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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


Question? Idea to share? Let’s talk. Reply or email

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Helping people create change by helping people

Bright Ideas: How stories, strategy, people and tech are creating change.

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25 September, 2018

Do you need a digital team, what roles would be on it and who would be included? Good questions. I’m skeptical that most organizations need a digital team so much as need digital first leadership and cultures. I wrote about it the other day in a piece called Thinking about digital strategy in teams:

“Digital is in every role in the organization, not just a few people easily pulled into a single team. Everyone and every role can, will and needs to understand how digital works.”

If nothing else, check it out the digital teams resources shared at the bottom. Other good/smart people have been thinking hard about digital teams in nonprofits the past few years.

Another good read on nonprofit digital strategy comes from Ryann Miller at Toronto-based Grassriots. Digital is a strategy, not just random tactics, posted at Charity Village, distills more thinking about how and why a digital-first organization isn’t just running better online fundraising and social media campaigns but is building lasting relationships with people built on member needs. Miller identifies building blocks for a digital-first org:

  • Supporter/consumer-centric
  • Transparent
  • Collaborative
  • Empowered
  • Data-driven
  • Agile / iterative
  • Innovative

Have you seen the new book, Driving Digital Strategy by Sunil Gupta?

Gupta, Edward W. Carter Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, explains how legacy organizations need to approach digital strategy in an org-wide / holistic way and not as a single tactic, single department, or as something that just gets added onto existing strategy.

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Leaders need to think about what people really need. If you understand what people are trying to accomplish and build for that, instead of thinking of digital as a channel to reach more people, you’ll be more efficient, advertise better, save money, sell more.

Gupta’s aiming at the for-profit world but the point stands for NGOs. Here’s another summary from an interview with Gupta. He was also interviewed for the HBR Ideacast in August. Great listen for the ride home.

Gupta talks about Peloton, the stationary bike company, in the Ideacast interview. Peloton doesn’t view digital as a way to reach more people but as a way to create a fuller experience that people will crave, rely on, pay more for and tell people about.

This brings me to exciting examples of companies putting people first to build powerful relationships (and businesses) in a Vox article called Crossfit is My Church. Sounds weird, perhaps, but a powerful read.

Casper ter Kuile, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School and Executive Director at On Being’s Impact Lab, looked at Crossfit and Soulcycle (again with stationary bikes!). They wanted to understand if, why and how millennials are replacing organized religion with other experiences that fulfill a need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

I think unions and membership orgs (e.g. Sierra Club) once did this very effectively but for a variety of reasons failed at thinking about membership as anything more than payment for services.

Skipping ahead, what if a membership organization’s strategy (most of which was digital and probably all of which was guided by core elements like transparency, empowerment, being supporter-centric) was directed at creating at experiences that addressed people’s needs, including a need to belong to something bigger / better than any one individual’s self?

Charity:Water is one example of this approach in action. There are loads of ways for NGOs to solve advocacy / political / community problems. But few are built from the ground up to give supporters direct roles – and personal meaning – in addressing water supply problems in communities thousands of miles away.

Putting the needs of supporters first would change how most groups staff themselves, think of revenue streams, approach role of volunteers, define membership, develop content, and more.

This isn’t an especially new idea (see older versions of Sierra Club, trade associations, and labor unions).

But does an updated version work in complex legacy organizations (and newer startups) that are solving advocacy problems (protecting forests, stopping mining, reforming health care finance)? It can and, I suspect, has to work in more orgs, more campaigns, more communities.

Don't stop believing

Good more or less related reading:

I’m not the only person who once subscribed to National Geographic who ended up confused about what membership means there. Membership Puzzle shares Lessons and cautionary tales from 130 years of membership at National Geographic. By the way, Membership Puzzle is doing an amazing job looking into how journalism/media nonprofits and startups are rethinking and testing membership engagement.

“When newsrooms start valuing their relationships with the communities they serve over the quantity of content they can produce, it shapes journalism for the better. And that focus on relationships is helping newsrooms have an impact and develop new opportunities for revenue and sustainability.” American Press Institute releases A Culture of Listening, a report diving into how/why journalists strengthen reporting and value through deep listening practices, tools and techniques. Useful for community organizers and activists

Want to kill democracy? Starve civic institutions (and parks and public lands). From Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU: “Just as certain hard infrastructures, such as those for power and water, are ‘lifeline systems’ that make modern societies possible, so too are certain social infrastructures especially crucial for democratic life.” Libraries, environmentalists, outdoor recreations groups, the YMCA and many more should be talking about this at a time when government zeroing out spending on community institutions.

Don’t stop believing. Never thought I’d share a New York Times piece about Steve Perry (yeah, that Steve Perry) but this story has it all: music, love, tragedy, redemption, croquet, the Eels, big hair.


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