I recently spoke at the InterAction Forum 2014 on a panel about “The Changing World of Internet Domains: What Every NGO Should Know about the Expanding Internet and What it Means for Your NGO”. I presented on what the changing Internet landscape meant for NGOs.
The discussion was framed around the recent announcement by PIR (the Public Interest Registry) – the .org registry about the .ngo/.ong top level domain and the .ngo hub. The top level domains .ngo/.ong will be offered starting in October of 2014 as “validated domains” in a package that includes both .ngo and .ong (ong is the “romance language” version of ngo) only to verified NGOs. The NGO hub will feature a directory of validated NGOs and will serve as a “Facebook for NGO’s”
This will be a solid resource. But what too many people attending the session didn’t quite grasp is that there already is a Facebook for NGOs. It’s called Facebook.
The Internet age defines a fundamental shift in the way that humans interact. To drive this point home I looked back at 2004. The Howard Dean scream, Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. Friendster was a top social site, we searched the web on Lycos and the most popular brand on the World Wide Web was Microsoft’s MSN. Facebook was founded at Harvard. Seems quaint. YouTube and smartphones didn’t even exist. Today we live in the age of broadband, mobile, and social media. The implications of this paradigm shift in the way humans interact for NGO’s and non-profits all lead to the fact that NGO’s and non-profits need to master social media to survive. The same factors that make Thomas Freidman swoon over Airbnb as the world’s savior imply a landscape where NGOs have to adapt to changes in the way people communicate and interact with causes.
The traditional aggregators, influencers and intermediaries are being disrupted, if not blow asunder by a multitude of manifestations of the sharing (or collaborative) economy. For taxis, I’m talking about the Taxi and Limousine Commissioner and your local Red Top Cab Company. For NGO’s let’s focus on major funders, and media.
In an economy where foundation and government money are becoming increasingly scarce, the successful NGO and non-profit will need to adapt by reaching individual donors directly through the new collaborative, crowdfunding intermediaries.
These new intermediaries are Kickstarter, Razoo, Indiegogo and others like the activist network AVAAZ.org, which has campaigns in 15 languauges across 194 countries. By garnering the power of social networking, AVAAZ has attained over 36 million users and has been involved in over 166 million actions like donations or petitions.
What stunned me was that no one in the audience at the InterAction Forum 2014 had even heard of Razoo – the Uber of charity! Two of our clients use Razoo instead of PayPal for processing donations in order to leverage presence on the crowdfunding social network. NGOs will need to understand these networks and the social media connections to them in order to stay relevant.
The other related implication is just as important and is in fact essential for the organization that is adapting to a highly dynamic media landscape. In a world where human interaction is being reshaped by broadband, mobile and social, where everyone has access to powerful technology, everyone is a media outlet. A successful organization may hire a flack to pitch to TV stations and newspapers, but the adapting, really successful organization is a TV station and newspaper.
This necessarily means communication with (not at!) your communities on the networks were they are. In order to raise awareness and money, engage stakeholders, activate activists, and drive measurable results, the successful NGO must have a real social media program. Take a look at Heifer International and the UNHCR as two examples of organizations effectively engaging online. Note the use of these simple best practices: a) powerful images that tell human stories; b) compelling headlines and text; and c) clear calls to action.
The UNHCR has two YouTube Channels. They are using online media to drive home stories that move people all around world. Like other successful organizations, they are taking content production and curation extremely seriously to create narratives that engage their communities, and they are doing it quite well. We preach 6 steps to a successful social media campaign to all of our clients. These are tried and true.
- Listen first. A lot.
This means monitoring and observing what’s going on on the web. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. Before you jump in, find out how what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.
Gather relevant, useful content that is interesting to the people you want to engage. Collect it in a way that you can use it.
Take the interesting stuff you’ve gathered, add your own insights and post to the networks that matter. Make a regular schedule to establish a regular presence. There are lots of great tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to help you do this. This is the first part. The second part is harder. You’ve got to engage with the people that matter and get them to be your social ambassadors.
Use analytics and social media metrics to measure the results. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. It seems obvious, but doing it right takes a lot of work.
- Rinse and Repeat
What are your thoughts on how NGOs can best adopt to and take advantage of the Internet? Let me know!