Our client, Susan Promislo, who is a Senior Communications Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has smart things to say about how philanthropic foundations can use social media to inform their program strategies and build relationships in new areas of interest.
On Election Day, Foursquare users who checked in at a polling place received a 3 point “civic duty bonus.” Last year, users received a badge for doing the same, but it appears that, in the time since, Foursquare’s team has determined that points are a more valuable commodity among users than badges.
I like the quote from Foursquare’s biz dev guy, Eric Friedman that PSFK used in their brief post about it:
“Especially with voting, it’s a way to put a stamp on something you did, and say, ‘I did this, and it’s what I’m all about.’”
I like it because it reminds me of something I once heard danah boyd say and have since repeated about a thousand times.
Back in the 2008 election, the mainstream media mused over whether or not the candidate who had the most “fans” (it was the days before “likes”) on Facebook would be the next President of the United States. It turns out he was, but in her post election analysis, boyd—who is an expert on young people and online social networks—discovered that many of the young people who were fans of Obama were also fans of Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul. In other words, becoming a “fan” of a candidate on Facebook may have had less to do with their allegiance to that individual candidate and more to do with a desire to present themselves to their peers as politically aware or engaged and, back in 2008, not a fan of the Republican establishment.
“I did this, and it’s what I’m all about.”
It’s something we think about when we’re considering the role—if there is one—of Facebook in our clients’ social web strategy. We’re inclined to think that many—if not most—users “like” a cause or an organization because they want to communicate something to their network about who they are, not because they have any intention of taking an action on its behalf.
Cynical? Maybe. Realistic? Probably.
I am currently in Gainesville at the University of Florida. I am here for the next few days as a Visiting Hearst Professional, which sounds slightly more impressive than it is. I’ll be spending my time speaking with students about social media and advocacy communications and the overlap between the two. Ann Christiano, a Professor in the Department of Public Relations at the University, arranged my trip. Ann is a former client of mine at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she was the Senior Communications Officer for the Vulnerable Populations team (a current Aggregate client.)
Six years into working on social media strategies and fifteen years into working on advocacy communications, I’ve grown cynical about both. This may sound odd coming from someone who just launched a creative strategy group to work with nonprofits and foundations to create social change. It’s not that I don’t think it can be done, it’s more that I think people believe it is easier than it is (relegated to well meaning “do gooders”) and that, as someone said recently on Twitter, “If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need to start a revolution.”
No. You don’t.
I’m not saying this because I’m trying to convince you to hire Aggregate to take on your social media advocacy campaign. (Of course, if it were the right fit, we would love to do so.) I am saying this because the “revolution” will take a little more than an iPhone and more than good intentions, passion and desire.
Social change requires strategy based on a clear understanding of where you are, where you want to go, whom you need to engage along the path to get there, where they are as far as the issue is concerned and where you might be able to take them.
Ultimately, as is often the case with social media—whether you’re selling policy change or cars—the emphasis has been too squarely placed on the tools, the technology, the toys. There is no doubt that social media has amplified the reach and accelerated the pace of organizing. But social media is nothing more than the church pulpit or the telephone tree of the Montgomery bus boycott—the best available tool for reaching and organizing those who will be receptive to your message.
Just like the desegregation of the South did not occur because a single feisty woman got pissed that she got asked to move to the back of the bus, the revolution in Egypt did not occur because of Facebook. Give the organizers behind both movements more credit than that. Social change happened because some really smart people knew what they wanted to achieve and how to achieve it.
I’m excited to speak with the students and the faculty of the Public Relations Department at the University of Florida. I’ll be sharing what I learn from them, so come back and say hello.
Update: One of my talks is available online if you’re interested.
We like to tell our clients that effective online engagement is a like being a good party host. You’ve decided to throw a party. But, before you send out the invitations, you need to determine if anyone else is planning to do so as well. You don’t want them to think you ruined their party and you don’t want to compete with them for your guests’ loyalty.
Once you’ve made the decision to move forward, you think about what kind of party you’re going to have and what you will serve. You consider parties others have thrown—what was popular as well as what hors d’oeuvres you saw people spit back into their napkins.
When you put together your guest list, you think about people who know each other and get along. But you also think about those who may not know each other yet but whom you think would generate some interesting conversation, particularly if they come from divergent backgrounds.
On the night of the party, you organize an icebreaker, but you don’t try to control the entire evening. As the host, you take time to mingle with your guests, versus getting caught up in worrying if everyone is having a good time; there are some things over which you have no control.
When you join a conversation, you listen to what the others are discussing—not simply the topic, but the different points of view and the tone of the dialogue as well. You join in, thoughtful about adding something new to the conversation that doesn’t redirect it, but adds an additional layer. You don’t introduce an entirely new topic and ramble on with a monologue into which there are no opportunities for others to interject.
As the evening winds down and a small group makes plans to go on to another party, you don’t feel resentful or worry you were an inadequate host. No, you are happy you brought them together and hopeful that something good will come from having done so.