How to Run Digital Meetings So They Are Engaging and Drive Action

So after a crazy week of coronavirus news, you’ve pulled your staff from the field and decided to turn to digital meetings to continue the work of labor organizing. But how do you run those meetings so your members leave fired up to take action? Read on for some practical digital meeting tips:

1. Identify what platform you will use

Different platforms are useful depending on who you’re trying to reach, your meeting goals, and how many participants will attend the meeting.

For smaller meetings (six or fewer participants), a platform like Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts group video chat may be appropriate. A big advantage of these platforms is they are easy to use so the speaker/organizer can run the meeting themselves without assistance.

For bigger meetings of 10 or more participants, consider a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or CiscoWebex. These platforms enable the meeting leader to share slides and documents and conduct polls during meetings. However, the platforms are more complex so it is difficult for the speaker/organizer to run the meeting while also taking care of the technical side.   

2. Identify who will run the meeting: 

Organizers can run small meetings themselves without additional support. For bigger meetings on platforms like Zoom or CiscoWebex, you should ideally have at least three people involved in running the meeting. Why? Because it’s very challenging to be the meeting leader AND run the meeting software AND answer questions. Splitting those roles will make your meetings run much more smoothly:

Meeting Leader/Speaker: This role will probably be held by an internal or field organizer who will use meeting content to advance organizing team goals.

Tech Support: This person will launch the meeting software, operate slides, switch video between speakers, etc. This person does not have to be from the IT department but they should ideally have experience running the software.

Q&A Monitor: This person monitors questions from members and flags them for the meeting leader so they can be answered. They also provide back channel answers to questions not appropriate to address during the main broadcast. 

3. Organize Your Meeting for Maximum Engagement

A big challenge of video meetings is holding the attention of your members so they aren’t multitasking or dropping off early because they aren’t engaged. Here’s some tips for organizing your meeting to hold people’s attention: 

Sign into your meeting platform at least 15-20 minutes early: This will give you time to troubleshoot technical issues. It also gives you the opportunity to greet members by name as they join the call and establish up front that you want them to be active participants. 

Break up your meetings into chunks of content with interactivity built in to hold the attention of your participants. This includes

– Live video of speaker/meeting leader: Remember to speak with a lot of energy! Digital communication by definition takes place at a distance. You need to bridge that distance with overt displays of emotion and enthusiasm in order to gain and retain the attention of meeting participants. 

– Slides: Alternate live video with brief slides with main points you’re communicating. Don’t overload the slides with text. 

– Q&A: Pause approximately every 5-10 minutes to take questions from meeting participants, either by having them speak using audio and video or by having the meeting leader answer questions that appear in the chat box. Don’t forget to thank participants for asking questions!

4. Close the meeting with an ask

Ask members to take one action after the meeting. Be specific: ask them to call elected officials, speak to three coworkers about the union, pass out literature, etc. Make sure to follow up with meeting participants via text messages or phone calls to reinforce the ask and confirm they followed through.

5. Finally, give members hope

Things are scary right now. The only way to get through this crisis is to stand together and reaffirm our values. This is not only a challenge but an opportunity to reconnect with your members as a trusted institution at a time when our leaders are failing us. Reinforce that connection whenever or however you meet with members.

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6 Tips for Digital Organizing in the Age of Coronavirus

The coronavirus continues to spread—and the impact is already being felt in the political sphere.

Because COVID-19 has an estimated death rate of 2–5%, officials are strongly encouraging social isolation to slow the spread of the disease. The Biden and Sanders presidential campaigns have cancelled rallies and seven Republican lawmakers have self-quarantined after being exposed to coronavirus at the CPAC conference.

But even during a pandemic, the work of labor organizing must go on. That’s why digital tools are more important than ever as a way to engage your members and supporters when you can’t meet with them in person. Here are some tips and tools for you to consider:

1. Position Your Organization As a Trusted Source of Information

Labor unions are uniquely positioned to inform members and counteract misinformation and rumors about the coronavirus crisis—which also presents an opportunity for you to strengthen the ties between your members and the organization.

Schedule regular digital updates about the crisis with your members (using the tools described below) and help connect them to community resources such as healthcare, food delivery, etc. You won’t have all the answers but you can commit to helping members get the information they need to stay safe.

2. Regularly Update Your Social Media Pages and Respond to Comments and Questions

Your members will be hungry for information during this crisis. Make sure you post regular coronavirus updates on your Facebook page and other social media platforms and quickly respond to all questions from your members. Remember: unanswered questions will destroy your credibility with members while answering questions quickly will create trust in the union.

3. Meet with Members in Digital Spaces

Try one of these video communication tools so you get the benefits of face-to-face communication when you can’t meet in person:

Facebook Messenger Group Video Chat: Allows up to six people at a time to appear on camera but up to 50 people can join the conversation.

Facebook Live: Host a live broadcast on your Facebook page to update members about COVID-19.

Google Hangouts: Hold a video call with up to 25 participants.

WhatsApp Video Call: Allows up to four participants to video call.

Zoom: The free option enables you to host group meetings with up to 100 participants for 40 minutes.

Cisco WebEx: New customers now have the option to sign up for a free 90-day license.

4. Stay in Touch with Members Through SMS and Peer-To-Peer Texting

If your organizers aren’t able to visit worksites they can still communicate with members using SMS and peer-to-peer texting. A simple message saying, “I’m not able to travel to your site this week but wanted to check in with you. How are things going on the job?” will do a lot to make members feel connected to the union.

Mass SMS is also the best way to send out urgent or emergency information and will be an invaluable tool to connect your members to community resources as the COVID-19 crisis evolves.

Peer-to-peer messaging through platforms like Hustle is a great way to drive RSVPs for your digital meetings/events and to remind members to tune in when your digital events go live.

5. Plan Now for Digital GOTV

It’s impossible to know at this point how the coronavirus crisis will affect the November 2020 elections. But you should start planning now to use digital tools in the event there are severe restrictions on community contact and canvassing. How will you drive voter turnout when you can’t knock on doors? Don’t wait to figure it out.

6. Last (But Definitely Not Least): Prioritize the Health of your Organizers and Members

In the heat of a campaign it’s typical for organizing managers and their teams to drive themselves to work whether they are tired, hungry or ill. But coronavirus is both highly contagious and deadly for vulnerable people. Traveling door-to-door is a great way to amplify a pandemic. Take a step back and weigh the impact of your organizing on the health of your staff, your members and your entire community. Remember, you do have tools available to help you organize while also dramatically reducing your risk of illness.

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My 2020 Resolutions for Digital Organizing and Communications

As we enter a new year and a new decade, I’m feeling fired up to do the work of organizing—bringing people together and inspiring the action that will enable us to take back our country and change the world. Here are my digital organizing and communications resolutions for 2020.

1. I resolve to speak to real people using real language.

One of the biggest mistakes we make as progressive organizers is using jargon and organization-centered language to speak with the people we’re trying to organize. It’s especially damaging and alienating when we speak this way to communities of color and others who are shut out of political participation. We need to make sure we are speaking with our audiences in the same way they speak with one another. That leads us to resolution #2…

2. I resolve to spend as much time listening as I do posting and texting.

As communicators and digital organizers we are so focused on getting our message out there that we forget that listening is key to truly understanding what motivates our audiences. We need to devote plenty of time to social listening—engaging with already existing communities on social media and learning how people talk to each other in digital spaces. The more closely we are able to align our messages with already existing conversations, the more effective our campaigns will be.

3. I resolve to pay attention to the right metrics.

Communications with a laser focus on metrics is key to winning campaigns. But the metrics must be tied to real goals. Social metrics like click-throughs and open rates only matter in the end if they lead to actions with real-world importance, like completing a union authorization card or voter turnout.

4. I resolve to integrate communications with campaign organizing strategy.

Communications can only be effective when it is an integral part of the overall campaign organizing strategy. Outside of that, communications is simply noise. That’s why it’s important for communicators and digital organizers to collaborate closely with the field team and seize opportunities to use their tools and expertise to advance the work.

5. I resolve to analyze what the opposition is doing—and use what I learn to make my strategy better.

We can’t ignore the opposition. In fact we have an obligation to research and analyze successful strategies from the other side and integrate what we learn into our work. For example, I once used an anti-union Facebook page as a model for designing a pro-union Facebook page that served as innoculation against toxic messages. We shouldn’t be afraid to see what’s working for the other side—and use it to drive our own victories.

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Why It’s Impossible to Target Latinos

Latinos are incredibly diverse and you can’t rely on one message to reach all of them.

I’ve been seeing a lot of stories conjecturing how Latinos will vote in the 2020 elections and the best way to target and influence them. But these conversations always drive me a little crazy because they are reductive and misleading.

The mistake everyone makes is treating Latinos as monolithic when different Latino groups have as much in common as people from the UK, Australia, South Africa, and the US have with each other. Yes, they have a shared language and some shared culture, but they are also profoundly different in many ways.

I even see Latino individuals and advocacy groups making the same mistake, as if there is a universal message that will resonate with all the incredibly diverse cultures that make up the Latino community in the United States.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the origin groups who make up Latinos in the US and how their cultural backgrounds and immigration history should inform how you message to them:

Mexican

Mexicans are the largest origin group and make up 62% of Latinos. It’s widely perceived that Mexican Americans are primarily Spanish speakers and non-citizens but 79% are US citizens and 71% are English proficient. California and Texas have the highest concentrations of Mexican Americans in the US.

Immigration into the US from Mexico has plummeted because of a declining birth rate and in 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that more Mexicans were leaving the U.S. than arriving.

While 20% of Mexican Americans live in poverty, there are significant numbers of middle-class Mexicans as well—50% of the population are homeowners.

The majority (59%) of Mexicans identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party while about three-in-ten (27%) Mexican registered voters affiliate with the Republican Party.

Organizations targeting Mexican Americans need to avoid presuming that their audience is primarily Spanish speaking or that immigration is universally a front burner issue.

Puerto Rican

Puerto Ricans hold a unique position in the Latino community: Puerto Rico is a US commonwealth and its residents are citizens from birth. As a result, there is a continuous back and forth migration between the island and the mainland US which ebbs and flows based on the economy and natural disasters (more on that below).

At 10% of the Latino population in the United States, Puerto Ricans are the second-largest Latino group nationwide, after Mexican-Americans, and are 1.5% of the entire population of the United States. Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the New York City metropolitan area and Florida, with significant populations in Chicago and cities along the east coast.

Because Puerto Ricans are US citizens from birth and because there are large numbers of undocumented immigrants to the island from the Dominican Republic, there are significant numbers of Puerto Ricans who support a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Puerto Ricans are not politically homogeneous. 60% identify as Democrats while 40% identify themselves as Republicans (and three-fourths of those say they are conservative or very conservative). 

There’s been a recent surge in Puerto Rican migration to Central Florida as a result of the Puerto Rican debt crisis and the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Orange and Osceola counties recorded a 12.% increase in the Puerto Rican population.

Trump’s mishandling of the Hurricane Maria response is a galvanizing issue in the community. Because Puerto Ricans are much more likely to vote Democrat than other Florida Latino populations (Cuban and Venezuelan), there has been speculation that Puerto Ricans can tip the state blue in the 2020 elections. However, voter turnout among Puerto Ricans lags behind Cubans so campaign messaging needs to focus on voter registration and early voting.

Cuban

Cuban-Americans famously immigrated to South Florida in large numbers starting in the 1950s after the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. The first wave of immigrants were political refugees and many were middle class or wealthy and educated. As a result, the Cuban American community was able to quickly establish itself as a financial and political force in Florida and presidential politics.

The Cuban American community is known for being staunchly Republican and anti-socialist—but this is starting to change among the younger generation of American-born Cubans. Overall voter registration is 54% Republican, 19% Democratic and 26% no party affiliation/independent.

But there are significant differences among various demographic groups that make up the Cuban-American community. Cubans Americans who are  18 to 39 years old are 35% Republican, 23% Democratic and 40% no party affiliation. In the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, Cuban-Americans born in the US voted 51% for Republican Ron DeSantis and 48% for Democrat Andrew Gillum.

This demographic shift presents opportunities for Democrats in previously red districts. Campaign messaging needs to focus on issues of importance to younger voters such as jobs, education and health care.

Central Americans

As Mexican immigration declines, there have been increasing arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America, especially the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In the US, 26% of Central American immigrants live in California, 12% in Texas, and 11% in Florida.

Central American immigration is driven by political upheaval and natural disasters in the region. While the Trump administration has smeared Mexicans with anti-immigrant rhetoric, the brunt of the administration’s immigration crackdown has fallen on Central Americans.

The way that the immigration crisis is covered in the US media tends to treat Mexicans and Central Americans as a monolithic group without recognizing the history between the nations in the region and how that history creates biases between the communities in the US. Established immigrants in the US may resent undocumented immigrants from Central America and support a crackdown. This illustrates that the Trump crackdown on immigration doesn’t affect all Latino groups equally and is not perceived in the same way among all Latinos. Messaging to these communities needs to be rooted in an understanding of these nuances.

Sources:

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/16/key-facts-about-u-s-hispanics/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/deep-dive-poll-latino-voters-aims-ramp-2020-election-outreach-n1047156

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/12/us-unauthorized-immigrant-population-2017/

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/28/what-we-know-about-illegal-immigration-from-mexico/

https://apnews.com/0825a844f0544474abf4584d37a0ab1a

https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2014/10/29/chapter-3-latinos-and-the-political-parties/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/03/opinion/latino-voters.html

https://scholars.org/contribution/understanding-puerto-rican-voting-united-states

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/florida/os-ne-census-florida-puerto-rico-population-increase-20190927-lx3i6rxghzhehhf3md6x7hgfmu-story.html

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/fl-ne-cuban-american-poll-20190131-story.html

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-immigrants-united-states

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/mexican-immigrants-united-states#DistributionStateCity

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/cuban-immigrants-united-states

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Digital Organizing: Who Should Run It?

In part 1 of this series I discussed the differences between communications (developing, cultivating, and maintaining an organizational identity or brand image) and digital organizing (focused on meeting the goals of field organizing campaigns).

Bottom line: the two functions share many tools such as email, SMS and social media, but have different goals and measures for success. And not understanding those differences can sink your organization’s ability to succeed.

So how should organizations structure the digital organizing function and who should own it? I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer to that question yet, but here are some options to consider:

Option 1: The Communications Department

Advantages: Communications team has expertise in the use of digital tools such as SMS, social media, and email. The team is wholly dedicated to communications work and doesn’t have competing responsibilities for field work.

Disadvantages: Communications team doesn’t have field expertise, doesn’t understand the needs of field campaigns and may not have enough staff to manage traditional communications functions while also meeting the needs of fast moving campaigns where responses are needed in a matter of hours.

Potential ways to mitigate the disadvantages:

– Create a smaller team within the communications function assigned to work with field staff (this of course depends on having enough staff resources).

– Have the communications team meet regularly with the field team to gain a better understanding of field strategy and meeting field needs.

– Have communications staff spend time in the field to better understand the field work and how digital tools can be used to support the field.

Option 2: The Field Organizing Team

Advantages: Field team understands the needs of the campaign and sees directly how digital tools impact organizing goals.

Disadvantages: The field organizing team doesn’t have the subject matter expertise to use digital tools effectively or the capacity to take on digital work in addition to their field work.

Potential ways to mitigate the disadvantages:

– Train field organizers on using digital tools and hold them accountable for digital goals and metrics

– Assign digital organizing to specific members of the field team to avoid conflicts between field work and digital work. This depends on capacity and the willingness of field staff to be reassigned to what is essentially a new function.

Option 3: Communications Staff is Embedded in Field Team and Reports to Organizing Director

Advantages: Communications professionals have subject matter expertise. Embedded communications staff ensures that field needs do not conflict with the needs of the communications department. Communications staff is able to collaborate closely with field team, including participating in strategy sessions.

Disadvantages: Communications professionals on field teams can become isolated from their peers in the comms department and lose out on opportunities to build and maintain subject matter expertise. Conflicts can arise between communications professionals and field staff who do not understand each other’s roles. Successful integration of communications staff with the field team requires a strong manager with a clear strategic focus.

Potential ways to mitigate the disadvantages:

– Comms professionals on the field team meet regularly with communications department to share knowledge and keep subject matter skills up to date.

– Organizing director clearly communicates roles and expectations to the field team and emphasizes the importance of digital to meeting organizing goals.

– Mutual education: field and communications staff train each other on their roles, gain a greater understanding of the contributions each make to campaigns.

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Communications vs. Digital Organizing

What’s the difference and why it matters.

Part One of a Two-Part Series

Digital organizing is one of the most effective ways for progressive organizations to mobilize supporters and drive voter turnout. Social media, peer-to-peer text messaging, mass SMS, and even search engine marketing are all playing an enormous role in political campaigns and issues-based movements such as labor, reproductive rights, and immigrant rights.

In most organizations, digital communications tools are under the control of the communications/marketing department. But communications departments aren’t well positioned to support organizing because of fundamental differences between the goals of the function and the needs of field campaigns.

Shared tools — but different goals and measures

Communications departments work on developing, cultivating, and maintaining an organizational identity or brand image. Tools and functions housed within communications include media and public relations, marketing emails, printed materials, website design and maintenance (including content production), SMS, and social media. They are also responsible for internal communications with organization staff.

By contrast, digital organizing is focused on meeting the goals of organizing campaigns. While digital organizing teams use many of the same tools as the communications team (social media and SMS in particular), they use the tools to do things like drive voter turnout, union signups, event turnout, and legislative action.

Digital organizing measures success using the same metrics as the field organizing team.

Communications departments measure success using their own metrics, including website traffic, email open and click-through rates, media placements and quality of coverage, and social media likes, follows, and shares.

Digital organizing measures success using the same metrics as the field organizing team: How many people turned out for your event? How many supporters called and texted elected officials about your issue? How many people turned out to vote? While communications-related metrics have value as milestone measures and help refine messaging and target audiences, they are not the ultimate drivers of the digital organizing strategy.

To be somewhat reductive, communications metrics generally exist in the digital and media space while digital organizing metrics focus on actions taken by target audiences outside of digital spaces.

Communications isn’t well-positioned to take on digital organizing

Because communications exists as a separate entity with its own goals and metrics, most communications teams are not well-positioned to effectively support field organizing. Issues that commonly arise when communications is tasked with digital organizing are:

● Communications team does not have the capacity to rapidly respond to the needs of a fast-moving field campaign.

● Communications team is not included in strategy or daily planning meetings with the field team and as a result does not have a clear understanding of field goals and organizing needs.

● Field organizing director and team do not understand how digital communications tools can support and drive field goals and do not include those tools when planning field strategy.

● Staff tasked with digital organizing report to the director of communications, which can create conflict between the needs of the communications team and field organizing team.

So what does this mean for your organization? What do you need to put into place to ensure the success of both the communications team and field organizing team? In Part 2 of this series, I discuss how you can best position your organization and avoid a conflict that can sink your ability to meet your goals.


Below is an infographic you can use with your staff to differentiate between the functions of communications and the digital organizing team. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

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5 Reasons I’m Excited About Netroots Nation 2019

In just two weeks I’ll be heading out to Philadelphia for my very first Netroots Nation. This is the All Star Game of progressive gatherings, bringing together 3,000 online organizers, grassroots activists, campaign workers, thought leaders, and local, state, and national elected officials.

Here’s my top 5 reasons why I’m (extremely!) excited about attending #NN19:

Connecting with fellow digital organizers

Digital organizing is a relatively new discipline and there’s a small but dedicated and energetic group of people who are working hard to spread best practices to progressive organizations across the country.

When you’re in the trenches of the work, it can feel like you’re the only person who understands the full potential of digital organizing. That’s why I’m so excited to connect with people like me and share best practices, connect with key leaders in the movement, and recharge our batteries for the challenges ahead.

Seeing these badass women speak

Seriously, this photo just radiates power


Collecting amazing buttons

Gimme more flare than a TGI Fridays.


The Presidential Candidates Forum

Looking forward to seeing how the candidates handle the tough questions.


Last, but most definitely not least

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

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Diversity is Hard Y’all

Recently, a Politico piece by Jesus Rodriguez called out the Democratic presidential candidates for having poorly translated Spanish websites. The reason is likely candidates relying on Google Translate instead of hiring skilled translators.

A lot of folks on Twitter called out the campaigns for not hiring Latinos and while I agree that having a staff that reflects the Democratic electorate is absolutely critical to the party’s long-term success, that alone won’t solve the problem of communicating with a diverse audience.

As someone who has dealt with this issue first hand, I can tell you that it is really complicated.

I worked as a communications manager for SEIU Local 2015, which represents 385,000 long-term care workers across California. SEIU 2015 is one of the largest and most diverse labor organizations in the US and the leadership is dedicated to engaging all of its members no matter what language they speak.

All of SEIU 2015’s materials are translated into Spanish, Armenian, Chinese (which touches on Mandarin and Cantonese speakers), Korean and Vietnamese at minimum, with additional languages added depending on need. I worked a nursing home union election where text messages had to be translated into Punjabi. 

The union also hires professional interpreters for in-person meetings. Statewide meetings look like the United Nations with booths of interpreters lined up on one side of the room while members wear headsets designated for their languages. 

However, even with the resources SEIU 2015 has poured into multilingual communications, it was a constant challenge to get it right. Members often complained about bad interpreters/weird translations. It is NOT as simple as “hire a diverse staff.” 

One example: there are two dialects of Armenian (Eastern and Western). While there is some mutual intelligibility, there is also a huge amount of class and cultural baggage attached to which version you use (diaspora vs. people from Armenia, wealthy vs. working class). Using the wrong dialect can end up alienating the people you are trying to win over.

Another example: When we translated text messages to Punjabi, we had to scramble with our SMS provider to make sure they could support the alphabet. As we learned, texting in languages that don’t use a Roman alphabet can cost you more simply because the texts qualify as MMS (media messages that are more expensive) rather that SMS (simple text messages).

Yet another example: you don’t hire interpreters for “Chinese” you hire them for Mandarin and Cantonese. And that doesn’t account for mainland Chinese vs. diaspora Chinese in southeast Asia who have different accents and dialects. How will your native Cantonese audience react to an interpreter whose accent and dialect clearly marks them as an ethnic Chinese native of the Philippines? This is all separate from the issue of online linguistic, social and cultural communities with their own channels, memes, and in-jokes. You may be fluent in Spanish but are you fluent in chancla and Vicks memes?

Plus you do know that Mexican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Dominican, and other varieties of Spanish each have their own vocabulary and idioms that have as much in common as American English has with British, Australian, and South African English, yes?

Also, each Spanish speaking country has its own history and racial mix that informs the culture. I recently had a conversation with a Chicana lamenting that she had no idea how to engage Afro-Latinos from the Caribbean.

Finally, remember that having a Spanish last name doesn’t mean you’re fluent in Spanish and doesn’t mean you’re capable of the highly complex work of translation/interpretation. Signed, Nuyorican who can basically order in a restaurant and ask for directions.

In short: Communicating with diverse communities is hard. Is complicated. Is not as simple as hiring people with the right last name.

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Messaging and Pete Buttigieg

This New York Times article on Pete Buttigieg is super interesting and nails down why I think his candidacy has caught fire against the odds. This quote in particular should be tattooed on the arm of everyone who works on political messaging: 

“The story that we tell, not just about government but about ourselves, and the story we tell people about themselves and how they fit in, really grounds our politics.”

That’s straight from Marshall Ganz‘s theory of Public Narrative. Ganz, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as well as a longtime union organizer and political activist, was Obama’s speechwriter during his 2008 campaign and helped create his signature oratory style.   

According to Ganz, effective public narratives can be broken down into three parts: 

The Story of Self: A personal biography that explains how the individual reached the point of taking action on an issue. 

The Story of Us: A collective story that illustrates the “shared purposes, goals, vision” of a community or organization. 

The Story of Now: The urgent problem that we (the speaker and the audience) have come together to solve. 

If you watch Obama’s speeches you’ll see that he hits all three of those points every single time. He opens by describing his childhood as a black child in a multiracial family. He then pivots to explaining why his personal journey was only possible because of the values we all share as citizens of the US. Then he concludes with a call to action on an issue that we can only solve together. It’s a formula—but an extremely effective formula. 

I’m convinced that a big reason for Buttigieg’s meteoric rise in the polls is because he is masterful at wielding public narrative. He takes his personal story—war veteran who is also a married gay man and mayor of a midwestern city—and explicitly connects it to our shared values and offers the possibility of common ground.  

Another political superstar who is expert at public narrative is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She uses social media tools such as Instagram to consistently hammer home her credentials as a Latina from the Bronx who has held working class jobs and speaks in an authentic voice about our collective responsibility to support working people.

Interestingly, Ganz wrote a column during the 2016 presidential campaign that criticized Hillary Clinton for not using storytelling effectively

“Despite many years in the public eye, Clinton’s “story of self” remains opaque. How—and why—does a 1964 “Goldwater girl” become a Wellesley College activist who studies community organizer Saul Alinsky, a Yale Law School graduate who serves as a Children’s Defense Fund attorney, a first lady of Arkansas, a first lady of the United States, a failed campaigner for healthcare reform, a person exposed to painful public humiliation, a senator from New York, a supporter of NAFTA and the Iraq war, a failed presidential candidate, a secretary of state, a public speaker who takes $200,000 from Wall Street banks for a speech, and the first woman to win nomination for the presidency by a major party?

Her résumé tells us that she is competent, a hard worker, and a survivor. But what of her authenticity, courage, and strength—not only on her own behalf, but on behalf of others, or even on behalf of her values? Opacity about her story undermines the value of her obvious capacity to survive, thrive, and operate in a complex political environment. She becomes an acceptable but not inspiring candidate.”

Unfortunately, Hillary wasn’t unique in where and how she fell short in creating a compelling personal narrative for her campaign. In my experience, many progressive candidates believe that public narratives are frivolous and undignified. They think that the work alone should speak for itself. They focus on policy details without talking about values. While in some ways that focus is admirable, it doesn’t jibe with how real people choose to vote or take action.

Public narrative is a framework that can be used across multiple communication platforms and different campaigns. Whether you are working for an individual candidate or on an issue, whether you are drafting press releases, writing speeches, crafting social media posts, or writing SMS messages and email, the Story of Self/Us/Can and should be used to engage your supporters and move them to action.

I’ll close with one more quote from Ganz:

“In these narratives, values are not abstract intellectual ideas but sources of the emotional energy that actually influence our choices and move us to act upon them. By linking stories of self, us, and now, public narrative communicates the moral authority of the speaker, brings the shared hurts and hopes of their constituency alive, and offers a hopeful, if challenging, opportunity to respond.”

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The Death of Doorknocking

We already know that Millennials don’t watch cable TV and don’t talk on the phone. Now we can add another item to the list of things they don’t do: Answer doorbells. At least that’s what millenials are saying on Twitter.

It isn’t just millennials who aren’t answering doorbells anymore. As the external communications manager for SEIU Local 2015, I saw first hand how field organizers were increasingly challenged to get people to open the door. Along with phone banking, door-to-door organizing has become increasingly more labor intensive and more expensive with dwindling returns.

Face-to-face contact is still demonstrably the most effective way to turn out supporters. But with people increasingly willing to ignore the doorbell, it’s important to use communications technology to improve the odds of making contact. 

While at SEIU 2015, I worked with field organizers to turn out non-members for a statewide day of action in support of long-term care workers. Turning out non-members is a way to engage workers who may later choose to organize a union at their workplace. But, understandably, it can be a challenge to turn out non-members for a union event. 

We decided to test the Relay peer-to-peer messaging application in addition to phone banking and door knocking for turnout. The power of peer-to-peer messaging is that it allows organizers to directly engage workers and have persuasive conversations with them in real time. For this test, we used Relay to reach workers whom we had failed to reach by phone or at the door.

The results were remarkable: engagement rates were as high as 30% in California’s Central Valley and other regions. We were able to turn out an unprecedented number of non-members to the union action and also add them to our lists for long-term cultivation. 

Based on the results of this test, I believe that peer-to-peer messaging should be an integral part of any field organizing campaign. Uses can include contacting targets in advance to increase the odds of meeting people face-to-face, as well as engaging supporters who can’t be reached through other channels. 

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