May 23, 2012

10 top tools for cause campaigns

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Target audience: Cause organizations, NGOs, nonprofits, foundations, social enterprises, political reformers, educators, journalists, general public.

JD LasicaOver the past three years, as regular readers know, Socialbrite has put together dozens of guides and compilations of resources and tools for social change advocates. See the bottom of this article for a few, and our Sharing Center is all about social tools for social change.

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To celebrate Internet at Liberty, a conference on protecting protecting freedom of expression on the Internet that Google is organizing in Washington, D.C., this week — and where Socialbrite is running the social media workshops — we’re launching a new section today:

The Social Advocacy Toolkit features new and updated informational guides, tool roundups and resources for global activists, social good advocates, political reformers, NGOs and anyone looking to use online tools for social change. It includes tactics for effective campaigns, guides to the best monitoring and metrics tools (many of them free), lists of enabling platforms and organizations and other resources to help galvanize your campaign.

Below is a new guide that we’ve put together to help social change activists with their advocacy efforts, which we’re adding to the toolkit. Check out the Social Advocacy Toolkit for much more.

10 tools for activists & social change advocates

Asana: A leap ahead for productive teamwork

1Asana is a work-collaboration software suite that came out of beta in April 2012. “We built this company to change the world,” said founder Dustin Moskovitz, one of the co-founders of Facebook. Asana offers a simple, word processor-like interface to give people working together on a task a central place to discuss the project, share files and keep track of to-dos in real time. It’s free for teams of fewer than 30 users.

Alternatives: Yammer, Microsoft Sharepoint (for larger enterprises) and see our Collaboration roundup

PopVox: Advocate your cause in Congress

2You might remember our recent article on PopVox, an online service that individuals and grassroots organizations can use to lobby members of Congress on behalf of a cause. CEO Marci Harris founded the nonpartisan service based on her knowledge of how Congressional staffers interact with the public. For a cause to be effective, it has to be made concrete on behalf of or against a specific bill. PopVox helps you do that.

Geo-bombing with Google Earth

3I was blown away when I saw Tunisian activists from the collective blog (The Core) link video testimonies of Tunisian political prisoners and human rights defenders to the Tunisian presidential palace’s location on Google Earth. Now, as you fly over the Tunisian presidential palace using a Google Earth KML file, you will see it covered with videos about human rights abuses that strongman Ben Ali tried to prevent Tunisian citizens from watching by blocking YouTube and DailyMotion. Visit for more examples. We’d like to see more organizations to take up “geo-bombing.”

Mapping tools: Show, don’t tell

4Any campaign or cause organizations with tech talent should consider following the steps of charity: water, which does a remarkable job of documenting their clean-water projects for individual donors through the use of Google Maps. Paull Young, their director of digital engagement, told me: “We’ve been marking all our water projects with GPS since we were founded in 2006. We had a developer crank for a few weeks late last year to create this new mapping solution. It’s not incredibly technically difficult, the hardest part is getting data from the field. You might also want to check out our Dollars to Projects reporting for even more in-depth personalized mapping.” Also doing a good job with Google Maps: A Child’s Right.

Note: Google began charging for its previously free Google Maps API last year, leading to an exodus to the open source OpenStreetMap, which we expect will continue to get better and better.

Tableau Public: Infographics made simple

5You may have noticed the Infographics Everywhere trend that’s sweeping the Web, probably spurred by the fact that infographics has been democratized — you no longer need to be a graphics guru to make a swift-looking graphic. Why not boil down your cause or campaign to a couple of key infographics? The tool we like best is Tableau Public, because it’s good and it’s free. For visualizations, Wordle and Many Eyes create great-looking word clouds. But before you plunge in, see this fantastic set of Data Visualization and Infographics Resources from Smashing Magazine — and make sure what you create isn’t info porn. Create a metrics dashboard

6What’s a campaign without a metrics dashboard, to tell you with data-driven evidence what’s resonating with your community — and what’s falling flat? There are a few newcomers to consider: (we like the 30-day free trial and $19/month pricetag), and Metricly. It’s worth the investment. See which one works for you and gives your campaign traction and tweak your campaign on the fly.

Dropbox: Life in the cloud is sweet

7I’ll be straight up: My hands-down favorite productivity and collaboration tool of the decade so far has been Dropbox. What was life like before the cloud? Oh, yeah, it was a pain to get stuff done. Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs and videos anywhere with an Internet connection — and share them easily. Any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computers, phones and even the Dropbox website. Never email yourself a file again! Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage space for free, plus 500MB more if you refer a friend who signs up. It can get pricey when moving up to Dropbox for Teams, so see what your budget allows.

CitizenTube: Get visibility for your cause videos

8CitizenTube is YouTube’s News and Politics Blog. You’ll find important breaking news videos from citizens and other newsworthy videos from news organizations, activists and politicians. You are creating your own media, right? Why not get it seen by YouTube’s legion of viewers? See a different version of it here, and follow @CitizenTube on Twitter.

Buffer: Cross-posting nirvana

9If you’re running a cause campaign, there aren’t enough hours in the day, right? So think productivity. Shonali Burke, who recently left Socialbrite, told me: “Buffer is killer. It lets you send updates to Facebook, Twitter, etc. straight from your Google Reader or a browser. You can also post them directly from Buffer. Spread them out over the day. I’m just loving it and using HootSuite less. I tend to do most of my reading via Reader, and it’s super easy to star the posts that interest me, then sort by starred items, and then add to Buffer.” The basic version is free, for up to 10 posts at a time; for heavy users, you can get the paid version.

GroupMe: Keep in touch with your team members

10If you’re at an event — a conference, a street protest, a peaceful march — with other team members, you know how difficult it it to stay in touch and to coordinate plans. Socialbrite recently gave GroupMe a test run and came away impressed. GroupMe is a free group messaging app. I like it because it’s both instant and asyncronous — that is, your teammates will see your updates instantly or when they next check their mobile devices. Call up GroupMe and invite others in your posse to join your private group. Type your update and send it to the group, as you would an SMS message, and they’ll see it in a chat thread. One of GroupMe’s key features is that it’s cross-platform: You don’t miss a beat whether you have an iPhone, Android, Blackberry or another kind of smartphone. In addition to the ability to share messages, photos and locations like the other apps, GroupMe also allows old-fashioned conference calls between group members.

Alternative: Facebook Messenger

Other tools worth a shoutout

The tools above aren’t the only ones that should be in your advocacy arsenal. Consider some of these as well:

• See our writeup on Digital Democracy and its Handheld Human Rights mobile platform for human rights in Burma/Myanmar.

GeoChat, from InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters), is a collaboration tool that allows anyone to chat, report and get alerts on their cellphone and to map data on Google Earth, Google Maps or Virtual Earth. It uses SMS, email, and Twitter.

Ushahidi and Frontline SMS are must-have mobile tools for anyone working with remote communities or in disaster relief areas. And they have broader uses as well. is a cross-platform screen sharing app that lets you give control of your computer screen to someone else.

Shortstack, says my partner John Haydon, “is my number one choice for creating amazing Facebook Page custom tabs. You can create photo contents, reveal tabs, photo galleries and more. Check out this example of what you can create with Shortstack.” It costs $15 a month to start.

NodeXL is a tool for finding connections between people or organizations. Mostly for geeks as it’s a bit daunting.

If This, Then That is another interesting tool I just discovered. It helps you create certain actions when a task is triggered, like “send me a text message when my organization is mentioned on Facebook.”

Jing from TechSmith, Screenr and Screenflow for Mac are three of the best tools for creating screencasts.

Guides for social change advocates

Here are some of Socialbrite’s other guides for social change:

Change-makers share 10 of their favorite tools (JD Lasica)
12 open source tools you should be using (Kim Bale)
12 awesome platforms for social good (Katrina Heppler)
An educator’s 5 top tools for social change (Barbara K. Iverson)
Top 5 tools for the entrepreneurial journalist (Dan Pacheco)
A change agent’s top 5 tools for social change (Allyson Kapin)
A developer’s 5 favorite social tools (Nathan Freitas)
6 productivity tools for social change (Katrina Heppler)
Complete guide to creating a video project (Tim Davies)


Making media: Tools & resources for nonprofits and social change organizations (Socialbrite)
10 top collaboration tools for your organization
The Socialbrite Sharing Center
Directory of cause organizations (Socialbrite)JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • Based on this tools list, I started using Asana right away. I love it! It is an incredibly easy-to-use, but powerful, project manager.

    • Hi Debra, I’ve heard only good things about it, and their exec team has a 4-star pedigree, so it’s not one of those fly-by-night outfits. I’ll be using it in the coming weeks.

  • Does the list of tools support Malaysian market? Most of the online tools don’t support Malaysian market which make us very frustrated.