Using Maps to Deliver Your Message
I had the opportunity to attend the Planning and Conservation League's annual Symposium this past weekend. There were many sessions to choose from but one in particular caught my attention. The topic was using maps to persuade and mobilize. The presenters were Larry Orman and Tim Sinnott from GreenInfo Network and Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach.
Larry Orman started off with a great point: we're overloaded with geographic information. We've got access to road maps, mash ups, interactive maps, climate change maps, election maps, and geotagged photos. But Larry pointed out that mapping is about having a point, not just about showing data.
Why are maps a popular choice for displaying cross-sections of information? One reason is that data is not an obstacle. It's available and much of it is free. Also, computers and mapping software are less expensive. And new generations of folks are map-savvy.
GIS (geographic information system) is one mapping tool that marries data and places. GIS can be used to analyze information, such as land use, commercial development, pollution impact, and to define alternative outcomes.
Maps, in general, can be used to tell a story or convey a message. Mapping tools let you unfold data in layers to reveal parts of the story. It is important, Larry emphasized, that you think about mapping as communications. Technology is whizzy and great, but it is still critical that you have a good story. You need to know who your audience is, what your message is, how much time people will have to view your map as well as at what distance and in what context.
Rebecca Moore reinforced that maps can be very effective for telling a story or delivering a message, particularly when you don't have much time to deliver it. She noted that maps can change an abstract concept into something personal for people. When done right, maps can show what is at stake instead of just telling what is at stake. They can inspire action, influence decision-makers, reach the media, and impact public policy.
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Live from the Personal Democracy Forum
I am here at the Personal Democracy Forum conference at Pace University in New York City. In between sessions I wanted to share some insight from some of the great speakers that have present so far today.
danah boyd, who is a doctoral candidate at the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley, is focusing her dissertation on how youth engages in networks like MySpace, Facebook, etc. She had some great insights on social networking that could help progressives use these sites to push their issues and gain supporters. A digital handshake is important - you can't just create a site, add friends and then do nothing. You need to pull these people in and make them feel like they matter and you have respect for them. Comment are underutilized. When someone comments on your page, comment back - take a moment to learn who they are. Collecting friends can be important because it helps shape who your organization is, but you have to really know who these supporters and friends are. Social networking sites and other online organizing is where the younger generation is nowadays, vs. rallies and other in-person meet-ups.
danah's blog is Apophenia.
Seth Godin had a few thoughts on technology and how it's being used today. There is too much clutter and too much noise. People are being inundated with too many candidates, too many organizations covering the same issue and they need a way to find out who they relate to and want to support. This is why it's so important to make your organization stand out and why you can't just constantly overload your supporters with email and other information. They'll just tune out. Seth explained you can acquire someone's email address, but as soon as you misuse it, they'll block you or remove themselves from your list.
Seth touched on the ideavirus and how you have to go beyond word of mouth. Your idea, issue, or campaign needs to stand out and get easily spread like a virus. Flip the funnel. Magnify your voice and get heard. If you be remarkable and tell your story to your sneezers, they'll sneeze and spread it along to the next person.
Some things to think about.
More when I return to DC.
Discovering the Activation Point
"Activation requires motivation: the audience must have the will to act." This tidbit is from Kristen Grimm's report Discovering the Activation Point. Any progressive group out there who has been struggling with their campaign, even though public support for it is high, needs to read this report. At the most recent PCDC monthly gathering, Kristen (who is president of Spitfire Strategies, which produced the extremely effective http://www.smartchart.org/) talked about her key findings from her work developing this report:
No matter what issue campaign you are running, your audience is probably smaller than you think. Don't just reach out to everyone. Really think about who your audience is. Then think about who the leaders are in that group and also who will influence the ultimate decision makers. Once you have the right people, you need to figure out what will make them take an action - this is the activation point.
There are three stages of activation to take note of. The first stage is sharing knowledge. People need to know, care and believe about a cause in order to act. Give them the simple facts, but in a way that reflects their values and also respects them - don't label them as activists or advocates, because they may not see themselves in this light. Make what the issue personal to them: the issue needs to be personally relevant and they need to feel personally connected and involved. There also needs to be a personal reward. Make them believe in the cause via trust and experience - facts and data won't always sway someone when they have their own personal experiences as a counter weight. Persuasian is the key here: don't think of persuasian as manipulation, but as the way to get people in your corner and acting.
Information is not persuasian - once you've gone through the first step of sharing knowledge, you need to think about the next steps. The next steps it to build will. To do so, you need to anticipate any barriers - people are afraid of being laughed, they may not have time, or they don't want to act outside of their comfort zone. With this in mind, show them a leader taking action for your cause - your audience will be more receptive if they see the action as a social norm and something doable. Don't pose it to them as an alternative, but as a smart option.
The third stage of activation is reinforcing the action. You can't simply tell your supporters to act and then give them no reinforcement. They want to feel like they accomplished something, no matter how small. Celebrate any wins no matter how big they are. Revisit past successes so that your audience can see that the actions they take do matter. Congratulate your supporters for a job well done. All of this reinforcement will benefit you - these supporters will be compelled to help your cause a second, third or forth time if they know that what they do matters in the long run.
Some other things to think about that Kristen mentioned...Don't get stuck in stage one. If you have been there for awhile, you need to re-evaluate how you are sharing knowledge about your campaign. Also remember to take advantage of any good timing - if something happens that can raise the awareness of your campaign, jump on that and get your supporters to act.
New Report About Online Networks
Eric Eckl of Beaconfire Consulting recently released an interesting report titled "A Network of Networks: Email Lists, Nature Protection, and Pollution Control."
Eric explains, "The report reveals just how many people have formed spontaneous groups to engage in civic activitism, and what their behavior portends for the Web 2.0 world."
It's a must read for anyone interested in network advocacy. Through his own research of different environmental list servs, Eric generated this report which goes over the best practices of successful email list servs and why environmental groups need to take notice of new online communities such as Digg and Flickr.
You can download the PDF version of this report on his blog, Water Words That Work. And pass it along! Or leave your comments on his blog.
More Social Networking Tips
The recent New Organizing Institute panel discussion on social networking sites gave attendees some great tips for how to go about using these sites for organizing and to increase their organization's profile.
Scott Goodstein form Catalyst Campaigns handed out a useful tip sheet that explained why progressives should be taking advantage of social networking: These networks are "a way to disseminate information quickly in very simple terms that can be broadcats over and over again." They are yet another way to get your message out to your supporters and motivate new supporters to become involved.
If your group decides to start using social networking sites, some things Catalyst Campaigns says to remember:
-These sites are about building a base of friends and spreading your message to new audiences.
-You will only get out what you put in. Take time to spruce up your profiles and keep it up-to-date with fresh content.
-You need to let your supporters and other groups know what sites you are on, whether through your e-newsletter, on your website, or through word of mouth.
-Make sure to add links back to your organization's website so people will be compelled to visit that.
-Allow your friends to comment without approval. Just like a blog, you should allow positive and negative. You can always delete anything offensive if you need to.
-Use the search tool frequently to find other groups and other people with similar interests and add them as friends to build your base.
-"Make a bold statement - if it is not passionate - people will not forward it!"
-Remember that anything you post on these sites is fair game.
-Again, keep it fresh. Once you stop updating (changing your layout, adding blogs posts or action items, etc.), friends may lose interest and people will stop visiting your page.
Now go start networking!
Why Your Group Should be on a Social Networking Site
The New Organizing Institute and the Center for American Progress Action Fund had a great panel discussion yesterday on the merits of social networks. Many progressive groups have already noticed the success of social networking sites and have started to use these sites to connect with one and other and their supporters. It may feel silly to create a profile for your organization on sites like MySpace and Friendster, since the media makes it seem like these sites are overrun by teenagers, but they are actually a great way to raise your profile and make connections.
These sites are an effective way to promote your issues and campaigns and build a stronger network. Take some time to check out Facebook, YouTube and others to get a feel for them and then put your organization's profile up on the site. Start adding friends by searching for other groups with similar issues and letting users know about your campaigns and giving them actions to take. Ask them to spread the word to their friends and have their friends add you.
Scott Goodstein, who founded Catalyst Campaigns, explained that the key to social networking sites is that you will get out of them what you put into them. Keep your site active and up-to-date; add fresh content every week to keep people enaged. Look at it as another way of communicating with your supporters and other groups.
The co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, also said that social networking is another medium of communication for progressive groups. As Scott said, he explained that you need to take good care of your organization's profile. Make sure to keep it current with the most important issues facing your group: Is there a bif event coming up? Is your group launching a new campaign? Also ask your friends to do something. Have them take an action, whether you want them to spread the word or attend a rally.
Lauren Miller, who is a strategist at Blue State Digital, added her imput by explaing that social networking sites are about creating an identity - non profits need to stand out amongst the millions of users on these sites. Remember that your purpose is to reach out to new people and increase your network of supporters.
Ivan Boothe, Communications Director for the Genocide Intervention Network, which has had success online, explained that the most successful campaigns are those that give people the tools to spread the word. That's why you need to push your supporters to action on your sites. Give them a message to pass along or an event to attend. They want to feel that ownership over participation. Social networking sites are all about connecting people and getting them to talk about the issues to one and other. Your end goal has to be to get your current friends interested so that they want to spread the word and move the message.
More on this in another post...
Lessons Learned from Tsunami Online Fundraising
This should be an interesting webinar. Sarah and Michael were very involved and have the inside data and analysis of the way the money flowed during the Tsunami relief effort.
The Internet accounted for over $350 million in tsunami relief contributions. Join this online Webinar to hear about the lessons learned from this surge of online gifts, and how your organization can make the most of important breaking news events.
I have heard Michael talk about the responses they could "see" in the data at GetActive. It is really a compelling story about getting ready for advocacy in the age of connectivity.
Exploiting Trends in the Media: Advocacy Response to Journalism.Org Findings
There is a great new report on the state of journalism in 2004 posted by journalism.org. The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The report is a must read. The trends and dynamics they discuss are targeted toward the journalists but the work also has major implications on the strategy you should be using to distribute messages and work with these dynamics.
Here is my take on the findings and a brief discussion of the possible strategy implications.
1. More news outlets are fragmenting views and audience. They are also seeing a general decline in audience size.
It is more important than ever that advocacy groups have access to great database of always changing news outlets. What online sources, radio, TV, magazines and papers are reaching your target audience. It is no longer safe to assume that if you get the local papers your are moving your message to the right people at the right time. It is also essential that you work your "hooks" into the online version, TV version and radio versions of the outlet (or reporter).
2. Budgets are disappearing. Newsroom is shrinking. Less reporters need to generate more content.
Make it as easy as possible for the reporter to cover your story. They do not have the time to track down leads and facts. The more you can complete the story for your journalists friends the more likely they will do something with your story. Make sure you have an online press room. Have the story, images, graphs, video, key contacts, etc. prepared for the journalists.
3. Online, ethnic and alternative media have growing audiences.
It is essential to develop the relations with the emerging media. The dynamics are moving in the right directions and the online, ethnic and alternative media are going to have increased budgets and resources to help "break" stories. these are the places where the y will have more resources to attack stories important to their readers. Increasingly advocacy communication staff should have a communications plan that taps into the increasing power of alternative media.
4. Much of the new investment in journalism today - much of the information revolution generally - is in disseminating the news, not in collecting it. Most sectors of the media are cutting back in the newsroom, both in terms of staff and in the time they have to gather and report the news.
Every good story hit is increasing in potential redistribution value. Many outlets are entering content sharing and re purposing agreements. Do not disregard smaller outlets as an outlet for your big story exclusive because the value of the story can be picked up across media partnerships. Target small bureaus of the big papers to see if you can "trickle up" rather than merely going with the "big" hit and then customizing the story for smaller markets.
5. raw elements of news as the end product...
Produce your own content. Provide your video, photos, recordings of people in the street or public meeting. The 24 hours cycle has an endless demand for fresh content and almost zero money to produce it. The more that you can connect them to volunteer video and accounts "on the scene" the higher likelihood that some outlet will grab the raw feed. If you expect it to be a great visual you can grab it with volunteers. Collect the images, track down email and contact information on people recording the event.
6. delivering essentially the same news repetitively without any meaningful updating.
The initial story matters. Plan your campaign and events for short burst of attention not a big ongoing story.
7. Journalistic standards now vary even inside a single news organization. ... a mass audience for news not in one place, but across different programs, products and platforms......the way that advertising intermingles with news stories on many newspaper Web sites would never be allowed in print.
You need a database of all the distribution channels associated with an outlet. Advocacy groups also need to think about exploiting the loose rules on advertising. If there is an upcoming report on water quality by the states or feds see if you can get an online ad for connecting people to your group. Ask your local news outlets (TV, News and Radio) for a sales pitches from the advertising department to see what options they offer for "placement". You don't want just ads you want on air personalities to wear your tee-shirt, hat, etc. How much would it cost to develop a Friday river report for the summer months?
8. public perception evident in various polls that the news media lack professionalism and are motivated by financial and self-aggrandizing motives rather than the public interest.
When the media screws up attack them. They are weak in the public's perceptions and the y screw up advocacy stories all the time.
9.Study shows general increases in journalist workload, declines in numbers of reporters, shrinking space in newscasts to make more room for ads and promotions
Again. Prepackage your key messages in short blast. Think about ways to use ads and promotions to move your message.
10. Traditional media is in TROUBLE..the economics are not looking good and audience is shrinking.
Advocacy groups had better start thinking about the alternatives and new ways to move messages directly to target groups without the media.
11. Online journalism appears to be leading more to convergence with older media rather than replacement of it. When audience trends are examined closely, one cannot escape the sense that the nation is heading toward a situation, especially at the national level, in which institutions that were once in different media, such as CBS and The Washington Post, will be direct competitors on a single primary field of battle - online. The idea that the medium is the message increasingly will be passé. This is an exciting possibility that offers the potential of new audiences, new ways of storytelling, more immediacy and more citizen involvement.
12. Those who would manipulate the press and public appear to be gaining leverage over the journalists who cover them. Several factors point in this direction. One is simple supply and demand. As more outlets compete for their information, it becomes a seller's market for information. Another is workload. The content analysis of the 24-hour-news outlets suggests that their stories contain fewer sources. The increased leverage enjoyed by news sources has already encouraged a new kind of checkbook journalism, as seen in the television networks efforts to try to get interviews with Michael Jackson and Jessica Lynch, the soldier whose treatment while in captivity in Iraq was exaggerated in many accounts.
While I would not expect any checks for your story ...make your story pre-packaged and easy to cover. when you have the "hot" issue of the moment be prepared to take much more intense volume of interest because of these dynamics.
Lessons from the Presidential Campaign Email / Formats
Email is the primary connection most users have with the web. Millions of people only use the Internet to access email. The problem has been that many of the advocacy organizations have put too little thought or strategy behind message targeting, development and use of email as a mass communication medium.
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for February 17 is now online. Jakob is a guru of useability and does great research work. Basic findings:
* E-newsletters that are informative, convenient, and timely are often preferred over other media.
* Most email newsletters are not designed for scanability and should be since that is how they are read.
Green Media Toolshed actually purchased Jakob's study. (my opinion the price is not worth it for advocacy groups. It has lots of screen shots of the email letters Jakob studied. However, we are really happy with his newsletter and books).
1. A good subject line with actual important content. (NOT NEWSLETTER #3 -GMT or IMPORTANT NEWS type subjects)
2. Keep it short
3. Write for scanning - Jakob has all the statistics to say folks don't read the newsletter they scan it. You should write so scanners "get" your core message. I Love this quote from the summary This implies the need for layouts that let users quickly grasp each issue’s content and zero in on specifics. It is kind of the general challenge for all advocacy.
4. Newsletters should be timely and informative about events, dates, deadlines.
5. Do it right or people will unsubscribe (worse they will stay subscribed because they are afraid of your unsubscribe process and come to resent you for spamming them)
6. You must convince folks that your regular email will be simple, useful, and easy to deal with.
7. Don't abuse your relationship. Be predictable and not too aggressive.
There have been a few folks really working in this space and special kudos go to Michael C. Gilbert for his work in the field. He has inspired me to take the email strategy question much more seriously. His site is worth reading and his blurbs on email are provocative and smart.
POLITICSUS has a great collection of campaign mass emails. These email messages seem long but they are a quick scan and tend to catch the readers attention pretty quickly. These messages go to more than 100,000 readers.
Take a close look at the format and style used in these emails and let us know what works for you.
OneNW is also a leader in the nonprofit use of email and worth digging around their content. search for "EMAIL" on their search bar for a bunch of great content.