The incentives are all wrong

It’s normal to be exhausted by endless crises, a President who throws tweet bombs at 6 am every day and the non-stop punditry cycle. Unfortunately, wearing you out is a valuable, sometimes intentional, benefit to those who disagree with you.

The latest Bright Ideas (subscribe below!) takes a look at how social media works against good content and storytelling and how (or even if) we can do better in a system that only seems to reward angry and extreme voices. Also, Fortnite is where it’s happening (ten million people in one place!), loads of new jobs, and help for your messy to manage content projects.

Bright Ideas is a biweekly(ish) newsletter sharing ideas and updates on content strategy and storytelling for advocacy and social good.

A crisis a day makes good information go away

There’s a lot of fallout when multiple political and social crises go viral on social media every day. Journalists, analysts, politicians and activists get worn out sprinting on a nonstop treadmill of hot takes, misinformation, new details and (eventually) personal attacks.

More problematic to actual advocacy, governance and storytelling is that it all happens at a pace that doesn’t allow nuance. The incentive and reward system surrounding social media, and in effect storytelling, is dangerous. 

We’re seeing a growing sentiment that journalists (and others) would be more effective at their work if they leave social media. Jeff Jarvis counters that it’s the duty of journalists to listen to their audience and engage in community conversations.

Journalists (and activists and anyone, really) tend to burn out when living life responding to constant outrage. Sometimes, people join in and share things later proven to be false. Or statements that deserve much greater nuance.

But I agree with Jarvis that those whose job it is to report the news can’t run from the public square. Same goes for those of us whose role it is to use stories to illuminate a path towards more just and equitable communities.

We can and usually should moderate the speed at which we act online. We can develop personal and organizational principles that outline our ethics and values with respect to information and personal data. Some of us (not all) can spend less time on social media and more in personal conversation.

Perhaps there are strategies for better using tools and networks to gather information and engage in community conversations. I’m a fan of Hearken and their approach to audience/reader engagement (and listening). It’s helpful, positive and structured. Not reckless. It complements social networks instead of depending on them.  

Then there’s the Covington thing

All the above-described soul searching seemed to take center stage in the aftermath of about 1,508,000 hours of collective watching and punditry interpreting what went on when the Covington behaved very badly.

Any large and unsupervised group of teenage tourists wandering around a city rarely ends well.  Mob-like behaviors happen in groups. Decorum and self-reflection aren’t rewarded. The group, lacking any consensus, is quick to support quick if thoughtless action.

The longread, How I Knew the #CovingtonBoys Video Was Clickbait, posits that the video first shared wasn’t necessarily inaccurate but was intentionally edited to generate attention and outrage on social media. The implication: Americans spent a week attacking one another in response to a video intentionally crafted to do just that.

The article doesn’t excuse the behavior of the kids from Covington or anyone else in DC that day. But it does raise valuable questions about the failure of journalism, and storytelling in general, to function in an always on, hyperactive environment that rewards conflict and emotion instead of nuance and perspective gained over time.

How do nonprofits and activists navigate an environment that rewards going to extremes? As a sector, we’ve long highlighted worst case scenarios to raise money and get people to take action. It’s worth considering whether earning support requires driving people into a fury. If so, we can and should do better.

Talk about meeting people where they are

Ten million concurrent users (aka individual people) watched a live performance inside the video game Fortnite. The performance at Pleasant Park by DJ/Producer Marshmello (and AOC joining a fundraiser on Twitch livestream fundraiser to talk about transgender rights) may portend much of what’s to come in the world of supporter engagement and recruitment.

Stories about storytelling and social change

Screenwriter and systems change innovator Ella Saltmarshe in Stanford Social Innovation Review last year on the connection between storytelling and systemic change:

How can we empower generations of storytellers to use this most ancient of technologies to change systems for the better?

We need to develop new processes of collective storytelling to help us navigate these turbulent and polarizing times. As such, we need more stories about stories in the field of systems change. There are many more examples, tools, and ways of using
of stories to share. It is time for systems change practitioners and storytellers to work together in new ways to build a better world so that “living happily ever after” exists off the page, as well as on it.

The intersection of tech and doing good work

Professionally speaking, it can be hard to find the spot in the venn diagram where tech skills overlap with social good. I recently spoke with Noah Hart who runs Tech Jobs for Good. He shared with me that setting up the job board and email list grew out of many conversations with coders, project managers and others with tech skills who, like him, were frustrated in their quest to do work that benefits communities, not just investors. Check it out.

Who uploaded me?

Is your org uploading lists to Facebook without the express permission of people on that list? Facebook is setting up ways for people to figure out who uploaded their data, though I have little confidence Facebook will clearly present this info to people.

Couple things, though: The history of all in one software solutions in the CMS/CRM space is spotty at best, at least in the nonprofit world which isn’t far removed from local news imho. They better invest in implementation support, culture change, and sharing innovation across the sector. Also, despite what I just said about similar systems not working well in the nonprofit space, small orgs really need something like this (and the skills/support to make it work).

Many (most?) nonprofit content projects suck

That’s in part due to having too many cooks in the kitchen. Maybe it’s not too many cooks but confusion about who preps, who cooks, who tastes, who serves the meal. Ever watched a “restaurant wars” episode of Top Chef? Poor team management is where good food goes to die. Same for good content.

The DARCI accountability grid offers a way of helping teams know who makes decisions, who’s accountable for work and who implements. In other words, a content creator knows who will jump into the editing process and when. Content strategist Liz Murphy has a good piece on using DARCI in content projects – maybe it will help you out.

Events, stories and more goodness

No surprise to hear that subscription and membership models will become the key revenue focus for the news industry this year according to the annual Reuters Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions report. Also, look for online journalism to continue saying membership when they mean subscription.

This is a thorough list of user experience and design conferences around the world in 2019. UX and design is really all about how people interact with what they see and feel around them. So the language can differ but loads to be learned at some of these for the non-designer who works with content, storytelling or advocacy. The UX Collective newsletter is a good one, too, by the way.

The role technology plays in creating agency and power for the powerless, viewed through the lens of women in India documenting violence, sharing their experience, and changing systems.

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