Whenever I get talking about how the grotesque and growing inequality in America is warping and corrupting our politics — which is often — I usually bring up these brilliant Mother Jones charts . There are 11 in all; here are two examples:
WINNERS TAKE ALL
The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.
OUT OF BALANCE
A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.
I like them because they lay out the whole story in a way that suits the attention spans of our age — they make the overall shape of a complicated story apprehendable in seconds, with much greater economy than words can usually manage. (One notable exception: title of Joe Stiglitz’s recent Vanity Fair piece, Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%. Ain’t that a great turn of phrase?)
Point is, if you want your message amplified by crowds of people, if you want your content to go viral, you have to accept the following: You have less than 5 seconds to induce your users to stay and really read/watch what you have to say. Fail to make a strong enough impression, and they’re on to the next click.
Which is why, as advocacy groups close out the fiscal year and hash out next year’s budgets, any decisionmaker charged with persuading web audiences to get things done on the organization’s behalf ought to consider this proposition: If you don’t already have them, your next two critical hires should be Data Scientist and Data Visualization / Digital Illustration Ninja. Sometimes these skillsets can be found in a single person, but in my opinion this function is so critical to effective online storytelling for general audiences that I’d start with the assumption that you’ll be building a team, not just integrating one individual into your existing org chart.
Whether you’re, say, an advocacy organization or think tank or candidate for elective office, you’ve got to explain policy — a tall order, given the itchy trigger fingers of web users. You may already be generating reams of content explaining your programmatic work and policy recommendations. But if nobody’s reading it….
This Mashable post is a bit slight, but I’m down with its premise. Weaving foursquare and the like into collective action on behalf of a cause is in my opinion the most compelling nptech development around at the moment. (Along with microvolunteering of time/talent — the kind of thing The Extraordinaries facilitate.)
Anyway, here’s the protein:
With tech evangelists and small businesses exploring the potential power of Foursquare and other location enabled services, it was only a matter of time before change makers in the non-profit and social enterprise ecosystem “checked-in” and began finding innovative methods to rally support for their causes.
Top three examples here:
- Rewarding Volunteer Loyalty. “Restaurants that monitor customer regularity based on Foursquare () data could give free meals to local food banks. Drug stores could issue over the counter medication and toiletries to homeless shelters. Nightclubs that hold open mic nights could allow their mayors to get up on stage and deliver calls to action. Non-profit leaders could hold meetings at local watering holes that track Foursquare usage in exchange for outdoor signage promoting their cause. The possibilities are endless.”
- Turn Check-Ins into Dollars. E.g., venues and corporate sponsors could allow individuals to earn “karma points” for check-ins that the user could convert to $ donations to a cause of their choice.
- Crowdsourcing Crisis Information. The Ushahidi model — gmaps + user-generated reports to monitor “crime, devastation, and peace and relief efforts” wherever chaos blooms.
That’s just for starters. For example, if the Coakley volunteers doing GOTV work today and tomorrow had an app with maps, voter data, and activity stream, I’d bet they could be shockingly efficient. Loud and energizing, too — it’d be hard to passively sit around and do nothing when tweets are rolling in showing all your friends out there working hard and making it happen.
I’ve barely used this blog for the last couple years, and that’s a shame — it’s been a great way to start articulating ideas and slow build toward a coherent point of view, and it’s served me really well. Parenting two young kids has taken up a lot of the free time I used to give to blogging.
But I miss it. I want to relaunch this professional sandbox. My original intent, back in 05, was to open-source my roughest, rawest nascent thoughts about web strategy for organizations. I want to get back to that.
There are tools around now that help people spit out this kind of stuff — quick journaling/scrapbooking — with minimal hassle. I’m thinking of moving the site over to posterous or tumblr, as people like Steve Rubel and Robert Scoble have done. We’ll see. But, however I do it, here’s the goal: post pretty much every day, maybe several times a day, short/sweet, laser focus on how organizations (especially advocacy groups) can further their mission by leveraging the social web.
To start: with respect to what wired publics can achieve and the tech and tactics they’ll use to do it, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Blogging, tweeting — all well and good; it’s part of the capacity/infrastructure groups need to be able to build sustainable, effective wired publics around their mission. But is this stuff the basic catalytic enzyme that creates a wired public around furthering a cause?
No. People want to be able to do something that contributes in a meaningful way to achieving a specific goal. They want to be part of something larger than they are. They want to be part of getting things done. To date, we haven’t given them a whole lot more than sending form emails to politicians/CEOs and donating cash. These options are stale. We need more and better models for facilitating kick-ass collective action.
And we will. I know it. Give it a few years, and present-day online advocacy campaigns will look embryonic by comparison. Grab-bag of ideas rattling round my head coming later.
Posting photos to Twitter through services like Twitpic and Posterous has become really popular with the iPhone set, for good reason — illustrating your twitter stream with on-the-scene snapshots definitely adds personality to one’s twitter presence.
My problem with this practice, until now, has been that I’d rather store my photos in one all-purpose, does-everything-well online service than have them scattered over various services that do different things. I’m a confirmed Flickr user for my own photos. And at this point many organizations have substantial treasure (and investment) in Flickr — examples include the American Red Cross, The Nature Conservancy, and NRDC. (Note: very likely, many individuals staffers within your org have Flickr accounts and may well be posting job-related pix, too… What? You haven’t yet surveyed your staff re where they’re present on the social web?? Get crackin.)
With yesterday’s announcement of a new Flickr-to-Twitter integration feature, the photo service has finally given users a long-overdue You got chocolate in my peanut butter! moment. Problem solved, for me — and I think the same goes for nonprofits/businesses active on both Flickr and Twitter. As others have observed, it’s true that twitpic offers richer functionality, but my guess is that most Flickr folk will happily trade that for the simplicity of working out of one service.
Highly recommended for nonprofits: Start salting your twitter stream(s) with choice and/or timely Flickr-hosted content that’s relevant to whatever else you’re tweeting. ESPECIALLY if you’re smartphone-equipped and are live-tweeting from an interesting event or location.
Doing this will give your storytelling and presence on Twitter immediacy, and I think it’ll increase interest in any related web materials you may link to in tweets fore and aft a Flickr image.
If you take up this practice, one more thing to consider: when you upload each photo to Flickr, be sure to include a good caption in the “description” field, and include links to related URLs on your own website(s) — blog posts, press releases, reports & other policy/background materials, web features, etc. Doing so will give anyone drawn in by Twitter a more satisfying experience of the photo. And it will give that viewer somewhere to go, once they’ve looked at the picture on Flickr.
One further reminder: If you really want to get the most out of the assets you upload to Flickr, put the extra minutes into:
- giving each photo a good title
- meaningful tags
- geotags if appropriate
- a good description as described above
- Creative Commons noncommercial share-alike licensing.
And organize your assets into meaningful Sets and Collections. It takes a little more time to do all this, and when pinched for time you may want to leave some of these tasks for periodic housekeeping visits to Flickr when your schedule allows. But it really is worth it — your photos (and videos) will be discovered by many more people who’re searching Flickr in different ways, and you’ll also be able to do a lot more with your photos — for example, you can embed slideshows in blog posts or microsites that display all the photos in a Set, or all photos with a particular tag etc.
I stopped regular reading of TechCrunch a long time ago — it had become a downright nasty place, where the community displayed repellent levels of acrimony, greed, sycophancy. But techmeme recently sent me to a TechCrunch post that reminded me that Arrington has been and remains a talented, blunt-spoken analyst.
In It’s Time To Start Thinking Of Twitter As A Search Engine, Arrington writes:
Enough people are hooked on it that Twitter has reached critical mass. If something big is going on in the world, you can get information about it from Twitter.
Twitter also gathers other information, like people’s experiences with products and services as they interact with them. A couple of months ago, for example, I was stuck in the airport and received extremely poor service from Lufthansa. I twittered my displeasure, which made me feel better – at least I was doing something besides wait in an endless line. I’ve also Twittered complaints about the W Hotel (no Internet, cold room) and Comcast (the usual Internet gripes).
More and more people are starting to use Twitter to talk about brands in real time as they interact with them [emphasis mine]. And those brands want to know all about it, whether to respond individually (The W Hotel pestered me until I told them to just leave me alone), or simply gather the information to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.
People searching for news. Brands searching for feedback. That’s valuable stuff.
Twitter as search engine. Twitter as listening tool for organizations that want to find out what people are saying about them, and respond where warranted with customer service.
I’ll see that, and raise the wager: Twitter as a tool for tracking the conversation around specific topics, and — because Twitter search/tracking is a real-time service — discovering people who are, at that exact moment, actively interested in that topic. A radar system that monitors what — with apologies to Arthur Miller – is more and more the sound of the wired world “talking to itself,” and filters Babel down so that flares are generated only when it finds the keyword(s) you’ve specified.
Could this help groups working to solve global warming, save polar bears, or help disaster victims? I think so. Next up: posts about how twitter might be used in this way (hint: not by outsourcing it, or dropping it in the lap of a marketing person, or even tasking your whole marketing department with making it happen), and a look at how a few brands are trying to