Social media for social entrepreneurs

[this is a brief chapter for a forthcoming handbook from NESTA (of which more when it comes out)….thanks to them for letting me blog this in advance….]

While entrepreneurs in the business sector identify untapped commercial markets, and gather together the resources to break into those markets for profit, social entrepreneurs use the same skills to different effect. For social entrepreneurs, untapped markets are people or communities in need, who haven't been reached by other initiatives. But while they may read from a different (triple) bottom line, social and business entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They build something out of nothing. They are ambitious to achieve. They marshal resources to meet their needs. They are constantly creative. And they are not afraid to make mistakes.

The marshalling of resources is particularly important in this context, as start-up and fledgling social entrepreneurs often have little spare money (or money at all) for key parts of their work, namely marketing, promotions, communications, fundraising, events organisation, and community-outreach. This is where the development of web 2.0-type tools is playing such a significant role; where two or three years ago, we would get the question “do you know someone cheap who designs good websites?”, the questions now tend to be “what’s a blog and how do I start one?” or “should I pay for this or is the free version OK?”. The costs of podcasting, blogging, uploading video, starting an online network, promoting your project on Facebook or specialised networks like UnLtdWorld, fundraising online etc have fallen so far as to completely democratise it: for social entrepreneurs now, the big question is no longer “what can we afford?” but “what should we use?” and “how do you use it best?” In some cases, SSE Fellows (like Nathalie McDermott of OnRoadMedia or Jude Habib of SoundDelivery) take this a step further and make it their mission to empower communities / other organisations to speak up or better achieve using new tech.

Our message to them is a simple one: work out what you want to achieve and then work out whether technology can play a part in helping do it. It can be all too tempting amidst a rash of “twitter is the cure to all ills” headlines to leap in, waste time and lose focus. But if building a community of like-minded people who support and engage with their idea is important to moving it forward (and those people can be found online), then fire away using Facebook groups, twitter, blogs and whatever is most appropriate. Such tools are often a cost-effective means to an important end: building a following around an idea or a new enterprise. Tools such as blogs and twitter also allow for a more direct form of communication that, when done with consistency and authenticity, will better engage and inform that following. That builds trust, credibility and loyalty to an organisation in the medium to long term.

What is particularly interesting for social entrepreneurs in this space is that tools like Twitter and Facebook have blurred the line between the personal and the organisational, between the life and the work. But this is already the case for social entrepreneurs in many cases, so fits naturally with the way they are and the way they operate. Alongside the fact that networking is key to their success (particularly when they can feel isolated and disillusioned on their journey), it’s clear why such tools can be not only useful organisationally (for communications, community-building etc) but also individually (to make contacts, build relationships, find support, bookmark sites of interest etc).

However, whilst not wishing to end in Luddite fashion, it’s important that we also remember that many social entrepreneurs work in real, geographical communities that can’t be reached online; that e-mail remains the primary communication tool for the vast majority; that ‘slacktivism’ will tend to reinforce the idea that people can solve problems with a click of a mouse (and keep a healthy distance from all that nasty poverty and disadvantage); that online approaches need to be measured for their social impact if resources are put into them that could go elsewhere; that Facebook status updates aren’t a substitute for meeting people face-to-face; and that doing things is more important than talking about doing things.

Ultimately, social media tools provide amazing opportunities and resources to facilitate change, to network effectively, to communicate directly, to fundraise innovatively, and to build communities swiftly. But in all but a very small minority of cases for social entrepreneurs, they are means to an end, not the end in themselves.

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Apprentices and Fellows

Still way behind on blogging a whole load of stuff. From the East Midlands SSE new SMART SE project to CIC caps and the SE 100 index. But most of all I wanted to blog about our previous Fellows seminar.

We're running a series of 'M' seminars (money, macro, management etc) for SSE Fellows (those who've completed an SSE programme over the past 10 years) at the moment, and the first, on money, involved the charismatic and passionate Tim Campbell (of Bright Ideas Trust) who had some good tips around negotiation, around what to invest in (and about how Bright Ideas are judging this), about the influence of his own upbringing on how he approaches money, and about how steep his learning curve was in some of the financial areas. Our Director of Learning Marcia did a great job in getting some good questions from everyone beforehand, so that everyone could make the most of his time (which we got more of than we asked for). Here's a clip of Tim, who's also a social enterprise ambassador, talking about Bright Ideas Trust in a video made by one of their beneficiaries:

Following a charismatic TV celebrity and leading entrepreneur, sadly for our Fellows, came yours truly. I was talking about some tools to work with in the recession / current economic climate, namely the legendary Mission-Money Matrix (and a new recession version) for decision making / prioritisation / strategy…and a further partnership spectrum, which I think is useful for those looking at collaborating / partnering in different ways (which will inevitably be happening more, IMHO). It seemed to go down fairly well. See what you make of the slideset (and credit me if you use…!):

We also took photos of those who attended (and printed them out with our nice new Canon Selphy printer: neat bit of kit!). So hello to Mobeen, David, Mark, Andrae, Kathy, Jen, Rosa, Oleander et al, but star of the show was definitely Juliet's son who not only earned money by bringing Fellows tea and coffee throughout the afternoon, but also had the best photo taken. Clearly, as the caption says (Year of Fellowship: 2021), Jaan is one for the future.


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Thursday round-up: business, BeyondSport, books and Bubb

Lots to catch up on in the social enterprise and social entrepreneurship world….so without further ado:

– More Voice 09 reaction from Patrick Butler at Society Guardian, Eastside Consulting, guest speaker Robert Egger, in Social Enterprise Magazine and an excellent round-up from Craig Dearden-Phillips

– I enjoyed Mike Chitty's passionate response to Rob Greenland's post on "the table collapsing for social entrepreneurs"; well worth reading both of these.

– There was special Social business supplement in the Guardian this week as well. Was good to see some different writers in there, especially Martin Clark, who I have a lot of time for. Worth checking out his book the Social Entrepreneur Revolution as well. [update: Rob Greenland has this up as downloadable pdf on his blog]

– I met up with a couple of other interesting people this week: one was James Baderman who has done a great deal to support social entrepreneurs both via What If and also increasingly freelance in recent years. He's currently involved with Beyond Sport, which is well worth a look…particularly if you know of any sport-related social enterprise projects…..

– …the other person was Charmian Love over at Volans; they've got a really interesting report (the Phoenix 50) coming out at the end of March, and it was great to hear from her about their future plans

Recommended reading for social entrepreneurs from Social Edge. Almost, but not quite, as good as the SSE bookshop…. ;0)

– I can't bring myself to mention Twitter at any length yet. But we are there @SchSocEnt

– At Voice 09, it was also great to see Sean Coughlan from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, who I hope to see when I'm over the other side in March. They announced their new awards scheme at the start of February, so if you know of any great Irish social entrepreneurs…send them here

– In addition to the £42.5million in the recession action plan, Capacitybuilders have announced an extra £1m to go direct to local support providers

– I haven't read Philanthrocapitalism yet, but it's certainly causing some strong opinions to fly at the moment. Check out Rod Schwartz's take on it…in parts one and two…and follow the links to the author's responses.

10 online resources for social entrepreneurs. Clearly, by some error, it doesn't include this blog / SSE, but we'll forgive them for putting a handy list together….

– And for those who enjoy Bubb's Blog, it behoves me to point out the new satirical version, Bogg's Blub. No word on the author yet, though perhaps a minister reacting to having their tie choice savaged? Or has a special post been created at NCVO? It can't match the original for entertainment, but is neatly written with a sharp eye. Most recently, in a bizarre art-imitating-blog-imitating-blog scenario, the original blog wrote about how a spoof had emerged, prompting the spoof to write about how "a certain fictional character Stephen Bubb has been spoofing my own thoughts with a joke blog". If you're still with me, you might be amused…..

Till next time       

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Voice 09: investment, interest and igloos

Quite a couple of days up in Birmingham at Voice 09. I don't think I've ever know a conference where quite so many people wanted to talk to SSE and come and learn about us, which was great to be a part of. Massive kudos to the wonderful Liverpool SSE (Sylvia, Stephanie, Lisa, Jo, and all the students and Fellows) for manning the igloo throughout and keeping their energy up with all the enquiries and interest. And everyone seemed genuinely pleased for us given the announcment in the action plan, which was re-emphasised by Liam Byrne and Kevin Brennan in their speeches. As one person said to me (in jest), "when you look behind you, are you seeing spit on the floor?"….but, thankfully, the floor was refreshingly free of any such nastiness. Just lots of interest and lots of exciting conversations.

I thought the venue was streets ahead of last year (being finished and everything helped…), and the sounds / technical stuff all seemed perfect. The exhibition space also had more buzz as everything was a bit closer and less cavernous than before. Despite not making many sessions myself (bar the opening and closing plenaries), I heard good things about several of the breakout seminars, especially the one on scale (with the irrepressible Nigel Kershaw from Big Invest) and the one on new frontiers for business. From the plenary sessions, I enjoyed Duncan Goose of One Water taking us on his journey and taking a sideswipe at unnamed bottled water companies that (he contended) have never made a profit, so never invested any profits in projects. Although he got off fairly lightly with no environmental challenge to the bottled water paradigm, or his instant celebrity and advertising connections. As he said, useful to have; bit easier when they are your sister. But you can't argue with his impact or his ambition.

In the battle of the politicians, I think David Cameron was largely thought to be a little disappointing. His presence was arguably more significant than anything he said, given that there were no new announcements for the sector. He warmed up under questioning, though, with a neat-ish soundbite about this being the "first sector" ("I hate the phrase third sector…") and showing a decent grasp of this area's specificities and particular challenges.

Liam Byrne, meanwhile, did have new things to say, with a drive to create 25,000 jobs in social enterprises and a summit with DBERR (which will have pleased those who felt social enterprise has rather lost its connections with that department). I liked his emphasis on trust in the speech, and also heard that he'd brought local social enterprise practitioners he'd been working with in his constituency to a breakfast meeting with some more established social enterprise leaders. Which is a nice touch and shows that he also knows the sector well from the inside.

Of course, most of the talk in the bars and restaurants (there was something of a run on Ibuprofen on the Wednesday morning) was about the recession, and to what degree it was a challenge and to what degree an opportunity. The final plenary session seemed slightly torn on this, which reflected the views of the delegates, I found. On the one hand, there were those pushing for changing the whole paradigm (Andrea Westall) and aggressive growth (Nigel K), whilst others talked of the need for survival and the need to not make the same mistakes pursuing growth in an unsustainable way (Sophi Tranchell, and Matthew Thomson). That debate, I think, is set to continue, but we may hear more of survival and hatch-battening in the months ahead, rather than growth strategies.

All in all, congrats to the whole SEC team, especially events queen Mamoona Shah, and new recruit Pauline Milligan (for the Ibuprofen especially). Slightly fewer plenary speeches (not every sponsor needs a slot!) would be the only recommendation…other than that, the networking was great. And a final note of thanks to SEC and the Mid-Counties Co-operative for the bursaries which allowed some current SSE students to be able to come to the event. As you can see from the photo, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves (the SSE student, Richard Leighton, is on the left….).

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Recession action plans

Well. It had been a busy week or ten days already, before today's announcement that SSE would be receiving a £500,000 investment as part of OTS's third sector recession action plan. Needless to say, we're delighted to get such a substantial boost in replicating our work across the country, and increasing markedly the numbers of potential and fledgling social entrepreneurs we can support. Which is all the more important in a climate where job creation and meeting social needs are two paramount concerns.

More coverage of the announcement can be found via our bookmarks. I've just got off the air on BBC London, and imagine there will be more coverage of the sector with a David Cameron / Liam Byrne double whammy to come at Voice 09 tomorrow and Wednesday (see below).

Us aside, it appears to be a well-targeted package of support for the sector, and I think the support for mental health and family support will be particularly welcome to organisations operating on the frontline. And, as predicted in our 10 social entrepreneurship trends for 2009, resilience and mergers (nos. 1 & 2) feature highly. I'd like to think that, as the minister said at the launch this afternoon, the investment in SSE will at least in part represent number 3, Bang for Buck.

Much other news to be blogged, which I will try and catch up on on the train up to Voice 09. If you're there, come and say hello at the SSE igloo, which will be manned by a marvellous mix of Liverpudlians and Londoners.

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