Saturday, 20 December 2008

Effective use of New Media by charities

This is the presentation for the New Media workshop, organised by BOND as part of the UN's We The Peoples Festival.

I focussed on sharing the examples of different ways of using new media in campaigning and its effects.

Online 2 offline

Starting off with a very old example of online to offline campaigning - WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. Although there are newer and more sophisticated examples of the use of online media for offline organising (such as MoveOn in the US and Get Up in Ausitralia) I wanted to remind people that we can go almost 10 years back to find examples of effective use of new Internet for activism. (following information is courtesy of Glen Tarman, previously of Trade Justice Movement)

In 1999, the World Trade Organization decided to hold a meeting in Seattle – a capital, home to Microsoft and Amazon.

As soon as Seattle was announced, ‘clear your diaries’ emails starting circulating. The bases were loaded. So many different groups had identified with WTO as their common enemy. Email provides a very effective way to organize, mobilize and publicize. These are all fairly standard techniques now. Websites appeared to inform and coordinate. Groups like The Ruckus Society provided training manuals on direct action and details of training camps on non-violent civil disobedience. Listservs were created for updates and information sharing.

Some of the activity was fairly mundane, practical stuff like maps on how to get to Seattle, meeting points – yet all vital for a successful protest. It has been estimated that over 1000 activists from outside the city found a place to crash with strangers through an online accommodation exchange set up by Seattle residents.

And this was the birth of - the 'multimedia peoples' newsroom'. Using information technologies in a fashion unforeseen by the corporate world, the rapidly growing number of Independent Media Centers are providing an outlet for scores of disaffected and disenfranchised groups by reporting differing versions of the news than the mainstream press.

Online only campaign

I used Greenpeace's Green My Apple campaign to give an example of online only campaign. There are main two points that I think made this campaign successful:

1) GP chose the audience to fit their campaign objectives - they wanted to target Apple and they realised that the best way to do it is by engaging Apple customers. The rest was a matter of understanding this specific audience and choosing the best communication channel - i.e. online for geeky Mac aficionados.
2) GP made a decision to utilize the power of user generated content and "to let go" - resulting in some amazingly funny and clever artwork generated by supporters and amazing buzz around the internet about the campaign (essentially word of mouth advertising)

Online Petitions

My third example was focussing on petitions - which are the most wide-spread e-campaigning tool.

The number of emails I received asking me to email my MP or some company this year is huge. And - even as a new media and campaigning activist - I am overwhelmed. And a bit bored. Fatigued even... And I know I am not alone in feeling like this.

The way third sector is trying to fight the fatigue is by making the petitions more and more creative or different. One of the best examples recently is The email your MP about the Climate Bill action by Friends of the Earth - essentially this was an interactive game where I could book my seat on a plane next to a celebrity of my choice, upload my photo and my message, generate three personalized videos and send them to my friends. Somewhere in between all this I could also send a message to my MP.

Fighting the fatigue

Avvaz emails are an interesting model to look at - most of my colleagues think that Avaaz emails are too long, too detailed and too boyish (i.e. it's obvious that they are written by blokes). However, their actions usually get tens of thousands of signatures as well donations. So what's the trick?

I heard a presentation by Ben Brandzel about how MoveOn and Avvaz develop their emails. Timing is essential - they send their emails about an issue at the peak of the media coverage of this issue. At this stage the public is already worked up and concerned and people want to do something about it - and then conveniently Avaaz email pops into their Inbox (forwarded by a friend for example).

Campaign marketing

Most of the issues we in third sector campaign about won't be in the media that often. The time our campaigning works like Avaaz’s is at the time of emergency for example.

So, most of the time we are marketing our campaigns - in order to get people to act, we need to explain what the issue is, why they should care and then why they should chose our specific organisation to act with.

I am suggesting that as e-campaigners we should learn more from marketers - as they are skilled in answering these questions. This is a great challenge for NGOs as usually the two teams are at war - campaign communications are suffocated by policy wonkery, while marketers try to simplify the campaign message to the level where it becomes banal.

And new media can help bridge the gap between these two extremes - as you can dialogue with supporters and harvest additional information about them in order to tailor communication which suits their preferences. So for those who want policy detail, you provide policy detail, but you don’t bombard others with it. For those who feel satisfied with a simple message, you find a way of enthusing them to take action. The ability to dialogue with contacts means that you can convert them into supporters over a period of time, rather than at first contact. Which means that an organisation can be cleverer and more responsive, therefore the likelihood of successful conversion/recruitment is higher.


I finished this presentation by sharing some statistics and data from the Make Poverty History new media evaluation.

(Information was taken from the evaluation paper done by Duane Raymond of Fairsay – it is an essential reading for anyone working in Digital

The evaluation was done in Jan 2006, but most of the lessons still haven’t been acted upon. But by sharing them again with the audience in this workshop I hope that this information will eventually get through…

And this is the presentation itself.

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