Using Social Media to Share Research | Beth's Blog

Using Social Media to Share Research

Digital Strategy

Note from Beth: Last Spring,  Allison Fine and I did an evaluation report for the Case Foundation on the America’s Giving Challenge 2009.  One of the ideas we explored is it possible through social media to share some of the findings in a conversational way to help prod more insights from the field.   We experimented with “Conversational Case Studies” and found that conversation in the comments helped improve the richness of the final report.

That model uses social media a mechanism to give feedback.   Another way to use social media is for the sharing and distribution of the finding.

Recently, I bumped into Patricia Martin who just completed a fascinating report on Millennials online engagement with arts organizations and we had a conversation about this topic and the findings from her report.   I invited Patricia to do a guest post when the report was ready to be shared because of my work with arts organizations and social media.

Scaling Social Change Through Social Media by Guest Post Patricia Martin

It seems like the nonprofit sector is having great success harnessing technology to rally communities and drive donations. But what about using it to make social change more scalable? That seems a little more elusive. Recently, I began experimenting with pushing the kind of info usually relegated to final reports out across multiple platforms. The results make me optimistic about scaling social good by leveraging information.

Every year over 7,800 grants are made in the U.S. to fund research in an attempt to address critical social problems. 1 The culminating intellectual property is usually a written report that gathers dust on the donor’s shelf. As an expert on commerce and culture, I am sometimes commissioned to do sponsored research. Lately, my team has been translating my findings into digital assets so that many more people can benefit from the insights. I’d like to argue that the lowly final report may be a strategic hidden asset for making change more scalable.

First up is the use of social media to disseminate research. We collaborated with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Nonprofit Finance Fund and Steppenwolf Theatre Company to share the findings of a study on consumer brands and Millennials to find winning strategies for engaging young people. Executives at world-class brands such as Ford Motor, Red Bull, Google and Starbucks opened their marketing playbooks to help Steppenwolf learn from their experiments. Not surprisingly, their advice leaned heavily on social media. The funding collaborators agreed to practice what the research preached and to use social media to exponentially expand its reach by distributing the information across multiple platforms.

The main thing we are learning is that there is something trans-formative about the process of sharing outcomes using interactive media. It creates communities when users can comment and exchange their stories about a particular topic.  Culturally, it’s an invitation for private foundations to become more open source.  For non-profits, it’s a cost-effective way to establish thought leadership on your issue and speak with authority.

I made Tipping the Culture available on my website, before it could be moved to its own micro-site.  Without any fanfare, it received 78 downloads on a Sunday, an indication that people are hungry for the information.

Money is tight, but information is elastic. It’s time to view the lessons learned as a way to stretch the dollars invested and make change more scalable. I invite you to download Tipping the Culture and see what top brands are doing to create connections with Millennials. It’s downloadable as an ePub or as a PDF. If you’d like to discuss it, chip in over at Facebook, or via Twitter using the hashtag #tiptheculture.

By Patricia Martin, 2010. Patricia Martin is an independent researcher and author of the book Renaissance Generation: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What it Means to Your Business, F + W Publishing, 2007.

8 Responses

  1. I was just reading through the report. Excellent points and, as a millenial, I concur. It seems that those in my generation like to feel included in a greater cause and engaged via a digital conversation outlet.

    In a nutshell, how do you think today’s best practices for marketing to 20-somethings are different from 50 years ago, when companies were trying to attract young boomers? In other words, what marketing strategies appealed to 20-somethings in that era?

    – Courtney Parham

  2. Geri Stengel says:

    Soliciting information via social media and sharing the results is very productive and illuminating. From our research, conducted online, we were able to develop guidelines for nonprofits using social media, based on the experiences of those already using social media effectively. The information sharing was generous and useful, especially to those just contemplating the plunge into social media.

  3. Courtney,
    Great question. I’m not a marketing historian (there are such people) but one of my favorite essays on advertising is found in David Halberstam’s book, “The Fifties” and it’s about the rise of Leo Burnett. In particular there is an essay about how Burnett marketed the Chevrolet to young drivers. It boiled down to one thing: aspiration. I believe aspiration still works in marketing to Millennials. But we found one crucial difference: the new crop of young people aspire based less on possessions and more on states of being. That makes it harder to sell them things, which is the reson detre of marketing.
    Thanks for the great question. Do you see it the same way? Or is your perspective different?
    Patricia Martin

  4. Geri-
    I read through your research report and it’s very useful. Thanks for adding it to the discussion.
    Are you finding social media is helpful in streamlining the start-up phase for most non-profits?

  5. Patricia, I think you’re absolutely right that aspiration still works with young people, currently the Millennials. What they buy (possessions) or do (being) is motivated in part by how it reflects who they are aspirationally. David Wolfe did an excellent job in his book “Ageless Marketing” documenting why that is, based on lifestage and neuroscience.

    My agency specializes in marketing to a different group – mature consumers, especially Baby Boomers and seniors. I use social media to disseminate our research, pushing eBooks out via LinkedIn and other professional communities.

    Our latest project focused on the web/social media attitudes of 40+ consumers, so I solicited participants via social media as well.

  6. Gabi Fitz says:

    Hi Beth and Patricia:

    I just wanted to share our experience at IssueLab where we have practiced exactly this kind of approach for a few years now, using social media, among other strategies, to disseminate research.

    Our belief continues to be that social media is not just a way to get feedback or a way to get more downloads but that it represents one of the best ways for research to actually be made relevant.

    I say this because we have the following hunches, that I would love to hear your thoughts on: 1) new information makes the most sense in the context of existing information 2) most practitioners dont have the time to read, let alone seek out, a lot of new research on their issue and so making a report part of an existing conversation at least allows for the key findings or themes to be shared and absorbed, and 3) people filter information in social networks based on trust relationships, so getting a report from someone in your community is quite different than just downloading it off some site.

    Anyhow, I thought I would share that with you all and a put a big shout out for the importance of finding a way (or many ways!!) to share some of the results of those 7800 grants!


  7. Gabi-
    This is a meaty comment. Mind if I cut it into parts?
    1) new information makes the most sense in the context of existing information
    I agree in general–but I am wondering if you have a specific example of where this played out for you? Describe the “context” if you can so we can follow along. I think you’re on to something.

    2) most practitioners don’t have the time to read, let alone seek out, a lot of new research on their issue and so making a report part of an existing conversation at least allows for the key findings or themes to be shared and absorbed…

    Yes, yes, yes!!! We discovered that even our focus group of users asked for bells and whistles they never ended up using. Why? Too busy. That’s why human networks offline–such as conferences, still matter. Do you agree? T

    3) people filter information in social networks based on trust relationships, so getting a report from someone in your community is quite different than just downloading it off some site.

    Yes and no. We had peeps do both. I think overall, there is social media fatigue. Personal exchanges will always trump random digital, I think.
    Fundamentally, we all still like the groove of face-to-face, brain-to-brain interactions.


    Whew! You gave me a workout. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  8. Gabi Fitz says:

    Hi Patricia:

    I’ll respond part by part 🙂 and try to keep this to a manageable length!

    A very specific example I can offer is from one of our special collections, this one on the topic of sex ed and abstinence only training. We pulled together research from 14 different nonprofits working on and researching this issue and then went out to bloggers, online communities, listservs, other nonprofits, and funders with information about the collection. (This was standard practice with our special collections.) An example of our placing research into “context” can be seen here or here

    In both cases we jumped into a dialogue that was already happening and pointed people to very specific piece of research that could inform the discussion. In retrospect I should have pulled an actual statistic or quote out of the research study as a “leave behind” given the reality of #2 in my comment above.

    That all said, this really only provides an example of our efforts rather than evidence that it works 🙂 It’s difficult to know whether some of those folks wouldn’t have found the studies anyhow or whether running an ad in the sidebar wouldn’t have had the same effect (because successful ad campaigns are of course also contextual), or whether it makes a difference (which I touched on in #3 but your data seems to suggest otherwise) that it was issuelab that commented, versus a mother of a teen, a teen herself, or one of the research organizations. And on the outcomes side, what do we want people to do with the information we share? Are downloads really a good measure of interest or do we want them to be discussing the research?

    Lots of questions, few answers 🙂 But I think some of the answers might come in how – deeply – contextual we make our sharing of knowledge. When does something feel dropped in versus really part of the dialogue? How involved do we need to be in the communities we share information with? Do people learn more from research when its deeply integrated into their existing dialogues? I don’t know.

    As for knowledge sharing at conferences, yes I agree! I also think that one of the resources we are often so short on is attention. We just cant be expected to be taking in new information non-stop all the time, which is why conferences max out at 3 days and you come home exhausted 🙂 But you sort of set aside those 3 days specifically to learn and exchange knowledge which we rarely do in our workdays.

    And finally, yes i think we do all like the groove of face to face but the challenge is to get some pretty vital information to a lot of people without meeting them face to face and i think we naturally turn to the online spaces that most resemble what we groove on. The rub is that it doesn’t feel the same and so it can be deflating and alienating at times.

    And of course … everyone learns a little differently so there will allays be those folks who come to issuelab, search an issue, find a paper, download it, and read it cover to cover!

    Whew indeed.


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