I have a new post up on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog and wanted to share it here as well because I think it could start some interesting conversation.  You can read it and comment on it over at SSIR as well.

Many organizations have been saying the same thing about using the Internet for many years now, “we need someone to make us a Web site!” No, you really don’t. At least, you don’t need to think of your online “presence” as being a stand-alone website. Let’s dissect a networked approach to an online presence and see what the core dynamics are.

we20

“Our leaders, face a huge task this year. The G20 is a group of 20 leaders including Obama, Brown, Lula and Sarkozy. The G20 are tasked with reforming our failed economies and mapping out our future.

These G20 leaders meet in London on 2 April. 20 world leaders. 20 people together making plans that will affect our future.

we20 is your opportunity to have your own G20 meeting. 20 people together creating plans for your future.”

we20 wants to inspire people, online, to get together, offline, to talk about ideas to improve our lives and our world. They don’t have a website, yet. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be spreading their message and mobilizing people into action both on and offline.

The Key Elements:

  • Spreading the word online: this doesn’t require a website when there are countless social technologies to leverage.
  • Mobilizing people to get together offline: we are social creatures, but we don’t always know the people we want to get together with; but thanks to social technologies it is much easier to find and make these new connections.
  • Don’t wait for a website: often organizations wait between 3 – 18 months to get a website live; a project like we20 doesn’t have that kind of time and you shouldn’t assume you do either.

we20 has a time-sensitive campaign (though, who’s isn’t?), with people who are excited and energized to do something right after hearing about the idea. It would be a big mistake to let all those supporters trail off, their energy wain, and have the only action provided be to wait for that website to go up with more information…later. Instead, take advantage of tools you and others who could be interested in the campaign are already using. Put your message out there right away and let the momentum build.

The Networked Approach:
The networked approach to online campaigns is really a cycle, like most other strategies you’ll come across. You move from step one, through all four, and the fourth leads right back to the first. Here are the four steps to creating a networked approach to a campaign, using we20 as our example.

  • Make your group of friends public: When starting something like we20, it’s really just a group of friends and colleagues that start talking about an idea and get enthusiastic about it. You want it to take off and believe it really will. Those early conversations about how, where, what, and all the other gooey details should be made public if possible. In this case, we20 started a Facebook group to keep everyone together and communicate with each other. But, by making it a public group like this, they also enabled others to find and join them, as well as to help shape the answers to those gooey but important questions.
  • Make your message moveable: Be sure to put solid content out there for people new to the campaign. Even though there are still many aspects of we20 still to be configured, when you visit the Facebook group, for example, you are still able to find clear, direct messaging about what the group is focused on. This doesn’t just let people understand and join, but it also allows them to copy and paste – the greatest messaging option individuals have! By putting clear, concise messages out there, you enable supporters to move the message around the web for you.
  • Make your movement actionable: Sharing your message isn’t action enough for many people who really want to jump in.  Even if it was, the message should have an actionable opportunity for those who receive the message further down the line but want to do more than pass it on.  we20 has done an excellent job of presenting an actionable movement. It isn’t simply about raising awareness, or causing a stir; we20 is asking people to have their own we20 meetings and share their ideas. The action (the individual meetings/gatherings) is simple and clear to understand, but also flexible enough that anyone could bend it to their specific situations: some friends in a bar, a lunch club using it as a theme, and so on.
  • Make your actions public: If you’ve inspired people to join you and invite others to join, and to take action, providing a way for those same people to share their actions publicly will take you back to the first step, in making the group public. As more actions become visible, more people will join the movement and subsequently share their actions as well. It’s always a cycle. In the case of we20, they have put their introduction video up on YouTube, defining a very obvious place for others to put up videos either as a response or a report from their own we20 meeting and the ideas that came out of it. Though, people could participate in other ways as well since we20 has a networked presence, meaning Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This means that new participants can close the loop for learning about the movement to actually sharing ideas via the platform or process they prefer.

Though, there will be a we20 website, eventually. For now, that networked approach is letting them start and build and move forward anyway. The we20 group sums this up quite nicely, “We are expecting to launch http://www.we20.org soon but please don’t let us slow you down. Please start organising your meetings now.” Exactly: don’t let the lack of a traditional website hinder the movement; use the tools we are all already using to learn about and spread the movement, organize with your friends and colleagues, and share your ideas back to the movement.

What do you think? Has your organization or your group of friends used a networked approach to start a campaign? Have you relied on a main website instead? What have been the best examples of networked approaches to campaigns that you’ve seen?

Visit the SSIR blog to add to this conversation!

Dissecting the Network Approach on the SSIR blog
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