February 28, 2011

The networked activist: How ‘The Story of Stuff’ went viral

The Story of Stuff from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

 

Filmmaker Annie Leonard offers advice on becoming a network-centric organization

JD LasicaAt the TechSoup Global Contributors Summit in San Jose on March 15, Annie Leonard, an independent filmmaker in Berkeley, Calif., gave one of the standout talks, discussing how The Story of Stuff — the film and the project — came to be.

Annie recounted that she had once worked for a traditional environmental organization that was typical of many mission-driven nonprofits: hierarchical, top down, holding its expertise close to the chest, wanting to “own” its cause. A remarkable thing happened that transformed the way she now creates and distributes projects: “The Story of Stuff,” which has received more than 12 million views in all its incarnations on YouTube.

Because her message resonated so deeply with me and the packed audience, I took her aside a few minutes later and recorded this 7-minute video interview that provides the backstory of how “The Story of Stuff” went viral and lessons that nonprofits, businesses and other organizations can take away.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

The networked approach to getting stuff done

Over time, Annie says, she became “obsessed with all the environmental, social and health costs” of the way in which consumer goods are produced, and so she developed an hourlong presentation that she gave at schools, churches and community groups for four years. She took her passion and decided to turn her slide show into a film (an approach that reminded me of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”). With the help of Free Range Studios, a creative services firm, and backing from the Tides Foundation, they created a 21-minute documentary short that put it online for free in December 2007.

“(The film) has just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”
— Annie Leonard

“Our goal was to have 50,000 people see this film,” she says. “And to our total amazement we got that in one day. It’s now been over three years and we have over 12 million views in over 200 countries and territories around the world. It’s just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”

The film shows the damaging consequences of consumerism on the environment, developing nation, personal well-being and happiness. The Story of Stuff Project was created to extend the film’s impact by creating a network of people who are discussing the issue in the hope of creating a more sustainable world. The film has inspired ballets, puppet shows, entries in parades, high school and religious curricula and sustainability programs. It has been shown on several national television programs and translated into dozens of languages. One tactic they used that paid off handsomely: a Creative Commons NonCommercial No Derivatives license that allowed almost anyone to reuse it. “We wanted this to be a community-held resource,” she says.

“If you really want to make long-lasting change in the world, you’ve got to utilize the network-centric model because the problems are too big for any one person or organization to address.”

After years of going it alone, Annie came to a realization: “I need to turn the volume up on this work. I need to inspire and engage millions of people so that the issues I care about are not just my personal pet project. So I turned to a more network-centered model and it has been so valuable. A network-centered model has been very different from an organization-centric model. Networks focus on collaborations and connections, on being inviting and engaging so that we’ll take anyone who wants to help on any terms they want.

“With the previous environmental organization I worked with, really the only way people could help was to write a check, and that’s really not [effective]. With a network-centered model, people have a lot more skills and talents and energies to contribute. Network-centered models are more about building those connections than building a big infrastructure. They’re more resilient, they’re more flexible, powerful and long-lasting.”

It’s a lesson many organizations and activists would do well to internalize. Adds Annie: “The real lesson is that if you want to get something done, you really have to work in networks rather than trying to go it alone.” Continue reading

July 28, 2010

Guide to shooting better online video

canon vixia hv40
The Canon Vixia HV40.

Tips on video equipment, interviewing people on camera & more

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, videographers, educators, foundations, businesses, individuals. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

Guest post by Diana Day
Online Journalism Review

With the increasingly affordable equipment and editing tools available today, it’s possible to turn out professional-looking online video quicker than you’d expect.

You can hire an outside video producer, but we think the tools have become simple enough to bring in-house. Make sure you have the right setup before starting to film, and make sure to follow our suggestions below on how to conduct an effective interview.

Equipment you’ll need

Camcorders

The prices of high-quality hi-definition video cameras have plummeted in the past two years. Nonprofits, cause organizations and citizen publishers can choose from two basic types of camcorders:

• The Flip cam has revolutionized the way people capture and share video. You can get a hi-def handheld recorder for less than $200. (Cisco purchased Pure Digital, the Flip’s maker, last year.) Other options include Kodak’s Zi8 and the Sony Bloggie.

• There are an astonishing range of professional-quality video camera in the $450 to $800 range today. The Canon Vixia line is a good place to start looking. Another good choice is the Panasonic TM700K. Try this CNet camcorder buying guide to help you price, research and select a video camera within your budget.

Microphone

While you don’t need a top-of-the-line camcorder, you do need acceptable sound. A microphone for man-on-the-street interviews is very helpful and is a real improvement over the camera’s on-board mic. The following are specifications for a hand-held stick microphone. You should be able to find one at a Radio Shack or Best Buy for between $20 and $40.

  • uni-directional (cardioid) pick-up pattern
  • lo-impedence (ohm symbol) 600 ohms or lower
  • frequency response range: 50-100 hertz to 10,000-15,000 hertz
  • 1/8″ mini-plug or a ¼” phone plug with a 1/8″ adapter
  • 10-20 foot cord (shorter is fine, too; you might find it a pain to wrap up and store such a long cord, but it’s indispensable when you really need it; a detachable cable is OK)
  • No battery required

A lavaliere (clip-on) microphone for planned sit-down style interviews is a plus, but it’s not imperative if you’re trying to save money at the beginning. Again, you can find one at Radio Shack for $25. Some stick microphones available in the price ranges detailed above come with those cheesy little plastic stands, and believe it or not, these are fine for getting started. Just place the mic on the stand outside of the frame and shoot. Try to shoot in a quiet place to minimize audio distractions, and you’ll be surprised how well this will suffice to get you started. Continue reading

July 10, 2010

A quick guide to multimedia software

 

An overview of software for multimedia editing, video hosting & podcasting

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, NGOs, citizen journalists, media makers. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

By Kaitlin LaCasse and Laura S. Quinn
Idealware

Want to get started using audio or videos to engage your current supporters and pull in new ones? There are a number of tools that put multimedia within the reach of most nonprofits. In this excerpt from the Idealware Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits: Fundraising, Communications and Outreach, we explore three related multimedia topics. First, we take a look at multimedia editing software, which can help you whip your audio or video files into shape for public distribution. Then we explore how video sharing websites can help you put your video into the world. Finally, we talk about podcasts, a way to let people easily subscribe to audio or video shows.

Multimedia editing

Multimedia editing software gives you the capability to create videos or audio recordings with a level of a polish that used to require a lot of expensive hardware. Good editing takes time and some skill, but a number of low-cost, straightforward packages put the tools within reach of any nonprofit.

With audio packages, you can edit interviews for length, cut “um”s and pauses, and add music or voiceover introductions. Both GarageBand (for the Mac) and Audacity (for the PC or Mac) are free, solid tools that provide all the functionality you’re likely to need. If you’re eligible for the Adobe donation program through TechSoup, you may be able to get professional-grade Adobe Audition for a $35 admin fee.

Adobe Premier ElementsVideo tools let you cut out pieces you don’t want, splice different sections together, and overlay graphics and text onto your piece. You might join an interview with a constituent together with scenes of your program participants, and put a title screen at the beginning — and even upload it to YouTube with a single click.

For Mac users, iMovie (free with the Mac OS X operating system) is a great editing tool for simple movies. The free editing software available for PCs, on the other hand — like Windows Movie Maker and Pinnacle Systems’ VideoSpin — can be difficult to work with, and often imposes insistent front-and-center ads or confusing limitations on supported formats. For PC users, a good alternative is Adobe Premiere Elements (pictured at right, $15 for nonprofits on TechSoup, or the movie editor is about $79 retail), which provides friendly features very similar to iMovie.

[Editors note: There are also a few online video editing options, including Jaycut.com (free), Motionbox.com (free), Moviemasher.com (free & open source) and Kaltura (fee-based and open source, though these solutions have serious limitations.] Continue reading

February 16, 2010

How to get supporters to retweet content

happy child shouting or singing with joy

John HaydonOne of the central benefits of social media is the ability to share content with just one or two mouse clicks. Your supporters are already sharing interesting content on Facebook. They’re retweeting it. They’re favoriting videos on YouTube as well.

All with one mouse click.

But even though sharing has gotten easier, actually getting people to share can feel like pulling teeth. And when when you see other non-profits getting thousands of views on YouTube with what seems like no effort, it’s downright frustrating.

So how do you get people to share your content?

5 tips on sharing

1. Accept that social media is not email

Having an email list of 80,000 people is a far cry from having an active, thriving community of fans. The same goes for the 5,000 fans you have on Facebook, especially if they fanned your Page only for a chance at winning a free iPod (yawn). It’s all about vitality. So stop thinking so much about accumulating numbers. Instead, start thinking about nurturing the 1% who are already raving fans. Continue reading

September 30, 2009

8 ways to use social media in the newsroom

8 ways screenshot

JD LasicaFor the annual conference of the Online News Association this weekend, I’ve pulled together two new printable handouts: 8 ways to use social media in the newsroom, available at http://bit.ly/social-flyer, and 6 Twitter tools for journalists (PDF — and see the accompanying post). I’m speaking on the aptly named Social Media Mania panel on Saturday.

I think these are two of the nicer handouts I’ve produced, using Apple Pages, part of the iWork suite. These downloadable documents are part of the ongoing series of social media guides and tutorials that Socialbrite has been producing for social change organizations, nonprofits, journalists and anyone interested in effective use of social media.

While the PDFs are spiffy-looking, they’re less than optimal for search engines and for the disabled, so I’ll mirror the handouts here in html.

8 ways to use social media in the newsroom

FriendFeed

1An uber-aggregator of your feeds, FriendFeed is like Twitter but easier to organize. You can post more than 140 characters, organize private or public rooms and get a feed of your friends as an e-mail. But FriendFeed is more than an aggregation tool: It’s a virtual watering hole where you can see what’s on the mind of your friends and colleagues.

Search the real-time Web

2Find out what people are talking about online right now — chances are you can turn a meme into a story. Tools include Twitter Search, Tweetmeme, OneRiot, Scoopler.

Flip out!

flip3We’re all multimedia journalists now, right? Never let another eye-catching moment or newsworthy subject slip by: A Flip cam ($199 for hi-def version) lets you easily add a visual element to a story. Users are more likely to jump into a conversation around a video on your site than a text-only article. Kodak’s Zi8 is also a good choice. Continue reading

September 29, 2009

YouTube amps up its Call To Action feature

John HaydonYour organization has included YouTube content as part of your social media marketing plan. You’ve signed up for the Youtube non-profit program so that you can use external links to allow fans to make donations, sign up as volunteers or sign a petition (regular users can link only to other YouTube videos).

I wrote about the “Call To Action” layover feature back in July, but it now appears that YouTube has amped up the feature. It now includes:

1. Prettier links

prettier links Continue reading