In a recent interview, Bil Browning and Justin Cole have a discussion about blogs and social media that I think is really important for the future of the LGBT movement. One of the points they touch on is how too few LGBT organizations have figured out how to properly leverage the power of blogs. (Part 2 of the interview is the blog conversation)
And now, with the boom in popularity of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, many organizations are far behind the curve in understanding the power at their fingertips. What's worse is how few organizations have a coherent online strategy that incorporates these wildly popular sites.
Need more proof these tools work? How about the recent election of Nick Shalosky to the Charleston, SC school board as a write-in candidate? He organized his campaign almost exclusively through Facebook.
There has never been a more level playing field to get your message in front of others. Let's look at some of the raw data.
Facebook is the obvious choice for getting started in social media organizing. There are many ways to use Facebook to reach your target audience and the growth rate of the service is phenomenal. As of this writing, Facebook has 175 million active users who spend a combined 3 billion minutes on Facebook each day.
They share more than 24 million bits of web content (blog posts, news stories, etc.) each day and upload 850 million photos each month. The average Facebook user has 120 friends.
What are you doing to get your slice of that messaging power? Do you have a strategy? Are you getting your whole staff and membership involved? They're probably already using Facebook anyway.
Facebook makes it easy to spread the word about your organization or cause as well. The built-in Causes application allows you to raise money and spread awareness allowing others to join your cause and allows you to mass message and raise money right in Facebook. If that's not enough, you can also create a custom Facebook application that hooks into your own website.
Facebook helped Nick Shalosky become the first openly-gay elected official in South Carolina. Without spending a dime, he easily organized enough votes to win a seat on the local school board having entered the race only 2 weeks before election day. Sure, school board is a relatively small race, but that doesn't make this any less proof of the power of organizing online.
And Nick Shalosky is in pretty good company. Social media and a stellar online organization (in which Facebook was a part) helped propel Barack Obama into the White House.
Twitter is a wholly different phenomenon and harder for many to understand. The idea of squeezing the message down to 140 characters can seem a bit daunting. The notion of building individual relationship with fellow Tweeters (Twitter users) can give the best communications team a coronary.
But once you understand the potential of Twitter, you'll see why you should use it.
The best way to describe Twitter is text messaging on steroids. What makes Twitter powerful is the way it so easily integrates with your phone (you only need to have text message capabilities to use Twitter from your phone) other websites (have you seen the Twitter feeds on our contributor bio pages?) and even the aforementioned Facebook (you can update your Facebook status via Twitter.)
With Twitter, you're reaching a smaller audience, but you're reaching a very connected and active audience. Tweeters are highly attuned to discussing and sharing information from their fellow Tweeters. And as with any social platform, you benefit from a multiplier effect when a fellow Tweeter "Re-Tweets" your message.
Hard numbers on Twitter are difficult to come by. The estimates I found range from 1.25 to 2 million users, but it's growing very rapidly. Web traffic to the twitter.com domain surpassed the wildly popular digg.com in January, which represents a doubling of traffic just since October 2008. That's amazing growth!
And with a recent injection of $50 million in venture capital, it's likely that growth trend will continue for some time.
Blogs seem so old-school when compared to Facebook and Twitter, but blogs are more important than ever to organizing online. Blogs have evolved dramatically over the past few years to become a ubiquitous source of news and opinion - citizen journalism.
Yet so many LGBT organizations, particularly statewide equality orgs, have yet to embrace blogs as part of their communications strategy. Sure, most orgs have a blog they post press releases or news alerts to - but I think these are mostly a waste of time.
If your organization doesn't have a working relationship with the main bloggers in your area (or for national orgs, the big blogs that focus on your issues) then stop what you're doing and start scheduling lunches and coffees. Seriously.
It seems the hardest thing for most orgs to overcome is that they no longer control the message when they deal with blogs. That's OK. Let me repeat that. It is OK to not control the message when dealing with blogs.
If you've created the right relationships with your target bloggers, you don't need to control the message. It's the blogger's job to break down big issues into bit-sized pieces. They do this every single day with or without you. Wouldn't you rather be in a position to guide them in that analysis rather than having to do damage control after the fact?
There are blogs in almost every state that are part of the progressive 50 State Blog Network. LGBT issues are very well covered in the blogosphere and it is easy to find blog-allies in every part of the country. There is no reason not to have multiple bloggers you work with regularly.
See you online
You don't have to become an online junkie to harness these tools for your organization. That's what is great, you harness the masses in tiny bits to multiply your own reach and power. It only takes one Tweet on Twitter (140 characters max.) or one message to your Facebook group to reach anywhere from thousands to potentially millions of people.
The other, smaller, more niched social sites are all great, but if you're just now realizing you need an online strategy, your focus should be on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Facebook is growing faster than any other service and both Facebook and Twitter are starting to get traction with users over the age of 30. And blogs are very much the future of online news.
I realize I've only touched the surface on each of these online phenomena and there are plenty of others I haven't mentioned. But the three I've discussed here have the lowest barriers to entry (You gotta know a little something about video for YouTube, for example) and will give you the best returns on your investment of time.
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