How charities harness social media for a social impact
Networkers shift from sharing info to linking up to effect change.
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But even the 2.0-iest initiatives have roots in the past. WITNESS is a nonprofit that teaches advocacy organizations how to use video effectively. The idea came not from the ease of YouTube or the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, but from the visceral power of video images that helped define a decade: the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991.Skip to next paragraph
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“In some sense, it was an incredible demonstration of the power of video to really crystallize an issue in a way people ... can understand,” says Sam Gregory, WITNESS’s program director.
In the 1990s, the group’s major work was giving out equipment and training nonprofit staff to use it. Today, with video cameras so common, WITNESS focuses on the finer points of video strategy, one that employs social media’s greatest strength: tailoring a message to a specific, even narrow, audience.
“The idea behind video advocacy is, how do you speak most specifically to your audience?” he says. “It’s not about speaking to everyone; it’s about speaking to someone and giving them a way to act – persuading them, shaming them, whatever you do to them to get them to act. Often we use one video to try and speak to ... [many] people, when in fact a video for each of them, which spoke to each of their needs, would be stronger ... and more persuasive.”
A case in point is the group’s work in eastern Congo, where WITNESS partnered with a local human rights organization to produce advocacy videos for three different audiences. They made a film for parents of children who want to join militia groups, composed predominantly of testimony from young boys who’d made the choice and regretted it. Their second film, intended for the international community, highlighted underreported crimes in eastern Congo, especially sexual violence against female recruits. Their third production, a summary of International Criminal Court proceedings so far against an accused Congolese war criminal, was just broadcast in Goma, the region’s biggest town, in July.
What’s true in Congo is true virtually everywhere else: Technology has eased the production burden enough that three very different “advocacy asks” are still within reach, Mr. Gregory says.
If nonprofits have figured that out quickly, there’s one group that’s still a little late to the party: the philanthropies that support them. Across the board, foundations and other funding organizations haven’t picked up these new tools as quickly as their nonprofit dependents, or even as quickly as the private sector. That, says Mr. Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy Advisers, is for the same reason that makes new media so useful for the world of social change. Unlike foundations, he says, “nonprofits are in the business of connecting with external people.” Which is precisely why all that twittering seems worth it.