Geoff Livingston, Guest Post
This is an excerpt from my keynote speech this morning given to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network’s “Social Media for Social Good conference.” Valeria Maltoni wrote a great post with the same title featuring ten tips on creating movements just two days ago. Her post was based off of the Brains of Fire Manifesto, “10 Lessons Learned in Igniting Word of Mouth Movements.” Both posts influenced this speech.
Those of us that communicate for nonprofits find ourselves at a crossroads. The new social tools that we are here to discuss are not so new anymore. We’ve seen successes like Barack Obama’s incredible rise to the Presidency. Dynamic movements such as the Iraqi election. And frustrating challenges like fighting off big oil’s influence on the ever delayed climate change bill otherwise known as Waxman Markey.
There have the been the well discussed successes like DonorsChoose and Lil Green Patch. There are the ongoing efforts to fight Swine Flu, or new successes like LiveStrong. And the many, many hyper local and niche causes that touch the lives of their online communities not by the millions, but by the hundreds or thousands everyday.
If you are like me, you are asked all the time to use these media to create movements. BUT.
Yes, that difficult word, BUT.
We are asked to do it in controlled environments. We are asked to ensure brand and message quality. We are asked to contain those people and make sure they do what we want, and also ensure only the “good” ideas are accepted. We are asked to deliver #s of hits or followers. We are asked to master ever evolving technologies. And we are asked to do it with little or no resources. Ironically, if we have time, the last matter is the least difficult.
And that is the crossroads. Movements versus campaigning. Creating open communities with old siloed corporate structures. And yes nonprofits mimic their corporate brethren with siloed structures.
How can you tell the difference? It’s easy. If we are successful, we’re being talked about, rather than talking. People are writing their own stories and ideas about our cause rather than us publishing content. Tweet conversations about you happen instead of links from your Twitter account. Networks, groups, applications, conversations, meet-ups, T-shirts, donations, volunteer events and political actions receive community wide support and in many cases are created by the community itself.
See, the mark of a great social media effort is when the community itself owns it. We can light the match, we can use lighter fluid and kindling, we can fan the flames, but only the community can make our issue, our movement, burn with the full fire of an inferno.
Movements involve people, not Marketing, PR, Comms, Public Affairs, etc., etc. Our job as organizational communicators lies in trying to facilitate a larger conversation by providing the means for people to share, perhaps initiate conversations, and highlight the great work and thoughts of others. But we cannot use these tools to dictate the movement. And that means we must lead our organizations into a new era of communications.
The classic mistake of organizations is to apply the very old publishing content and messages approach to the not so new social media. Don’t make that mistake. And control? Please, why even bother? If you want to control then you don’t understand people, and you are in the wrong business. Get out now. My experience has informed me over and over again that you will fail. Yet, our executives and managers, our internal stakeholders cannot understand the open culture.
Listen before participating, and participate before publishing. Publish shareable information instead of dictating messages. Create relationships instead of transactions. This may as well be Sanskrit to many organizational leaders. And so you are not just asked to change the world, but also your organizations. Patience and consistent efforts, showing results over projects, over periods of time, and most importantly, with newly engaged stakeholders.
Never forget that this is about exciting and enabling people to carry forth the most noble of charges, your cause. You want them to tell their friends over dinner, buy that bumper sticker, make the logo their screen saver, provide an unexpected donation, go out and take pictures, and/or ask their CEO if they can send an email to the company.
See, a movement compels someone to make your cause a part of their life, not just their Facebook profile. It’s always better to have 500 people screaming your wares than 5,000 passive followers who don’t care. Never forget that, either.
Going back to the climate change bill. I cannot help but think of the green movement, and its failure to transcend the environmentalist and conservation movements to the point that American households are doing everything they can to become green. The great failure with Waxman Markey is not how watered down it has become, that big oil is winning, that the bill may never pass. It’s that our congressional representatives can get away with this. The movement is not strong enough.
I began our talk today with my personal nonprofit history. You know I believe this is our generation’s greatest challenge, as great as the fascist threat that faced our grandparents.
It is my hope, my prayer that I can use these god given communication skills, our not so new world of participatory media, and make green something so compelling that it cannot help but become an all powerful movement. I envision a time when people will gladly pay more for green technology, and they will consciously try to reduce their carbon footprint everyday. When disgraces like the Waxman Markey fiasco occur, they will be outraged with their political representatives and demand change, again and again until the right people are in office who will defend our world.
As you go into your sessions today, I ask you to think not about how to get 1000 people into your Facebook groups. Instead, how can you use your Facebook group to engage your fellows, change your work environment, and spark your movement.
Dubbed a “local blogging guru” by the Washington Post, Geoff’s award-winning book “Now is Gone” was released in 2007 and has been cited by the Wall Street Journal as a valuable resource for social media.