Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness

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 I marveled at what he had been able to accomplish with a videocamera and an outdated laptop to give homeless people the opportunity to tell their own stories.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.]

Immersive Technology for Social Change

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

Transmedia Storytelling for Social Marketers: A Sample Campaign

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.”

Objectives

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.

Narrative

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.

Any takers?

Some Transmedia Resources (Updated 6/30/10)

    Photo: chiaralily

    The Tip Jar – 6/25/10

    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

    Shall We Play a Game? Interactive Adventures in Social Marketing


    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…

    Guest Post: Pretty Please…Convincing Your Boss to Take the Plunge into Social Media

    Not too long ago, I was providing technical assistance to a staff member at a local health department whose agency was not open to letting her use certain social media tools to engage with their community. I asked my Twitter network for ideas on resources that might help her make the case with a reluctant organization. Dawn Crawford, who is the Communications Director at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (@ImmunizeCOKids on Twitter) very generously offered to share what she had learned, having been in a similar situation. After she emailed me the information to pass along, I asked her if I could repost it on my blog because it was full of pearls of wisdom that I thought would be useful to others, no matter what type of organization you work for. She wrote it up as a guest post here. Thanks so much, Dawn!

    Pretty Please…Convincing Your Boss to Take the Plunge into Social Media

    So you want to convince the boss to let you do social media for your organization. It’s something that every one who has ever engaged in social media had to do, at least once. It’s an important step because you do need some solid buy-in on this new communications strategy.

    Bosses, Executive Directors, co-workers and all your social media doubters fear one of three things:

    1. Loss of control of message and brand
    2. Mean people will say mean things about you
    3. There isn’t enough time to sustain your engagement

    These fears are legitimate, but are also seeded in a lack of understanding of social media. Here are some quick answers to those concerns:

    Loss of control – The reality is engaging in social media is one of the best ways to regain control of your message and brand. With all the social media platforms you get to pick your profile picture and determine how you present yourself to your followers. Jumping into social media and securing your brand’s identity – Twitter ID, Facebook vanity URL, blog name – you can stop others from poaching your name.

    Meanies – Okay, here is a little secret…people are already saying mean things about you! And if you are not engaged in social media they are, in essence, saying it behind your back to all your friends. By monitoring your brand and organization in social media you can address these meanies and deal with them on a one-on-one basis.

    Time management – Time is the ONLY cost of social media, so value it. It is incredibly important to budget time for this communications tool. Take the time to make a plan about when you will engage, what kind of content you’ll share and how often you’ll interact with your followers/fans. This is a critical consideration to your success. Also remember it doesn’t have to control your life or be a priority over your other communications tactics. Just integrate these tools into all the other great stuff you are already doing.

    Okay, now that you have three quick comebacks for those initial fears, let’s pile it on. There are reasons why you MUST get engaged in social media. Here is why it’s so important for you to jump in:

    Social media IS the next business revolution – It’s just like email; some people hoped email would just go away so we could send faxes forever. Well those people lost (thankfully) and now email is part of every successful business. Social media will be the same way in the coming years. If an organization is not engaged in social media they will look dated, out of touch and will be seen as having bad customer service.

    Connect with your community – Being part of social media gives your community (AKA your donors, customers, residents, volunteers, etc.) a portal to ask questions, get information and connect with you on their time and in the method that they want to connect. It’s great to drop into Facebook, check up on your sister’s latest adorable kid photo and find out about your favorite organization. Be where your community is and, trust me, they are using social media.

    Increase your traffic to your website – Social media is just one more way to leverage all that money you put into that fancy website. You can tease information from your Facebook or Twitter accounts to go to your website to learn more about your programs.

    Embrace controversy – If you do deal with a controversial issue it’s even more important for you to have a presence in social media. In my day job I work as Communications Director for the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC), a pro-vaccine organization. I know controversy first hand. If you are controversial you have so much to say and to defend about your issue. Be brave and jump in the fray, your cause deserves it! For lots more on that check out this blog post.

    Get more tasty tidbits for leadership, donors and annual reports – You get so much anecdotal, honest comments, both good and bad, about your organization through your social media connections. Social media allows an organization to make an immediate impact and connect with real people. So incredibly invaluable and incredibly HARD to gather in any other communications tool…tried a survey lately?

    Now that you have points on why you MUST be engaged in social media, let’s put on the frosting. These are some completely new ways that social media will improve your organization’s brand that is hard to do with traditional communications and development strategies:

    Find new people to support your cause for FREE – Yes, I said it FREE. You can target new people and experiment with difference audiences for FREE. Engaging in social media is WAY cheaper than buying a list or attending community events. Just figure out where your audience is and start posting.

    Get the attention of key influencers – You can use social media strategically to get introduced to funders, influential organizations and important people. At CCIC, we have been able to elevate our presence beyond Colorado to a national level with lots of targeted Twitter relationships. We’ve gotten the attention of national organizations and the CDC.

    Connect with traditional media – You can create real relationship with reporters online. Not only can you send them direct messages with story pitches but they see all the information you spew out then pick and choose on what stories they want to cover.

    Attract the elusive blogger – Bloggers are the next newsies. These are influential people who are not going anywhere. Comment on their posts, find their Twitter feeds and get to know them. Form a tight bond and they might even let you submit a guest post. At CCIC, we’ve created relationship and got posts/guest posts on influential blogs including Discover Magazine Blogs and other blogs around the world.

    Do something completely new – Use this new environment to experiment. It’s just your time that you are gambling with. We did this really good “feel good” campaign over Thanksgiving which allowed parents to give thanks for their healthy kids – see the results.

    For more tips on how to get engaged in social media, developing content, saving time and dealing with those meanies, check out my social media presentations.

    So, are there more fears floating around out there? Is there another way you helped convince your boss to let your engage in social media? I want to hear about it!

    Social Marketing University in DC

    LinkThe next Social Marketing University training is coming to Washington, DC on January 11-13, 2010. If you’re interested in learning the fundamentals of social marketing to bring about health, social or environmental behavior change, this is the course!

    The training is for people working at nonprofits, government agencies, PR/marketing agencies or others who want to build knowledge and skills for building an effective social marketing strategy. If you’re already familiar with social marketing but want to learn about how to use social media within a social marketing program, you have the option of just attending the last half-day, which is the Next Generation Social Marketing Seminar.

    This course is being co-sponsored by the Public Health Communication & Marketing Program at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. The agenda will include a social marketing case study presented by the program’s director, Doug Evans.

    For more information about SMU and to register, see the Social Marketing University information page. If you register before December 11, you will get a $100 discount. You can also receive additional discounts when more than one person from the same organization registers, or if you are a student.

    As a reader of my blog, you will get an additional $75 off on top of the other discounts by using the discount code ‘BLOG’.

    I hope I’ll see you there!

    The Tip Jar – 10/15/09

    Here are some assorted bits and pieces I’ve collected for your reading pleasure:

    • Starting next week I’ll be offering a new webinar series on Social Media for Social Marketers. The four 60-minute webinars (at 11 am Pacific time) are:

    • October 22 – Designing a Social Media Strategy for Change
    • October 29 – Blogging and Beyond: Tools to Build Your Movement
    • November 12 – Twitteracy for Social Marketers
    • November 19 – Monitoring and Evaluating Social Media

    If you are interested, but can’t make a particular event live, you can always view the archived events and ask me any questions afterward. For more information about the webinars and to register, see the Social Marketing University Online page.

    • Recently, more attention is being paid to applying design thinking to social marketing; in other words, how can we design the environment or product to make the desired behavior the most natural and easy choice? The best resource I have found in thinking through how to apply a design approach to behavior change is Dan Lockton’s Design with Intent Toolkit. With lots of examples and different angles to consider, it’s a great introduction to the discipline. I found it so helpful, in fact, that I created a companion worksheet to go along with it: the Design Approach for Behavior Change Worksheet.
    • If you haven’t seen Franke James’ visual essay about an event that brought Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell together to discuss social change, you’ll find it a treat for your eyes as well as your brain.
    • The UK’s Ingenious Group is sponsoring the first-ever Global Social Marketing Awards. For-profit and nonprofit organizations can enter in categories like Best Global Social Marketing Campaign, Most Effective Strategic Partnership, Most Effective Use of Budget, and more. Finalists will be announced soon, with winners receiving awards in December. This is a great idea, but with the entry fees at £175 (~$280) per category entry, it’s a bit too pricey for any organization but a for-profit agency to enter, greatly limiting the candidates to choose from. I’d love to see awards like these done with no barriers to entry, with campaigns nominated and voted on by their social marketing peers. Perhaps it’s an idea for the Global Social Marketing Association to consider once it gets up and running.
    • A couple of weeks ago, the “Save the Boobs” campaign from ReThink Breast Cancer got people buzzing about whether it was okay to use sex to get men interested in the issue of breast cancer (my answer was yes, but this ad was so poorly done from a behavior change point of view that it would be fairly ineffective). Soon after it came out, a group called HCD Research conducted a MediaCurves study to quantitatively measure the responses of men and women to this ad. Not surprisingly, men and women had very different reactions in whether they thought it was appropriate and in the emotions it evoked. The data confirms what seems obvious, though the lack of any clear objective or call to action means the high self-reported “effectiveness” score is fairly meaningless.
    • What do you get when you cross Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with a 1970s Chuck Norris movie and a “Got Milk?” ad? Something like the Battle for Milkquarious – a 20-minute web-only “rock opera” created by the California Milk Processor Board that showcases the power of milk in an entertaining way. While some question whether this type of branded entertainment gets its point across adequately, I think it’s a great (but cheesy) example for how social marketers could adapt this format for various issues. A more serious example is the In the Moment web series, created by the City of West Hollywood and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, which plays like a gay version of Melrose Place and incorporates HIV prevention information into the entertainment-first format.

      If you’re interested in learning more about this approach, check out Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s free OpenCourseware resources on Entertainment Education for Behavior Change.

    • And finally, a huge congratulations to fellow social marketing blogger Alex Rampy (SocialButterfly), who just got married to the man of her dreams. May they have a lifetime of happiness together!

    Photo: samk

    We Can’t Afford to Lose the National Center for Health Marketing


    When the new director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, took his position in early June, it was inevitable that he would make some changes — perhaps even some big changes. I believe I speak for many social marketers in saying we were very hopeful that health marketing (the CDC’s name for social marketing) would fare well in the new administration.

    Unfortunately, I have just found out that the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM) is slated to be eliminated. What this means exactly for the practice of health marketing within the CDC is unclear, but it bodes poorly for the field of social marketing overall.

    On the heels of the NCHM’s highly successful Third National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM), which just brought together one thousand professionals who are using these tools to address disparate health issues from across the spectrum of the CDC’s purview, this news raises a big question: What will be the future of the conference, which serves a different role in the US social marketing community from other professional events? This most recent conference, in mid-August, raised the profile of the CDC as an innovator and enabler of organizations and agencies across the country (and beyond) on the cutting edge of social marketing initiatives.

    After the NCHM has made so much progress in advancing the field of social marketing and integrating these methods into public health practice, it would be a giant step backwards to lose this bastion of expertise and have its staff dispersed. We need only look at the UK’s National Social Marketing Centre to see the approach getting the prominence within government that it deserves as a tool that works for prevention. The US needs to be a leader in social marketing, and this will knock us from that position.

    While the fledgling social marketing association is not quite in position to address this issue as a unified voice for our field, those of us who care about social marketing should individually make our opinions known to Dr. Frieden to ensure that social marketing will continue to play a prominent role in the work of the CDC. I believe this is best achieved through a focal point of expertise like the NCHM that can implement best practices throughout the agency and host events like the NCHCMM conference. Barring that, I hope that Dr. Frieden somehow comes up with an even better alternative.

    What are your ideas for how we can best address this issue as a field?

    The Path to Health Marketing Collaboration

    When’s the last time someone wrote a superhero comic about people in your profession? Sure, if you’re a reporter, nuclear scientist or even a reclusive millionaire, you’re used to this type of thing. But we health marketing types are usually the ones on the development side of the media, not the target audience. So I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I was to discover that my longtime blog friend Fard Johnmar of Envision Solutions and the HealthCareVox blog has created both a fun set of different types of media to draw people like us in, and a more serious project that underlies it.

    His mission is to bring together people who work in health marketing communications across disciplines so we can learn from each other. He calls this the Path of the Blue Eye — a rather zen-sounding name with accompanying mantras that help us do our jobs more effectively.

    Fard graciously agreed to share more information about the origins of the project and its different components with my readers via an email interview:

    What spurred you to create the Path of the Blue Eye?

    I was motivated to develop the Path of the Blue Eye project in response to two statements, both of which begin with the words “I wish.” They are:

    • I wish I knew that.
    • I wish we had a place to collect this information.

    Over the years, I’ve learned about beneficial data, case studies and other info that would be useful to people across the health marketing communications industry. I often share my knowledge in conversations with pharma marketers, public health experts, social marketers and others. Many times, I find that people are not aware of interesting and successful campaigns taking place in industry segments they do not work in. For example, people in pharmaceutical marketing are sometimes not knowledgeable about campaigns launched by government agencies that leverage social technologies. After our conversations, people will sometimes nod their heads and say: “I wish I knew that.”

    In addition, I have had many conversations about how we need a place where people can quickly and easily share information with their peers – especially with those working in other parts of the health marketing communications industry. They say: “I wish I we had a place to collect this information.”

    The Path of the Blue Eye project is designed to grant each of these wishes by:

    • Fostering knowledge sharing across health marketing communications industry segments and silos.
    • Providing people with tools they can use to quickly share interesting information with others working in the industry from around the world.

    The key word here is interdisciplinary. We are trying to reach across silos and centers of practice rather than working within them.

    How does this project fit in with the work you have been doing with Envision Solutions?

    The mission of Envision Solutions is to help health marketing communications pros become more efficient and successful. I think the Path of the Blue Eye project helps us to achieve this objective.

    Can you tell us about the different components of this project and how they fit together? How will you phase them in?

    The core of the project will be an online collaboration hub we are currently building. It will enable people in health marketing communications to:

    • Quickly access and share data, case studies, news articles, blog posts and other content relevant to the field.
    • Ask and answer questions from their peers.

    Currently we are the pre-launch phase of the project. We are leveraging the comic, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and other communications channels to spread the word about the project and attract a diverse group of people who believe in what we are trying to accomplish. I am happy to say that (as of this writing), nearly 80 people have “joined” the project via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. We launched Path of the Blue Eye about a week ago, so I’m very pleased with the progress thus far.

    In phase II, we will invite a select group of people to help us conduct a series of road tests on the collaboration hub to help us iron out any final kinks in the system. After this, we’ll launch the hub and begin our work in earnest.

    I’m also very excited that we’ve been able to develop some strong partnerships with prominent organizations and businesses over the last few months. They have agreed to help strengthen the hub by providing information to the Path of the Blue Eye community when it launches.

    How would you define the “Path of the Blue Eye?”

    The Path of the Blue Eye is represented in the comic by a series of six mantras. These represent habits and activities we believe will help people forging careers in the health marketing communications industry achieve success.

    Who are the main groups you’d like to reach and what are some of the ways people can become involved with this project?

    We are trying to reach a diverse range of people working in all areas of the global health marketing communications industry. Everyone is welcome, including social marketers, public relations professionals, advertisers, pharmaceutical/biotech marketers, public health communicators, academics and others.

    Given the current intense interest in social media it is important to note that the site wlll not be focused solely on social communications channels and techniques. Rather, we want people practicing in all areas of the field to feel comfortable participating in and contributing to the hub.

    Currently, people can participate in the project by:

    • Showing their support for the project by joining our Facebook group, Twitter community or signing up for our e-mail list.
    • Spreading the word about the project to their friends and colleagues.
    • Considering becoming contributing or guest authors on the project’s blog Walking the Path. We are looking to build a blog that features a diverse range of perspectives from people around the world. A few people have accepted our invitation to participate, but we are always looking for more authors. Currently, guest authors are helping to produce a series of blog posts focusing on what collaboration means to them.

    Once the hub launches, people will have other ways they can contribute to the project.

    I love the comic book! I’m sure it’s the first time that health marketers have been featured as superheroes. What was your thinking behind using this medium? Can we expect to see this as an ongoing series?

    I’m really glad you like the comic! I decided to commission the comic because I wanted to:

    o Create a mythology focusing on the work of health marketing communications pros. We are often behind the scenes, creating campaigns for others, so I wanted to celebrate what we do.
    o Attract a broad range of people to the project.
    o Encourage us to have fun and enjoy the work we do each day

    I also want to use the comic to expose more people in our industry to transmedia storytelling techniques. There’s a lot more going on with the comic than meets the eye, so I encourage people to dive deeper by participating in the SMS component of the project. Not many people have accepted our invitation yet, but I hope this changes in the coming weeks. I also hope people enjoy the comic’s soundtrack.

    I hope we’ll be able to produce future issues of the comic. If people want more we’ll continue the story.

    How would you like to see the Path of the Blue Eye evolve over time? What would it ideally look like five years from now?

    Ultimately, I’d like to see the project evolve into a strong, self-sustaining, diverse, interconnected global community of health marketing communications pros.

    Five years from now, I hope that the community will have become a go-to resource for people trying to improve their skills and develop better health marketing communications campaigns. We want to help people become better at what they do. If we achieve this, I think the project will be successful.

    ***
    I wish Fard great success with this project, and I am excited about being part of it as well. I hope you will also consider participating in some way, as the whole profession will benefit as more people get involved. We can all walk the path together, which makes getting over the hills much easier.