I’m at the e-campaigning forum in Oxford, where practitioners of online activism meet to share their lighthouses and shipwrecks, talk about ways to use email, web, Twitter, Facebook and Myspace for our social and environmental agendas, gaze at the horizon to try and guess the next big trends and, most importantly, bond over our common trials and triumphs. And drink beer.
What follows are fairly raw notes. If you fear typos and incomplete sentences, here be dragons!
First speaker was Ben Brandzel, most recently of the John Edwards campaign but previously from MoveOn and GetUp. Ben is a great rapid-fire speaker. He began his speech by saying the first rule of e-campaigning is you never need to wear a suit to present at an e-campaigner forum.
Much of what he had to say about effective email campaigns confirmed what Riken Patel of Avaaz told us last year at this venue, but he had some additional killer points:
He noted that splash sign-up pages are massively used in political campaigns, and he doesn’t understand why they’re not more used in advocacy work: they are huge list builders for US political campaigns, they convey the importance of establishing a relationship with the organisation. This struck a chord with me, as I remember Martin Lloyd showing us the Obama site, which opens full screen with a sign-up form, and imagining what our website would look like if it was designed like a US election campaign site. Ben did note that people come to candidates sites with a strong “join motivation.” He wondered if you drive splash pages toward action asks rather than join asks, whether they would do better. Something to test.
My biggest “Been there, seen that” response was to something Ben said about stumbling blocks for big groups doing online advocacy. He called it the conflict between the inside power strategy vs the outside power strategy. This pits the policy wonks in any organisation, who are experts in their fields and trying to keep doors open with politicians and political processes, against the online advocacy folks who are looking to build a wide public advocacy force. In order to sustain a large enough grass roots group to keep people on board, you need to say things that are offensive to folks who are trying to keep doors open in the insider power strategy. You need to be bluntly critical of individuals and processes that insiders are trying to work with. At MoveOn, they made a choice for a long term strategy of building enough of a constituency that they could break down the door if it closed in their face. That meant sometimes saying things that would offend the insiders. In Ben’s view, the mission alignment has to be more with the outsider strategy than the insider strategy.
Ben had a lot of clever things to say, I liked these two nuggets in particular:
Don’t put online engagement in your IT department. That would be as stupid as newspaper press desks 20 years ago being put under the typewriter department.
Don’t let the fear of the nutcase shape your strategy. Diffuse that fear — is there real evidence to suggest whatever we fear is really going to happen, and even if it does, will it derail us? The fear of the nutcase is a major discouragement to good ideas and experimentation.
Karina Brisby, Interactive Campaign Manager Oxfam GB, was next and spoke about the work she and Oxfam did around the Bali conference, and she provided some great examples of what she sees as good online campaigning — see a full set of links at her blog, Karina Talking.
(And we’re button-popping proud to have our Facebook page featured there — kudos to Giona Barbera for all his work to make our nice, shiny page which you can fan here.)
Interestingly, Oxfam gave supporters a choice to go to myspace or facebook — two thirds went to Facebook. So they went that way.
One lesson she took away from how the issue of monks being beaten in Burma was treated on facebook — users swarmed to a place where they could find out more, where many of them who never would have heard of Avaaz or Oxfam otherwise get exposed to those organisations and some moved into relationships with those groups. Most people will never go back to the Facebook group, but by linking organisations into those “swarm spots” you can recruit new support.
Here’s four of Karina’s ecampaigning lessons:
1. Focus on your audience. If they don’t want to use podcasts, stop. If they want video, give them video.
2. Test and trial. Test and trial. You won’t find out what works unless you ask, and make them feel part of the decision making process.
3. Resources: Make sure you have the time to keep your head up, watch what others are doing. Spend 20% of your time watching what others are doing.
4. Just because something is getting talked about in media or your management has heard about a new toy, don’t get pushed into new spaces without the resources to continue.
(JYStewart caught some additional points worth checking out here. )
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