Wednesday, October 28, 2009

GREAT PSA by Charity: Water on YouTube

Here's the link to a very powerful minute and seven seconds:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: We the Media

Dan Gillmore’s We the Media provides an account of the transition of influence from big, traditional media to the blogs and social media tools of the citizen journalist. We the Media covers a number of topics, from the history of publishing, to laws and Internet regulations, to use of the Internet for activism. Since this blog is focused on reporting on news and information that is of interest to non-profit communicators and other types of advocates, I’m going to focus on three areas of tension that I picked up on from Gillmore’s book that may be helpful to highlight for these groups.

1. The tension of truth and fiction. On page 49, Gillmore provides an example of a Microsoft ad that was designed to counter Mac’s “switch from PC to us” argument. The ad pictured an attractive freelance writer who supposedly switched from a Mac to PC, with a caption, “Mac to PC: Mission Accomplished, Convert Thrilled.” The ad showed up on a watchdog website, noting that the image of the freelance writer came from Getty Images, and highlighting that depiction of a real woman who made the switch, was nothing more than a fabricated marketing ad.

The Internet allowed an interested party to look up the image and find that the ad
claimed to be something that it was not, which was authentic. While the Internet can seem like a playground for uncontrolled falsehood, since so much can be written in anonymity, it can also be an arena for watchdogs who seek out truth and authenticity. Authenticity is key to any marketing or communications campaign online or offline. Though it may seem easy to

2. The tension of control vs. freedom. In the chapter, “The Gate Comes Down”, Gillmore quotes a journalist who describes how a community of passionate individuals can become advocates for a product or service:
“…with the Internet, an effective campaign creates a community that will on its own begin to market your product for you. Properly done, you won’t be able – or want – to control it.”
Gillmore provides an example of the company EchoStar, a maker of home satellite TV systems that maintains a presence online. The company has communications officers that participate in online discussion boards to help correct false statements about their product. They don’t seek to control the information, just bring truth into conversations that go astray. I’ve heard this concept referred to as “gardening”. The Howard Dean campaign of 2004 was credited with maintaining a good balance of control and freedom in their Internet strategy.

As a marketer or communicator, how would you equip people to talk about your campaign or issue, but also develop infrastructure to maintain truth and the credibility of your organization?

3. The tension of trust vs. risk. Chapter 9 points out the ways in which the Internet can become a place of abuse, lies, and manipulation. For example, Hollywood studios took heat for building false websites designed to create buzz for their movies in 2001. Often, authors and other public figures are misquoted through haphazard cutting and pasting practices and bloggers and citizen journalists are not held to the same fact-checking standards as those who make a living in traditional media. This can cause the spread of false information and lead to incorrect and unfair criticism. So how do we balance the need to build trust with the risk that comes from creating and distributing information through viral, online tools?

Marketers and advocates must maintain high standards for truth and authenticity. Setting up false blogs and creating fictitious ads will do much to discredit a public reputation. Meanwhile, journalists engaged in online media should attempt to main their core principles of truth and fairness in their reporting. When citizens and consumers can believe in the values and integrity of a company, consumer-producer relationships will thrive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gov 2.0 Summit - Texts for Africa

A few weeks ago, I attended the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington D.C. that was put on by O'Reilly Media. Speakers from business, the government, and non-profits were on hand to present their latest work in the area of Gov 2.0. One particular presentation caught my attention - I'm posting my summary of it here.

Texts for Africa

The Unicef innovations team came up with a creative idea to leverage the increased rate of cell phone use in Africa (65% now have access to a cell phone!) to help malnourished children: they built an open source framework for SMS-based systems. In partnership with graduate students at Columbia University’s SIPA school, Unicef designed an information system that enabled health care workers to take malnourishment measurements in children and text them to the government. The government aggregated and mapped the data in real time, which provided information that Unicef could use to help the health care worker deliver appropriate care. Unicef responded to the health care workers via text with appropriate medical information and a message of thanks for their service. Unicef also distributed the information so other humanitarian partners could view it.

This system is now used to track food distribution, AIDS data, and number of other development indicators. The only costs to this program were training the health care workers and the cost of sending the text messages. In other words, it was a very inexpensive, but effective tool.

Should every large humanitarian aid organization have an innovations team that uses open sourcing principles?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Politics-To-Go for the NGO

After spending five and a half years as a marketing director for a global humanitarian aid organization, I am shocked by how much I missed out on in the area of mobile marketing. Or perhaps it has just evolved that much in the six months since I left! Of course, I was a part of a global poverty reduction organization, and Bono was our man. We all knew what he was doing at U2 concerts to generate support through SMS for the ONE Campaign. But we were clearly a different organization with different strengths, weaknesses, and tactics.

Bono aside, if I were queen for a day back on my old stomping grounds, here are the top five ideas I would steal from the Politics-To-Go Handbook and incorporate into a communications strategy somewhere in the organization:
1) Info-to-go! Make available: digital cameras, small video cameras, access to a non-profit blog, access to social networks (that the organization is building currently or starts building immediately), to staff who travel internationally. Provide training on how to capture and share stories. has some great how-to information.
2) Develop citizen/supporter journalists (p.93). Empower volunteers to share their story. Empower those who receive help to share their story of transformation. Give them space and a place to share. And don’t just empower them – train them! Tell them how to write and publicize a powerful story. Develop a loyal group of non-profit bloggers. Leak stories to them first. Offer exclusives when appropriate. The Politics-To-Go handbook states that mobile blogging can be an effective way to build relationships with an audience.
3) Use mobile marketing to remind supporters of events and advocacy campaigns. Mobile marketing is such a personal and contextualized medium; messages reach people wherever they are: home, school, work, etc. Messages must be tailored accordingly and ONLY sent when the recipient has opted in.
4) Because constituent relations are so important to most non-profit and politically oriented organizations, ensure trust with your supporters by developing a privacy policy and following it. This is something my old organization took very seriously. Though I wouldn’t change a thing they’ve done in this area, the privacy policy is something I would make sure continually update, clearly communicate, and maintain a high level of accountability for.
5) Make every mobile message a clear call to action. Then ensure that other channels are integrated and have consistent messaging: billboards, websites, social media, and any other forms of traditional marketing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All time favorite Seth Godin Post (Re-posted here): The problem with Non

The problem with non

Non as in non-profit.

The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?

Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It's because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn't right or good enough for you... there's an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.

These organizations exist solely to make change. That's why you joined, isn't it?

The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you're doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I'm betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?

Beth has a great post about the feeling of vertigo that non-profits get when they move from the firm ground of the tried and true to the anti-gravity that comes from leaping into change.

Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It's easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique.

Of course, some folks, like charity: water are stepping into the void and raising millions of dollars as a result. They're not necessarily a better cause, they're just more passionate about making change.

A few years ago I met with two (very famous) non-profits to discuss permission marketing and online fundraising and how they might have an impact. Each time, the president of the group was in the room. After about forty five minutes, the meetings devolved into endless lists of why any change at all in the way things were was absolutely impossible. Everyone looked to the president of the group for leadership, and when he didn't say anything, they dissembled, stalled and evaded. Every barrier was insurmountable, every element of the status quo was cast in stone. The president of the group was (he thought) helpless.

When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there's that word again) that blew you away?

Please don't tell me it's about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don't have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you're not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.

If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.

The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second.

Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: The Argument and Measuring Influence in the Political Blogosphere

In his article, Measuring Influence in the Political Blogosphere: Who’s Winning and How an we Tell?, Dave Karpf evaluates the top conservative and political blogs and puts forth something called the Blogosphere Authority Index (BAI), a system for evaluating online influence.

Karpf claims that there are four key areas where blogs can gain their influence. They include: “network centrality, link density, site traffic, and community activity.” His index combines data from current ranking systems, such as Technorati,, and Truth Made Bare. To determine which blogs were the most influential, he converted the top fifty progressive and top fifty conservative blog scores into an ordinal ranking system. When evaluated against the four key indicators of the BAI, Karpf found that the progressive blogosphere was larger than the conservative blogoshere.

While his article provides and interesting framework for blog analysis, it would have been helpful for Karpf to more clearly define what he means by “influence”. Who is being influenced and for what purpose? Is the true measure of a blog about politics the number of votes generated, the two-way conversations had, or the number of times blog content was reproduced in traditional mass media for people who are interested in politics, or is it the number of potential new voters who are brought into the debate? And is it enough to measure the number of viewer hits or acknowledgments by other bloggers, or is there a way to take measurement of influence all the way to the polls?

Matt Bai’s, The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, tracks the evolution Democratic Party’s focus on their communication systems and message. He spotlights blogs as a way that grassroots progressives have stepped out to help identify communicate their message. He notes that the successful conservative communication machine and the 2004 election ultimately spurred the Democrats down this path of innovation and reinvention.

Bai shows how blogs and bloggers have helped turn the top-town politics into a meritocracy. Rather than wait to hear what issues elected officials wanted to push, or what message those in power wanted to get out, blogs made it possible for people like Jerome Armstrong, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and their followers to have a powerful voice in the prioritization of issues.

Bai highlights a story from the 2004 election, when Jerome Armstrong, “The blogfather,” was one of the first people to receive exit poll information. Within minutes, Armstrong provided context and posted the information for the world to see. After Yahoo News posted a story highlighting Jerome’s information, his blog crashed because so many people visited it. This story highlights the decentralization of data, and the widening circle of power within politics.

While it is clear that blogging plays a key role in American politics (many elected officials hold “blogger roundtables”, where they share information, solicit feedback and answer questions from bloggers), I still wonder how we truly measure the influence of this medium? Bloggers seem to have an aversion to traditional media, yet consider it a measure of success to be featured on national television. Additionally, do blogs serve refine and broadcast a message, or can they truly be evaluated for their ability to build influence that tracks to the polls?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Seth Godin's When Will the World Make Fun of You Post

Marketing guru Seth Godin focuses on the non-profit, TOM'S Shoes, and notes that organizations should strive to be prominent enough that people parody them. This one was good!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Politics to Go Handbook and Dr. DigiPol Blog Post

In The Politics To Go Handbook, the text message is noted as one of the most important uses of mobile communication for advocacy mobilization, largely for its ubiquitous nature (nearly everyone in America and even most citizens in a number of developing countries own a mobile phone) and for its ability to reach people whenever, wherever they are. The text is an especially powerful tool for coordinating large groups of people in a time-sensitive situation. Yet, editor Julie Barko Germany and her team note that a text serves as more than a “push” medium. It should be used as the glue that holds together pieces of a campaign.

For example, in 2001 hundreds of thousands of Philippines gathered together to oust President Estrada. Over 70 million text messages went out over a span of several days that drew increasing numbers of people to the protest. The text messages, in combination with radio and television coverage, served to educate citizens. The combination of visual imagery provided by the television and print stories, along with the reach of the radio and the immediacy of text messaging, served to mobilize a large group to support the ousting.

I was struck by contributor, Clay Shirky’s, point that using mobile technology can “replace planning with coordination”. Rather than saying “I’ll meet you at the bar at eight”, people now text “call when your meeting is over and we’ll grab a drink”. We are becoming less specific with our plans and more fluid and spontaneous in our coordination.

This trend can be dangerous for those who use mobile technology for advocacy purposes. If we have databases of hundreds of thousands of constituents, but are not thoughtful in our planning and coordination tactics, we will have a long list of constituents who aren’t bought into the mission enough to take action when the time comes.

It is also interesting to note that these social networking tools can be used for both helpful and harmful causes. Alan Rosenblatt, author of Dr. Digipol, posted a statement by the Aryan Resistance, a white supremacist movement in the United States. The post highlights the Aryan Resistance’s online social communications savvy, as described in detail by the group’s leader in 1998. The group’s goal was to raise awareness for their cause and recruit new supporters. Though the post does not tell us whether or not the group was successful with their tactics, the strategies noted are similar to the ones mentioned in the Politics To Go Handbook, which was created years later in 2005.

While it is interesting and helpful to consider mobile technology strategies that can be used to promote a political position, aid a humanitarian cause, or help secure democracy in some part of the world, we also need to keep in mind that these tools can be used for harm.