At TEDx, Melinda Gates Points to Marketing as Key Gap in Development Impact

Will the development community ever take marketing seriously?  Melinda Gates surprised me in September when she used her worldwide podium at a terrific TEDx on the MDGs and Maternal Health to talk about the power of marketing, what we can learn from companies like CocaCola, the overall neglect of marketing by development practitioners, and its central importance in increasing the impact of essential programs addressing human need. It was a call to action.  But will it be heard?

Gates cited three aspects of Coca Cola’s vaunted global marketing as worthy of emulation — use of real time data to improve operations as they are happening; giving priority to local entrepreneurs’ talent and networks as vital to grassroots outreach in the most remote locations; and deep investment in marketing programs to make messages, products and programs truly global in scope.  She zeroed in on the need for development types to use more aspirational marketing, focused on the question of what makes people happy, rather than the instructive, top-down we-think-you-ought-to-do-this approach now so pervasive.

“We think if people need something, they don’t need to want it,” she said.

Interesting that the Gates Foundation co-chair chose this topic. I hope more people will take a moment to think about what she is seeing — and not seeing — in the field that led to this.  Perhaps her MBA and business background give her a perspective that many development economists and policymakers lack, matched by a willingness to put money on it that development programs also lack.  Except in health, marketing is the last element to get much investment.

Speaking of marketing and outreach, pretty impressive that this TEDx was viewed in 30 countries at 82 events.  The TEDx franchise continues to grow….

From the Development Marketplace blog, 9/30/2010

Posted in Civil society, Global dialogues, Innovation, Public relations | 2 Comments

Comments on new World Bank Social Media Guidelines

Finding the balance in social media...

Dear World Bank Social Media Working Group:  Congratulations on all the work that has been done this year on Social Media. It’s great that you have opened a consultation on the new guidelines that will be open through Janury 15.  Here are my thoughts:

1) Describe concrete problems when you present solutions.  Paint a picture of the specific issues you are finding and their business implications.  Managers and staff need to know what happens when multiple parts of the Bank plunge into social media without realizing that to the external world, we are all one World Bank.  For instance, when one Bank unit gets the sole license for a TEDX with the corporate name on it, that creates a real problem for everyone else in future. 

2) This points out the naming and brand management issues inherent in the rise of social media.  It matters even more what we call our development programs and that we actively and consciously manage brand names, especially the corporate name and brand.  This is not part of the Bank’s culture — unwieldy acronyms still become program names, and IDA existed for over 40 years sounding like someone’s aunt instead of being known as the Fund for the World’s Poorest.  This wastes resources and undermines the mission.  Social media makes these issues ten times more significant.

3)  Guidelines may be necessary but you’ve got to actively mitigate against having a chilling effect.  Rules tend to discourage people.  Yet the biggest problem in an older bureaucracy such as this one is a failure to engage in social media, and an addiction to lengthy print documents.  Your biggest challenge will be to ensure that our part of the international development arena rapidly adjusts to the new multi-media world, and to the other changes ahead.  Can the World Bank keep up with the Gates Foundation, think tanks such as Center for Global Development or the civil society groups such as Oxfam who have taken to social media like fish to water?  I like the specificity of your materials on Twitter, Blogging and so on.  Training will be key.

4) Finally, you must tackle the need for multi-lingualism and translation options in use of social media head-on.  Multi-lingualism is coming, fast.  Deal with it now.

As I head back to the private sector in the new year, all I can say is good luck and god speed, and I’ll be tweeting you.

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Wherein the author explains the blog’s title

One night a year ago, I was in a World Bank conference room at midnight, part of a team working hard on the 2009 Development Marketplace.  100 finalists had arrived from all over the world with their ideas on climate adaptation.  I had just joined the new Innovation Practice team about two months earlier from another part of the Bank.  My job was to reach a global audience. We were trying all sorts of new and different things – using flip videos in new ways, tons of webcasting, social media, generating content in 17 languages. And these new things — which cost minimal amounts of money — were working.  We could see the audience numbers climbing and responding.  That’s when I realized two things — first, that communication these days is not a support to innovation, it can be innovation and change outcomes if you do it right and with imagination.

This is simply one of the most exciting times ever to be alive if you believe in the power of communication to make a difference in this world.  I believe it with passion — it just slays me that all over the world much needed reforms (think financial crisis and just pick a country) and vital innovations fail all the time because of a lack of creative, smart communication and marketing.  So many people just don’t get that.

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Public Sector scores high marks for Digital IQ

L2 Think Tank with George Washington University Business School

L2 Think Tank with George Washington University Business School

The L2 Digital IQ Index for 100 public sector organizations (including not just US government agencies but also international organizations, advocacy groups and more) was released today.  I had a chance to see a preview of the findings last Thursday.  It measured 350 data points across four dimensions: site, digital marketing, social media and mobile.

Bottom line:  Public sector organizations are competing very strongly with the private sector in use of web, social media, and digital tools of communication.  Why?  Because they have point of view.  The stronger the point of view, the better.  And they have credibility.  The old boring  (i.e. government) is apparently the new interesting, starting with the White House, which ranked second in the top five “genius” category.  NASA was the run-away leader by far — though some might think that they have an unfair advantage  what with rocket launches, space photography and a built-in audience of technies!  Beside these two were, provocatively, PETA, the US Army and the Democratic National Committee.  Chew on that.

Some other findings: (1) Social Media is increasingly important to driving traffic to organization sites: 69 percent of the organizations count Facebook among the top eight sources of referral traffic. These organizations are driving more than 13 percent of traffic directly from their Facebook pages. ..(2) More than 80 percent of organizations are present on at least one social media platform, 63 percent host a blog, and one in five have some presence on mobile platforms….(3) Only 18 percent of organizations are purchasing search terms, only 15 percent have mobile sites, nearly one in five organizations still do not allow email opt-in.

Glad to say the World Bank was scored top of the international organizations measured, at #23 on the list.  Kudos to my colleagues who’ve worked so hard to make that possible.

One other comment to highlight:  Given the increased competition, the study authors observe that technology + content doesn’t work if they are not joined to a creative and powerful digital marketing strategy.  And since no one owns an audience anymore, there is a constant need to reevaluate what kinds of actions will get the greatest return for incremental investment.

And yes, Facebook YouTube, and Twitter continue to soar.  But the biggest surprise to me is how well public sector and advocacy groups are using them and other platforms to invent a new kind of digital citizenry.

Couldn’t happen a moment too soon, could it?  This survey is weighted to the United States but it will be fascinating to see what the public sector in other countries does with this enormous opportunity to engage.

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How the BRICs are changing global communications

Source: Hill & Knowlton

How much will the BRICs change the global communication eco-system? Answer: fundamentally. China, Russia, India and Brazil and the other emerging economies are already altering the tilt and balance of who talks to whom about what, how and why.

Paul Taafe is an Australian who is chairman of Hill & Knowlton, one of the most international of communications consulting firms. I’m still thinking about The New World Order, a presentation he gave at the PRSA International Conference here in Washington DC on October 19.

He used data from the IMF and World Bank (where I work) to show economic trends that are fairly familiar by now — but his conclusions were different because they focused on how the BRICs are changing how we communicate and brand, and doing it so rapidly that the business environment is literally changing underneath our feet.

 He sees 2014 as the watershed year — 37 months from now. That’s when the number of Chinese speakers using the internet is projected to exceed those speaking English. Daily use in China already exceeds that of North America or West Europe. Combining with this huge event will be a tsunami of consumers of all income levels and locations who will be accessing social networking sites through their mobiles, not their desktop or laptops. This will produce a fluidity about who can participate in debates and communities that we have never experienced.

Taafe argues that the idea of a “target audience,” heretofore the key to marketing and communication planning, is literally being reconstituted as networks of super-connected communities emerge, spanning borders and languages. These individuals want communication activities to be “smarter, more integrated and more personal,” all at the same time.  No easy task.

Citizenship is evolving too — “we are all multiple citizens now…citizens of the world, our country, and our chosen online tribes.” I not only like that, I feel it happening in my daily life.

His conclusion is that communications will be “global and local, fixed and mobile, brand and personal, and formal and informal” — all at the same time. And if it isn’t all of these things, it won’t work. No wonder Facebook is still surging — it is all these things, for now.

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Incremental Increases in Communication Yield Exponential Returns

Sixth in a 6-part series originally published as an article, Communications as Innovation in Social Enterprise, in Development Outreach Magazine, July 2010.   Co-authored with Richard Murby.

Never a better time

In the time it took us to write this article, more than 4 billion pieces of content has been shared on Facebook, more and more of it in the developing world.

The almost imperceptible merging of communication and social media has moved both to the center of the innovation agenda. Behavior is changing all over the world. These changes are spilling out in all directions. For those who seek to encourage the timely creation and spread of innovative solutions in development and increase their impact, there has never been a better time.

More than ever before, incremental increases in the use of communication will yield exponential returns in audience, dialogue and impact. To do this, we need to be creative and forward-leaning, and to focus relentlessly on ways to connect non-traditional audiences. If we truly care about scaling up innovative solutions, we should scale up and invest in all aspects of these new social ecosystems. This is a moment to think boldly and use to the maximum the incredible range of communication media and tools now at our fingertips.

After all, everyone else is.

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Translation Engines Will Now Spread Ideas Globally

Fifth in a 6-part series originally published as an article, Communications as Innovation in Social Enterprise, in Development Outreach Magazine, July 2010.   Co-authored with Richard Murby.

Despite the perils of prediction in such a fast moving situation, we see one major, transformative development that is imminent: the emergence of multilingual social networking as a seamless part of daily life. Moving from language to language is about to become close to ordinary. This could have a huge impact on innovation. Translation may supply, we argue, one of the missing keys to the international replication of ideas—the grease that will help them flow more quickly from region to region.

Too often development organizations, philanthropies or the private sector have not translated their content into multiple languages, and in so doing, have limited themselves to interacting with people who speak dominant languages such as English. Most people using the web—about 72 percent—speak a first language other than English. Asia accounts for 36 percent of global web usage, Europe for 28 percent and North America less than 22 percent.

Today Google Translate handles 52 languages and is used hundreds of millions of times each week. Global Voice’s Linqua volunteers now translate in 17 languages, with 12 more in testmode. As the quality of machine and volunteer capabilities improves, translation is moving rapidly from a time-consuming, expensive, difficult process to one that is timely, affordable and routine. Not just multi-media but multi-lingual formats are about to become standard operating procedure for on-line dialogue and for social enterprise organizations.

This may be one reason why Joichi Ito, the CEO of Creative Commons, argues that ideas don’t scale, they “spread” and that worthy ideas go viral. In the new age of translation ahead of us, ideas will spread wider and faster than ever before.

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Social Media Creates Ecosystems for Innovators

Fourth in a 6-part series originally published as an article,  Communications as Innovation in Social Enterprise, in Development Outreach Magazine, July 2010.   Co-authored with Richard Murby.

So how should innovators think about social media specifically related to the flow of new ideas around the world? For our part, we see it as the creation of “social ecosystems” that support, superbly, the processes essential to successful innovation. These include the functions of idea-sharing, scanning, broadcasting, replicating, and scaling through new forms of financing. These new ecosystems are, in essence, superpowered and supercharged by their speed of transmission combined with a fluid exchange of ideas across multiple media forms and a variety of channels and the inclusion of voices not limited by language or location.

Blogging and social network platforms with wide audiences and interactivity turn out to provide a much more productive and efficient approach for idea-sharing than writing letters to the editor or even email. Wiki communities and other forms of working “in the cloud” make collaboration infinitely easier for people working continents apart.

Increasingly, web-based competitions allow global scanning for new solutions. These can take the form of competitive markets (Innov-Centives) or collaborative communities (Ashoka’s Changemakers). The combination of Internet penetration and a new generation of software tools that makes it practical to run global competitions is giving exponential reach and impact to innovation prize-giving. “It took me eighteen months to develop my initial product from conception to functional prototype. With InnoCentive and my second product, the research to sketch to engineering drawings to prototype took two months,” says Mark Bent, CEO of Sunnight Solar. In both arenas, crowd-sourcing is increasingly used to surface and rven select the most interesting new proposals.

Interesting experiences are being broadcast directly, easily and inexpensively. Informal, video creation and distribution via YouTube and Facebook is providing vast new potential audiences for entrepreneurs. Examples of this can be viewed in the 44 youth entrepreneurs in the April 2010 Latin American Development Marketplace or the 150 videos posted in one week geaturing finalists of the November 2009 Global Development Marketplace competition on climate adaptation. Many thousands more are instantly available on YouTube, Ning platforms, and many more.

Financing, the hardest hurdle that any small entrepreneur has to jump, has also experienced its own reinvention. With the personalization of microfinance via the Internet, private individuals are making small loans to individual entrepreneurs halfway across the world. As of 2009, Kiva has facilitated over $128 million in loans to 300,000 entrepreneurs globally, 82% of which were made to women. Since 2002, GlobalGiving has helped over 100,000 donors donate $28 million to 2,620 projects. This and other new flows of financing are just beginning to evolve.

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Social Networking in Poor Countries Climbing

Third in a 6-part series originally published as an article,  Communications as Innovation in Social Enterprise, in Development Outreach Magazine, July 2010.   Co-authored with Richard Murby.

Social networking in poor countries climbing

Social networking is emphatically not a phenomenon confined to Americans or Europeans. Africa, long regarded as the toughest test for Internet usage, has already seen dramatic increases in popular use in both urban and rural areas.

Experts such as Russell Southwood of Balancing Act predict that the decade ahead will see usage soar as the benefits of an estimated US $50 billion of investment in network infrastructure kick in. As mobile and internet capacity is built out and converges, not only are more people taking advantage of it but they are demanding local content. Vernacular language websites and broadcasting, including new formats such as radio via internet and mobile are increasing, making the new communication mediums available to larger numbers of Africans without Western education or language skills.

FacebookYouTube and Wikipedia already number among the top 10 websites used by Nigerians. YouTube is a top 10 website in all African countries surveyed. In Kenya, considered a bellwether, 85% of Internet users participate in some form of social networking. “People kept telling me that kids were using Facebook in cafes in rural Kenya, and I didn’t believe it—until I saw it for myself,” said Southwood.

Faster than most of us can adjust, the tools for social dialogue and interactive communication are becoming available to almost everyone in the world through this new generation of social tools fueled by plunging economies of scale of ever more powerful technology. The ease, cost and reach has changed radically in the past five years; picturing what the next fiveyears will bring not just in technology but changing behavior calls for great imagination. Think back five years ago —did you foresee the rapid acceleration of Facebook, Twitter, or Skype?

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A World of Possibilities

Second in a 6-part series originally published as an article,  Communications as Innovation in Social Enterprise, in Development Outreach Magazine, July 2010.   Co-authored with Richard Murby.

A World of possibilities

Today, we can all see completely new possibilities springing up all around us as individuals and organizations are sharing ideas directly with others, and finding them instantly when needed. Both Indonesia and Mexico have 1% of their large populations using Facebook, for instance. In a single year, Indonesia went from 2 million to 21 million Facebook users, a growth rate of 800%, making it the third largest Facebook nation. Mexico has nearly 10 million users, with 300% growth last year. Many more are joining as we write.

Not only can an idea in Indonesia or Mexico be spotted through a search engine query, it can also surface on platforms where groups of people with similar needs are self-organizing every day. And they can read about it in the language they prefer. Someone with an idea in Bahasa Indonesian can—right now—use Google Translate to post that idea in Spanish or English on Facebook, just as someone in Mexico can do the same into English or even Indonesian—without a development worker as intermediary.

As Clay Shirky says in his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, “The ability of people to share, cooperate and act together is being improved dramatically by our social tools.” He warns, though, that taking advantage of these opportunities will require a significant amount of “unlearning”—that “when a real, once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad….”

All around us people are texting, blogging, tweeting, uploading, downloading, crowd-sourcing, wiki-ing, linking in, georeferencing, i-chatting, skyping, flipping, videotaping, and more. Tomorrow, the range of possibilities will be even greater.

Richard Murby, a consultant based in Washington DC, is a technologist who has spread his time between internet start-ups and international organizations.

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