People often ask me what are today's most successful online campaigns. It’s a great question to ask when planning your own, because the pace of change keeps speeding up, and campaigns that aim for viral growth and real engagement know that just adding a website and Facebook page to the same old campaign plans isn’t working anymore.
There’s been a lot of excitement around crowdfunding recently, but until last fall I wasn’t convinced there was a there there. I knew they worked, sometimes, for start-up tech products, some indie films and a few hyper local community projects.
But would they do heavy lifting for social change causes?
While many progressive ideas tend to succeed in the long run, (I'm talking a 30 year time horizon) as a movement we're not half as effective as our opposition at creating messaging that wins hearts and minds today. There's a lot of suffering that takes place in that 30 year gap.
Here's why I think right wing parties and interests resisting change tend to run circles around us in messaging:
Success in the advocacy world is essentially about getting your issue or cause onto the agenda of the powerful by going direct, via a mass public outcry, or ideally both.
Not so long ago, you could get pretty far with a supportive story in the top tier media, so most advocacy NGO's built up powerful and fairly well resourced media departments focused on just that. And they've had a lot of success, until recently.
If you're in New York in early May, check out "How Network Orgs and Free Agents are Re-invigorating Social Change Movements". In it we share some of our latest thinking, and then we'll hear real world, really awesome stories from May Boeve, the Executive Director and co-founder of global climate campaigners 350.org, and Monifa Bandele, a senior campaigner at the 1M (engaged) member strong MomsRising.org. It's a free community building event (with free drinks!) thanks to some of our awesome partners.
This event was successfully test-marketed in Vancouver, and we plan to do it in DC and San Francisco later this year.
There's been a lot of ink spilled about the KONY 2012 video, the most successful cause video of all time (and most viral video ever). But I haven't seen a lot of discussion around the campaign that surrounded the video, that is at least as responsible for its success. And while Invisible Children has faced controversy - in my opinion much more than they deserve - I'd rather turn this into a constructive dialogue on how other causes can learn from their incredible success.
In my view, most of the larger, more well known NGO's won't produce a communications piece this successful, unless they radically change their structures. Here are 6 reasons most NGO's will never make a KONY, and some lessons we can take to improve our campaigns for this exciting new world.
I've been writing a lot about "network orgs" that are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm in nearly every movement. But one of the common critiques I hear about them from those who work in more traditional non-profits is "all they do are online petitions". This then connotes their work with simple clicktivism, also known as "slacktivism", and nothing more weighty. And it's wrong.
There are few progressive issues we can look back at over the last 10 years that show measurable and sustained progress. This fact alone should greatly humble NGO campaigners, consultants, and funders alike. Yet at the same time there have been some incredible successes – from the growth of Avaaz to 12M+ members, to the Arab Spring, Obama’s election in 2008, and the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that may point to the power of new, networked models of campaigns showing a new way.
The common thread among initiatives that are struggling is centralized leadership in strongly hierarchical, highly independent, professionalized organizations. Many recent growth leaders take more of a network-centric approach to campaigning, with more flat, nimble structures, strong reliance on partnerships, and importantly people-powered engagement models at their core.