Tools are Only as Useful as Their Users

The thing I truly love about blogging is how it brings new ideas and perspectives to my periphery. In this Buzz Bin post (from June 24, 2008) I more or less stated that there wasn't much online action related to this summer's midwest flooding, and questioned why this was the case. In the original post's comments, Greg Hollingsworth (Devil in the Details) gave some good insight into why folks choose offline (not online) tools to get down & dirty.

If organizations trust consumers to create programs, and consumers want control, then why aren't more of us taking the reigns? Forget big brands for the moment. Yes, some people will create fan pages for Family Guy and Hot or Not Hotlists for Starbucks. Does this brand loyalty really benefit societal ills? Not so much.

Consider what matters. People are empowered to voice their concerns, harpoon issues, and rally support for pressing matters related to health, environment, education, politics, poverty. But they - we - don't take advantage of this privilege.

lazyhabits Remarkable platforms have been built to further social issues, but lie dormant. It's a reminder that support must start with self-selected community members who are compelled to act.

[ Image credit: source unknown, spotted at Lazy Habits. ]

Take Iowa/Midwest flooding. Craigslist's Iowa pages are virtually devoid of calls to action for monetary/in-kind donations or volunteers. (On the other hand, Craigslist was one of the premier resources for families and service during the New Orleans flood.)

Then there's Social Actions, a platform that aggregates user-developed campaigns across 29 do-good social networks: Care2, Change.org, Idealist.org, Razoo, MicroGiving, and GlobalGiving to name a few. Anyone can post their fundraising campaign to these sites. A search on Social Actions shows nothing on tap for Iowa.

The tools exist, but are untapped. Is there a good reason for this? Perhaps we think the Red Cross has it covered. In reality, the Red Cross disaster fund is depleted, having raised only $3.2 million of the anticipated $40 million it will take to ameliorate flooding the Midwest. Tack that up against the rising price of gas and food.

Another contributing factor in lack of action: people don't know about - or how and why to use - the tools and knowledge at their disposal. Friend Jake Brewer at Idealist.org touched on this recently:

"Where we're very well known, we become even more well known. Where no one knows us (e.g. OK, AL, SD, WY, etc) well ...no one knows us."

Per yesterday's PR Week article on "The Digital Effect," 65.9% of marketers are "very willing" to let consumers play a significant role in shaping their marketing programs. But are marketers willing to educate?

Beyond that, if people are enabled to create communities and tools on their own terms, is the average consumer willing to learn how to do so?

Again, the imperative can't be stressed for anything outside of cause marketing, CSR, advocacy, and social sector/nonprofit-related initiatives. Times are tough. Help your neighbor and educate your community.

What better hour than the present, when user-generated content is King and word of mouth is Lord?

UPDATE - JUNE 26, 5p.m.

A very thoughtful and fresh perspective was contributed via comment on this post from Greg Hollingsworth. I really appreciate his insights about the kind of turn-off-your-laptop-and-get-your-hands-dirty action that has been taking place in his home state of Iowa. For those who don't live in that area and want to help via the Internet, Greg recommends two effective donation channels: Grant Wood Area Red Cross and/or the United Way of East Central Iowa. More on Greg's insider POV here.

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