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« Reflections from Mashable Summer of Social Good Conference | Main | Social Media Anger Management Tips from Carie Lewis, HSUS »


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Yongho Kim

That's great news but I don't think the post explains how the conflict with the (internal staff? national coalition?) was solved

Christine Sculati

Although this article was not what I was expecting when I read Beth's tweet about "cultural" differences and the adoption of social media, I really liked it. Has anyone written an article on how a diversity of populations (by race, gender, ethnicity, immigrants, etc) adopt/use social media?

Geoff Livingston

Really excited to read this post, Holly. I am glad to see you are on your way.

Beth Kanter

@yongho I don't think culture change is something that happens fast or you flip a switch. You need lots of disscussion and training. Looks like from what Holly described, they are well on their way.

@christine - Ha, glad you enjoyed the post. I do have another post that is probably more of what you were expecting.


Great post, Holly. The nonprofit I work for has had similar internal debates--controlling the message vs. spreading the word. There have been some tough growing pains, but eventually we've all come down on the side of spreading the word. For us, this also means allowing users to participate more on our site too, via comments on articles, posting profiles of themselves in our directory, etc.

Scarlett Swerdlow

Great post, Holly. Thank you.

Beth, I've been digging the advocacy and organizing focus of your content lately. I'm not sure if social media truths are different for advocacy organizations vs. service groups, but the context is definitely different. I appreciate you facilitating this perspective.

I love when Holly says, "the false dichotomy of message control vs. conversation." I would take it one step further and say there's really no such thing as message control. As soon as your message leaves the confines of your office, it's no longer in your control. If you value message control too highly, you will severely limit your own efficacy -- especially if you are a grassroots organization.

A big portion of my own portfolio lately has been around branding. Brand control is an even more ridiculous concept: a brand doesn't live in an office; it lives in the minds of your stakeholders. For that reason, I think there are no better tools than social media tools for building a strong brand. As Holly said, social media inspires conversation which ultimately inspires ownership. If people don't own your brand or message, then it's lost a lot -- if not all -- of its potential power.

My organization, a statewide arts advocacy and service group, just unveiled a new visual identity in the hopes to have our outsides better match our insides. As part of this initiative, we finally launched our Facebook Page. Engaging people online and listening in on their conversations has helped me understand how our stakeholders see us and where we need to sharpen our identity.

For example, historically one of the strong attributes of our brand has been serving arts administrators (as opposed to artists) -- or so I thought. Yet, artists are playing a leading part in engaging and building our Facebook community. Many have taken it upon themselves to start posting photos of their artwork on our Page and sharing information on their shows. This has made me realize that there's a disconnect between how we've seen ourselves and how the community has seen us. I wouldn't be surprised if our use of social media changes our strategic direction and leads us to consider how we can actively and intentionally engage artists in addition to arts administrators.

Well, looks like I went a little off message there :-) Thanks again, Holly and Beth, for sharing such a stimulating post!


Hi Scarlett -

I definitely agree with your first point. There are some important differences in the ways advocacy groups employ social media vs. social service sector. The main challenge in advocacy work is learning how to spark authentic conversation about a particular policy agenda. The example above doesn't necessarily foster conversation, because ultimately, we are still putting out a canned message. Movements aren't built around legislation, but I believe legislation and political change is a significant outcome of a movement.

I also really value your thoughts on how your supporters articulate the mission of your organization differently than your staff. We are in the process of redesigning our Web Site with Convio. One of the activities that we participated in was a card sort of current content on the site. We asked staff and our web users to re-categorize content and create labels. One example stood out to me. Our staff consistently identified opportunities to get involved with the words "Action" and "Take Action." While our supporters identified those opportunities with the words "Get Involved." It is a small example, but useful to analyze our language and listen to what actually resonates with our base.

Scarlett Swerdlow

Thanks for the feedback, Holly.

It sounds like you and I are on parallel tracks! Our organization is also redesigning our site, and we're just getting started with our card sort :-) The staff results are just in, and it's interesting to see where the differences are internally. I'm excited (and a little nervous) to see how we compare to our stakeholders.

I love that you pick up on the distinction between "take action" and "get involved." If it weren't for your attention to detail, that's a distinction one could easily gloss over. I'm constantly working to improve our communications with the field to take into account these subtleties, and it's challenging! I've benefited a lot from Nancy Schwartz's Getting Attention e-newsletter. Here's a link to a past article she published on better nonprofit copy-writing: Good luck! Hopefully we're able to connect offline sometime soon.

Kayza Kleinman

Fascinating post.

It seems to me that whoever reprimanded you needs to learn more than a bit about marketing, advocacy and movement building. You don't generate the kind of support that an organization needs this way.

The first issue is one of motivation. Success breeds success. People need to see that they have accomplished at least something or they get discouraged. That means that if you can't get to the finish line on your main or current objective in some sort of reasonable time frame, you give people movement something else that may not be as important, but that is definitely relevant and worthwhile to your main cause. Then, you can either start pushing again on the original issue, if it has not died or move on to the next major project, if it has(hopefully only temporarily).

Secondly, you don't dictate to your advocates, or treat them like children who need to follow precise instructions. Yes, your researchers, etc are the experts, and I expect that your community of advocates has the necessary respect for their expertise (otherwise you would not have the credibility you do). But, these people are intelligent adults, and most people don't take well to being told, even by experts, that they shouldn't be energized or interested in smaller side issues, unless there is a very specific and real problem with pursuing that side issue. Certainly, trying to make people stop discussing something related to your important issue because it's not the main issue, is likely to backfire.

Good for you, for managing to navigate this one.

Melinda Lewis

I'm so glad that you shared this story. I wonder, too, if some of the pushback that you got internally was a reflection of pressure coming from your elected allies in Congress--in my experience, very few of our elected officials really understand or embrace how social media changes the nature of their relationships with constituents (and places new demands on their movement-building around legislative initiatives). Even before the advent of social media, we faced similar challenges in the tensions between 'beltway' and 'grassroots' advocates, with continual exhortations to 'control the message'. You are obviously navigating these challenges very well. BTW, one of my first advocacy experiences ever was a letter-writing campaign for Bread for the World when I was about 8 years old! :)

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