Our Interview with Matterness Author, Allison Fine

Allison FineAllison Fine is among the pre-eminent guides to the social media revolution. Her gift is for converting uncertainty over rapid change into excitement over remaking organizations by the least expensive and most profitable means available: connecting with others. She is author of Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media. In addition, she is the author of the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit.  Her blog, A. Fine Blog, is available on her website, www.allisonfine.com.

A leading voice on social media and the nonprofit sector, Fine has written about why “Matterness”, well, matters and how important it is for organizations to talk with people and not at them.

I interviewed Fine about who should read and adopt Matterness principles and why.

You can purchase Matterness on Amazon.

Matterness CoverQ: For people who do not know what Matterness is, can you boil it down to a few sentences?

A: Sure. Matterness is the powerful force of mutual interest that happens when organizations and people work with and not at one another. Your readers will recognize what this means because that’s what you’re doing every day! You are in conversation with your people and treat them like co-creators on your sites. You develop strategies together and connect Moms to one another and to causes and companies, too. Too many other companies continue to use these amazingly powerful social media channels as newfangled billboards – opportunities to just keep broadcasting at people. Matterness reverses this course and makes people matter more than ever in relationship to organizations.

Q: Who is Matterness primarily intended for?  

A: Matterness is aimed at anyone who is leading from within or without. We used to assume that only people in corner offices were leaders, but now anyone can lead from anywhere. We need fearless leaders, people who are not afraid to be vulnerable and not have all the answers. These are great qualities in leaders not deficits. This takes a lot of courage, particularly for people who grew up in the previous century when we were taught to put on a lot of armor to protect ourselves from the slings and arrow of the outside world.  There is no inside and outside now. Matterness explains how to lead in this new way.

Q: What are your predictions for nonprofits and brands that do not embrace Matterness?

A: It’s not a good future that’s for sure!  If a company still hesitating about engaging openly and actively with the world are likely to become Blockbuster Video. The world was changing quickly around them and they weren’t changing fast enough to keep up. Brands need to be intimately connected to their own people inside and outside of their walls, listening to them and encouraging them to co-create their efforts with them. It used to be that companies could hang on for a while, but this particularly disruptive moment means that we are seeing in this disruptive moment that companies that lag will fail incredibly quickly.

Q: Sometimes it is difficult to change company culture. How can organizations adopt Matterness values to their organizational and communications structure?

A: This is a great question, Jennifer! Culture is everything in an organization; it is the accumulated assumptions of an organization’s leadership on how they view their work and the world. A great example of a company struggling with company culture is Uber. Their disdain for their own customers seeps into their work. They may have been able to hide this from view a decade or two ago, but particularly for a company that is built on trust and connections to their customers, the inside values need to match the outside values. When companies focus on Matterness they create a different kind of internal culture, one that is less afraid to step out into the world, more interested in engaging with people inside and outside of their walls, and more willing to listen to and learn from people. All of these constructive conversations, this collective feeling of being heard and valued ensures that staff and customers feel that they  matter more.

Q: What do you hope people take away from reading Matterness?

A: I hope that people will come away from Matterness with three takeaways:

  • A fact-based understanding that the world outside their walls is not nearly as frightening or mean as we are being led to believe that it is.
  • An appreciation for the fact that individuals matter more than ever because of social media, but we can only be heard in concert with organizations. Any effort that needs to be sustained needs both people and organizations to work together, but they can only really work together with mutual respect at the heart of their efforts.
  • Finally, I hope that people take away the fact that technology is a great facilitator of conversations between people, but never a replacement for people. Organizations need to stop treating us like algorithms and data points to be batched, categorized, silo’d and sold. One of the great advantages of social media is the ability to speak to individuals who are part of a larger crowd; to make people heard, known and recognized for their individual talents.

Q: What nonprofits do you see already do Matterness well and can be looked to as examples?

A: Megan Kashner started Benevolent as a nonprofit to help individuals regain their dignity. On Benevolent, low-income people tell their own stories and ask for a little help. The stories are verified by a network of local nonprofits Megan is in partnership with to help prepare and support the individuals in need. Jose has a new job in a restaurant but can’t afford the black pants and shirt that are required of employees to wear. Jennifer has her first apartment with her two-year-old and needs some basic furnishings. Calista needs dentures; otherwise, she is unemployable. Requests generally total in the low hundreds of dollars. These stories are heartbreaking in their simplicity and humbling for the viewer who may never have struggled in these ways. People responded immediately to these stories, as Megan hoped they would, with generosity of spirit and donations and perhaps a whisper to themselves of, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I love the American Red Cross’ digital volunteerism program. They are training volunteers to keep company with people online during a natural disaster. One volunteer talked to a woman trapped in her bathroom during a hurricane for hours! Henry Timms of the 92nd St. Y started #GivingTuesday as a way for people to show their generosity and support for causes the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Rather than making a whole bunch of rules of who can do what on that day, Henry just let it go and encourages people and organizations to make the day their own. It has become an annual, worldwide phenomenon. Last year online donations on #Giving Tuesday were up 90% from the previous year and the hashtag was used 269,000 times in the 24-hour period of #GivingTuesday 2013.

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