Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Communication Tools: 1/7 of an Effective Advocacy Network

network, advocacy, activism, social change, communications, connections, Netcentric Campaigns
At Netcentric Campaigns, we talk a lot about the Seven Elements of Network Advocacy. These are the key pieces that make advocacy networks successful. One of these Seven Elements is having a solid communications grid. A communications grid is the mix of communications tools people have access to within the network.

On a personal note, I have a master’s in communication, I’ve worked for one of the biggest communications firms in world, and my title for six years was Communications Director. So it’s easy for me to look at a problem from a “communications lens.”

In advocacy networks, having the ability to write, call, chat or meet other members of the network seems like a no-brainer. And that’s why so many people associate the word “network” with what we would refer to as a “communications grid.”

But it’s not, really. A network is much bigger than any one tool like Facebook, email, or a phone. And that’s why we make it just one of seven elements that make up a good network.

That said, it is definitely an essential one. Not all means of communication count as “good” communications grids, though. For example, many communications tools are used in a top-down, broadcast style. A press release, a newsletter, even an email blastthese aren’t really the most effective communications tools for an advocacy network.

Networks operate best when there is flat communications grid, when everyone can easily reach out to other members of the network. This means that communication in the network is decentralized, and that enables members to build stronger ties directly with one another.

For example, for two of the networks we work with, HalttheHarm.net and PreventObesity.net, we built a digital map where you can see all the other leaders in the movement. With one click of the mouse, members of a network can reach out to others directly. In other networks, we’ve used simpler tools like listservs, LinkedIn Groups or Facebook Groupsbut each only as one part of a larger communications grid.

Not everyone will want to use the same tools to communicate and nearly everyone will want to use those tools in different ways so it’s wise to have a range of tools that your network members can access to build relationships with one another. And it’s important to have a variety of tools so that different preferences and network needs are addressed. (As an obvious example, Facebook messaging won’t give you the same functionality as sending an email will, and posting to a LinkedIn group won’t necessarily distribute information in the same was sending to a listserv would.)

Even though the communications grid is just one of the Seven Elements, it also works to complement the other elements. A strong communications grid can help build social ties and trust within the network as people use the communications tool to build relationships with one another. It can disseminate feedback mechanisms (or be used as one itself), and help people navigate what’s working well in the network and what needs improvement. And it can promote the shared resources network members have access to through the network.

What is your favorite flat communications tool? What mix of tools do you find most effective for your organization? Let us know in the comments section!

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by kris krüg

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