How is nonprofit work like a mission to Pluto? (Report from #NN15)

July 16, 2015

Do you ever feel like you are on a never-ending mission towards a target you can’t see, hurtling 30,000 miles-per-hour into a great dark void that’s full of unknown obstacles, with a computer as your only lifeline to humanity? Is that just me?

In our work, it often feels like we spend most of our day in rapid-response mode. In digital communications, where responses need to be lightning-quick, we’re always looking for the next big thing in organizing tools.

Digital tools have brought us so far. Remember when the fax machine was awe-worthy? Look at us now with our George Jetson watch phones! We have thousands of apps to help us be more efficient, stay connected and immortalize every thought we have ever had, forever. Technology is great! But while we may be using tech every day, it’s important to remember how you are using it. Are you reaching your target?

I am at Netroots Nation, connecting with other progressive campaigners, sharing the tools and strategies that best inspire action in our supporters. I spent my morning at a session on New Models for Digital Organizing in 2016. Digital whizzes from across the country shared their outreach strategies for the plugged-in generation.

Here are some key takeaways from the panel:

Method vs Message. When we talk about digital tools, it’s important to separate the tools from the tactics. This is especially true if your organization doesn’t understand this “online stuff.” As the digital team for your organization or campaign, your goal is to make the online presence as easy as possible so they can focus on the tactics. Panelist and Democratic Campaign Tech Advisor Dave Leichtman, said he teaches only the basics to candidates so they can focus on the message, which is what gives them the most lift.

Don’t forget to be human. You are not a robot. Neither are your supporters. Moderator Jenna Lowenstein said, don’t forget to ask yourself what kind of content “actual humans” want to read versus what a comms shop wants to put out there. Just because we can blog doesn’t mean that’s the best way to reach our audience. More and more we’re seeing substantive content being packaged in super shareable ways, ala Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Even news outlets are getting in on this trend.

Take advantage of pop culture. Utilize what people are taking about around the water cooler to get your message out. “Smart campaigns know how to do use things like the Scandal finale or Comi-Con to engage audiences,” said panelist Matt Compton of the Democratic National Committee. (But, they caution, don’t put too many resources into these fleeting topics.) Both of Dave’s examples are events with huge fan bases who are very active on social media. At Resource Media, we’re big believers of Ben Long’s wisdom: “Meet people where they are.” In this spirit, let’s not forget that the President just did Marc Maron’s podcast. THE PRESIDENT on a podcast named “WTF.” How out-of-the-box is that?

And finally:

Remember that digital communications is a two-way street. It gives us the opportunity to have conversations with supporters. Just as with your personal life, not all of your communication needs to be action-oriented. Caitlin Mitchell of EMILY’s List says sometimes we can do something nice… just to be nice. Robots don’t do that, do they?

Krista Meyer

Photo courtesy NASA