March 17, 2011

A story-driven Web platform for communities

Shelbyville project kicks off with a series of ‘Welcoming’ videos

JD LasicaChances are you haven’t yet heard of Shelbyville, a small rural community in Tennessee, much less than the upcoming “Welcome to Shelbyville” documentary or the online project that is forging a pilot, or prototype, for communities to tell and share their own stories. So let me share my initial impressions of this remarkable, ambitious, exciting effort.

On Monday I was lucky enough to be a part of a “digital braintrust” of 20 progressive media and nonprofit representatives at the Bay Area Video Coalition headquarters convened by Active Voice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that uses film, television and multimedia to spark social change.

We spent two hours reviewing the Shelbyville Multimedia project and offering ideas about how to finish it out and what to do differently next time. First, a quick overview:

miss-marilyn

Miss Marilyn, a retired public elementary school teacher who taught in Shelbyville for 34 years.

Active Voice conceived the vision of building a story-driven Web platform and brought together a team consisting of Free Range Studios, a creative services firm, and documentary filmmaker Kelly Whalen.

Over much of the past year, the parties combined efforts to create the ShelbyvilleMultimedia.org website while Kim A. Snyder directed and produced “Welcome to Shelbyville” (executive produced by the BeCause Foundation, in association with Active Voice) which has grown into an hourlong documentary that will air on ITVS’ “Independent Lens” series on PBS on May 24.

You can see the webisodes, produced by Active Voice in association with the BeCause Foundation, on the Shelbyville Multimedia channel on Vimeo. If you’re an educator, activist or community organization that wants to engage on a deeper level and host some of the webisodes on your own site or blog and invite conversations about the stories, head to the webisode discussion questions page.

What are your impressions? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

‘Shelbyville’: Stories about immigrant integration

Welcoming America is an umbrella organization that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born residents.

The Shelbyville project is a series of stories about immigrant integration. One of Active Voice’s objectives was to introduce people to Welcoming America, an umbrella organization that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born residents. It is overseeing “welcoming” initiatives in 14 states, including Welcoming Tennessee.

“They opened doors for us in Shelbyville and introduced us to other affiliates, who hosted community ‘sneak previews’ in October,” said Active Voice operations director Daniel Moretti.

Active Voice approached Irina Lee, the creator of First Person American, about working on a pilot based on the Welcoming Stories theme. The idea, Moretti said, was “to combine FPA’s aesthetic and authenticity with Active Voice’s need to attract user-contributed stories. We’re hoping to raise funds to keep going, to both send Irina to other cities, and to commission other artists to create new Welcoming Stories formats.”

You can see some of the Welcoming Stories on the Tumblr site created by Active Voice and Free Range.

The tone of the two sites is positive and uplifting. As Moretti told us: “We didn’t want to build an advocacy site but a site to help people take the next step by providing options for different levels of engagement.”

While the project took a lens to the issue of immigration in rural Shelbyville, Tenn., Moretti pointed out: “We’re media strategists, not immigrant integration specialists. We had a feeling that what was going on in Shelbyville would resonate with people in small towns and large cities across the country, and we’re eager to help them connect to these issues in a human and nuanced way. But Welcoming America is doing this important work for the long haul, and we hope the website will be a great vehicle for them.”

The story-driven Web platform that Active Voice and Free Range developed, then, is not just to showcase webisodes, parts of a documentary or even the story of Shelbyville. Active Voice sees it as an early pilot of how other communities can tell their stories in a deep, meaningful but easy and lightweight way, with the focus on individuals’ stories rather than forcing users to wade through a complex backstory. Continue reading

September 27, 2010

How nonprofits can get started with mobile

How nonprofits can get started with mobile from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

 

Some tips about how to create an effective mobile campaign

This is part two of a two-part series on how organizations can use mobile tech for social good. See part one: A beginner’s guide to mobile fundraising.

JD LasicaWith the explosion of mobile giving in the wake of this year’s humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti and the Gulf Coast, nonprofits and social change organizations are now taking a new look at what mobile might be able to do for their own causes.

Nicola Wells, regional field director for the Center for Community Change’s Fair Immigration Reform Movement, offers nonprofits a half dozen tips about how to get started with mobile and create an effective mobile campaign, whether for fundraising, recruiting or other goals. The 11-minute interview was conducted just after we presented the Mobilize Your Cause bootcamp at City University of New York as part of Personal Democracy Forum.

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement is a national coalition of immigrants rights groups whose work in social media has three goals: to build a list of individuals who can be called upon when needed to press for immigration reform legislation; to communicate important news and information to those individuals as the campaign evolves, and to engage those supporters and build a relationship with them.

Mobile was a key component of the strategy. Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo

Nicola noted that immigrants and people of color tend to use mobile more than the general population, and a lot of FIRM’s supporters did not have computers and did not belong to Web-based communities like Care2 or Change.org. Thus, mobile was the perfect tool for keeping in touch with them.

Wading into the mobile space should not be done lightly, however. “It really takes a lot of staff time just to set up the mobile piece: to create the messaging, do the copy editing and to deal with the day-to-day functioning of the list,” she says.

When the mobile initiative got underway, the executive team had to make sure they had staffing in place and in alignment, including having a key manager of the social media team involved in the mobile campaign. Next, they dedicated to the team a tech expert who was familiar with mobile campaigns and brought in Mobile Commons — a text messaging platform for mobile marketing — to handle the back end.

They talked with partners before they began building the list so they could figure out the right positioning and managed to negotiate relationships to get their long-term buy-in, Nicola said. Finally, they began thinking deeply about the user experience, particularly:

  • calls to action, including urging them to attend rallies on behalf of the cause
  • alerts, so that when specific high-tension information came out, people would be in the loop
  • a feedback loop that gave members a sense of having access to the campaign

Key lessons learned along the way

Some key lessons they learned, Nicola said, were these:

  • You really have to put your short code and mobile information everywhere you put your url.
  • Person to person is the best way to sign people up, not through email.
  • Have people at your events walking through the crowd to recruit people for the mobile list. “Computers are not the best way to sign people up.”
  • Once you have a short code, try not to change it, because you’re building a brand around your code and number. For example, FIRM uses the short code JUSTICE (Justicia in Spanish) texted to 69866.
  • You really have to learn the art of communicating complex ideas in 160 characters. “Allow one or two people on your team to take ownership of that,” Nicola says. “I like to call them the gatekeepers.”

Continue reading