Social Media Applied: NationalField

There is currently a LOT of talk in nonprofit and advocacy campaign circles about social media and how it can be used in campaigns and more generally in support of organizational goals. Approaches are varied but gradually becoming more sophisticated. Some organizations are putting resources towards integrating social media into staffing, metrics, program plans, membership and more.

Campaign and organization leaders are pressured to “do something” with social media. Pressure that filters down. Meanwhile, program leadership – the folks with day to day responsibility for budgets and staff time and “making things happen” – are wondering how to apply social media in a practical sense. How does it affect the numbers? These are, generally speaking, risk averse people and organizations. For them, models, examples, templates and guidelines are an imperative.

So along comes NationalField and it seems a great opportunity to take a close look at this social media software platform that evolved from the 2008 Obama campaign. TechPresident had a great post on NationalField last week including an interview with Aharon Wasserman, one of the founders.

In a nutshell, NationalField brings a social interaction and metrics platform to field work. It seems, primarily at least at this point, to be a closed/private network for campaign staff and volunteers. Field workers interact, sentiment is gauged and relationships are built. Strong stuff for an effective field operation.

NationalField - Ohio
NationalField at play in Ohio.

I have not used NationalField directly (though would welcome a chance to put it to use – hint, hint) so can’t dive into details of how it’s working and where it’s going.

The potential is there for this – and applications/ideas like it – to be BIG. This is a visceral application of the potential of networks to apply in practical ways to campaigns. The Internet, perhaps the social web in particular, is the technical representation of human interaction. We’ve always built networks and engaged with one another at different levels. Recognizing and tapping into that is a secret sauce.

Aharon Wasserman talked about how a recognition that layers of people at different levels of action – a pyramid of engagement, really – played a large role in the Obama campaign as well as the origins of the software.

Wasserman says that, early on, he was a skeptic of the team-within-teams-within-teams model. Shouldn’t we be out registering voters instead of recruiting people to recruit people to register voters? But, he says, he got on board. “I realized that we were such an underdog that we really had to invest in building tiers of people.” As Obama worked it, the team model requires a great deal of attention to diligent tracking of what this wide network of humans is doing on behalf of the greater effort.

Of course, field organizing and ladders of engagement have long been a part of political campaigns. Getting people to do more is critical. Doing more with the right people (likey voters, for instance) even more critical. Social networks are adept at reverberating and spreading messages. Strategic application of social networks in campaigns – and nonprofits – is sorely lacking as most operate as billboards and not conversations. Use of social platforms as rapid/direct communications networks can’t be discounted, either.

Hope to take a closer look at NationalField and give it some more thought. In the meantime, we’ll be on the lookout for other solid and tangible applications of social network platforms in a campaign context.


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