Campaigning online. Much has been said about it, but it’s never decisive. I will now give you the plain and simple answer.
To campaign online successfully, one needs to do three things. No more, no less:
- Don’t listen to the man
- Fail, fail, then fail again
- Be you, not me
If you’re into online campaigning, this is the right article for you, and your life will never be the same. Thank me later.
1) Don’t listen to the man
Whatever they might say, no matter how many knots their silk tie might have, your managers, your bosses, your superiors do not know what the hell they are talking about when it comes to online campaigning. Don’t – listen – to – the – man.
The man will come running up to your desk screaming “I just saw a demonstration of [A] and we need to start using this in our campaigns!”, where [A] is any cool (or in the case of ‘Second Life’ seriously uncool) new online tool. The man is completely ignoring the fact that new tools arise every day, and that they can certainly be useful for specific means, but are not useful by default. So don’t listen to him.
Examine any new online tool, find out what it’s good for, define your campaigning goals and then link them to your online tools, or simply don’t. Whatever you do: do NOT listen to the man. Really, just don’t.
2) Fail, fail, then fail again
Online campaigning is the art of failing. For every successful viral out there, whether it was developed by an organisation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw871vN2c18) or an individual (http://www.break.com/index/mario-theme-played-with-rc-car-and-bottles.html) , there are about a billion others that no one has ever seen. If you want your online game, short video or application to go viral, be prepared for it to take a couple of tries before it actually takes off.
More importantly, if you don’t have any knowledge of the group within which you’re releasing your content, forget about it. You’ll even fail at failing: you will simply go unnoticed. To create content that is appealing to a certain group of people, you need to know what they’re talking about, what they feel, what they eat, drink and dream. Read blogs, get into social networks, register at Digg and then go sit in a corner and listen. Once you get an idea of what the group is about, start contributing and soon you will notice the magical process of gaining reputation online. Once you have a reputation, people will understand you better, accept the content you’re bringing them, and will consider giving it a look.
And then you’ll probably fail some more. Don’t give up.
3) Be you, not me
Things not to do: don’t put a press release on your facebook page or worse: your company blog. Don’t sign your mass e-mails with just your company name (and most certainly do not include a scanned signature from your general director). In other words: try to act as, or at least like, an individual. Write a blog in your own words (this sounds obvious, but the number of organisations and companies that still have an entire board of editors writing blogs for other people is huge), and simply sign e-mails with your own name: it’s you who is sending them.
Online campaigning is about reaching a large audience online, but large audiences are nothing more than collections of hyperindividuals: I put my pictures on Flickr, I upload my videos to Youtube and my Facebook profile is all about me, me, me, my friends, my favorite books and films, and me, me.
Companies don’t make friends. People do. Companies certainly do not leave small notes with little smiley faces for their cousins neighbour. People do. To reach individuals online, you need to be one.
Enjoy your new life, and don’t listen to the man!
Patrick Klerks is Online Campaigner at Oxfam Novib. He studied Communication and Information Sciences at Tilburg University (The Netherlands) and started a successful online communications consultancy in 1999 before joining Oxfam in 2003.
At Oxfam, Patrick is responsible for all the online components of campaigns: developing online campaigning strategies, new online concepts, managing online activities on the Oxfam Novib site, and various 3rd party platforms.
If you read Dutch, you can keep up with Patrick's writings at one of the largest Dutch blogs: Retecool, which would translate roughly as "Ass-Cool".