Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age

BlogHer Original Post

Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age by Allison Fine

The day before I left for vacation I received a reviewer copy of Allison Fine's new book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age.   As I tossed it in my suitcase, my husband grumbled something about reading a tech manual at the beach. 

Fine's book is no tech manual!  At the beginning of the book, she reassures less technically skilled activists and nonprofits that "we don't all need to be programmers writing endless streams of computer code to be successful.  We just need to become more connected."  She urges us to go beyond simply using these inexpensive and widely available social media tools. "Using social media without changing how we think about social change will only create more noise," she warns. 


Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age isn't a static blueprint for using these tools nor is it a rigid template for social change. Fine offers a clear definition of social media as media that "offers simultaneous connections between, among, and by many people at the time of their choosing." It challenges us to adopt the mindset of "Connected Activism," defined by Fine as "information and discussions widely available and freely distributed."  Through the many examples shared in this book, Fine outlines the principles of effectively using social media to facilitate social change.   This is not a book that is focused on the tools for the sake of tools. 

The book is a roadmap for activists and nonprofits that might be too busy, under-resourced, or unsure of how to harness the power of social media tools for their work.  The book is filled with many stories and guidelines that will help inspire activists to leverage the power of the connected web.  Fine's sense of humor shines through her writing style and makes this book enjoyable reading! 

In the beginning chapters, she identifies how social activists need to change their thinking, that they need to leave powerlessness behind, embrace self-determination by developing a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve, and shift from proprietary silos to meaningful participation and conversation.

One of my favorite chapters is titled "Becoming a Connected Activist: Enhancing the Effectiveness of Social Media." Fine helps us understand what the term "Connected Activism" means in the context of the Internet and how it is different from the "Information Age."   As Fine points out, "being successful in the Connected Age is more than knowing what button to push; it is about becoming more open and connected to people and ideas."   

A self-identified “recovering proprietary thinker,” she offer personal insights in opening up to new ideas and letting go of information, hierarchy and "proprietary" thinking.  The chapter includes a "Connected Quiz, a set of reflective questions that can help an activist think about how well they or their organization is connecting with others. 

I found her framework for looking at the Social Media Mix to be very useful.  She acknowledges that cool gadgets are part of the Connected Age, but they are merely the physical part of the connection.  She notes, “Tools don't solve problems."   She describes these social media tools in the context of four different outcomes, each with rich stories and clarity. Those outcomes are communications, collaboration, new media/content, and organizing/collective action. 

The book points to another important skill for being able to leverage social media for social change: listening.  Fine suggests that listening must become an organizational priority.  "Listening requires genuine interest in what that person is saying and a willingness to change as a result of what was said."  She gives examples of the listening deficits, but also the ways that social media tools can facilitate listening.  She acknowledges that it takes time to listen and that there is no way around it.      

Another key concept in the book is "Power-to-the-Edges," which means that the more decion-making you push away from the center, the more powerful a networked effort becomes. This chapter gives us several stories, both real and made up that clearly illustrate the concept and how to apply it.   The chapter ends with eight “Power-to-the-Edges” principles that can help activist organizations think about social media tools in the context of forming communities without the need for institutional oversight.  As I have personally discovered through my own explorations with social media, this principle in particular resonates for me:  "An energetic, caring community is more effective than a static organization with a well-crafted mission."

Another point Fine makes in her book is that it is important to encourage individual activism and that social media has become the "extra organizational lifeblood" replacing memberships, the lifeblood of the pre-Internet activist world.   Fine tells us, "When activist organizations take on the role of working within networks and choose to push power to the edges, they shift from doing activist work to facilitating activist work."  She concludes the chapter with some ways that activist organizations can support the efforts of individuals and stay relevant.

The last part of the book looks at future trends and how they might impact effective use of social media for activist causes down the road.  The chapter that focuses on the social media technology is fascinating.  However, Fine’s trend analysis is not limited to the tools. In the next few chapters she offers guidelines on how to activists need to adapt their organizations, measure their progress, and rethink fundraising.  These last few chapters are about organizational change, evaluation, and philthanthropy in the context of the Connected Age and Social Media - and the specific characteristics leaders need to have to be successful, such as listening, leveraging, decision-making, and curiosity.

This book is a must-read for anyone who is concerned with using social media to make social change, whether they are working as an individual activist or within an activist or nonprofit organization or network.  It is a book for both techies and non-techies alike. 

Read the book and follow Allison's advice:

"Start by thinking of what you are, instead of defining yourself by what you are not.  Play with new tools until you're comfortable using them, so you won't try them once, then abandon them.  Learn to listen more than you talk, and by that I don't mean wait for your turn to speak.  Unlock those golden handcuffs to traditional funding sources and unleash enormous creativity, vitality, and get to all sorts of great places." 

Be sure to visit Allison's blog where you can have a conversation with her about the ideas and concepts in the book.

Contributing Editor Beth Kanter blogs at Beth's Blog
Photos in Flickr
Allison Fine photo from Allison Fine's Web Site.