Crowdsourcing Campaign Videos: Let Your Members Be the Messengers

Submitted on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 10:59am
People can tell when things are staged and actors are used. It distracts viewers and discredits your message. The most direct way to achieve all-important authenticity is to use real people.

Every campaign is bedeviled with certain challenges. Namely, how to spice up an email program, tell compelling stories, show the human side of your organization, and build strong emotional connections between your audience and your issue. Online video is a tool that can help solve many of these challenges, and when executed well, also gets attention from media and decisions-makers.

One key ingredient to making an effective video is authenticity. People can smell when things are staged and actors are used. It distracts viewers and discredits your message.

The most direct way to achieve authenticity is to use real people. Better yet, use your own activists and have them say who they are, why they care, and how your campaign is helping them change the world. This is an opportunity to show the movement you helped to build — let your members be your messengers.

What if you wanted to showcase 1.8 million activists from across the country delivering a single message and have it be entertaining?

This was the challenge for Repower America and they tackled it twice.

Earth Day, Remixed

For Earth Day 2010, Repower America created a fun video that engaged their members and showed the world the broad spectrum of voices that were demanding clean energy legistation.

They were presented with a unique opportunity to share YouTube’s homepage with three other videos about climate and clean energy. From this kind of exposure, a video could expect to gain a few hundred thousand views — a rare opportunity that no nonprofit would waste.

Several ideas were tossed around before it was decided to make a clean energy rap video. To accomplish this, they rewrote the lyrics to Biz Markie’s Just A Friend. But who would be in the video — a staff member, an actor, perhaps Biz himself? Instead, they decided their members should be the stars of the video. To participate, they would have to record video of themselves rapping along to the song and send it to the campaign. Repower America created a submission form with an instructional video to make it as easy as possible. Within hours of emailing their list, submissions started rolling in from young kids to the elderly.

The final result, Biz Markie’s Earth Day Remix, exceeded expectations by gaining over 1 million views and getting covered by numerous outlets, including ABC News and CNN.

Clean Air is Mine, Yours, Ours

In the Fall of 2010, Repower America wanted to ward off an attack on the Clean Air Act. They needed to show that their members were proud of the Clean Air Act’s success and were going to fight to protect it.

After the success of their Earth Day video, Repower America invited people to participate again. By submitting videos and pictures of themselves holding signs that read “Mine,” “Yours,” or “Ours,” their list helped answer the question “Who does the air belong to?” The final video, Breathe, ended up featuring thousands of activists as well as celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Kevin Bacon, Almudena Fernandez, and Margaret Cho. The key to getting submissions remained keeping it easy by offering step-by-step instructions.

The video received peer recognition: it was selected from over 1,350 submissions as a finalist in the YouTube/See3 DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. But more impressive than that, it was unexpectedly praised in a letter (PDF) from Lisa P. Jackson, EPA Administrator to Repower America’s CEO. She called it an “extraordinary new video on the Clean Air Act” and “yet another example of your consistently fine work to deepen America’s understanding of our complex environmental challenges and spur substantive action.”

The key to successful participation

A campaign can amplify its influence with media and decision-makers if it can show there is a movement demanding change. If you give your members an opportunity to participate in creating creative video content, the authenticity you show could be what differentiates your campaign from your opponent’s.

Both of these examples show new ways in which campaigns need to make videos that are authentic while also leveraging their movements to capture attention. The key to successful participation from members depends on how easy it is because it’s a complex, high-bar ask. No matter how cool your video project may be (i.e. star in a video with Alec Baldwin), people won’t do it unless you remove every obstacle possible.

Danny De Bonis is the Director of Political Media for IB5k. He learned how to use online video to help campaigns build movement and engage activists while working at Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection. He has edited numerous 30-second TV ads and online videos which have achieved notable viral success and peer recognition. With a background in new media and email marketing, his experience with testing how people interact with online content informs how he produces and edits video.

Danny grew up in New York and lives in San Francisco. He graduated cum laude from Boston University in 2005 with a B.A. in Sociology. He has since worked at several environmental and progressive nonprofits, working on issues ranging from corporate and government accountability to clean energy and climate policy. He enjoys playing the accordion, brewing beer, and admiring vintage motorcycles.

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