Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hey Facebook: Change Whatever You Want! Our Networks Are Still Going Strong.

By: Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Ever since Facebook decided to switch up its algorithm, making it tougher for branded pages to appear in users’ news feeds, nonprofit advocates have been in a kerfuffle about what this means for their networking strategy.

Many organizations entered panic mode, worried they no longer would be able to reach their target audiences. Countless social media experts wrote articles listing strategies to fight the algorithm changes. Then there were the doomsday folks, arguing that Facebook essentially set up a pay-to-play system that will crush the little guy.

What everyone seemed to forget is that advocacy networks existed before Facebook, and advocacy networks will continue to exist after Facebook— and Twitter and LinkedIn and Pinterest, for that matter.

The reason? Smart advocacy networks do not rely on specific technology to survive. Instead, they use technology to achieve their larger advocacy goals. Social media websites such as Facebook are merely tools utilized by advocacy networks, not the backbone upon which the network framework sits.

Social media can serve as a Communications Grid for advocacy networks, allowing people to gather and discuss strategy in an easily accessible space. But before the rise of social media, many advocacy networks used technological tools such as email listservs or online chat rooms as a Communications Grid.

And before the rise of the Internet — which only happened two decades ago, keep in mind — advocacy networks communicated with more old fashioned means, such as letters, telephone conversations or regular in-person gatherings.

Rather than focus on specific technology to create a strategy, successful networks are built and empowered through a specific, focused framework. At Netcentric Campaigns, we believe that there are Seven Elements of a Successful Advocacy Network. Along with a Communications Grid, advocacy networks must create Social Ties, contain a Common Language, maintain a Shared Vision, Share Resources and allow for Feedback. And all successful networks have engaged Actors who oversee and take part in network activities.

The ways in which advocacy networks incorporate these elements doesn’t really matter; each does so in a unique way to meet its own needs. For example, some networks create Social Ties among Actors by hosting regular happy hours, while others might do the same by having Actors work on a research paper together. The method is different, but the outcome is the same.

That’s why smart advocacy networks will survive the rise and fall of various technologies. As long as networks are flexible enough to utilize new resources and abandon less successful ones, they will achieve long term success.

Social media websites such as Facebook certainly made it easier for people across networks to communicate and promote their efforts. But change is inevitable, and things that seem so integrated into our lives one day become relics of the past in the next. Smart advocacy networks will adjust to these changes and continue to move change forward in new ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Training Regime for Advocacy Network Leaders

People enter the world of advocacy because they want to create change. They see a problem, and they want to solve it. Advocates opt to become leaders in an advocacy network because they believe it will help them fix that problem.

But like most things in life, sometimes what matters most is the journey, not the destination. The actual day-to-day work of the network is what allows leaders to eventually achieve the advocacy victory they are aiming for — and all that work can be among the most rewarding parts of the entire network experience.

Thinking of being in a network like training for a 5K race. It can be pretty daunting when you first sign up. The thought of running for 3.1 miles straight is intimidating, especially if you aren’t naturally inclined to run. But if you put in a little work each day and slowly build up your endurance, you find that the actual race wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be. In fact, by the time you reach the finish line, you realize that the best things about the race actually happened during all your training.

Like running a road race, establishing a training regime for your network work can be highly beneficial, allowing you to achieve your advocacy goals in an efficient (and fun!) manner. Skilled network leaders excel at leveraging each of the elements that makes a network powerful. Here are some tips for doing it.

Build Social Ties. Being a part of an advocacy network involves, well, networking. Even if you join a network that operates primarily online, getting involved in network activities can ensure you get the most out of it — and it doesn’t even require a ton of work. Take time to read network emails, follow the network on social media and join online events such as webinars and Google hangouts. Stop by network happy hours or in-person meetings that you can attend. Reach out to leaders who live or work in your area, and respond to anyone who reaches out to you. Social ties are the grease that keeps a network running smoothly. The more people who know who you are, the more they will listen to you when you need to ask for help or want to move the network in a certain direction.

Share Resources. This is often the biggest challenge of being in an advocacy network.Every dollar counts in advocacy work, and thus nonprofit advocates and organizations tend to hoard what they have. But when network leaders share resources, everyone wins. Think about what you could share that will benefit the larger group. Can you bring others into an advocacy campaign? Is there grassroots data you can share? Do you have technical resources that might benefit others? Give away what you seek most — it will be returned with interest when you need it.

Communicate. Be sure to share your thoughts on issues when asked to by network administrators or your fellow leaders, and don’t hesitate to start conversations about the issues you care about. But don’t forget that being a good communicator involves listening and having empathy for others. Also, be sure to pay attention to the ways in which people communicate — each network has a unique communications grid. If most conversation is taking place on a Facebook page, don’t send out a blast email.

Learn the Language. Communications is more than just talking — make sure you use the right language when you converse with your fellow leaders. Networks typically develop their own way of speaking, with unique abbreviations or terms, so find out what those are and use them. Good leaders consistently work to leverage the language that resonates in a network using shorthand to demonstrate being part of the larger network tribe. (Example: Ever venture into the online World of Warcraft? WOW players basically speak their own language.).

Look for the Common Vision. Not everybody in the network will agree all the time. In fact, people will probably disagree pretty frequently. That’s OK, so long as leaders agree on the common vision they all share and find opportunities to come together. Look for opportunities to align with others. You will find it. Then, design and implement strategies to help you achieve your shared goals.

Take Advantage of New Opportunities. Being part of an advocacy network offers many opportunities to get involved in many different ways. While many people join networks because it ties into their job, networks also offer opportunities for career growth — or just to make new friends! Enjoy the chance to play different roles in the network, from simply to supporting others’ work to leading campaigns to connecting with others when you can. Think about ways the network can enhance your work, including through new tools and technologies.

Offer Feedback — and Seek It, Too. Meaningful feedback makes the network better, and it isn’t all about sharing your opinion. For example, network organizers often share data about network activities with leaders, offering measured feedback on what things are and aren’t working. Pay attention, and then provide your own feedback on what can make things better.

Above all, keep in mind that advocacy networks are designed to bring people together to move change forward. Remember that if you put in the work day-to-day, progress is bound to happen — and eventually you’ll reach the finish line.

Want to learn more about advocacy networks? Check out our case studies.