Tag: online community

Saving hospitals in the UK. Blocking “super trawlers” in Australia. Winning local environmental battles in India. Stopping biased education standards in the United States. Suddenly, platforms that allow anyone to start a petition and run their own campaigns are everywhere.

But many are also asking what it takes to successfully run a grassroots-led campaigns platform. What lessons can we learn from Change.org, 38 Degrees CampaignsByYou, MoveOn.org and other platforms worldwide? What best practices have emerged? What are the steps to success?

We recently interviewed leading practitioners of grassroots-led campaigns for a new report, “Grassroots-led Campaigns: Lessons from the new frontier of people-powered campaigning,” released this month by the Mobilisation Lab at Greenpeace.

The full report is chock full of answers to big questions around the impact and implications of this new model, so we encourage you to read the whole thing. In the meantime, here are a few practical lessons that emerged:

No two platforms are the same. There’s a tendency to assume that all grassroots-led campaigns platforms are miniature versions of Change.org, the petition giant whose spectacular growth kick-started so much interest in this new model. But that’s simply not true. We identified four dimensions that differentiate platforms, including how much hands-on support petition creators receive, what kind of campaigns they run, and questions of goals and strategies. Understanding the different possible approaches is key to starting off on the right foot.

Consider clone campaigns. One of the big areas of potential for the growth of grassroots-led campaigns is in so-called “clone” or “wildfire” campaigns. Take a campaign against Walmart, for example. In the traditional model, a paid campaigner would set up a petition against Walmart and send it to a national audience. With clone campaigns, the paid campaigner would still decide the text of the petition — but dozens of local volunteers would run their own versions of the petition, organizing their own communities, targeting their local store. This approach gives more power to members and can recruit more new supporters, but requires less organizational risk. There is also a middle ground where campaigners set the goals of local work, but do not dictate specific language or tactics. Consider the rich area of clone campaigns as a stepping stone to a more open platform, or simply as a way to better work with core volunteers.

Think carefully about staff structure. No platform will be successful without at least one full-time staffer. But you don’t need to hire an expert in grassroots-led campaigns to get started — none of the people we interviewed had prior experience with this model. It’s important to realize that grassroots-led campaigns require different staff skills, though. Campaigners work more like organizers and coaches, and media staff have to be able to pitch stories rooted in an individual’s story, not an organization’s campaign. Most of all, don’t think grassroots-led campaigns replace the need for old-school campaigners — plotting strategies to tackle big problems still takes time and experience.

Trust your membership, and tell a story. Don’t give your members the freedom to campaign on what they care about and then decide what they care about isn’t important enough to spend time on! Adding a grassroots-led campaigns platform is not a means of outsourcing your own work to members, but a way to reorient the way you engage with them. That means you also can’t expect everyday people with their own concerns to immediately pour their heart and soul into campaigns. Some will, some won’t. At the same time, telling a story is universally important. Share accounts of members starting and winning campaigns. It not only reminds us all we can create change, it encourages others to start their own campaigns.

Your program will change — that’s a feature, not a bug! None of the platforms we researched looks the same today as it did when it started. While there are predictable changes (usually as a result of growth in the number of new campaigns), every group’s looks different based on their goals, the approaches they tested, and the decisions they made. Set yourself up for success by starting small and testing often. Switching paths after a few months is a sign of thoughtfulness, not failure.

The people at the front lines of this new model have gathered an immense amount of knowledge and wisdom, which we share in the full report. If you decide to get started with a grassroots-led campaigns platform or program for your organization, consider these 5 key lessons we surfaced from first movers:

  1. Start smart, with clear goals and expectations.
  2. Ask people to start campaigns, don’t wait for them to do it on their own.
  3. Moderate petitions through a carefully considered, consistent process.
  4. Support campaign creators to help them succeed.
  5. Test everything, then test it again.

The full report digs deeper on all of the points above, as well as offers top-line thoughts on the impact, value, and future of grassroots-led campaigns.

Remember, though — this exciting new frontier of people-powered campaign is still in its infancy. How do we encourage more people to start petitions and support them at scale? What other tools beyond petitions can we make available? There’s a long way to go — and a whole lot more to learn.


  • 10,000+ members
  • 55,000+ total NTEN community participants

Everything Megan Keane does as the community engagement manager for NTEN is driven and supported by one simple principle: “It’s all about the people,” she said.

Keane joined NTEN in 2012 and has worked as a community manager in the nonprofit sector for several years. “It’s about making that personal connection and getting community members to talk to one another — online and off — and not just one-to-one, but one-to-many,” she said.

And though the Cloud helps foster a sense of community in a number of ways, it also “isn’t foolproof,” said Keane. “The Cloud is such a buzzword, but it’s a tool like everything else. You can’t use it without keeping those principles, and your mission, in mind. And,” she added, “the Cloud breaks; it is not always your friend.”

Since so much content on the web isn’t static, “you can have ongoing conversations,” Keane said. On the NTEN Connect Blog, for instance, community members can comment on posts, and experts from the nonprofit technology and NTEN membership community can contribute content and share best practices with others.

But even archived and less dynamic content still can foster engagement among community members. “Someone can stumble across an old conversation, and it’s still there as a resource. The person isn’t just finding an article or an archived webinar but there’s this whole conversation about the topic that people have been sharing. Even if it’s a few years old, often the principles are still relevant. Technology may change, but the principles and general strategies usually still apply.”

Keane also maintains an active NTEN presence on several social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, increasingly, Google+ since NTEN’s G+ page is serving as a growing source of traffic to its website. “In terms of community engagement, I haven’t seen a lot of discussion happening there yet. But [because of the traffic], it’s something you can’t ignore as a channel. . . . Sometimes the tool kind of picks you rather than you picking the tool.”

Listening to your audience is crucial to community engagement, Keane noted. She uses Cloud-based Netvibes to monitor social analytics and as a feed reader of sorts to learn what community members are talking about on their own blogs and on social media. She uses the information to create a periodic member roundup post for the NTEN blog and also tweets about the post. “It’s a small way of giving individual members the spotlight, and people really appreciate it,” she said.

The practice jibes with Keane’s view of her role as that of curator. “With the sheer amount of information out there, giving the community an easy way to access it is important — pointing them to the cream of the crop, recaps, other meaningful content and conversations, both from NTEN and other organizations. I’m wading through it so they don’t have to,” she said.

Listening also helps Keane and NTEN stay responsive to member needs. “I look at what people are talking about. If they’re asking questions about mobile or responsive design, to give two recent examples, we might write an article for the blog or develop a webinar on those subjects.”

The Cloud also supports off-site events, such as NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), although Keane uses her go-to systems and tools somewhat differently in the conference ballroom than her NTEN office.

Twitter is big at the conference, both for participants and staff. “So many people use it (and the conference hashtag), and it becomes more customer-service oriented, Keane said. She and other staff tweet everything from last-minute room changes to reminders about sponsored breaks (i.e. free snacks).

Twitter is also a way for participants to share the conference experience with their own followers and colleagues who may not be attending. Or, as was the case at the most recent NTC, to alert NTEN staff of technical issues with myNTC, the conference platform for scheduling, discussions and other interactions. Upon seeing the tweets, staff promptly contacted the vendor, Zerista, and the issues were resolved.

Keane used Cloud-based Google Docs (Drive) with presenters on the conference panels she moderated, both during planning and for the presentation itself. And she used the NTEN blog, where she promoted award winners in “ready to go” posts she had written prior to the event. She used Facebook to post a few photos of conference highlights, with links to NTEN’s flickr photostream.

Although, or perhaps because, Keane relies heavily on the Cloud at events and for her day-to-day work, she appreciates the need for a plan B. “Especially at conferences with a lot of techies,” she joked, Internet access and sufficient bandwidth can quickly become an issue. (At NTC, NTEN asks participants not to access the Internet from more than one device at a time.)

When, just a few minutes before her NTC panel, Keane’s presentation in Google Drive wasn’t accessible, she was reminded of the importance of having a backup. Similarly, when presentation slides were not available to Online NTC viewers, Online NTC hosts at the conference tweeted the slide content so participants watching the live stream still had context for the sessions. When the myNTC platform wasn’t running smoothly, the hard-copy conference guides NTEN had prepared in advance came in handy.

Technical challenges aside, Keane takes advantage, and encourages members to take advantage, of opportunities to interact with colleagues in person, since connection — be it real-world or virtual — lies at the heart of community engagement. “You have to strike a balance; you don’t want to be at the conference in-person and then spend all your time online.

We asked and you answered! We recently surveyed the community to get your perspectives on online platforms. Although we ask for feedback about NTEN’s programs and services each year in the Community Survey, this survey focused generally on online platforms and community engagement so everyone could share specific comments and suggestions based on the tools or online networks they use.

The results are in and we’d like to share some of the key findings from the survey!

Trust and information sharing provide value:

People reported participating in online groups when it is a trusted group of others in the same field and found it validating to share experiences, get and receive help, crowdsource solutions to a problem, share ideas, and learn from others.

People over products:

Respondents consistently ranked options for finding and connecting to people (like member directory, jobs board, consultant directory) higher than products (like vendor directory), reinforcing that the value in online groups is in the peer network.

Mobile is important:

Whether we’re participating during the day from a desktop computer or on the go from our mobile phone, respondents said that clean design, mobile friendly access, and various options for notifications are all preferred for an online group platform.   

Ratings aren’t necessary:

One survey result that caught our eye was the very low ranking on the ability to rate discussions. This is a common attribute to platforms where “up rated” threads or responses are moved up the page. The low ranking on this attribute and the fairly high rankings on the option for private groups tells us that it is really about the peer to peer exchange and not public standing that brings people together.

Our community is the best source of input for us and we take your responses very seriously. If you missed your chance to give us your feedback, you still can! We’ve kept the survey open, so please feel free to add your voice to the mix

michaela_hackner_0.gifleah_stern_ready.gifBy Michaela Hackner and Leah Stern, Forum One Communications

During a recent presentation, NPR shared that their number one competitor was Pandora. Huh. NPR is a well-established news organization; Pandora, on the other hand, is a community of music lovers that share their data to shape online “radio stations.”

Content is now multi-directional. It’s hard to pinpoint where it’s initially generated, and more importantly, how to identify the best information out there. With information overload all the time, and fewer than 24 hours in a day to consume it, users have turned to online communities to play the role of content curation. And they’re winning out over traditional media sources. With features like faceted search, topical groups, and the ability to rate, share, and subscribe, users are now relying on their peers more than ever to help them discover the best content.

What is content curation?

Content curation is the process of gathering, organizing, and highlighting the best content for a particular theme or audience, regardless of where it was originally created or posted online. Curation has generally been used to describe the work of those who create collections for libraries or museums, but it increasingly applies to those working online too. Many thousands of people –in both formal and informal roles, in organizations or as individuals—are creating collections of relevant materials from a sea of available information.

Understanding your audience

Content curators use their knowledge of the space to guide their audience toward a set of content that tells a particular story.

With any communication, you need to identify and understand your audiences first. Content curators use their knowledge of the space to guide their audience toward a set of content that tells a particular story. Curators must be super familiar with what their audience is looking for, so they can serve that content up to users without the users needing to go in search of the right materials. In particular, curators of online communities have to know their members, the community’s brand and purpose, and the content available in the community at any given time. We recommend doing some thoughtful user research before digging into content curation. That effort will help ensure you’re reaching the right people and engaging them on the content they care most about.

The new online communities

So what is the newest generation of online community? They’re everywhere: some of the most popular websites are communities. Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Etsy, and Reddit are all essentially communities that curate content for users—or allow users to curate content—in different ways. If you have a group of users who log in to see a set of content that’s not available to the public, you’ve got a community.

There are three great models for curating the best content for your community.

Organizations curating content for users

Some organizations curate the information in the community for their audiences. Rent the Runway creates collections like “Girls Night Out” or “Cocktail Attire”, which feature items that might serve a particular purpose for their customers. Those collections are tailored (pun intended!) to help women find dresses that fit their personal look and style.

News blogs like Gawker and Upworthy rely primarily on content curation by editors and curators who comb through online pieces and submissions and highlight a collection of items focused on a particular interest (Gawker’s io9 site, for example, focuses on entertainment, science, and sci fi). Both sites are also focused on strengthening their communities. People identify themselves as part of the community by commenting, re-sharing, and engaging with other members. Meetup.com uses algorithms and content curators to suggest other meetup groups that their members might be interested in joining, based on their current interests and groups. Each of these sites is highlighting the most valuable content so that people come back to the community over and over again.

Users curating for themselves

Many sites also allow users to curate content for themselves. Anyone can create a list of favorites on Rent the Runway, a wishlist on Amazon.com, or a playlist on Spotify, or follow favorite news sources on Twitter. You can also subscribe to meetups and curate your own calendar on Meetup.com based on your interests.

In all of these cases, the platform provides a tool for people to sort and gather the best content for their needs. The content providers assume that there will be some set of content that is important and useful to each user, but they recognize that their offerings are so broad (and users’ interests so specific) that users need a way to sort and identify content for themselves. In vibrant communities with a diverse user base, any given user is likely to be interested only in a small set of activity within the community. In that case, the ability to curate a personal “reading list” is a great way to keep users coming back.

Users curating for each other

By harnessing the creative work of your community, you can make the community even more valuable to your members and start to understand what they care about and how they want to interact.

More and more sites are recognizing that their biggest strength comes from leveraging the curation talents within their communities. There is significant overlap between users curating for themselves and users curating for each other; many people start by creating their own collections and then realize that they’re happy to share their work with others.

Mixtapes are the original user-curated content. For many people, they were simply a way to make a great playlist for a long car ride; they could also be expressions of friendship (or more!) to be shared with other individuals or groups. Today, smart organizations are leveraging this creative instinct toward curation to help users explore content within communities. Etsy highlights user-created collections of items each week. Pinterest allows people to create collections of images, and then share them with their followers. On Amazon, an item’s page will often point the user toward user-created lists that include that item, to help customers explore similar or related items. On Spotify or Pandora, users can create playlists and share them publicly or with a list of friends.

Enabling users to curate for each other takes the pressure off the community manager and helps the community thrive. By harnessing the creative work of your community, you can make the community even more valuable to your members and start to understand the ways your users organically sort, categorize, and understand your content.

Tactics for communities

Now that you’re a believer in the power of curation, how can you leverage the benefits of curated content in your online communities? Below, we provide several tactics that you can use together or independently to draw out the most valuable information, encourage your users to curate content, and keep the momentum going.

  • Publish early and often. Create an editorial calendar that has dates and types of material to help the community stay fresh and active – and then make sure the community manager is responsible for meeting that schedule.
  • Sort and classify content. Develop topic pages (e.g. human rights) and function pages (e.g. fact sheets) to help the community find the most relevant information for them. Give them tools to sort and classify content themselves, and you’ll soon see that organic classifications rise to the surface – provided you’re using analytics to understand your users.
  • Give great examples. Provide templates, like a list of questions to answer in a blog post, to help users understand how to contribute to the community. A clear call to action supported by an example can help push constituents to add their voices.
  • Ask your community what they want. Make sure you’re tapping the pulse of your community at least quarterly, if not more often. Encourage users to share feedback via email and participate in brief interviews or surveys, and use that input to shape the kinds of content you’re generating and soliciting.
  • It’s all about your people! Cultivate great contributors by seeking out the experts and innovators in your field, the “researchers” with an eye towards learning and sharing information. We all can name a few folks who are always eager to share links and connect people. Provide positive feedback, recognize them publicly and privately, and find ways to include them in your strategic planning.
  • Promote new content. Enable content notifications in your community. Let people subscribe to updates and be notified when new information is posted in their topic areas of interest. Embed social media icons to allow users to share content across their other communities.
  • Calls to action. Create a good user experience by making information design intuitive (so people can find what they’re looking for quickly) and by placing clear calls to action around content (so people know what they’re supposed to do). For example, “Share this!” or “Let others know what you think.”
  • Identify and empower a great community manager who is super familiar with all of the content and can recognize trends and leverage them in blog posts, e-newsletters, and community announcements. A good community manager can make strategic connections with users, invite specialized contributions from power users, and politely encourage posts from community members. These tactics can promote an up-to-date and content-rich community.

What gets measured matters

Hopefully you’re already capturing data in your community using a tool like Google Analytics or Omniture. Drill down into the data. Explore what content is most popular, and how people are finding it. Discover the most popular downloads and search terms that people use within the community. Create more of what people want, and less of what people don’t want, and use curation to promote your most coveted content.

Why should I invest in content curation?

Creating and supporting a great community is costly and time-consuming, but it can provide a fantastic opportunity for people to learn from each other and get to know each other. There are many factors that go into the success of a community: the users, the goal of the project, and the technical platform all play a role. But the key to a great community is great content. When a community has new and useful content that’s specific to the needs of its user base, people will keep coming back because they will see its value for their work and their lives. Thoughtful and deliberate content curation is the best way to ensure that you can find, highlight, and share great content within your community, and help your community thrive.