Bright Ideas

Power-full storytelling for change

Can we create powerful (and “power-full”) storytelling for advocacy that shifts power to people and communities so they may better control the change they seek?

Power-full storytelling

The “traditional” framework for advocacy storytelling is built around persuading those who aren’t directly affected – or who aren’t currently engaged – to empathize and act. This is a good way to go when what you need are people to write Congress, come to a march on Washington or give you money so you can do more of your good work.

But persuasion isn’t about power. Persuasion acts on those not affected. Somewhere along the way it’s possible—too easy, really—for the change that needs to happen to be disputed, watered down, stalled in a committee. Meanwhile, real people go hungry, real homes sink into the ocean, real wildlife lose a place to live.

Philanthropy may recognize the power problem

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, recently wrote Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough in the New York Times. In it, Walker calls on the philanthropic community and, perhaps, a broader economic and political establishment, to not simply address the effects of inequality and injustice on society but to solve their root causes.

Farhad Ebrahimi of the Chorus Foundation wrote about the Foundation’s decision to focus on systemic change and supporting transitions to a new political economy in choosing how to direct its support of climate change advocacy.

It’s not a new idea to social justice advocates: We can (and should) feed the hungry but wouldn’t it be more prudent to tackle systemic causes of inequality and poverty that are leading to a growing number of hungry families and children each year?

Pressuring the System or Shifting Power?

Advocates and campaigners can do much more to tell the stories of people impacted by inequality, poverty, hunger, war or environmental disaster. And many are doing just that with interviews, personal histories, photos and video, and other narratives that tell stories of the impacted and less powerful in their own voices.  Recent work by Humans of New York tells the story of refugees to help fundraise for the community. In the film @Home, activist Mark Horvath interviews dozens of homeless people, family members, and others in the community to tell the story of homelessness from the perspective of those living it.

Continue reading “Power-full storytelling for change”

Great Content : Stronger Content Strategies

We help organizations develop and implement content strategies that create the conditions for more people to learn, act and lead change in their communities.

But not every content problem needs to be solved with a grand strategy. Our approach identifies content goals, needs and solutions by working across organizations, looking at data and finding examples from collaborators, competitors and other sectors.

Some of our content services include: 

  • Content strategy assessment, development, implementation and staffing.
  • Original writing and editing of blog posts, articles.
  • Creating, designing and producing email newsletters.
  • Editorial calendar creation and support.
  • Webinar planning and production.
  • Audio and video planning and production.
  • Developing partnerships with bloggers, freelance writers and other content professionals.
  • Staff support and training for blogging, writing and new media projects.
  • Content marketing and advertising.

We’ve worked with large and small organizations around the world, including:

Let’s talk (or call us at +1 720-480-6975).

Better Data : Better Content

Organizations are creating blog posts, reports, articles, social media posts, videos, audio, websites and much more. This content takes staff (or consulting or volunteer) time and money that could be used elsewhere.

We love content and storytelling. But if you can’t connect content to data–and use meaningful metrics to inform content strategy–you’re not accomplishing much, possibly wasting money, minimizing impact, and quite likely running teams of people who don’t know why they’re doing the work. Continue reading “Better Data : Better Content”

Turning policy experts into reporters

The Munk School of Public Affairs at the University of Toronto is doing something brilliant that NGO leaders should check out. The Fellowship in Global Journalism, an 8-month program that trains subject experts to become reporters. The program gives students the support, training and tools needed to create powerful stories for widely read news and online media outlets. Training focuses traditional and digital reporting skills and the program provides participants with high-level mentorship from working editors. All that is layered on top of the participant’s strong subject expertise.

deep sea mining
An ocean issue that could use more news stories: deep sea mining. This is an Auxiliary Cutter to be used by Nautilus Minerals for seabed mining near Papau New Guinea. Photo via Nautilus Minerals.

Imagine, for example, the stories that a few oceans experts could create for widely read media newspapers and online media if they had deep skills in reporting, data visualization, video production and other storytelling skills needed today. You don’t see many oceans stories because traditional news outlets don’t have staff to cover those stories and new media outlets haven’t built up subject expertise. But all are looking to publish great stories people will read and share.

It’s not that readers don’t care about oceans, it’s that there’s nobody to tell the story. And more (and better) stories are needed to support a public narrative on which advocates can hook their calls to action.

Oceans are just one example. You could swap out medicine, immigration, childcare or prison reform and get similar results.

Great news stories are in higher demand than ever so why not make them about issues that matter. There are more places reporting general news for national and global audiences than ever. Some start with a V: Vice and Vox. A is covered: AlJazeera. And then there B for Buzzfeed and M for Mic. Meanwhile, long-time regional, national and global news outlets are cutting full-time positions but, in most cases, hungry for good stories.

There are too few people who both know their subject and can develop great stories about it. This creates an opportunity for policy experts to engage global media in new and more direct ways. It would be fantastic to see the environmental community or other advocacy sector support a similar endeavor.

Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign

In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays 12 year old Josh Baskin who puts a coin in a magic wish machine at the amusement park arcade one summer night and asks to be big. Nothing happens after making the wish so he heads home and goes to bed.

Be big

You know the story. Josh wakes up the next morning and is, well, BIG (and played by Tom Hanks).

Sometimes, your campaigns go big. You probably didn’t plan for it (though you may have wished for it). The ride may be fun but it’s probably not what you expected.


Sometimes, things don’t turn out as you hoped. You didn’t raise much money. New people didn’t stick with you. The media didn’t respond as you hoped. The big suit doesn’t always fit right — you may walk away disappointed but a bit wiser.

Big. And not so fun.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question “What does it mean for a to ‘go big’ if you’re a nonprofit?” What is a viral campaign? That’s because I’m organizing a session here in Denver with the folks from Tech4Good titled Going Viral: The Ups and Downs of Hitting it Big. The program is tomorrow so you’ve probably missed it.

We don’t have to find Zoltar and wish to be big but we do need to know what “big” is, tap into what helps make campaigns go big and be ready when it happens (even if it’s not as dramatic as in the movie or the ice bucket).

So… What IS Big?

When it’s really big you know it. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was big. Very big.

Google trends - ALS
A 12 month Google search trends chart tracking ALS and Obama searches. The ALS spike is reminiscent of the Super Bowl and other huge national events.

Continue reading “Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign”

Do you create content, measure it and still have no idea if content matters?

You are not alone if you answered yes (or even maybe/I’m not sure) to the question in the headline above. There is a disconnect along the creation, measurement, impact and learning path when it comes to content.

We set up The Content Survey to help you better understand how to develop and measure content that drives social change. Here are some preliminary results (and check out the slides below, too).

Content Survey - Preliminary Results

Who Took the Content Survey

67 organizations participated in the survey. Of that group…

  • 30 are small groups with under 20 staff.
  • 9 are mid-sized organizations with 20 – 50 staff members.
  • 11 are large groups of 51 – 100 staff.
  • 17 are very large organizations with over 100 staff.

The leading ways in which individuals saw their organization achieving its mission were direct advocacy and education. Groups also use research, community organizing, policy making and community service to achieve their mission.

There’s no clear correlation between organization size and having a written content strategy. Twenty-three percent of small groups have a content strategy — same as large organizations.

Overall, only one in four groups report having a content strategy.

Does Content Strategy = More Powerful Content?

Continue reading “Do you create content, measure it and still have no idea if content matters?”

Take The Content Survey

Chances are, if you’re working in a nonprofit or campaign you’re spending a good chunk of time writing, editing, shooting photos and video, or maybe commenting on ad copy or Facebook post language. Maybe you’re putting together language for the next email newsletter, activist alert or infographic for that new report your research team put together.

The Content Survey
Click to take The Content Survey.

All that content we’re putting out in the world are the atoms of advocacy — they’re the bits and pieces that form the dots, build the networks and create change.

Take The Content Survey
from Bright+3 and Echo & Co.

But are we able to make sense of how all the blog posts, reports, emails, videos, infographics and (of course) clever animated gifs are advancing our work? That’s a question we’re continually wrestling with in our research and client work.

We wanted to dig a little deeper and last month released a small query for the community — The (mini) Content Survey. It was a (very) brief questionnaire to get a sense of how effective people felt their content was and how they assess that effectiveness. The most valuable information came as open-ended responses to the question “What’s the one thing you wish you knew about your content (but don’t)?”

Are we smart enough about psychology to have the right context when creating content?

And another:

The extent to which people are learning from content. It’s hard to measure the impact of “educational” content.

Most boiled down to how we know if content is motivating action:

What is the reader’s emotional reaction and what does that move them to do?

These are difficult metrics to gather and evaluate (but it can be done). The question is – do these metrics help (and do we have the resources to learn and act on them)?

Now we’re taking The Content Survey a step further. We teamed up with Echo & Co. to launch and analyze a more complete set of questions – though just 10 questions in all. Next month, we’ll begin reporting back on our findings to the community at NTC in Austin (and for anyone who asks and wants to learn more).

To be clear, we’re looking for feedback from anyone involved in the content creation process so if you’re a digital strategist, fundraiser, organizer or leader, please take a few minutes to take the survey here:

The Content Survey

We’d love it if you would take The Content Survey. Ten questions. Thanks!

What DO you know about your content?

Content is everywhere. For starters: blog and Facebook posts, tweets and webinars, infographics and Slideshare presentations, online and print advertisements, email newsletters, action alerts and fundraising appeals, photo galleries and research reports, annual reports, magazines and books. That’s just a start.

And let’s not forget the dozens or hundreds (or sometimes thousands) more web pages that tell people who you are, how you work, why you do what you do and (super important!) why the reader should support you with their own time and money.

Meanwhile, these readers (donors, supporters, activists, media, legislators and others), are (we hope) relentlessly reading, sharing and taking action with through constant connections to smartphones and tablets.

What’s missing? A clear sense of what works, when, why and a plan for how to move to that spot. When we talk with executive directors, fundraisers, communicators and digital strategists, all report that their organizations are spending more time and money than ever on content. They wonder if they’re doing the right thing (and how to tell).

Content Sur
What works and why? We’re finding out, starting with the (mini) content survey.
Take it now.

What Works and Why?

It’s time to start answering that question. We’re starting with a survey (two surveys, really) that brings together data from across the nonprofit sector about content spending, staffing, strategy as well as goals, methods and metrics. We’ll also be talking with leaders and practitioners to collect stories that give context to the data. When we find patterns in the data that helps explain success (or failure) we’ll dive deeper and hear from people doing the work.

Wait. Two surveys? Sure. The first is a mini-survey. Just three questions to help scratch the surface and identify some key questions YOU (not just us) have.

A survey, after all, should be about what the user needs. Just like great content.

Take the (mini) content survey now. Thanks!

3 Reasons to use Yelp and TripAdvisor in your social media and outreach campaigns

Taken a trip lately? You’ve likely used sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to research places to eat, sleep and visit. You’re not alone. Yelp received 138 million unique visitors in the second quarter of 2014. TripAdvisor sites currently receives 280 million visits each month. The sites are highly trafficked by millions in the US and around the world looking for information and/or willingly writing up reviews and sharing photos.

Yelp and TripAdvisor (along with similar crowd-driven travel sites) are treasure troves of content that can help those of you working on place-based advocacy and outreach. The sites come up high in search results, provide user-generated content that can accurately describe what people are looking for and doing when visiting a place, and are themselves communities with highly engaged participants.

Here are three ways to take advantage of crowdsourced travel sites.

Use Yelp and TripAdvisor’s search result superpowers to reach new and interested audiences

Example of place-based search results. These Google results for Point Lobos show Yelp near the top and no advertising.
Example of place-based search results. These Google results for Point Lobos show Yelp near the top and no advertising.

Crowdsourced travel sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are content rich, linked to from across the web and optimized to perform well in search. Google a national or state park and you’re likely to see a TripAdvisor or Yelp entry near the top of the results. The Point Lobos (a state natural reserve in California) search results here are an example.

This demonstrates the power of the search strategy used by these sites. In many cases, though, it also provides an opportunity to reach very interested audiences: people planning to visit an area. Often, nobody is advertising around online searches for parks and other natural places.

Use this as an opportunity to test search ads (hopefully using a Google Grant so the cost is zero). People are looking for things to do, sites to see, best adventures in the area and maybe even current events. Build a set of search ads around those interests and offer content that meets these needs. You could even ask people to fill out a form and provide an email address to receive information. Simply put, though, it’s a quick way to drive people to your content (instead of having them go straight to Yelp). Continue reading “3 Reasons to use Yelp and TripAdvisor in your social media and outreach campaigns”

Pot and Obamacare beat out real conversations about health in Colorado

The annual Colorado Health Symposium kicked off earlier today. The Symposium has become the main gathering of people in the state and region working on a wide range of health issues (and it’s likely a big event on the national scene). Colorado Health Foundation staff organizing the event do a great job using YouTube, the web, Twitter and Facebook to engage people during the event. The content is great. Follow along on Twitter at #14CHS.

The theme of this year’s Colorado Health Symposium is Health Transformed: The Power of Engagement. Today’s discussions about how to engage people in health conversations talked about meeting people where they are, communicating on their terms and how to use language that fits the community you’re trying to reach.

That’s a great place to focus attention. Advocates that don’t engage their audience aren’t doing their job.

But it got me to thinking about how people are talking about health in Colorado now (and how much they’re talking about it). What ARE people talking about when they talk about health in Colorado? What else are they talking about? What can we learn about the state of public engagement on health by the looking at recent online conversations?

The chart below uses Topsy to analyze the use of three sets of keywords on Twitter in the past month: (1) tweets that have the words “health” and “Colorado” in them; (2) tweets that have the words “healthcare” and “Colorado” in them; and (3) tweets that have the words “pot” and “Colorado” in them.

The “colorado health” conversation is dwarfed by mentions of pot. Talk of health in the state is dominated by debates over Obamacare.

None of these are huge conversations over the past month and, clearly, the conversation about each of the topics represented by these terms is bigger than the numbers in this chart. We’re only looking for these specific words, after all. And we’re only looking at Twitter in the past month. This is just one snapshot, not an extensive analysis. Hop on Topsy to play with these or other terms.

But the chart is telling. The biggest “spike” in Colorado health conversation happened on July 20th as the result of a Denver Post story about billing issues with healthcare plans sold on the Colorado exchange. This story has little to do with health but is instead tied to the continual political debate over Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that politically charged conversations about health insurance laws displace actual health conversation.

It bears further analysis but what’s potentially concerning is that health conversation – and the ability of the health community to engage real people about health issues online – is being confused and displaced by the healthcare debate. A few thoughts on what this might mean:

  • Online channels certainly aren’t the only (and maybe not the best) place to engage people on health issues. Many people in key audiences may not be online, or at least not on Twitter, though I’m guessing many are on Facebook and other networks. The health conversation, like many others, needs many points of contact.
  • Real human health stories need more (and stronger) online voices to compete with the healthcare policy debate. Access to healthcare services is a huge part of good health but politicizing it is polarizing the discussion and making it hard to have real conversations about other aspects of good health (nutrition, food choices/prices/access, school lunches, active children and more).
  • More analysis of the health conversation wouldn’t hurt. How are real people talking about health (and healthcare) in Colorado? And the nation? There’s a wealth of data out there on the social networks waiting to be scooped up.

And what about the pot conversation in Colorado? Well, people use the word “pot” in connection with Colorado much more often than they do health or healthcare. Welcome to Colorado! We threw pot into this chart mostly for comparison’s sake. Seems that health and healthcare should be bigger conversations than pot. Something to aspire to (and maybe learn from) going forward.

As advocates, if we want to engage people online we need to know what they’re talking about and how they’re talking about it. Otherwise, we may be talking to ourselves.