, my goal is to plant seeds repeatedly with potential new lenders, but also to communicate transparently and even to archive the process. So, instead of an annual report summarizing the activities of an entire previous year's work, I am giving these updates real-time, as they happen. I do not think that many of my Twitter followers are hanging on the edge of their seats to get these 140-character updates, but, when they are seen over time, I think they provide an underlying sense that Lend4Health is open and transparent with its process, and that there are several points of entry available for a person to ask a question, criticize, laud, or participate in Lend4Health.
I am intrigued to see where this all goes as it relates to Lend4Health and other organizations. It seems that so much of the current thinking and teaching being done is aimed at already-established non-profits who need to learn how to use social media tools in order to keep up with the changing times. I believe it will be informative for many of these non-profits to watch as neonate "clouds" and "tribes" like The Extraordinaries, TuDiabetes, and Lend4Health develop hand-in-hand with, and even from within, social media technologies and applications.
This article was originally posted on My Social Actions at http://my.socialactions.com/profiles/blogs/the-lend4health-journey-social by Tori Tuncan:
Tori is the Founder of Lend4Health.org, which facilitates community-funded, interest-free microloans for those pursuing optimal health.