Bright Ideas: O Facebook What Art Thou?

Here’s the latest edition of Bright Ideas where we take a look at changing Facebook relevance may mean to content, storytelling and marketing. Also, why is BuzzFeed doing tote bags? And new jobs for great people. Subscribe here:

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


O Facebook, What Art Thou? I’m not going to make the case that Facebook is going away. At least not anytime soon. But the obstacles it faces, largely challenges of its own making, should be of enormous concern to any nonprofit campaigner, fundraiser or leader. (And present exciting opportunities for positive change, I hope.)

First, let’s look at how anti-user Facebook’s core product, the ad manager (ha, I mean the news feed), has become. Despite Facebook’s self-proclaimed return to being a place for friends in 2018, it’s pretty much a visual (and targeted) classified ads platform. Example: at 4 pm last Wednesday I pulled up my Facebook feed and scrolled through the first 25 posts. Twelve were from pages I’ve followed at one time or another. Five were ads. Eight were from people I know. Five of those were straight up reshares of page content with no context.

So much for friends.

Second, the world that analyzes these things is full of stories about declining Facebook use among people under 25 and Europeans, among others. This parallels data about falling interest in the US. Meanwhile, Facebook does seem to have followed through on its promise to deprioritize news by sending less traffic to media sites – a hit to online publishers that’s unlikely, in the short term, to do anything about public trust in media.

Where does that leave us? In the short term, probably in the same place we’ve been for a couple years now. Facebook is huge and any organization willing to put real resources behind the creation and advertising of engaging content that can help bring people (and their data) to Facebook is going to be okay.

But can nonprofits as well as media orgs (including nonprofit journalism) continue to rely on social media to drive growth and visits to their websites? And can nonprofits (and even the consultants surrounding them) continue relying on a platform that seems okay absolving itself of political, social and human collateral damage?

Hey, I’m on Facebook. It’s complicated. But somehow I think we need to aim for more human-scale relationship building that don’t outsource targeting of lookalike audiences to an unregulated corporation.

That means, I think, more tools people can use to create news and fewer platforms for sharing news. More members and fewer audiences. More teaching people to tell stories and less talking about storytelling.

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Can tote bags save journalism?

Just say no to Trumpian Drift. How advocates, journalists, leaders tell stories of migrants and refugees says a lot about how society views citizenship and basic human rights. Masha Gessen urges journalists to choose their words and stories with more care because the scale of problems facing us requires smarter – and more scaled – reporting. She points this out in the quote below and it’s important for advocates to be aware of this, hold media to account, and to also be very conscious of how every story is framed in their own communications:

Like most coverage, but perhaps more than most coverage, the writing about immigration has been suffering from what I think of as Trumpian drift. Journalists casually use terms like crossing the border illegally when referring to asylum seekers—when in fact there is no law that says they must use the ports of entry. Journalists increasingly buy into the framing of immigration policy as a strategy for preventing people from entering the United States. And then there is the conspicuous use of the words caravan and migrant to refer to people fleeing for safety.
– Masha Gessen

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Adding value by adding values. This is a headline I can get behind because I see nonprofits, unintentionally in most cases, making pitches for financial support and action that reflect the righteousness of their work as though it’s assumed every member or reader had a hand in creating their theory of change. Ben Terrett writes about how successful product design does a great job solving user problems but often shows no regard for public values (using the apropos and timely example of scooters littering most major cities).

Nonprofits and civil society are – or should be – modeling inclusive behavior that helps all consider the impact our work has on the whole community: the powerless, not just members, wealthy donors or the loudest voices. Thanks to Paul de Gregorio for sharing this one.

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The constant pressure of tracking everything is burning out journalists. And I know that many activists and campaigners feel the same way as reporters John Crowley spoke to for this piece at Nieman Lab. A few things: (1) Stop reporting on Trump’s tweets. They exist only to overwhelm media bandwidth and make everything about him. (2) We hear a lot about tech solutions to info overload, turning off notifications, and self-care. All good (phone notifications are truly evil). But, as Crowley points out, much of this is driven by management and leaders who support systems that place professional and personal value on constant work.

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Does climate fiction lead to climate action? Only if readers are also accessing cultural messages that effective action is possible. Researcher Matthew Schneider-Mayerson surveyed US readers of 19 works “cli-fi” to understand how climate storytelling may help shape advocacy and opinions on climate change.

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So…who actually does what in high-performing digital comms team? Every organization is churning out content. Very few are well-staffed for it. The good folks at Contentius put together this smart field guide to content roles.

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Get your BuzzFeed tote bag now. It’s free when you make your $100 membership payment. Pretty cynical tone to this piece by Christine Schmidt for NiemanLab but it seems meaningful that a private media company with a household name is scrambling to try every membership experiment it can. Curious how membership as a BuzzWord hooks on here but I’m rooting for the great writers there.

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This great little piece from Transparency International shares five ways to help people engage in campaigns. It’s insights that go beyond anti-corruption activism to support most any issue and the communications around it. All orgs could benefit from a user-centered focus on accessibility, safety, relevance, credibility and responsiveness.

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Anyone going to (or involved in) the #Reframe Conference on Mental Health and the Media? Looks interesting!

Do good work

A few great roles at the intersection of digital, content, creative and campaigning. Have one to share? Click reply and let me know. Have an idea of your next perfect role but not finding it? Send me a note.

  • Chicago-based Hearken helps newsrooms listen to and engage the public on the way to building public trust and stronger stories. They’re hiring US-based engagement consultants to work with their 150 (and growing) clients. Engagement consultants should have newsroom experience but, as the description says, “please don’t be discouraged if your title doesn’t include engagement-related words.”
  • Free Press has several campaigning/organizing roles open: Campaign Manager, Online Community Manager and Digital Manager. Free Press is leading the fight for net neutrality in the US by, in part, engaging tens of thousands of volunteer activists. The team is based in western Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and remote locations around the US.
  • New Citizenship Project is doing smart work helping orgs and campaigns engage people in more meaningful and powerful ways. The London-based group is bringing on a Strategist. Check it out if you’re over that way.
  • United for Iran is hiring a Civic Technology Program Director based in Berkeley. Great group and should be a wonderful opportunity to do innovative work. Note: must be fluent in Farsi.
  • I don’t know much about Communitas America but this Program Manager role that will run coworking and a social venture accelerator looks super interesting. Based in the Bronx.
  • Greenpeace is filling two Media and Digital Analyst roles to guide the global organization’s tracking and learning from social media, news, and all the other bits that fly around the internets. Flexible location.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is hiring a DC-based Digital Director.
  • Campaign Legal Center in Washington, DC, is hiring a Multimedia Strategist.
  • The BlueGreen Alliance is hiring a Denver-based Colorado State Coordinator to grow and run the Alliance’s work there.

Here’s a google spreadsheet full of job lists, email groups and online job boards where you’ll find roles like these posted. It’s editable (for now) so feel free to comment or add a resource.

What’s on your “you should read this” list?

Here’s a short version of mine. Read either of these? Have anything to add? Hit reply and share what you’re digging into (or at least hoping to with any theoretical extra time).

Addendum

Question? Idea to share? Let’s talk. Reply or email ted@brightplus3.com.

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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.

health-pot-conversation-30day-900
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.

Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed

Facebook GrantsEarlier this week Facebook announced that it had begun putting “Donate” buttons on pages run by US nonprofit organizations. The program rolled out on 19 nonprofit pages and other groups are invited to express interest in participating. Facebook is offering to funnel donations to nonprofits free of charge — 100% of donations made will go to the nonprofit.

This program is important for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly is that it begins (we hope) to standardize the Facebook donation experience which has to date been cobbled together through a combination of free and paid third party apps, forms embedded on page tabs (an interface Facebook removed), and any number of attempts to move potential donors off Facebook which has always been difficult.

A Donate Button? Yeah! Oh, wait. Meh.

The response to this news from the broader nonprofit community may be characterized as lukewarm at best. Why? Organizations won’t receive the names and contact information of donors. Nonprofits are tired of Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, interfaces and rules. Organizations are also finding they have to pay to get their content in front of Facebook users that already Like and follow their page. Facebook makes it hard for organizations to reach their audience without paying. Nonprofits are not flush with communications and marketing resources. A pay to play environment shuts many if not most groups out of Facebook.
Continue reading “Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed”

Twelve things learned from using social media in a community crisis

Earlier this year my partner in crime here at Bright+3 left Colorado for Washington, DC, to work as Policy Advisor on Energy and Environment for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Prior to moving to DC, Jacob served as a city council member and then mayor of Golden, Colorado.

Lessons from Indian Gulch WildfireLike me, Jacob has always been intrigued by the ability of digital communications to connect and support people in their community, personal and political endeavors. Jacob maintained an email newsletter and website for years while a candidate, councilman and mayor. During his council and mayoral campaigns, we tested what was (at the time) innovative integration of voter files, email lists, volunteer data and walking lists to help target his efforts.

As elected officials go, it seemed that Jacob knew how to make the most of email and social media in his job. That experience was tested in March, 2011, when the Indian Gulch wildfire started just west of Golden (in the foothills on the west side of Denver). The fire lasted a week and became the nation’s largest at that time. Hundreds of homes were threatened.

The City of Golden had an emergency operations plan and a process by which city and county, the Sheriff’s department and fire officials would update the media. But wildfires move fast in dry windy hills and the need to get information out to residents with homes in and around those hills is urgent. Social media, email and the web raise expectations about information availability and local leaders are pressured to supply accurate and rapid news.

A few weeks ago, Jacob and Bill Fisher, a Golden City Council member, released a brief, highly readable report analyzing the lessons learned about communications (particularly digital/online networks) from the Indian Gulch fire. The report digs into early observations shared on the site Emergency Management in 2011Continue reading “Twelve things learned from using social media in a community crisis”

A friend of a friend: How Obama used Facebook to turn out voters

We all know that social networks can be a crucial arena for engaging your supporters and developing new relationships, but for a sense of scale look no further than the 2012 presidential campaigns. Both campaigns made extensive use of social networks like Spotify, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and, of course, the giants Facebook and Twitter.

One major problem for the campaigns in the closing weeks of the race: 18-29 year-old voters are very difficult to reach by phone, and making sure that very specific audience actually voted was a critical campaign element, especially for the Obama campaign. Their solution: aggressively, intelligently, and strategically using Facebook to identify supporters, keep them engaged, and then – during the GOTV (“get out the vote”) efforts in the final weeks – reminding them to actually vote.

Because of their early and sustained efforts identifying supporters through Facebook, 85% of the campaign’s GOTV 18-29 year-old targets were friends of friends of Barack Obama on Facebook. Obama for American Digital Director Teddy Goff explains, “We had about seven million instances of people contacting about five million people, all of their friends who they knew … these were people we had to reach, and couldn’t reach otherwise.”

And note the importance of very clearly identifying the audience. Even though Facebook users span a wide range of demographics, different demographics use the network differently. This was a strategy targeted for a very specific demographic. This not-so-little detail highlights a common problem in exhortations for nonprofits to use social networks more aggressively. The first step should always be defining the goal, and the second step – always – understanding the mechanisms of change enough to clearly and specifically define the audiences you need to influence. Then you can figure out if and how social networks matter, and how to use them effectively if they do.

But there is clearly a growing chance that social networks will matter, and if your target audience for a given campaign includes 18-29 year-olds in the United States, then social networks may well be critical part of your strategy.

Jacob Smith is the co-author of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, the former mayor of Golden, Colorado, and a nonprofit consultant.

If you watch one damn slide deck all year make it this one

Or, the science of great content that gets shared.

Only watch this if you want you want more people to read and take action on your content.

In June, a team from Upworthy gave a presentation at Netroots Nation about their approach to writing headlines and other content – all the while getting your stuff shared out the wazoo. I thought it was a terribly useful deck then, especially for nonprofit organizations that struggle to not just build a social media following but, more critically, have trouble getting their social communities to do much of anything.

The deck was updated for Rootscamp this past weekend. Check out the deck here or embedded below – but only bother if you have any interest in doing what it takes to make your social media communications get attention. Hell, all your communications could benefit from these insights into headlines, interesting writing, testing, optimizing sharing, and testing some more.

A few highlights for your consideration…

  • These folks know what they’re talking about. Upworthy launched in late-March, 2012. In eight months they have 791,000 Facebook fans, 43,000 Twitter followers, and 10,000 Tumblrs. Their early growth far (FAR) outpaces that of Huffington Post, BuzzFeed or Business Insider.
  • Middle aged women are the biggest sharers on the Internet. If your mom wouldn’t share your stuff you’re probably failing.
  • Write 25 headlines. Test the better ones. Use the best one.
  • The share image matters. A lot.
  • Make sharing on your website as easy as possible. So easy your mom could do it. Test these things, too.
  • Test. Collect data. Figure out what the data says. Test again. Repeat. Rinse. Test again.

For what it’s worth, we have seen even small sharing optimization tweaks have huge impacts on sharing when working with clients on email, websites, social media, and so on. Make sharing easy. Write great content. Here’s Upworthy’s deck:

Coming: charitable donations with Facebook Gifts

Today, Facebook announced the ability to make charitable donations (to one of 11 nonprofits at this point) through the Facebook Gifts program that is still rolling out to users.

Because you probably haven’t seen it, Facebook Gifts is e-commerce baked into Facebook that lets users buy gifts from Facebook and announce the gift through the Facebook platform.

The charitable donation program will let you make a donation in someone’s name to the charity of your choice or let the person you are gifting choose the charity.

Facebook gifts donation screen

At this point, Facebook seems to have rolled the program out using pre-selected non profit partner organizations, including:

  • American Red Cross
  • Blue Star Families
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • DonorsChoose.org
  • Girls Inc.
  • Kiva
  • LIVESTRONG
  • Oxfam America
  • RAINN
  • St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
  • Water.org

By and large, these are all well-established, high visibility organizations.  Wired reports that gifts are limited to $25. It is unclear how much, if anything, Facebook or 3rd parties are taking for processing fees.

Will donations through Facebook Gifts empower a new revenue source for non profit organizations? That seems unlikely but, really, it’s too soon to tell if (or even how) the Gifts program on Facebook will work. Offering a donation portal makes sense from Facebook’s perspective.

We think there are two potential upsides to this. First, it may raise awareness of the organizations involved. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it may make people more aware of or comfortable with the idea of giving to organizations through Facebook.

The onus will still be on organizations to actively engage supporters and move them to donations or other appropriate interactions. While this may make more people aware of the idea that Facebook is a donation platform it won’t make marketing and communications easier. Keep an eye on how these 11 organizations communicate with their Facebook audiences for insights into what works (or doesn’t).

Is local advocacy the gateway drug to political engagement?

Local advocacy campaigns are nothing new. Once upon a time, local organizing and advocacy lay at the heart of social change movements (well, still does though it’s gone a bit underground). Folks in a city, town, or county would be outraged, get together to do something about it, talk to their neighbors, lobby city councils (the members of which were – and often still are – friends and neighbors). Eventually, if needed, they pushed their cause to the state or national level.

For many of you, this may sound like the world circa 1975. “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock tells the story of local citizens working together to pass a law saying that school buses must stop at train tracks.

Okay, you have to watch it…

Here’s another story. The environmental movement got its start, in part, as the result of community-based campaigns to do something about polluted rivers. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River famously caught fire in 1969 (and many times before that, in fact). Citizens advocated for change from local leaders and soon realized that Congress would need to act. In time, the results included the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and other programs that have resulted in vastly cleaner (and healthier) water across America.

The ability of locals to organize, craft policy and programs, and take meaningful actions to promote change at various levels (local, state, federal) engaged a generation of people in their community, government, nonprofits, and other civic actions.
Continue reading “Is local advocacy the gateway drug to political engagement?”

Social media is like soylent green: It’s made of people

Hats off to Brian Solis for a simple but powerful thought about social media today. He answers the question “What’s your best advice to social media managers?” The answer:

Stop talking about social media

Boom. Simple. We couldn’t agree more.

Note that this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about if or how you measure the ROI of your Facebook or Twitter efforts. Fact is that C Suite types want to know why they’re spending time and money on anything.

The point is that nonprofit organizations, like any enterprise, need to think about the outcomes they need and what they need people to do to make those outcomes happen.

For a nonprofit, it doesn’t matter how many people like you on Facebook or how many retweets you got last week. What matters is whether the people at the other end of those communications channels (along with the people reading your blog, direct mail, answering the phones when you call, reading your email alerts, getting your SMS alerts and more) are, both immediately and over time, taking the actions needed to make the change you want to see in the world.

Think of your organization’s fundraising, outreach and mobilization strategy as one big pie…a pie made up of people. Social media is one to reach those people. Some people use it a lot and many will share great (and funny) stuff with friends. Many use mobile. Others use email.

Social media is not an island. Don’t treat it as one. Make sure that your social media and other digital communicators are working closely with offline communicators and organizers. Look for overlaps between social media profiles, email addresses, web visitors and direct mail addresses. Understand how people use these to take action on your behalf.

Most of all, understand how people communicate, engage and act. Stop talking about social media and focus on the people and what they need.

Photo by ROFL CAT