Outreach isn’t just reaching people who already agree with you

But a capaign can go to far. In this case, too far is when people believe that believing is enough, without factoring in the differences between the passionate few who run the campaign and the barely interested many who actually vote. –Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, referring to the 2004 Howard Dean campaign

In my wife’s work with the GetDowntown program, she hears avid bicycle commuters suggest ways to get non-cyclists to bike to work. She hears from avid walkers about how to get non-walkers to give up their cars for a good pair of shoes.

In my work, I hear from deeply committed environmentalists about how to get indifferent people to lower their carbon footprint. I hear passionate peace activists tell me how we should get the apathetic public to care.

This input is valuable, and many good ideas come from it, but what these true believers forget, and what I often forget, is that the “barely interested many” aren’t approaching our issues from the same perspective we are, and what motivates us may not motivate them. To reach the “barely interested many,” you have to set aside your interests to see what it is that they are interested in, meet them where they are, and help them take the next step.

It can be fun to connect with the people who already agree with and to talk the shared language of what already motivates you, and there is a place for that in sustaining a movement, but it is not enough.

If you are going to change the world, you can’t just talk to people who already agree with you. You can’t just speak the language of what motivates people like you. You need to reach out, talk to new people in their own language. That’s why they call it outreach.

Old media is dying, what do organizers do now?

Within the past few weeks, I’ve had two very different types of conversations.

With activists (especially activists over 40 years old), I’ve been talking about traditional media outreach. Can we get letters to the editors placed? How about Op-Ed pieces? Maybe the radio will pick up our story.

The other type of conversation has been about how traditional media sources are weakening (some would say dying).

I have heard people complain that our local paper is dying, that there’s “no news in the News.”

I’ve told people about how I listen to more podcasts and less radio, and I’ve heard friends tell me that they don’t watch TV as much anymore because they get everything online (so of course they don’t watch the 6:00 News).

The traditional methods of media outreach are no longer sufficient

It used to be there was a script for “media relations.” Send out a press release, try to get radio, TV, and paper. The more press outlets covered your event, the better off you were. If the mainstream ones covered you, then you could assume that you were reaching the people you needed to reach.

If you got on the 6:00 News, or in the local paper, you “won” and you could move on, and if you got picked up on radio, TV, and print, you could feel like you saturated your message and pretty much everyone would see it.

Now, our media landscape is fragmenting. Instead of just local TV, radio, and print media, you have the YouTube, Blogs, social media, podcasting, 100 channels of cable TV, and the ability to TiVo and skip things that bore you.

Younger generations are abandoning print news altogether, and they aren’t necessarily tuning into local coverage on blogs to fill that gap.

Now that saturation effect is almost impossible.

How things work now–the good news

I don’t want to come off like a cranky old man about all this. The same tools that increase the competition to get your message out also open doors to get your message out. While it used to be that you were hostage to the political or business biases of local media, now there are ways to side-step this roadblock.

As with most things, there is both good and bad.

And I’m still confused

I knew the old script for getting a message out, and I was decent at it. I’m still not sure how to play in this new reality.

Part of the problem is there is still no script. Six years ago Friendster was big. Four years ago it was Myspace. Now it’s Facebook, and Twitter is getting bigger yet.

So I’m still learning how to get the word out amongst all the noise and competition that’s out there.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been hearing about this for a while, but I’ve ignored it.

Now that I see how few people I actually reach with traditional methods anymore. Now I can’t ignore the need to deal with the new information landscape.

And if you’re a savvy organizer, you will too.

Should we even talk to the elites, part II

A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Bitch Magazine: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture.

Now, sometimes my reading gets a bit behind, so this issue is from 2004, but it had a great interview with Jennifer Abbot who co-directed The Corporation, a documentary critiquing corporate personhood.

The movie includes a discussion of how Ray Anderson, CEO of the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, decided to focus his company on ecologically sustainable production.

To me, this shows the danger of the “don’t even talk to the bosses” approach of Jeffrey Shantz in We Are Everywhere.

We do need to talk to them. We do need to pressure them. Abbott tells us that “Anderson’s paradigm shift happened through pressure exerted by customers and employees–so the strategy of applying pressure on a corporation to be environmentally sustainable can have an effect. ”

It’s not the only strategy, but it’s a valuable one.

Do I HAVE to spend more time on Facebook? I guess so.

If Peter Brinkerhoff is right, I sure do.

That is, if I want to reach younger audiences. In his latest Mission Based Management Newsletter he writes,

My daughter Caitlin, who is a college sophomore and 19, informed me last summer in no uncertain terms that “no one uses email, no one listens to voice mail, Dad.

And this is a story I’ve heard from other people in higher ed.

Last night, ICPJ hosted a Dinner and a Movie, and let me just say that the crowd was decidedly not of the Facebook generation. So, if we want to stay relevant (or maybe become relevant) to a younger generation, this tells me that we’re going to need to actively invest in working with them on their terms, using their technology.

Facebook it is.

Just don’t make me twitter.