Thursday, June 18, 2015

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

from pinWords
I've been thinking about bloggers and branding lately. When you start diving into the world of  blogging, you run across topics like "expanding your audience" and "developing your personal brand." How do these ideas translate for someone like me who is a sometimes-blogger, but more often an anti-poverty activist?
image owner unknown

The idea of a personal brand certainly isn't new, especially for celebrities who actually do represent brands and charities. But it might be a new concept for those of us not-so-famous community organizers. We swim in smaller ponds, but some of the same rules apply to us as to the big fish. We are also trying to build an audience in that we're trying to get our message out and find people to take actions with us to change the world. I believe in diversity in race and economics within a movement, but when it comes down to personality, it's much easier to look for people with similar attitudes and a passion for your issues and mission. Whether you're getting someone to "follow" a blog or "follow" your lead to write to members of Congress, you want to find like-minded people who want to be around you and do the same things you are doing. 

I see lots of bloggers out there who have much bigger audiences than I do whose voices might be categorized with some of the following words:
            negative     abrasive    snarky     judgemental

               blaming others or organizations   angry                 sales-y    petty    derisive    devisive
I guess there must be a lot of people out there who like to read that kind of stuff. As for me, I get tired of it quickly. I prefer to choose to read these kinds of blogs: 
              positive    inspiring  uplifting  inclusive      encouraging         logical      action-oriented
          sincere    candid        funny     reliable
Those words describe people that I'd like to work with in my advocacy activities. It seems to me that like will attract like, so those are characteristics I try to put in my personal brand. I'm certainly not saying that I don't have a negative or snarky side to me. It's just that I prefer those darker qualities in drinking buddies and comedians. For this side of me that I put out on-line, I'm going to choose the more positive image. We shouldn't totally change our personalities - note the word "sincere" in the above list - but we CAN be purposeful about choosing the sides of ourselves that we present to the world and make sure we cultivate them.
If you write in a militant way, you'll probably get pretty militant readers following you. I understand that can be good for some activists. Yet for myself, I'm looking for inclusive, positive, and inspiring people to hang out with in real life and online, so I'm going to try to put those things out there to bring those people into my world.
Who are you looking to meet? 
What kinds of words describe how you want the world to see you online?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yukking it up on #RedNoseDay to Fight Poverty

I spend almost every day of my life thinking about serious things: children dying from lack of water or nutrition, parents dying of AIDS without options to secure their children's safety, teachers trying to educate children who are too hungry to focus on school work...this is heavy stuff. Too heavy to be weighed down with all the time. Too heavy to lay on my children as I find ways to involve them in helping. That's why I'm excited about Red Nose Day!

Red Nose Day is a day in the UK, every two years, when people get together and do something funny for charity money at home, school, and work. There's a night on the BBC TV network with comedy and entertainment to inspire the nation to give generously. And now the idea has finally made it across the ocean to the US for May 21, 2015.

I love this idea of a nation-wide day of fun and laughter to bring awareness to serious causes. It invites us to use our creativity and silliness to change the world for the better. What can you do with a red nose? Take a selfie and spread awareness with the #RedNose hashtag? Gather donations for the number of hours you'll wear your red nose at work and around in public? Invite friends over to pay a charity cover charge to hear the neighborhood kids tell knock-knock jokes? Watch the live Red Nose Day benefit on NBC and call in a donation? It's all up to you and it's all fun. 

The American version of Red Nose Day will benefit this long list of charities: Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and MalariaFeeding America, Save the Children, OXFAM America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Children's Health Fund, United Way, and Charity: Water

When I saw how many charities I already lobby for or donate to were on that list...of COURSE, I had to pick up a couple at Walgreens as I stood around waiting in line! I'm happy to say that our area of St Louis is completely sold out of red noses. I'm sorry for friends I see frantically posting about trying to find them, but I'm proud of my community for being supportive of a visible and goofy sign of support for some humorless issues.

But, hey, look. Don't take my word for it. You can watch the "William Shatner Explains Red Nose Day" trailer because...Shatner. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Advocacy Made Easy: Twitter Actions

Tweeting with Jennifer Burden about poverty from the 

I have a confession to make. I don't really like Twitter all that much.

Have you seen your own Twitter account?! You're on it all the time," I imagine my friends saying.

Yes, well. Despite that, I came slowly to Twitter. It's not a super-easy format for me to use. However, it’s one more tool in the advocacy toolbox. To quote Kolleen Bouchane, Policy and Advocacy Director of A World at School, “I know great advocates who use Twitter and wonderful advocates who have no idea what Twitter is.” 
You don't need a Twitter account to create real change in the world. But if you use one already, by all means use it to advocate as well! Twitter has connected me to many wonderful activists who wouldn't be in my life otherwise. 

I hesitantly started tweeting when I attended the first-ever Shot@Life Summit. Many participants were social media pros and they encouraged me to get on the Twitter wagon. Mistakenly, I thought I should build up a big following so people would take the actions I suggested in my tweets. Wrong! Maybe I’m just not very convincing with a 140 character limit. Followers may take action with me if they’ve seen me in some other venue, but Twitter seems to act mainly as a reminder to take an action. It’s rare that my tweets move people to action even among my steadfast advocacy friends.

But enough about what Twitter won’t do for you! Over the years, I've actually become pretty proficient at using it to the point where I even get paid for my live-tweeting skills. Here are 5 ways Twitter has been quite effective in my advocacy work and can be in yours:

#1 Add leverage to an Action Day or a movement 

If you see a hashtag (a keyword preceded with a "#" to make it more searchable) about one of your issues showing up in your Twitter feed a lot – like #EndPolio – it might be alerting you to a day of action started by an organization connected to your issue. When your organization has a phone call-in day, your tweets about it with a link to the action and the appropriate hashtag will act as your endorsement that the action is a good thing to do. Note: The action must be SIMPLE, like asking someone to "re-tweet" a message to the White House or member of Congress. (Example: "Pls RT: @ClairMC Pls sign onto S. Res. 108 to help us #EndPolio & give kids a @ShotatLife ")

The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag went globally viral very quickly after the Chibok schoolgirls were abducted in Nigeria by terrorists in 2014. As of today none of the girls have been recovered yet, but the movement lives on and I've had the privilege of meeting and working with Aisha Yesufu, one of the activists who has dedicated every day since the kidnapping to forcing her government to be accountable for the return of the girls. I would not be in contact with her at all were it not for the Twitter movement.

#2 Tweet content to build relationships your allies
If you're a blogger, tweet links to your blog posts and tag other people who are interested in the same issue. Also re-tweet related content from people you admire and want to work with. If they like what they see, they may start following you and re-tweeting. When they do, you’ll have new allies helping you build a bigger audience. These are also people you should seek out at conferences or ask to meet, so you can work on joint projects and extend your mutual reach. Occasionally, I’ve also been asked by national organizations for permission to re-post my writing that I tweeted to them. 

Live-tweeting doesn't lead to pretty pictures of yourself,
but it gets the word out!

#3 Live-tweet an event
When a special event is going on with your organization, sending out tweets about it in real time is a great way to help your followers feel engaged with the action. It extends the impact of the event. Live-tweeting is a tricky skill to learn, but here are the basics.

  • Have Twitter open and at the ready. 
  • Listen for key short, quotable sound bites from a speaker 
  • Quickly type it in and include the hashtags of the event and any associated with the topic, so that interested people can find it even if they don’t directly follow you 
  • Tag speakers by including their Twitter handle in your tweet, so they and their followers can see it and re-tweet 
  • Try to tweet every 10 minutes or so during a speech 
  • Re-tweet other people also live-tweeting the same event. 
  • Warning: Don’t live-tweet too many events too close together or this will become annoying and people may start un-following you. At some point, we all get tired of one person dominating our Twitter feeds.

An example of a Twitter Party invite graphic 
from World Moms Blog
#4 Participate in Twitter Parties to raise awareness
A "twitter party" is a virtual event that brings people together to discuss an issue on social media while raising awareness with their followers. Generally about 1 hour long, they are especially effective if a celebrity participates to bring hundreds of fans to the conversation, but a smaller party can get help your connections, too, if you have fun and informed people involved. Before you organize one, it can be helpful to join one to see how it works in person or team up with someone who has hosted one before.

These are the general steps to putting together your own Twitter party:

  • Think up a short, original hashtag to identify tweets as part of your discussion. 
  • Advertise your event with organizations in line with your issue by distributing a graphic that can be shared across social media platforms. It should describe what topic you want to discuss. Line up a few participants who have sizeable social media followings to advertise it and ask their followers to join in.
  • Think of 10-12 questions to ask during the event. 
  • When the party begins, open a window to type your tweets and a separate one to monitor your hashtag. 
  • Post a tweet welcoming everyone and reminding them to use the hashtag every time they make a comment. 
  • Post numbered questions one at a time with the hashtag for your party. Example: “Q1: How do you involve your kids in fighting poverty? #KidAction” Experienced twitter partiers will leave their answers in a similar format like, “A1: We collect food for our local food bank and deliver it together #KidAction” 
  • Leave enough time for everyone to chime in with answers, which you will see in your hashtag window. 
  • When the hour is up, thank everyone for participating and give them a website to either continue the conversation or find more information about your issue.

My first viral tweet showed tween-aged fans of 

Percy Jackson books that kids can lobby with 
the ONE Campaign

#5 Get the attention of a Twitter celebrity to boost your message
Getting a celebrity re-tweet for your org could be as simple as wearing your logo T-shirt and taking an awesome picture in front of the poster of a movie they are starring in on opening night. You just never know!

While waiting for a ONE Campaign lobby meeting, I looked over to see my daughter reading a book by her favorite author Rick Riordan (a.k.a. "@CampHalfBlood" on Twitter), creator of the popular Percy Jackson books. Since she was wearing a ONE t-shirt, I tweeted her picture while tagging both ONE and the author. After the meeting, I was shocked to see so much activity on my normally quiet account. It turned out that Riordan himself had re-tweeted it to his 302,000 followers, ensuring his rabid pre-teen and adult fans put eyeballs on the ONE logo and spread the word that kids can lobby and save the world. Twitter reported that 52,393 people saw my tweet on Twitter and 4,755 people interacted with it in some way.

Words of Caution

Twitter can be an ugly world. If you step out in public to speak out for something, chances are likely that someone someday will speak back to you against that thing. Don't take it personally. Block especially viscous people if you have to. As with all advocacy, you'll get much farther and earn more quality allies by keeping your message positive and inspiring. 
  • Don't engage in a Twitter war with critics. Twitter moves too fast and is to impersonal for good judgement to reign. The only person who can keep up is comedian and animal lover Ricky Gervais tweeting with big game sport hunters, but he's a quick witted insult comic by trade. Leave that to the professionals!
  • Be careful with your personal information Don’t share anything that would be dangerous in the hands of a follower that intends harm to you. Remember that people who oppose your viewpoints could be following you as well.
  • Exercise caution with images and information about your children. For example, the picture of my daughter that I tweeted to Rick Riordan purposefully did not show her full face nor her name.

IN CONCLUSION...the only way to really learn to use this tool is to get in there and do it. Start by following some Twitter users you respect, re-tweet their posts, and learn from them. Experiment and see what works for you. It's not for everyone, but it can be a very fun way to connect with people you might never work with otherwise. Good luck!