Online activism didn’t come out of nowhere. The methods and tactics of online activists – be they individuals or international nonprofits with hundreds of staff – are drawn on social change movements and community organizing strategies that have been tried, experimented with, failed, tweaked, and tried again, long before the Internet existed.
Last week, Special Envoy to Sudan Gen. Scott Gration sat down with representatives from Save Darfur and the student network STAND for an unprecedented live Q&A, webcast directly from the White House website. The webcast was notable not just for its interactivity – members of both STAND and Save Darfur were encouraged to submit questions, which were then asked directly of Gration on air – but for its accountability.
To Causes, leaving MySpace to focus on its core community on Facebook made good business sense, but certainly those organizations left in the lurch on MySpace feel otherwise. Simply put, you can’t rely on third-party, often for-profit services to support your organization’s interests. What would it look like if nonprofits and social change movements – which these third party applications often use to market themselves as effective and “good” – started demanding some openness?
The subtitle of this could be, “Social change has always relied on social networks – they just weren’t called Facebook.”
Gurus, mavens and experts convey information – they tell you the way things are. Organizers, conversely, cultivate leadership and facilitate a community’s exploration of its vision – they offer a way to see how things could be.
Social media doesn’t mean you do less organizing – it means you (can) do it better, or at least differently. You still have to use all the old skills of coalition-building, strategic planning, creative social action, managing relationships and preventing burnout. None of that goes away just because you’re engaging with people on Facebook instead of in town halls.
If organizers limit themselves to seeing Twitter as a strategy in and of itself – without considering the strategy apart from the tool – they risk overlooking ways to run a more effective campaign on other platforms, or augmenting a campaign using multiple platforms. Worse, organizers risk giving supporters feel-good activism that quenches their desire for social change without actually moving the movement closer to a concrete goal, or putting any pressure on powerholders.
Just a quick note to say I’ll be speaking as part of Social Actions’ “Using Facebook for Social Change” webinar on Thursday, along with Susan Gordon, the nonprofit coordinator of Causes, and moderated by Beth Pickard and David Karp of Firstgiving: “You’re invited to join in a live and open text chat to discuss how you can use Facebook for social change. This is your opportunity to share experiences and ask questions about how people and orgs can do outreach, inspire action, and fund raise on the Facebook network.”
Even if Bryght/Acquia/May First went out of business tomorrow, virtually all of its customers could find another vendor to take their system completely intact and get them up and running in an hour or two.
In this presentation from the Democracy in Action Community Conference 2008, I talk about some of the successful approaches for nonprofits in using social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and social media like Flickr and YouTube. I give detailed examples of how the Genocide Intervention Network, where I served as director of communications and Internet strategy coordinator for four years, used social networking to achieve its goals in membership development, advocacy and fundraising.