Archive for the ‘social trends’ Category
If you’ve never seen or experienced some form of online harassment, you are in a TINY minority. This was brought home to me recently with the impact of a hammer on a nail. Survey results from a poll by a coalition of three organizations (Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Connects) got released June 4, and it is a sad story.
Among the “highlights” from the infographic the group produced:
- 47% of respondents under 35 reported being harassed.
- Facebook is a particular hotspot for online harassment.
- Women and men report sexual harassment at nearly identical rates (44% of women, 43% of men).
- Half of the people who were harassed did not report it.
- Nearly 30% of people surveyed report being afraid for their life as a result of online harassment.
- 3 in 5 people surveyed think laws concerning both online and in-person harassment are not strong enough.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to not have experienced harassment online. However, chances are that you’ve seen someone — a friend, colleague, whatever — harassed online. So whether you have experienced it directly or secondhand, you have a stake in changing this. We ALL do.
There’s no doubt that much harassment both exemplifies and reinforces deep and toxic threads of hatred: racism, intolerance, misogyny. But it’s simplistic and unproductive to throw up our hands in the air and simply blame “attitudes” for this problem. To my mind, we fall into one of three categories when it comes to online harassment:
If you’re a harasser: stop it, or the rest of us are going to stop you.
If you’re a victim: don’t swallow this. Don’t hide it, or hide from it. Tell the people who care about you. Take action. Report the behaviour. If you don’t feel strong enough, ask for help with it.
If you’re an onlooker (like me): Step up.
There have been countless examples of people being affected by this, from respected bloggers going silent to comic book artists being threatened with death to people at conferences being harassed online and offline to young people killing themselves. All of it is unacceptable. And we all have two duties: to support those being harassed and to confront the harassers.
There are more of us than them. We don’t need to become virtual lynch mobs, doing to the harassers what they’ve done to others. We just need to tell these bullies that we see them, that they must stop, and that they are not going to do this anymore.
Later on comes the change of attitudes. At some point, we need to figure out why these people are doing what they’re doing, how we can help them understand how wrong it is, and make them change their beliefs. But first, the behaviour has to stop. And the biggest thing you can do? Call people out. And if we become targets, we should expect the same support from others that we give.
Can we eliminate this problem? Not quickly, easily, or likely ever. Can we improve it? Undoubtedly.
Are you looking for more help responding to online harassment? I can’t recommend the organization CiviliNation highly enough. They have lots of resources, and CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age is excellent.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that — as if by magic — just a few days after writing “It’s hard to be social when you’re not social” about the Canadian federal government’s difficulty grappling with social media, Digital Canada 150, the long, longgggg-awaited digital strategy of the Government of Canada was released on Friday afternoon, April 4.
This is a digital strategy that’s been promised and not delivered by five Industry Ministers since 2006, when the current government was first elected. So if the rest of this post is critical, I have to give the current minister James Moore some kudos for at least publishing something.
The first thing that gave me the willies? A Friday afternoon release. Even though it seems everyone’s wise to the tactic, I still get worried that a Friday afternoon release of anything means there’s a desire to bury it.
The second thing that gave me the willies? The flash animation for the launch, leading to the … flipbook and downloadable PDF, which treat the reader to full-page vanity messages from Industry Minister James Moore and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
And then we get to the meat of it. There are five pillars to the strategy: Connecting Canadians, Protecting Canadians, Economic Opportunities, Digital Government, and Canadian Content.
Each section has a number of policy directions, followed by a list of things the government has done, will do, and a success story.
A year-and-a-bit ago, Maclean’s magazine writer Peter Nowak wrote this “New Year’s resolution” for a digital strategy. In it, he argued for things like:
- Create a Technology Minister.
- As Nowak put it, “Incubators, incubators, incubators.”
- And a combination of increased broadband service and subsidies and training for those who aren’t currently online.
Veteran Internet observer Michael Geist calls the document “the digital strategy without a strategy“, and points out that of the $5.72 billion the government just raised from a wireless-spectrum auction, the plan identifies far less than that in investment. And IT World Canada’s Howard Solomon quotes Geist and others with some fairly substantive criticism. Openmedia calls it a rehash of previous announcements.
Byron Holland, the president of CIRA, Canada’s .ca registry, wrote in a blog post “The digital economy, and Canada’s digital future, is too important to be left to a series of activities that may or may not relate to one another. We have seen time and time again what happens when leaders get too focussed on day-to-day activities instead of focussing on a strategic direction.”
CIRA’s 2010 submission to one of the consultations that led to this strategy suggested, among other things, that “it is useful for the Government of Canada to benchmark Canada’s performance in the digital economy against other countries and in particular against major trading partners. With this in mind, it might be useful to create an ongoing compendium of publicly available data with an annual assessment of where Canada stands, available on-line.” Sadly, there’s nothing in the strategy about that, and if there were, we might well be quite disappointed with the results.
My particular hobbyhorse last week, and on an ongoing basis, is the federal government’s use of social media in its operations. The Digital Government section offers not the slightest hint that government departments or agencies will see their ability to actually DO social media increase between now and 2017 (the 150th anniversary of Confederation, our country’s founding). The section focuses almost entirely on open data — a useful tool, and not one I’d argue against. But if you were hoping that this document might encourage departmental blogs, or Youtube videos with comments enabled, or Twitter feeds that actually conducted conversations with followers, you are wearing a black armband today.
Our federal government has at its fingertips great levers of power and money. So far, it has not chosen to use those levers to re-engineer government to catch up with what we’re doing in our daily lives, right now. Rather, it’s simply going to pick around the edges of things, drop a little money from time to time, and unfortunately, let its citizens — and its international counterparts — leave it in the dust.
Here in my home town, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on about a youth league football team, the Nepean Redskins.
A local musician, Ian Campeau, has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over the name of the team, which he feels is offensive to him and to other First Nations. The complaint is likely no surprise to the team; Campeau has been lobbying for a change of name for some time.
And certainly in my dictionaries, the term “Redskin” is considered an offensive term. Here’s good ol’ Google’s definition:
Given the history of controversies over names for various First Nations sporting teams, this news story fit into a fairly convenient narrative: sports team with a name offensive to a group comes under fire. And predictably, arguments of “political correctness run amok” and some racist commentary lit up comment streams and talk radio.
In fact, it happened just a little while ago right here in Ottawa, when the new basketball team currently known as the Ottawa Skyhawks was known as the Tomahawks for about a picosecond. And of course, there’s no shortage of examples of these controversies in US college and professional sports.
So what’s different here? Ian Campeau isn’t your average dad concerned that a racist team name may have negative effects on his young daughter — he’s a musician in a hot new group, A Tribe Called Red. The trio, as they describe themselves,
“is producing a truly unique sound that’s impacting the global electronic scene and urban club culture. Since 2010 the group – made up of two-time Canadian DMC Champion DJ Shub, DJ NDN and DJ Bear Witness – has been mixing traditional pow wow vocals and drumming with cutting-edge electronic music. Their self-titled album, released in March 2012, was long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize and included in the Washington Post’s top 10 albums of the year.”
As you can glean from the musicians’ handles, their music plays with traditional First Nations stereotypes in their music. So that makes this complaint an interesting one. And another thing that makes this dispute interesting: the team had consulted an Ottawa coalition of aboriginal groups last year to ask their opinion of the name, and came away with some positive results.
According to a CBC story, Marc Maracle of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition said:
“They didn’t choose the name with any malicious intent to insult or criticise the aboriginal community here in Ottawa or the aboriginal population in general. And in our discussions with them, it was clearly a recognition of strength and pride and character in aboriginal people collectively”… The coalition recommended that the team publish literature about how the name was chosen, “as well as using the issue as a positive education tool, not only within their own executive but with the players and participants in their athletic club as well as with the coaching staff and the parents,” he said.
“Our opinion was that Nepean was using the word Redskins in a positive way, not in a negative way, and that’s really where it starts and it ends from our perspective. It’s unfortunate that it’s been presented in obviously a more confrontational way … as opposed to building a relationship and working at it from that angle. … It just takes on a different connotation that’s not entirely consistent with an approach that the coalition is currently engaged in.”
Once I learned that the team had consulted with First Nations organizations and had gotten at least a tacit endorsement, the narrative started to get muddled. I began to think about the Florida Seminoles. They have explicit approval from the Seminole tribe to use the name. So what if someone were to make similar objections to their name?
Campeau isn’t “wrong.” If he feels the name is offensive, it is, at the very least to him. The team isn’t doing it to offend, and they consulted with representatives of the community to ask if they were being offensive, and they were told they were using the term in a positive way. So they’re not “wrong”, either. So if nobody’s wrong, then who’s “right?” Maybe nobody’s right either.
And what to do when your organization comes under criticism for some form of insensitivity or offense? First, are the complaints justified? Second, have you consulted with anyone appropriate concerning the offensive material? A knee-jerk reaction to appease the offended person or group may be an immediate solution, but you may be in a position where, even if you’re not in “the right”, you’re not necessarily wrong.
Sometimes it’s not as simple as saying “no more Chief Wahoo” or getting rid of a logo. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and if the complainant is reasonable and a person of good faith, it’s likely better in the end to try to build relationships and find some common ground or at least understanding than to either double down or knuckle under.
I spent a week with my mom this month. It was the first anniversary of my dad’s death, and it had been a while since I’d seen her, and I thought it was a good time for me to be in Cape Breton. So there I was.
Spending time with an 88-year-old where my access to the Internet was distinctly limited changed my behaviour a little bit. Rather than sitting in my second-floor office typing, I spent a lot of time with her, talking. Or listening to her. I think she’s a bit lonely, and having another person in the house made her want to talk. So I let her.
And so, one day we ended up in Baddeck. Baddeck is a tourist town at one end of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. It’s probably best known for its association with Alexander Graham Bell, who lived there for a long time and built the Silver Dart, the first plane to fly in the British Commonwealth (in 1909) and the HD4 hydrofoil that held a speed record for boats for 20 years, and was a giant booster of Cape Breton as a place of pastoral beauty.
Today, it’s got lots of gift shops, ice cream, a museum or two, and a stunning bay full of pleasure boats. And an antique store. We went into the antique store, which had some interesting books (which I didn’t buy), some neat militaria (which I found interesting), and some china (my mom found a lovely cup and saucer). When she got to the counter with her purchase, I jokingly said “Thank God you don’t have any fountain pens, or I’d be in real trouble here.” At which point the proprietor brought out the fountain pens, and I walked away with a classic black and silver Parker 51 for twenty bucks.
It writes like a dream. I’ve used it in a notebook, on some paper, and in a handbound leather journal that I bought in Pisa at Legatoria Dante. Why am I telling you this long preamble? Because of a column I read in my morning paper. In the column, titled “The end of the printed word, revisited”, journalism professor Andrew Cohen argues
“Just when you thought that ink was over and paper was passé, along comes word that the world of books isn’t disappearing after all. In fact, its death has been greatly exaggerated.
Skeptics of the virtual life are scorned as Luddites or antiquarians. With the arrival of every new laptop, tablet and smart phone, we are to fall on our knees in wonder and gratitude.
In two particular but significant ways, though, we may be having second thoughts. One is how we are reading. The other is how we are writing.”
Plainly put, this is a bollocks straw-man argument, which Cohen himself proves in the column. As Shel Holtz so frequently says, “New media does not push out old media.” E-books don’t mean the end of paper books. TV didn’t end movies. The keyboard hasn’t ended the pen. About the only things that have almost entirely disappeared that I can think of are the typewriter, the floppy, and the 8-track. And even typewriters are still being sought out (by the nichiest of niche markets, mind you). The car and the motorcycle didn’t eliminate the bicycle or the train.
I suspect that nobody’s ever made the kind of statements that Cohen uses as the basis of his argument. I love technology. I started using computers with my TI99/4A and haven’t stopped since. I have an e-reader (thanks to a contest run by blogger Andrea Tomkins); I have shelves and shelves of books. I have an iPod crammed with music, and I have hundreds of CDs. I have a computer I’m using to write this post. I have my pens and books to write thoughts and ideas and stories and yes, sometimes blog posts too.
Sometimes I read things digitally. Other times I want a printed version. Sometimes I grab my iPod. Others, I pop in a CD. Or I plug headphones into my computer. It’s not about either-ors. It’s about options. None of us are binary. When it comes to technologies, we’re all omnivores. Dichotomies in this world are all false ones.
If you read or hear something suggesting that A means the end of B, or that the writer or speaker is a member of a scorned minority by virtue of not liking this or that piece of technology, or social media, or whatever — do yourself and the person in question a favour. Politely tell them they’re wrong, and that reducing the remarkable complexities and subtleties of human behaviour to a binary choice is silly.
It’s easy for a business or organization to shy away from taking public stands. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? But when should you take a public stand on something? And how best to do it?
I started to think about this when I saw a stand Toronto Public Health took on July 22.
Toronto Public Health went to Twitter to call for ABC to not add celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a permanent host of their morning talk show The View. McCarthy, originally a Playboy model, has developed a career as an actress, an author, and more recently as an anti-vaccination activist. She has said her son Evan was diagnosed with autism, that the autism was caused by vaccines, and that he has recovered from autism. In a CNN op-ed, she (and then partner Jim Carrey) wrote: “We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, ‘What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.’”
McCarthy’s hiring has sparked a significant controversy. The blog post announcing the hiring has hundreds of comments, some supportive, more critical (in my estimation).
So why would Toronto Public Health, a Canadian city agency, go public on this?
I twice asked for an interview with Toronto Public Health, but they chose not to make someone available to me. So I’m going to speculate a little, based on the media release and material they sent me (I guess if I’m wrong enough, they’ll ask for a correction.)
First is the numbers argument, which was amply illustrated by this infographic they distributed when they went public.
When you look at the reduction in incidence of some very serious, if not fatal, diseases, I would suspect that public health professionals felt the potential for misinformation by McCarthy (both explicit misinformation from her discussing her views on the show and the belief that her appearing on the show would lend her credibility) was more important than the risks of going public.
Second, I would guess that there was a discussion of whether going public with opposition would in itself lead to publicizing her views more.
Third, I would assume that while it was more or less certain that Toronto Public Health would gain some widespread attention as a result of their stand, they were more interested in raising awareness of the importance of immunization in their local market.
A media backgrounder from the agency tells of a local outbreak of measles that had been caused by parents delaying childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.
It’s uncommon for a private-sector company will take a proactive stand on an issue, and it’s rare that government departments will do the same (excluding policy decisions, which are government stock in trade, and politicians taking positions, which they do all the time – it’s kind of their job). It’s much more common to see not-for-profits or associations take on the task of taking on a point of principle. But businesses taking stands is far from unheard of: in the US, the same-sex marriage debate has seen corporate interventions on both the pro side (Starbucks’s Howard Schultz telling a shareholder unhappy with the coffee giant’s support of same-sex marriage to sell his shares) and the con side (Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy tweeting that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a “sad day” for the US), to point out just one example.
So when you see something happening that your company seems to have an interest in, think about whether you want to take a public stand. Here are some tips:
- Be aware of the risks of speaking out as well as the potential benefits. Prepare yourself for backlash or criticism. Think outside your own organization and supporters. Brainstorm what the strongest opposition to your stand would or could be.
- Decide how relevant the issue you’re looking at is to your organization’s mission. You might have a strong opinion on vaccination. But if your organization doesn’t have a lear link to some aspect of the issue, you run the risk of being accused of “newsjacking” or just making people go, “huh?”
- Ensure you have senior-level commitment to the position. This HAS to be something the leadership of the organization must be comfortable with.
- Base your arguments on information and fact, not on purely emotional appeals, and vet your messaging very carefully.
- Don’t hide any interests your company or organization has in the issue. Transparency will lessen the probability that someone will come back later and attack you for a bias you didn’t disclose.
- Have a listening post set up to monitor the progress of the conversation both before and after you intervene. (I’m going to write about this later this week).
I saw a very disappointing infographic this morning, via Dave Forde’s PR in Canada site. Produced by the Max Borges Agency, it chronicles the history of public relations. I was interested to scan it. And so I did. I invite you to do the same:
Okay. Notice something?
- Ben Franklin.
- Tom Paine.
- Ivy Lee advising John D. Rockefeller.
- Edward Bernays advising Coolidge on foreign affairs.
And what do we have representing the last 13 years, the 2000s?
- Taco Bell and the crash of Mir.
- A PR stunt for The Dictator, a movie that hasn’t even made its budget back yet.
- And Oreo tweeting about a power failure.
As entertaining as these entries are, are they telling us something? I think they are. PR practitioners should look at this and ask themselves on what side they fall. Are they contributing substance, or are they simply carrying out stunts? Are they using the tools of communication at their disposal (obviously including the suite of tools that make up “social media”) to make change, to influence people on important issues, or is it about a cookie or a taco?
And if we’re seeking to summarize our contributions to society, are those the best examples we can find? What about the role of Twitter in the Iranian demonstrations? What about the ability of people to organize using social media to create events like Twestival? What about the Tylenol crisis? I could go on.
If public relations is to be considered a serious discipline, doesn’t it makes sense that we take on serious work, and talk about serious issues? And talk about them in public? Sometimes I think I oughtta find a new career.
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
The world was abuzz this week with the story of Karen Klein, a woman from upstate New York who was taunted mercilessly while working as a school bus monitor. As is so often the case, the taunters were not only mean and vile, but stupid enough to record their actions. If you haven’t seen this, you may or may not want to expose yourself to the 10 minutes of evil vapidity.
The video, as is the cliché, went viral. Millions of views. Then a guy in Toronto named Max Sidorov was touched by the video. He set up a campaign on Indiegogo to give her a vacation. He set a goal of $5,000, saying “There’s even a point in the video where one of the kids touches Karen’s arm in an attempt to make fun of her. I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try. She doesn’t earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!”
Then Sidorov’s campaign went viral too — in spades. In a matter of days, the campaign raised more than $545,000.
All of this is heartwarming. This is a 68-year-old woman who was treated more than shabbily, and it’s lovely to think that she’s going to be helped by this.
But let’s be honest here. Does Karen Klein need a half-million nest egg? Does the pain or embarrassment she suffered warrant a half-million payday?
Let’s take another example — Caine’s Arcade. The release of a short film about Caine’s Arcade led to a college fund of more than $200,000 and a matching fund to help other kids as creative and deserving as Caine.
There’s no doubt that these stories are inspiring. But I have this feeling that even the desire to good using the tools of social media can go too far. In themselves, the 25,000 donors to the Klein campaign each did an undeniably good thing. But is the best use of the $545,000 and counting that has been raised to simply go to Ms. Klein?
The other side of this is the response by viewers to reach out to the school or the school district.
The school district website has a message which reads in part:
“The behaviors displayed on this video are not representative of all Greece Central students and this is certainly not what we would like our students to be known for. We have worked very hard to educate students on the damaging impact of bullying and will continue to do so.
We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated.
We all need to take a step back and look at how we treat each other. It is our job as educators and parents to teach children and lead by example. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard to begin a dialogue with their children about bullying, respect and consequences. As a school community, we will continue to take the lead in bullying education and we encourage all students and employees subjected to bullying and harassment to report it as soon as it occurs and to take a stand if they are witness to bullying in their lives.”
I can only imagine the sheer volume of contacts. How could a small upstate New York school or district reasonably handle this level of outrage and demand for response? And what would my angry e-mail add to the situtation?
I don’t really have any answers here; I’m just trying to think through how a bad thing can, through social media, lead to a good thing and then, again through social media, perhaps the good thing becomes too much of a good thing.
What do you think?
I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.
One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.
Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.
And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.
I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).
But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.
The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:
- Twestival‘s remarkable success (nearly $2M raised in three years) comes to mind (and I feel justifiably proud in pointing to Ottawa’s superbly done Twestival event last year, organized by Stéphanie Montreuil and a gang of other smart people).
- The recent example of Caine’s Arcade is another heartwarming story, especially now that in addition to providing Caine with the world’s first crowdsourced scholarship (I’m guessing), a foundation has paired up to match those funds and help other kids like Caine.
- Hélène Campbell, a young woman from Ottawa, took her diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and turned it into a campaign for organ donation that took the province of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network by surprise — when she got celebrities such as Jann Arden, Justin Bieber, and Ellen Degeneres involved in urging organ donation, their registrations went from about 50 per day up to hundreds per day. She bumped the whole province’s registration number by two percent — nearly 250,000!
- 12for12K was a campaign organized by Danny Brown back in 2008, which raised more than $100,000 for a number of charities.
- And a couple of years ago, this was brought home to me when I found myself raising money and collecting goods for a local women’s shelter that had suffered a terrible fire.
So what makes all this different? A few things:
- People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of.
I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.
- Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way
Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.
- Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire.
The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.
- Use this new energy to leverage your organization.
In the media relations game, ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.
- Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives.
Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.
As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.
Some great resources for not-for-profits:
On April Fool’s Day, I was one of a bunch of people who announced that we had created a spoof site called PinPal, which promised to match up similarly Klouted and Pinterested people for loooove.
Hahahaha, right? April Fool! Well apparently the joke was on us.
Tawkify is apparently a quite serious site, created by someone named “E. Jean Carr”, who writes for Elle magazine and someone else. Here’s their manifesto:
“Your Klout Score—which measures your online influence from your social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google+ —is just another way to calibrate your awesomeness. It’s a hipper, newer, fresher, more authentic, more modern, more romantic way to match your allure. Your Height? Your Weight? Bah! Soooo superficial. A Klout Score over 17 reveals that people find you so appealing that you inspire them to listen to the Adele song you just recommended or to share your comments about Jeremy Lin.”
I think Jimmy Addison is hunkered down in some San Francisco law office right now getting some papers prepared for service. As if Klout didn’t have enough mess on its hands already, does it really need to be offering up a tacit endorsement of an online dating service on its corporate blog?
One more reason I’m happy to be happily living in sin.