When I received a note from Kevin Hendricks asking me to contribute my thoughts to a book to support Mark Horvath‘s nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv, I jumped at the chance. I first came across Mark (@hardlynormal) on Twitter about two years ago, and was drawn in by his ongoing narrative describing his day-to-day work at a homeless shelter, forays onto the streets to do video interviews of homeless people, and worries about becoming homeless himself (again). I marveled at what he had been able to accomplish with a videocamera and an outdated laptop to give homeless people the opportunity to tell their own stories. (I challenge you to watch some of the videos on the InvisiblePeople.tv site and not come away seeing the people you pass every day in a whole new light.)
When Mark won $50,000 in the Pepsi Refresh grant program at SXSW last year, he used it to create a new project called We Are Visible, which empowers homeless people to connect with others via social media. He also just returned from a road trip across the U.S. to raise awareness of homelessness and to share the stories of the homeless people he met in each city. Throughout all of this, Mark has been on the verge of homelessness himself.
Kevin wanted to find a way to help support Mark in his important work and came up with the idea of creating a book that has just been released — Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness — as a joint fundraising/awareness-building project. When you purchase a copy of this book, 100% of the profits will go directly to Mark and InvisiblePeople.tv. The book includes the stories Mark has chronicled on the InvisiblePeople.tv site, along with short essays from people whose lives Mark has touched and ideas for how readers can make a difference for people who are homeless.
Below is my contribution to the book, but please buy the book to read the rest of it as well. Other contributors include: Brad Abare, Chris Brogan, Wendy Cohen, Lee Fox, Jessica Gottlieb, Alan Graham, David Henderson, Jeff Holden, Michael Ian, Becky Kanis, Natalie Profant Komuro, Jeff Lilley, Geoff Livingston, Heather Meeker, Brandon Mendelson, Stefanie Michaels, Scott Monty, Shannon Moriarty, Chloe Noble, Stephanie Rudat, Kari Saratovsky, Lisa Truong, and Scott Williams.
Hero by Example
Mark Horvath is my hero. Not just because he selflessly devotes himself to raising awareness of the issue of homelessness, something that most people prefer not to contemplate, but because of how he is doing it. Mark does not just make noise, screaming “Someone has to do something about this problem!” He grabs a bag of socks and heads out to tell the stories of homeless people, one by one. And he pulls the rest of us along at the same time.
The Invisible People project is truly a poster child for what can be done in the social media era. When people complain to me that their budget is too small to make a difference, I point them to what Mark has been able to accomplish with a budget of—essentially—zero. Though I’m sure he would prefer to have a fancy video production and editing set-up, the constraints of his equipment have actually worked in favor of what he is trying to accomplish. The raw, unedited footage parallels the raw emotions that the stories often evoke in viewers.
By giving homeless people a voice, Mark is helping the people most affected by the problem to be part of the solution. When he gives them the opportunity to tell their stories, he reminds us that they are human beings first, above all. We can no longer pretend that the shabby figure with the shopping cart does not experience the same emotions as we do, or that they prefer to live on the street. And Mark has opened our eyes to the fact that beautiful children and babies are homeless too.
If all the project did was just to make us “see” the homeless people we pass every day, that would be a major accomplishment. But the larger picture is that Mark sets an example that inspires others to take action. Mark is one of the biggest mensches that I know. The Yiddish word mensch doesn’t just mean a good person, but someone who does the right thing no matter how inconvenient or difficult. Despite the fact that he is constantly on the verge of becoming homeless himself, as soon as he finds out that someone needs assistance, he does whatever he must to help that person.
The biggest payoff of the Invisible People project is that it pushes us to get out of our comfort zone and follow Mark’s example. People are hurting everywhere, so much so that the problem seems overwhelming. But he shows us that each of us—one person at a time, just like Mark— can use our unique talents to help one person at a time.
All proceeds from this book support the work of Mark’s nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv. You can also support InvisiblePeople.tv directly by making a donation.
Buy it from Amazon for $9.99.
Buy it for the Kindle for $3.99.
Other digital versions are also available.
Better yet, if your organization could use someone who is an expert at using social media to make people care about an issue, offer him a job. How have his talents and passion not been snapped up by a smart advocacy organization yet?
[Full disclosure: I am a board member of InvisiblePeople.tv, for which I am not paid.]
I recently attended the Immersive Technology Summit
, which was a daylong showcase of how organizations, storytellers and researchers are using technology to transport people to alternate realities. The term Immersive Technology
“refers to simulated realities, interactive devices, and applications that are combined to create an ‘immersive’ experience into technology. It includes, but is not limited to, technology that blurs, if not erases, the line of distinction between the confined physical world and the boundless digital world.”
As Harold Tan, one of the summit organizers, noted when talking about why immersive technology is important, life is about experiences, and technology can be used to immerse yourself in other people’s experiences; you can live a hi-res depiction of an artist’s imagination.
Though I was only able to attend the morning sessions, I was pleased to note how many projects have nonprofit applications. I’ll share some of the highlights here.
Fred Nikgohar of RoboDynamics described how robots are being used to bring people together across time and space. Robots are serving as a mobile telepresence to bring together geographically dispersed talent within a workplace, or to allow an out-of-town manager to be present to oversee his employees on the factory floor. Fred noted that it only takes an average of five days for staff to make the mental adjustment of referring to the robot representation by the remote employee’s name. This has obvious applications for telemedicine and education in geographically remote areas.
Mark Bolas at USC’s Institute for Creative Technology demonstrated how his lab is creating virtual environments for training and simulations, transforming real space into a walkable virtual location using virtual reality headsets and warehouse space. Military and hospital simulations stretch space through redirection tricks like flipping the door to a different wall without the user noticing to minimize the physical space needed. One of the demonstrations in the exhibit hall showed another way of allowing the user to explore a virtual location with a stationary hamster ball-type of apparatus synched with the view in the VR goggles.
Bonnie Bucker and Garry Hare of Imagined Communities talked about their design-based educational experience that connects students with their communities. After rendering their neighborhood in 3-D, youth identify areas of need in the community to reimagine how it could be improved. For example, a blighted area could be turned into a community garden. The youth give virtual walking tours of the neighborhood, and residents can vote on the changes they like the most. The new design can then be realized in the real world. I loved when Garry said, “I’m interested in the political troublemaking aspects of augmented reality.”
Jacquelyn Ford Morie, also from USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, talked about the virtual humans and avatars the ICT has created for various purposes. She demonstrated Ada and Grace, the virtual human museum guides at the Boston Museum of Science. They can understand and respond to natural spoken language, engaging visitors in both explaining the science exhibits and in demonstrating applied computer science.
In addition, ICT created the “Coming Home” project (also known as Transitional Online Post-Deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds), which provides mental health support to returning soldiers in Second Life. This virtual veterans center provides real-time in-world stress reduction and mindfulness classes and areas where soldiers can come together for peer support. This includes the Warrior’s Journey – a narrative component where individuals’ avatars enter a tower and follow their choice of classic warrior stories from various cultures that depict values like duty and dedication. At the end of the journey, they meet the avatar of that character and can have a conversation with him. This is an opportunity for returning soldiers to “rewrite” and reframe their own personal stories, which they may feel conflicted about. They can then add their own story online by uploading pictures and text.
I think the technology is getting to a point where nonprofits can start looking at whether the immersive approach can help them further their goals. As a panelist noted, when “Jackass 3D” gets the highest weekly box-office ratings, it means that immersive media is making its way to the mainstream. I’m sure we can find better uses than that!
For more reading on augmented reality:
Photo Credit: janjochemo
Lately, I’ve been talking about transmedia storytelling to whoever will listen. If you’re not familiar with this approach, transmedia refers to a story that is told on multiple media platforms, with different parts of the story appearing in different places. The readers/viewers may enter the story at various points, and may need to solve puzzles or follow clues to discover the different nodes of the story. Transmedia is different from multimedia, which would be a retelling of the same story told using different media (e.g., a movie, a graphic novel, an audiobook). Beyond using transmedia for the sheer joy of telling a story, this approach is now often used to promote television shows and movies, as well as marketing products. Want to try out a quick example of a transmedia story in action? No Mimes Media has created a 10-minute alternate reality game (ARG) you can experience online. (Hint: Look for clues to get to each of the next parts of the story and keep your phone nearby.)
Why Use Transmedia in Social Marketing?
For all the reasons that the entertainment education approach works to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, transmedia storytelling has the potential to match and exceed that success. Entertainment education-based social marketing has traditionally focused on “product placement” of health and social issues within the plotlines of television shows, radio serials, movies, video games and other individual media. When someone is wrapped up in the plotline of a show and their favorite character becomes sick or models a positive behavior, that person is more likely to remember information delivered in the course of the program and desire to act on it.
In a transmedia story, you are immersed in the plotline either as the main character or as you get to know the characters and their world from many different angles. Often, transmedia stories are told in real-time, with the characters posting to their Twitter accounts, writing blog posts and creating YouTube videos. They may come to feel like friends, especially if the audience is encouraged to interact with the characters. This type of immersive experience can make a strong impression on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of social norms, and can motivate action.
What Might Have Been
Transmedia is one of those things more easily understood with a tangible example, so I spent some time thinking about how I might structure a campaign. I remembered that a couple of years ago, as part of the Great California ShakeOut (a statewide earthquake drill), the event included a simulation game called After Shock that did not quite live up to its great potential. The idea was that during and after the earthquake drill, participants would use blogs, Twitter, video, photos and more to document what happened to them personally during the “earthquake” and how they were dealing with the aftermath. It was a fun, exciting idea, and I played along, startling my Twitter friends and posting to the blog on my account at the site. Many others did as well, with blog posts, photos of “earthquake rubble,” and other creative stories that showed they had thought through the implications of how an earthquake would impact their lives. Unfortunately, there was not much direction from the coordinators as to what we were supposed to do, and participation fizzled. (At least from my viewpoint, I didn’t see much happening on the site and did not receive any clear instructions to help me continue.)
What’s Shakin’? Earthquake Preparedness Transmedia Campaign
I’ve put together a sample transmedia campaign that addresses the flaws of what After Shock could have been, with the goal of motivating earthquake preparedness in Southern California. I was inspired by Gary Hayes’ transmedia worksheet (below) and the creativity of Luci Temple’s hypothetical transmedia case study based on the television show “V.”
What’s a campaign without objectives? Here are the main ones I’d be shooting for:
- To increase the number of people who know what to do to prepare for an earthquake.
- To increase the number of people who know what to do during and immediately after an earthquake.
- To increase the number of people who believe that being prepared is important and doable.
- To increase the number of people who create a family emergency plan.
- To increase the number of people who have an earthquake/emergency kit in their homes, offices and cars.
- To increase the number of people who take preventive measures to secure their homes to prevent damage during an earthquake.
In transmedia storytelling, the story narrative is often in the background or not visible at all. Designers must write the backstory and timeline, and then identify the “artifacts” (tweets, postcards, YouTube videos, etc.) that the characters create as a result of that story. It’s often up to the participants to piece together exactly what happened, and where they might need to read between the lines.
Here’s the basic narrative of a possible storyline (yes, it’s kind of silly), and afterward we’ll look at how the transmedia campaign could bring it into being:
Shaky McShakerson works in downtown LA as an IT guy in the City’s Bureau of Important Processes. He’s married to Terra McShakerson, who works out of their house in Sherman Oaks as a photographer specializing in doggie fashion. They have two kids – Tembla (4) and Shaker Jr (1).
10:36 am Tuesday morning, a 7.7 earthquake hits LA, centered in Hollywood. Shaky’s at work – he has to help out with the city’s response. Terra is at a doggie fashion shoot in Pasadena. Tembla is at preschool and Shaker Jr. is with Terra’s mother in Van Nuys.
Shaky and Terra can’t connect with each other via phone. They had no plan for emergencies and have no idea what condition their home is in. The immediate aftermath of the earthquake is chaos: a 405 freeway overpass is down, traffic lights are out across the city, they can see smoke from several locations in the distance. Finally they are able to connect with each other via Twitter, but Terra still can’t reach her mom or the preschool.
Shaky is part of the emergency response and is responsible for setting up a blog to keep people informed through official channels. He can’t leave his post downtown, so Terra is on her own.
Terra jumps in the car and tries to move as quickly as she can from Pasadena to Van Nuys. She runs into many roadblocks along the way. Finally she arrives at her mother’s house, which is intact, although several houses on the street have collapsed chimneys and broken windows. She sees that her mother and Shaker Jr are fine, but she needs to get to Tembla. She arrives at the preschool and sees that it is in shambles. Everyone has been evacuated and parents are freaking out looking for their kids. Finally someone remembers to call the emergency out of state phone number that was given at the beginning of the year and they find out that the teachers brought the kids to the elementary school yard down the street. She collects Tembla, who is very upset and traumatized.
She takes the children back home, and discovers that their house did not fare very well. Gas is leaking, and it takes a long time for her to find a wrench and the shut-off valve. The house is full of broken glass, the floor is covered with what had been on the shelves, and the furniture has traveled across the rooms. The electricity is out, and the water does not seem to be working either. Terra sets to work trying to figure out what she needs to do now and how to begin to recover.
The days and weeks that follow include some major aftershocks, anxiety attacks from Tembla, and the realization that they should have been much more prepared. They don’t have enough food, water and medical supplies. The city is not recovering very quickly. The survivalist neighbors who they always thought were crazy for storing months worth of food are the only ones on the block who are doing well. Terra’s best friend Florence is a nurse and shares stories of what she’s seen in the hospital.
Terra and Shaky decide to get prepared for the next disaster and put together their supplies. So when a 6.1 aftershock hits, they are ready and able to deal with it, and get on with their lives without much hassle.
The Transmedia Campaign
1) Billboards will be posted around the city for “Terra’s Doggie Fashion Fotos” including the URL (ads will be so ridiculous that people look for the website to see if it’s a joke). Also, street teams passing out postcards with the same image/URL at gathering places around LA.
2) A website for Terra’s business will include her phone number (with voice mail message) and links to her Facebook page and Twitter account. The text will use earthquake metaphors as clues for what the campaign is about and provide insight into her personality and lifestyle.
3) Terra’s Twitter account will be the main driver of the narrative (with tweets also going to her Facebook page), and here is where we will also meet Shaky and Florence via their accounts. Quite a bit of interaction will have already occurred before the campaign begins. When the earthquake hits, we can see Terra’s panicked response and her attempts to reach her family. She and Shaky reach each other via Twitter. She urges people to call her on her cell if they know anything about her mom and kids.
4) When people call her cell phone number, they’ll hear her message about what she’s seeing on the streets as she’s trying to get to her family and her relief as she arrives at her mother’s house. She uses Twitpic to post pictures of the damage she sees all around.
5) Meanwhile, Shaky is setting up a blog for his city department that provides updates on what’s happening around the city in terms of emergency response, as well as safety information. He invites people to post comments about what happened to them during the earthquake and whether they were prepared. He shares the “official” department website and phone hotline that people can call over the next week for updates.
6) Once back at home, Terra tweets about the challenges they are facing and looks for information on what to do to prevent any further damage. She finds a smartphone app and companion website (created by the campaign) with earthquake preparedness information and shares that information on Twitter.
7) Over the next week, Terra uses Twitter to give updates on what she’s doing to prepare for the next earthquake, and uploads some video to YouTube. She posts information about caring for pets in earthquakes on her business Facebook page. Shaky uses the blog to give tips on preparedness and to invite participants to a live event.
8) The campaign concludes with a live event coinciding with the Great California Shakeout, where Terra and Shaky make an appearance to urge earthquake preparedness (and to take doggy fashion fotos). Those with smartphones will be able to see a simulated aftershock in real time via augmented reality, to reinforce how to respond.
There are many more touchpoints we could add (e.g., TV, radio, live chat, etc.) but this gives you a flavor of how it might all work together. Of course, keep in mind that this approach can only work if members of your target audience are already using most or all of these media. You would need to do research with them to find out what media they use, and what their current knowledge, attitudes and behaviors are, before jumping into creating the campaign.
Some Transmedia Resources (Updated 6/30/10)
So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.
Lots of big news to share! Here’s the latest…
- The next Social Marketing University will be in Atlanta, GA on August 16, 2010. I know that for many of us, taking time away from work can be difficult. That’s why the next Social Marketing University training will be a “crash course” where you’ll get much of the same social marketing information offered in longer SMU trainings in an intensive one-day format. It’s the day prior to the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media in the same venue. If you’ll be attending that research- and practice-focused conference, SMU will provide you with a good foundation in the principles of social marketing so that you can get the most out of the conference sessions. The training is, of course, open to people who are not attending the conference as well and will not focus exclusively on health issues. The early registration discount for SMU ends July 16th, and a student discount is available.
- Several fantastic books have come out in the past month or so related to nonprofit marketing, written by fellow bloggers who I have known virtually for ages, and who are all at the top of the field. Each book deserves a blog post unto itself, but I don’t want to wait that long to tell you about them. They are:
- Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Levinson, Frank Adkins and Chris Forbes – This book will teach you how to use the well-known Guerrilla Marketing approach and apply it to the unique situations of nonprofits. With strong guidance on how to develop the right mindset and create an effective strategy, plus 250 tactics to put to use right away, the book will give nonprofits a whole new way of thinking about marketing.
- The Nonprofit Marketing Guide by Kivi Leroux Miller – This book is the logical extension of Kivi’s nonprofit marketing empire. Drawing on her fantastic blogging, trainings and webinars, this book offers clear instruction on how to create a nonprofit marketing strategy and implement it effectively.
- The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine – Beth, the grand-dame of nonprofit social media and Allison, a well-known author and blogger herself, offer a new model for how nonprofits can get rid of the fortress mentality and hook up with “free agents” inside and out of their organization to maximize their effectiveness. Using social media provides an opportunity for bringing together distributed social networks to work toward a common goal, and real success requires organizations to start operating differently.
- Speaking of books, the new edition of my book Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Change for Good is in the process of being typeset at this very moment. It has lots of new material and case studies, including a big section on social media, and is scheduled to come out in mid-October. Whether or not you have a copy of the first edition, I think this new one is substantially different enough that you will want to buy a copy for yourself or your staff.
- While it’s not related to social marketing, I would be remiss if I talked about books on my own blog without mentioning that my husband just published a book as well. It’s called Who Really Wrote the Bible? (And Why It Should Be Taken Seriously Again). It’s a literary whodunnit that takes on the established dogma, so if you’re interested in that sort of thing I hope you’ll check it out.
- Fard Johnmar, the driving force behind the health marketing community Path of the Blue Eye, is thinking ever bigger and planning a unique event called unNiched 2010. Not a traditional conference, unNiched is a collaborative online and offline “bootcamp” for health marketing communicators, where attendees from across professional disciplines will come together to apply the unNiched Innovation Model to help a real-world organization – the Lung Cancer Alliance. Learning by doing, plus learning from each other, will be an amazing educational experience (Disclaimer: I’m on the Advisory Committee). For a discount on registration, use code ‘unich10disc’.
- Finally, I’m excited to have been offered a free airplane ticket by Virgin America and Klout to fly out to Toronto (apparently they consider me an “influencer” –disclaimer-). As much as I’d love to spend a few days just exploring the city, I’d also like to make the most of it by seeing if any organizations (e.g., nonprofits, government agencies, hospitals, universities) would be interested in social marketing or social media training/consultation while I’m in town. Please drop me a line soon if you’d like to set something up at a discounted rate.
There are so many other things and thoughts I’d like to share with you, so I’m hoping I can fit some more blogging into my schedule. Until then, don’t forget you can usually find me on Twitter if you want to see the latest ideas and resources I’m excited about!
Photo: Fifi LePew
My latest area of interest lays in the intersection between games and storytelling. Each approach by itself has great potential for engaging people in a way that more common forms of marketing do not. Whether it’s an alternate reality game like Urgent:EVOKE that challenges players to solve problems in hypothetical, but real-world, scenarios, or the NANOSWARM novel and video game targeting childhood obesity prevention, when people are drawn into the action themselves, they are more likely to be moved to action in real life. See Jane McGonigal’s recent TED talk on how gaming can make a better world for an eloquent introduction to how that might work.
Stories give us the opportunity to see the consequences of actions – both positive and negative. When we “get to know” fictional characters and care about what happens to them, the emotions that are evoked heighten the memorability and learning that can happen at the same time. On a related note, I’m happy to see that, in addition to the efforts of entertainment education professionals who work with television writers and producers to weave health and social issues into series plotlines, NBC Universal network execs are now directing the network’s shows to do “behavior placement” of eco-friendly and health-related issues. Seeing people–whether they are fictional or real–engaging in healthy or pro-social behaviors increases perceptions of social norms and can affect viewers’ attitudes toward the behavior (for better or worse, of course — it depends on how and by whom the action is portrayed).
Throw in game elements in which someone can direct the story and try out what works and what doesn’t, and you have the makings of a vicarious experience that can lead to bigger changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. The Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth were always fun because they were more than a passive reading experience; what kid wouldn’t want to control the story? I’m enjoying an adult collaborative version of this, ongoing right now, in The Great Game, a serialized story by Tim Dedopulos in which readers get to vote on what happens next.
From a social marketing perspective, this “choose what happens next” approach in an interactive format gives us the opportunity to customize messages and content for each user. The UK’s Drop the Weapons campaign created a YouTube-based interactive series called “Choose a Different Ending.” At the end of each video vignette, the viewer has a decision point where they can choose whether to take a knife, which set of friends to follow, whether to fight, and is taken to the next video based on their choice.
Wahi Media is doing some exciting things with this idea, in a more sophisticated way. “Wahi” stands for “web automated human interaction.” This approach involves a simulated conversation, in which a person or people in a video talk and ask questions of the viewer. Depending on the viewer’s responses, the subsequent videos are tailored to provide messages that directly address their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, as well as collecting the data for later analysis. The newly launched TeenTruth.org site from the Florida Department of Health uses a Wahi to talk to teens, parents and other audiences about the reality of the lives of teenagers. In addition to a direct “conversation,” the site also includes dramatic vignettes in which characters then turn to the camera to ask what you would do or what you think. The branching is seamless, so it feels like a coherent whole.
With these ideas in the back of my mind, I was inspired by a short Choose Your Own Adventure story on Twitter by Jonah Peretti, and Fabio Gratton’s subsequent comment on how the format could be used for health education. I set out to create a demo on Twitter to show how a Choose Your Own Adventure story for social marketing might play out. I focused primarily on traffic safety-related issues, as this genre of spy adventure usually involves people trying to get from one point to another without being caught. But I can think of many different issues that would lend themselves to this type of format: earthquake safety, sexual decision-making, flu prevention, and more. For nonprofits who are more interested in fundraising than behavior change, this format could still provide a way to engage potential donors or members and show why their involvement is needed.
A few caveats…
- Twitter is not the ideal platform to use for this. The 140 character limitation makes it hard to advance the story and make it engaging. Plus, each time you click on a link, it automatically opens a new tab in your browser. I suggest you open the first link in a new window, so you can just close the whole window when you are done.
- This demo was not created for a particular organization. If it were, the “learning pieces” would likely provide more information or links to the organization’s resources for follow-up if desired.
- This is just a quick and dirty demo. When designing a story to meet a project’s behavior change objectives for a specific audience, much more time and strategic thought will go into it, so don’t let the cheesy storyline obscure the format’s potential. Ideally, the story would involve several different media elements, such as videos, mobile phones and puzzle-solving.
All that said, shall we play a game? Start here…