Musings of a PR Professional

Chapter 1: Introducing Networked Nonprofits

The Internet, and in particular social media, has really changed how nonprofits must function in society in order to create social change. Namely, they must be transparent.

Nonprofit organizations must realize that they are no longer able to close up their walls, not let anyone in, and just pump out information about their cause hoping that people with donate their time and money. That’s just not how it works anymore. Nonprofits today need to loosen the reins on their messages, and trust that free agents will do more good for them than harm (a topic that I will discuss further in the following post).

A recent chapter that I read in my mass communication class talked about social change campaigns and what is and is not usually effective. One main point made was that social change does not happen because a television commercial tells someone they should do something, it happens when people and communities come together and start to influence one another’s behaviors and actions. For example, you wouldn’t stop littering just because of a sign on the side of a highway, but you would if your parents began to scold you for doing so, and if friends began to stop themselves.

The power of social media for nonprofits comes in at this point. They need to engage people on a social and communal level in order to create change, and the Internet is a great place to foster those relationships.

“One constant in life is that human beings want and need to connect with one another in meaningful ways. These connections are made through social networks that are the conduits for the conversations that power social change. The job of nonprofit organizations is to catalyse and manage those conversations.”

-Kanter & Fine, The Networked Nonprofit

Chapter 2: Elements of a Strategic Communication Plan

As you may have gathered from my previous blog post, last week we were asked to think of a communication strategy that has been used to create social change and when we got to class yesterday, the first thing we did was each share our example. While no one missed the mark, it became clear to me that defining and really understanding what  social change is is a lot more difficult than I had thought. It’s not just a charity fighting the good fight, nor is it getting one story about your cause published and patting yourself on the back. It’s about sustainability and the mobilization of people.

To prove this point further, we ended class by discussing Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington this past Saturday. We explored his invitation for the event and his website and then talked about what change we thought. Long story short: he failed. Not for lack of turnout or donation to the event’s sponsoring charity, but because his goals, outcomes, and mission were not clearly stated. As the text notes at the beginning of the chapter, determining your desired goals, outcomes, and mission are the core of a successful communication plan and the very first thing you consider when creating one. Without them your efforts will be without purpose or unity and ultimately unsuccessful.

This rally example leads me to why I liked reading the last 7 pages of this chapter so much- it gave a clear-cut, real-life example of a communication strategy that inspired tangible social change. The text systematically broke down the strategic communication plan of The Fairness Initiative on Low Wage Work and related it back to the previous section in which it described the elements of a good strategic communication plan. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, the Initiative sought to change the perceptions of the “working poor” and ultimately create a better economy to foster better lives for these people. There are three things that I think this example demonstrated very well:

  • The importance of research.

The Initiative did extensive research throughout the entire process of implementing their plan which helped them to effectively craft and distribute their messages regarding low-income work. In my opinion, PR’s number one rule is research before you do anything and let that research guide everything you do and this plan clearly demonstrated the benefits of it.

  • The importance of sustainability.

Sustainability was one of their main objectives, so the Initiative “trained key personnel to implement strategies on their own” after the initial momentum of the plan died down. I think sustainability is so important because social change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an ongoing process that needs ongoing fuel in order to occur and it is good that the Fairness Initiative realized that.

  • The importance of measurable goals.

The Initiative crafted their goals in such a way that they would be able to determined whether or not their efforts were successful on their terms. After conducting another study, they were able to determine that they were successful in achieving their goals- so successful even that “the federal minimum wage has been increased for the first time in ten years, and new legislation has been introduced to provide paid sick days as a minimum standard for many workers. Clearly, their strategic communication plan was successful in implementing social change, and I think it is one that PR students and professionals alike can learn a lot from.

Rock the Vote: A communicaiton strategy for social change

I think that anyone would be hard pressed to find a young  adult who does not remember the Rock the Vote campaign from the 2004 presidential election. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing a commercial featuring P Diddy telling young adults why they should vote or Paris Hilton wearing a little Rock the Vote graphic tee in a hip magazine ad. But what is important about the Rock the Vote campaign is that it worked, and it is memorable.

Bar the fact that Rock the Vote has been around for 20 or so years, most young people had not heard about it until 2004 when the initiative decided to up the ante and really use pop culture and mainstream and online media to connect with young people. Their goal: Get young people to the polls. Rock the Vote did a lot to empower young people politically in 2004, but what they did that I think really worked was connect with young adults on their level. They used the media channels that young people were using, held events like concerts that young adults would want to attend, got “hot” celebrities to endorse their cause, and sold merchandise. While these are not terribly innovative ideas, this strategy was new in the sense that no one had ever made politics and voting cool before. Celebrities, MTV, blogging, and more made voting the it thing to do. That’s social change if I’ve ever seen it because it WORKED. You can check out Rock the Vote’s 2004 Youth Vote Results here, but here are the highlights:

  • Among 18-24 year olds, turnout was up 11 points to 47 percent.
  • Among 18-29 year olds, turnout was up 9 points to 49 percent.
  • More than 20 million votes were cast by 18-29 year olds, and 11.6 million were cast by 18-24 year olds, both up sharply from 2000.

So what can we learn from Rock the Vote, especially during the 2004 election? The best way to reach people is by engaging them through channels and messages they like and will respond to. Because let’s be honest, I’ll look at an ad about voting a lot longer if its Kim Kardashian or Zac Efron and not some random person. Don’t fight pop culture if it can work for you- Rock the Vote used it to create social change and they were successful. Keep up the good work!