I attended a brown bag lunch yesterday hosted by the Institute for Policy, Democracy and the Internet and featuring Brian Reich (of EchoDitto), one of the co-authors of Media Rules. He was leading a discussion about the role of technology in connecting with your audience, and non-profit staffers (like myself) were joined by consultants, media types, government employees, etc.
Reich said, as a consultant, he grew so tired of trying to explain to organizations why they should truly embrace a technology strategy, he decided to write a book about it. From an original idea of 15 chapters centered on the same number of “rules” came the final text, which he says is more about strategy and organizational management.
The discussion was intriguing, and the book is definitely going on my “To Buy” list. One of the first things he stressed was that “the audience” – be it consumers, voters, residents, etc. – today have the ability to truly demonstrate what they want and expect. Underestimating your audience (whether it’s how much work they’re willing to do or how readily they’ll digest the information you’re providing) is a no-no, Reich says. Marketers, political organizations and others are still trying to convince people “We’re right,” rather than actually listening to what people want. Whether through their spending decisions or through blogs, voting, etc., the new world of communication is no longer a one-way street. I know – this isn’t groundbreaking in itself. For the good stuff, you’ll have to click through…
The problem is the “shiny object syndrome,” as he calls it: organizations want to get on the bandwagon, but don’t know why. “We want a blog – get us a blog,” the companies tell him. So many people are focusing on technological advances as a tactic rather than incorporating them into a strategic vision.
How to turn things around: focus on well-defined, discreet goals. Organizations should be organic, with every decision flowing from the question: “How does this help us achieve our goals?” Reich also stressed organizations should re-evaluate how they define success, at least internally until others (like foundations that fund projects) catch up.
According to Reich, 10 million signatures on a petition is not success: it’s an impressive tactic, yes, but did it actually achieve the goal of your organization (i.e. ending hunger or reducing carbon emissions)?
Success, says Reich, has to be meaningful and memorable change:
“When funders realize there’s all these organizations out there not achieving anything but flashy Web sites and YouTube videos, they’ll stop funding.”
He said too many organizations today are about “being the organization,” and singled out the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an example of something that is striving to achieve goals but is designed to cease operation after its founders are dead, rather than continue in perpetuity.
So, once a company or non-profit or advocacy group redefines its goals and mission, how does it proceed? According to Reich, you can’t be dictatorial, and you have to decide whether you’re serving the cause or solving the cause (which, he admitted, is loaded language that might instantly offend some non-profit types). Listen to the audience and don’t underestimate them: they want to solve the problem, and they want to help. Organizations should first raise awareness, then connect and engage, before finally mobilizing. Focus on true participation, and demonstrate a commitment to achieving the goals.
I’ll have a few further thoughts on this later – for now, hit me up with questions, theories, suggestions, best practices, stories, etc. in comments.