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« Chronicle of Philanthropy Online Chat: Reflections, Questions, and Answers | Main | Crowdsourcing Your Professional Learning With Social Media: An Example »


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laurie cirivello

Outstanding post. Captured me from the beginning with a clear statement about how focus on tools easily overwhelms change oriented audiences. I appreciate the succinct outline of the layers of social engagement, focusing on outcome, not tool box. Thanks!

Brent MacKinnon

Thank you Gaurav for sharing your framework for thinking and talking about social media. I share your struggles with talking about social media to my audiences, who mostly are in the non profit sector. Your framework puts the language of values front and center, so that is an easier start point for many (rather than tools, strategies etc).

In one of my roles many years ago, I helped design a street work program and we used the 3 C's metaphor for explaining what street work is and does. Contact (make relationships); Connect (refer, support, link to resources); Collaborate (work with others on systemic issues). Our 3 C model, helped explain the complexity of our work. Your 4 C framework will help me do the same.

I will have your framework, front and center, as I work with others on planning and implementing social media initiatives.


Brent MacKinnon

Betsy Stone

Thanks for sharing this Gaurav. Many communications professionals and volunteers are in a fog about social media, in part because so much of the buzz focuses on tools. I developed a taxonomy to sort it out in my own little pea brain, which is up and available on slideshare: I completely agree with the content, community and collaboration C's as defining characteristics of social media. Part of the value of defining social media by these characteristics is that it opens up dialogue about how relationships can be developed in keeping with a strategy. Many types of platforms can become social. National Wildlife Federation, for example, wants people to share their nature experiences and encourage preservation of habitat. So they're active on Facebook, Twitter, and encourage people to tweet and email photos. The Red Cross wants people to be prepared for emergencies, so they encourage the use of Twitter and other social technologies. Their tools fit their purpose. That's where we all need to get to - not just random experimentation, but cohesive use of the cool stuff that's available to us all.

Ryan Jean

Let's say a consumer comes in for a housing resource and talks to a staff for 30 minutes. A computer user comes to our site and views our housing page (we can see this by stats).

Obviously, it takes longer to type than to talk. Does 1 minute in person equal 1 minute on a page? How do we know the user is getting the same information online than they would in person? They could be away from the computer and left the page open. In person, the consumer is asking for resources from staff, who gets information from either online, over the phone, or other staff. Online, a user can find the information themselves; however, they may not know where to look or get the exact answer they are looking for. This is where social media comes in... Where users can get feedback. The problem still lies within the value of time. Using my example, if a user is on our housing page for 30 minutes, does that equal 30 minutes of "in-person" time?

There's so many variables, such as if a consumer comes in and asks a housing question, the staff may ask a co-worker for advice (5 minutes), go online for research (15 minutes), and make a phone call for the consumer (10 minutes) to equal 30 minutes total. If the consumer went online themselves with social media, they could take maybe research 5 minutes online and make the 10 minute phone call to add up to 15 minutes total. Although this is just an example, using social media, we reduced the time in half. However, in person, our staff worked with the consumer for 30 minutes while online, the consumer would've used our resources for 5 minutes (excluding the phone call). Therefore, in this example, the ratio of "in-person" time to "online" time is 6:1. In other words, every minute online is equal to 6 minutes in real time. Do you agree? And any feedback on this?

I still haven't covered comments, viewers, and followers.


Really interesting and insightful post. Thanks for that. My only question is that "Collaboration" and "Collective Intelligence" sound so very similar, like sub-parts of one "C." But, its probable I don't understand either of them very clearly...

Susan Burnash

This is a great article. I work with nonprofits on integrating social media into their marketing plans and will share this with them. As a marketing professional, I am always telling my clients that just because it's popular it might not be the right marketing tool for you. Focus on your desired outcome (education, community, etc.) and then develop a strategy to achieve it. Utilizing social media is a strategy. Social media tools are tactics. I will be linking to your blog in my next e-newsletter.
Thanks again.
Susan Burnash
Purple Duck Marketing,
Seattle, WA


Great post!!
Thanks for sharing.

Stay connected with friends at global personal networking.

Leif Utne

Gaurav: Thank you for this framework. Very simple and lucid. I especially like your use of "Collective Intelligence." I've long been familiar with that term in the context of offline social dynamics and group processes, mainly through the work of Tom Atlee at But I love how you use it to refer to the emergent properties of groups, which are invisible at small scales and only become apparent as communities scale up. It's the wisdom of crowds, like the emergent "intelligence" of ant colonies, swarms of bees, armies of Wikipedia editors, and smart mobs of texting, camera-wielding citizen journalists.

I have to confess that I often get bogged down in the tools when talking about social media. I'll be using your 4C's framework in my next talk.

Lavinia Weissman

Gaurav, this is powerful. While I agree with all of it, I want to suggest that this is a means to a much broader change in society and community that needs to embrace all aspects of what comprises leadership for change cross sector. The non profit world is one component of voice that intersects with so much more. Social media is organized as you describe can support the dialogue to be educationally focused so people can open to learn what they don't know and unite to create a platform of change that will make a difference to people, society and economy (beyond the gdp) from the view G20 is exploring after the launch of this conversation

Nick Lim

Hi Gaurav, nice post.

As a self professed numbers person, I was wondering how we would correlate any social media activity to the goals of the organization. For example, even with old school analog advertising, most B2C companies had a good quantitative function that related the number of awareness points to the resulting consumer product sales. What is the corollary for non-profits?

In the next phase of social media, beyond the hype, organizations are going to want some "proof" that the effort is worth it. Fortunately, the out-of-pocket costs to start is pretty low in comparison to new initiatives of the past such as CRM (prior to SaaS).

One other comment I'd make is that the 4Cs are not as clearly separated in real practice. For example we may need to drive collaboration using better intelligence. You may realize from the authority analysis that content written by certain people may drive more collaboration; hence you might want to encourage these people to write more.


Leif Utne

whoa! what happened to all the comments that were posted here last night?

Chris Rodgers

Hi Gaurav,

Really insightful, practical and thought-provoking post. I have a slight quibble re your use of the word "co-creation" to signal a deliberate act of collaboration - given that I see that the outcomes of all conversations are unavoidably co-created. But I really enjoyed it!

Thanks, Chris

Ryan Jean

Let me try to explain or give an analogy. Let's say an organization gets paid by how much time they work with consumers. In other words, let's say for every 15 minutes a staff works with a consumer, that staff gets $10. A lot like a seller in a store. If the seller works with the client for an hour, they will receive $40. Same idea for the organization. If the client went online and only took 15 minutes, the seller would only get $10. But, let's say the client left the computer and kept the site up so that the stats read an hour instead of 15 minutes. The seller would assume they get $40 instead of $10. And it's important to obtain the true time value. How do we achieve that?

Today, we live in a fast-paced world. We go in, get what we need, and get out. This also goes for the internet and social media. If we don't see what we need, we move on. There are also those who linger. Using my example above, if a client came into the store just to linger or after purchasing an item, lingered, that client would not be serviced and therefore, the seller cannot receive any pay for that. The seller only gets paid if the client gets services. However, I am excluding the fact that the seller could be claiming pay if the client is actually looking at the seller's products, which is a service. So, how can stats tell whether a consumer is actually getting services from a site or just lingering (such as being away from the computer and left the site up)?

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