Some people rely entirely on prayer. I find that prayer yields better results when I augment it with social media. Here was my recent cry to the Universe (made through a friends-only social networking website):

“I need to buy a car right now and I don’t know where to start. I haven’t owned a car in three years! I want something reliable that will run forever and gets good gas mileage. I don’t want to spend a lot and I’ve never bought a car without help before. Um… crap!”

The suggestions started rolling in. Honda Civic. Toyota Corolla. Vehix.com. Cars.com. Carfax.com. Kelly Blue Book. Names of trusted mechanics. Tips on finding the right insurance agency. Info about smog checks and DVM registrations. Reminders that rush hour traffic is sometimes slower than Caltrain. Reminders that I don’t have to do anything without help, ever, if I don’t want to.

This sent me in the right direction for research, and I quickly narrowed down my focus to exactly what I wanted: a 2000-2004 manual transmission 4-door Toyota Corolla with power locks/windows and in a dark color, somewhere local. Excellent. That was easy.

But then I scoured the listings and couldn’t find one. Well, that’s not true — I did find one, but it was at a really sketchy-looking small used car dealership with a disturbingly bad website. The car went crashing off my radar when I saw the dealer’s horrible “About Us” photo. Um, no.

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[This photo is a direct lift from the website. I did not reduce its quality for dramatic effect.]

I went back to my social networks to tell them my tale of woe, and they agreed that the man behind the desk was not to be trusted. Peanut gallery quotes included: “where’s his computer? this is well into the 21st century; every work desk should have a computer at it,” and “The picture looks like he’s finalizing plans to take over the world… from his computer-less desk. Haha! ‘You’re right, Skeletor, it will be as easy as taking candy from a baby! Mu-hahahaaaa!’

Meanwhile, I was decompressing on Twitter, feeling discouraged about the process and getting a lil’ bit silly in my musings. The twitterpaters cheered me up with hedonistic influence and emotional support. I remembered that I was shopping with an army behind me. They had my back.

And then, something magical happened. A friend who had been watching my prayers sent me a link to My Dream Car, being auctioned on eBay Motors from a dealership just south of San Jose. The “Buy Now” price was exactly my budget and exactly the value on Kelly Blue Book. I tried to brush it off as “too far away,” but then another friend offered to drive me there.

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Frantically, I asked the Universe for tips on buying from dealers, and it filled my head with suggestions. Then I researched the vehicle history report on Carfax (completely clean) and looked up everything I could find out about the dealership. 400 people on eBay told me they were wonderful to do business with. That’s social media shopping for ya.

I showed up and walked straight to the car. The receptionist quickly tossed me the keys and let me take it for a test drive. It was just as delicious as I hoped it would be. The saleswoman showed up and asked how I was doing. I said, “I like this car. Can I buy it from you?”

She smiled and said, “Yes.”

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Beth Kanter (the heavyweight champion in getting technology into the hands of nonprofits) points out some new research to us today. Well, actually it’s more like a sneak preview of new research — which, of course, is even better.

The research shows us that large nonprofits are adopting social media more readily than Fortune 500 companies. They define social media as online video, blogging, social networking, podcasting, message boards, and wikis; and they also note that nonprofits are monitoring their reputation on the web more carefully than businesses are.

It makes perfect sense. Utilizing social media is an inexpensive and trust-driven way to reach lots of people. I hope awareness of how to use these tools effectively is also trickling down to the smaller nonprofits — the ones who need it the most.

You can download the four-page executive summary from UMass Dartmouth.

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