Browse Category: New Media

7 Social Media Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Will the Real African Social Media Experts Please Stand Up?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI)‘s Social Media Experts conference in Accra, Ghana.

The conference brought together African social media experts, enthusiasts, and activists from across the continent, Europe, and North America, including:

  • fellow #afrifem tweeps, @Zawadin (of ZerobyZawadi in Kenya) and @negrita (of Illume Creative Studios in Rwanda)
  • #occupynigeria leaders, @Yemi_O (of Enough is Enough Nigeria) and @omojuwa (of AfricanLiberty.org)
  • BloggingGhana’s social media celebs, @MacJordan and @Kajsaha, and their civic engagement project @GhanaDecides.

Among people I hadn’t yet met were three brilliant, inspiring young men from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, including Emile Bela (@ebelak), who began his presentation with a memory of being stuck in a room with a few others in the middle of a war; his interest in blogging came from the sudden realization that if he died that day, there’d be no record of his life, nor accounts of what he’d seen. Today, Emile is a prolific writer at his own blog, and contributes commentary on sustainable development, electoral politics, and governance to other sites. It was truly an honor to be among such trailblazing, inspiring company.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there is still much to be explored and uncovered on the continent when it comes to how African NGOs are using new media for advocacy. But judging from WACSI’s dedication to equipping African changemakers with information and resources they need to succeed, any projects seeking to leverage new media for advocacy will not be lacking in support.

Even as young Africans are dispersed across the globe, in our mission to create alternative pathways to change — one that side-steps our corrupt governments, subverts barriers to capital, and taps into the crowdfunding potential of 475 milliion mobile connections on the continent, we’re already charting and covering new territory.

7 Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Researching Africa’s Social Media Landscape

More research is needed on how African NGOs specifically (including organizations based on the continent, managed by its residents i.e. not managed by some gap year volunteer from Holland) are using social media. As I sat and listened to a presentation on tips for increasing engagement on Facebook pages, which was based on Facebook data from companies all across the globe, I questioned its relevance to Africa; the insights that drove the suggestions were based on data heavily driven by internet- (vs mobile- ) connections, yet the vast majority of Africans are connected to the web via mobile. What would social media insights (i.e. the best time to post, how long each update should be etc) based on African-based, mobile-sourced data look like? Also, how does culture influence the way we build relationships online? Until Africa 2.0 defines its own benchmarks, our strategizing and planning, whether for advocacy or other purposes will be based on models that don’t necessarily reflect Africa’s tech landscape. Luckily, organizations like WACSI and Indigo Trust are committed to supporting such initiatives.

Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide through Cost-and-Time Effective Tech Training

Source: TomorrowToday.uk.com

For a continent booming with mobile innovation, much of it still experiences limited to no cell phone signal or data services of any kind. Moreover, the speed and costs of internet services varies widely between regions, creating further barriers for non-profits / activists wishing to use social media for advocacy. Hence, I particularly appreciated, participant @sourceadam’s presentation regarding his work at @sourcefabric, which implements open source, cost-effective tech solutions for NGOs, making it easier for them to optimize their time on the web. In my own work with Africans for Africa, I’ve found, also, that comprehensive social media training for people living in remote areas must include time management training; it’s not enough to tell small organizations with low capacity (and limited connectivity) that they constantly need to tweet and update Facebook without showing them a feasible way they can brainstorm and share content, in a time-efficient, cost effective way.

Fighting Government Censorship and Privatized Data Control

Source: Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

I recently participated as a speaker on a webinar hosted by the African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications on online security and censorship in digital activism. This year, at least seven online users were arrested for their internet activity, and it doesn’t seem like government monitoring of social media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s becoming more aggressive. For instance, a Nigerian senator recently proposed censoring social media in order to curb criticism of the country’s governance; in Ghana, there’s been a recent proposal to place a “cap” on data and internet usage; and, in Ethiopa, a Skype call will get you 15 years in prison. There are many other blaring examples of the dangers of taking our lack of ownership and control of the internet too lightly, yet many activists who use social media for advocacy aren’t informed enough about the internet infrastructure — the wiring, the cables, the data — nor the government policies that monitor (and can end) its use. If Africans are serious about new media as a tool to create , we’re going to need to address government censorship, freedom of speech on the web, and the systemic denial of ownership that is too often ignored in our discourse about digital activism.

Using Pop Culture to Engage “Social” Users, Politically

Source: @fondalo

A recent study shows most Africans use social media for games, fun, and entertainment. Yet, we often hear complaints of how difficult it is to get youth to engage, coupled with emphases on how there’s a strong need for civic engagement around “serious” issues. Clearly, in order to increase engagement among the majority of Africans who prefer to use social media for fun and entertainment, we’re going to have to find a way to make the political issues we care about fun and engaging. We can take a cute from Enough is Enough (EIE), a civil society organization based in Nigeria that featured Nigerian celebrities and humor-driven campaigns to engage youth around their #occupynigeria campaign. As EIE’s mission is to encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, they’ve made pop culture a core element of their media strategies to ensure that the tenor of their messaging resonates with their target base, which doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea to me. If anything, activists could use with a little bit more communication 101 practice. How often must we resort to blaming the audience for not listening or “doing anything” as a way of disguising our own failure to captivate and inspire?

Nurturing (More) African Social Media Experts

Beyond the same ol’ recyclable twitter lists (e.g. twitterati assumed to be “African social media experts” simply based on large numbers of followers), Africans need to identify and nurture a network of legit social media experts and strategists,  one which activists, non-profits, and/or campaigns could call upon for advice, expertise, and most importantly, training. Ghana Decides’s model of offering social media trainings to their civic engagement partners (including NGOs that work with marginalized communities such as women, youth etc) is a movement-building model worth replicating; investing in the social media capacity of their partners essentially duplicates their outreach efforts, and  of maximizes their chances of engaging a wide, diverse audience overall. When considering the potential political power (both online and offline) of African communities were social impact organizations to be trained to more efficiently engage their social networks, there is no limit to what we can achieve together, as individuals, as countries, and as a continent. We’ll need more trainers to train more trainers to train more trainers. Thus, nurturing an elite class of social media experts is critical.

Mobile Crowdfunding Is the Future

With the rise of online fundraising platforms for creatives and entrepreneurs (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo), the philanthropy sector has developed a few niche platforms of its own; sites like givengain.com and 234give.com allow charities to raise small amounts of money from large numbers of people in their social networks. Africa’s adoption of online fundraising phenomenon is not necessarily news, but is timely given the impact the wall street financial crisis had on the global funding climate. However, with mobile banking innovations such as MPesa (mobile banking) and M-Shwari (mobile loans) sprouting up all across the continent, improving workflow and usability, Africa is well-positioned to lead the way when it comes to crowdfunding through mobile and SMS. Given the funding (and political) climate of African countries, the need for more self-driven, autonomous, alternate pools of funding options is unprecedented. In countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where human rights are being violated due to homophobia and bigotry, and organizations are barely permitted to operate, let alone receive funding, it is critical that crowdfunding be explored as an option, and not just from western countries; were mobile giving made readily available, perhaps the world would be able to see that Africans can and already do support each other in times of need. In fact, crowdfunding may just be the ingredient Africa needs to  curb the negative impact of white saviorism and foreign aid in the development landscape.

Creating an African Blogging Network

It’s not every day that marginalized groups experience the thrill of connection, especially as intensely as they happen at conferences where there’s shared interest (and in this case, identity). At the WACSI conference, many of the participants commented on the importance of staying connected. Being able to support each other across issues and across borders, and count on the signal-boosting power of a global network of Africans online could make a huge difference to local organizing efforts. There are certainly smaller efforts being made in this area: The Guardian African Network, African feminists (#afrifem) on Twitter, region-specific efforts such as Blogging Ghana and the Nigerian Blog Awards, and issue-based sites such as Identity Kenya and Dynamic Africa. But there remains to be seen a large, robust network that connects the vast number of African bloggers online. Many questions remain: Given the diversity on the continent, and how dispersed Africans are around the globe, is such a network even possible? Who would lead (and house) such an undertaking? Would an informal network (such as a dedicated twitter hashtag for African bloggers) work just as well? There’s no doubting the collective power that could be harnessed from a formal network of African activists. However, till such a space exists, African bloggers are going to need to create one virtually; linking to each other where possible, learning how to position ourselves so that we are (more) visible to each other, and intentionally supporting each other’s initiatives in our various capacities, are all important principles of activism we should be practicing, online or offline.

Crowdfunding for Activists: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

I prepared this short presentation as part of the “Feminist Cyborgs: Actvism, Online Fundraising, and Security” webinar, hosted by African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications.

My 10-minute presentation includes a brief introduction to crowdfunding and some popular crowdfunding tools. Additionally, using my Africans for African new media project as a case study, I share 5 quick tips for running a successful fundraising campaign. The main points from my presentation are outlined as follows, with the actual presentation embedded at the bottom of this post.

Feminist Cyborgs: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

Overview of Crowdfunding

  • Sometimes referred to as Crowdfunding
  • “Funding via a networked group”
  • Using social media networks to raise money for projects
  • Collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources
  • Connects people who have needs to the people who can meet those needs

A Few of My Favorite Crowdfunding Platforms

  • IndieGoGo: Flexible fundraising rules i.e. you can keep funds you raise even if you don’t meet your goal; permits multiple types of projects (creative, small business etc) to raise funds via the platform
  • Kickstarter: Strictly creative projects; if you don’t raise target funds by deadline, you don’t get any of the money; features include powerful social media marketing tools
  • Africans in the Diaspora (AiD): Raises funds for projects based in Africa; includes community philanthropy tools e.g. blogs and resources about fundraising, development, etc, targeting the diaspora.
  • 234Give: Nigeria’s first online fundraising platform for charities based in Nigeria (Note: I have not used this platform personally, so this is not an endorsement. Just think it’s cool that African countries are tapping into crowdfunding.)
  • GlobalGiving: International fundraising platform; NGOs across the world can register and raise money from top donor countries on this platform, including US, UK, Singapore, India.
  • PubSlush: A crowdfunding platform for authors, agents, and publishers. (Note: I have not used this platform personally, but plan to in early 2013).
  • ProBueno: My MIT classmate’s startup, crowdsourcing volunteers who donate the cost/value of their services to charities. Neat setup, actually e.g. rather than donate money, I offer (via the platform) my new media consulting services to someone who will pay for them, I donate money earned (e.g. $100/hr for 2 hours) to charity of my choice on the platform. #watchthisspace #itmaychangethegame
There are many other easily accessible and efficient fundraising platforms available all over the world; but as with all social media innovations, you must choose the platform that makes the most sense for you — for your project and for your target audience.

Introduction to Online Fundraising

  • A little money goes a long way
  • By pooling smaller amounts of money from a groups with common interest, larger financial goals are achievable
  • Social media makes it easier for people with similar interests to connect; great potential for raising capital for projects
  • Large capital is reduced as a barrier to doing good due to growing popularity of online fundraising in philanthopy sector
  • In 2011, online giving grew in double-digit percentages across ALL sectors (so, not just NGOs working with orphans who could show cute photos — everyone is benefiting)

Things to Remember

  • Social media = media that is social, period.
  • Don’t confuse the tools (social media, which is technical) with the task (asking for money, which is human)
  • Having a Facebook Page does not guarantee you money.
  • You (a person) must raise funds from your network (people)
  • The quality of your network = The quality of your relationships with individuals in that network
  • Offline fundraising principles apply online.

Africans for Africa Project: A Case Study

  • Independent project training African-women led NGOs to use new media
  • Raised ~$15,000 in 30 days via online fundraising campaign
  • Focus on Women, Youth, Gender & Sexuality Issues
  • South Africa, Namibia, Botswana
  • One-on-One Consulting and Team Sessions for Organizations
  • Online Fundraising Workshops (Open to the Public)
  • Over 400 workshop participants, 60 organizations

5 Tips for Online Fundraising

Tip 1: Learn to “Ask”
The most important element of any campaign is the “ask.”

  • You must ask before you can receive. (Note: The most popular reason cited by people as to why they didn’t give is “No one asked me.”)
  • For Africans for Africa: In addition to bulk emails, I sent personal emails, FB messages, text messages, and phone calls to individuals. In world 2.0, going the extra mile to personalize communications to individuals will achieve better results than “mass”/public calls to action.
  • Lesson: Practice and test your with different (trusted) audiences; don’t play with live money.

Tip 2: Know Your Audience
You wouldn’t ask your best friend for money in the same way you would ask a professional colleague, would you?

  • Different audiences require different messages.
  • Don’t speak to everyone in the same way — you don’t know all of these people in the same way.
  • Africans for Africa: “MIT Classmates” received different messaging from “Activists”, who received different messaging from “Feminists” and “Fellow Social Media Gurus”. Also, I bombarded my brother with requests to donate (cause I can do that) but only sent an email per week to more professional contacts so as not to “annoy” people.
  • Lesson: Segment your list, create messages and themes for each before you begin sending communications. Make sure frequency reflects the relationship.

Tip 3: Trust Your Inner Circle Power
People give money because they trust you.

  • People will give to organizations and individuals with credibility, that they trust will use their donation towards the states goals.
  • Study shows that number one factor influencing trust is actually recommendations from friends and family.
  • Africans for Africa: Bulk of my donations came from close friends, who encouraged others to contribute as well. I found that I didn’t have to ‘sell’ my project to friends of friends. Here’s what happened, a lot: “You’re __’ friend, which means you must be awesome. Here’s _ dollars.”
  • Lesson: Don’t ignore your family and friends. They’re you’re biggest advocates and can help you raise even more money (if you “ask” them to).

Tip 4: Set (Realistic) Goals
Fundraising isn’t about luck. You must set goals to meet.

  • People (yourself included) are more driven to give by public benchmarks.
  • Africans for Africa: I asked 15 people to contribute, every day, to increase chance of meeting goal of 10 donors per day. I also declared my goals publicly every day, to make sure I was also putting pressure upon myself to deliver “success” stories and momentum.
  • Lesson: Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Make them public. People want to help. And if they see mini-goals as possible, they’re more likely to give. Also, if you set daily goals for yourself, you’re more likely to brainstorm creatively when you see you’re at risk of not meeting them! (e.g. 4 pm, I said I’d have 10 donors by 5, I only have 8 — eeek! *Proceeds to call everyone and their mama*)

Tip 5: Recognition and Gratitude
There’s a reason you always see “Thank You” on a sales receipt.

  • People need to feel appreciated in order to stay engaged.
  • Africans for Africa: Different perqs came with encouraging titles and levels of recognition, such as “Ally”, “Champion” etc. I also always sent immediate Thank Yous and social media shout-out to new donors. I didn’t wait till the end of the campaign to thank them, and it worked; a few of them, now that they had already donated, helped me raise more money from their networks because they felt included, and appreciated.
  • Lesson: Come up with creative ways to recognition, before and after the “ask” in order to nurture repeat-givers and advocates.

Most Important Tip: Be Human
Connect with people’s hearts. Facebook doesn’t make campaigns successful; people do.

  • Your story matters; why you care about this project matters
  • “People connect with people, not campaigns.” – ZerobyZawadi
  • Africans for Africa: My campaign story was about “me” i.e. why I wanted this project to succeed, its impact on me, personally, and the lives of people I deeply care about.
  • Lesson: Reflect on why this project really matters; avoid some regurgitated version of your organization’s mission statement — toss that immediately. Reflect and communicate why this project really matters — to you, and to the people you care about. Be honest. Be vulnerable, even, and people will rise to the occasion to help you succeed.

The End!

Interested in New Media Consulting? If you’d like to schedule a full or half-day workshop on online fundraising for your organization or individual campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “Contact Me” button on the sidebar.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of launching an online fundraising campaign and would like some feedback on your current online fundraising efforts (including social media audit, list preparation, messaging, and engagement strategy), mention this blog post to receive an online fundraising consultation via Phone or Skype at $75/hr for the first hour, and $100/hr thereafter. If you’re seeking a social media campaign manager for a longer, fixed period, we can chat about that, too! Use the “Contact Me” button to send me an email. Please allow at least 48 hours for me to respond to you.

Note: I offer lower rates to grassroots groups whose primary targets include either of the following groups — Women, LGBTI, Africans/POC. 

I am An African Feminist Cyborg: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online

I’m participating in a webinar hosted by The African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications: ‘Feminist Cyborgs: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online’

Who is a feminist cyborg?

“The feminist cyborg is at home both online and offline, and her activism is reflected in her online life (whether it is through blogs, tweets and general online presence) as well as in what she does offline (working for a feminist organization, working with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements, or in progressive media).”

I’d go further to add that the African feminist cyborg’s super powers can be online and offline simultaneously, as her world exists beyond the fragmented and finite conceptions of “online vs. offline” to the fluid, whole, and layered landscape of world 2.0.  Interesting in hearing more?

Join this amazing panel for an exploration of cyber activism, fundraising, and online security, featuring yours truly:

Yara Sallam (Egypt) will speak about her experiences of activism in Egypt, and concerns around online activism.

Spectra Asala (US/Nigeria) will share her experiences of fundraising online to raise money to deliver training to LGBTIQ and women’s rights organizations in South Africa.

Jan Moolman (South Africa) will speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana) will facilitate the webinar.

Register for the Webinar in English or French

Monday December 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT (English), sign up below: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5124936193595694592

This webinar will be repeated on 5th December at 1:00 pm GMT with French translation. Francoise Mukuku (DRC) will replace Jan Moolman and speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Note: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I hope you’re able to join. Do ask questions. I LOVE questions. They make for really vibrant discussions. Much love to you all.

UPDATE: Despite technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from other African women’s activists about their work using social media for advocacy. A “Live Blog” of the event can be found here. Also, thoughts and ideas from my presentation can be found, in full, here

My BET.com Interview about LGBT Africa and the Media: “Being Gay in Africa Is Neither Good Nor Bad”

Great news! I was recently interviewed by BET.com about my work as an LGBT activist. The piece highlighted my new media volunteer project, which has been training African women and LGBTI organizations to use new media to tell their own stories. #win

My favorite part of the interview has got to be the title, African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle. 

Because I’ve chosen to lend my talents as a wordsmith to social justice and philanthropy, and am often very immersed in discussing (and being recognized for) the issues I’m writing about, even I sometimes forget what is that I’m actually doing i.e. writing to change the world, and encouraging others to do the same.

Above anything else, I’m a writer and a storyteller. So, even though the title of the interview felt a tad grandiose (and made me do a double take: “Whoa! Is that me??”), I really am honored that BET.com decided to recognize my efforts and profile me in such a generous way.

I must admit, however, that the opening line from the article gave me pause: “Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa.” 

I should probably point out that the aim of my work isn’t just to see more “positive” news about LGBTI African in mainstream media; I believe that “Being gay in Africa is bad” and “Being gay in Africa is good” are both overly simplistic, reductive narratives we should avoid in mass scale. Instead of “positive” stories, I want real stories, authentic, complex stories. Thus, even though it was refreshing to see a positive slant to LGBTI Africa coverage, I wouldn’t be enthused if LGBTI Africa was constantly depicted wearing a smiley face.

Now, with so much sensationalism and victimization of LGBTI African people in the media, it’s understandable that a fervent call to the media to share more stories of resistance and empowerment could be taken as saying “all is good.” But let’s be clear: all is not good. While the current narrative (i.e. “Being gay in Africa is bad”) reinforces stigma within communities and chips away at the already dwindling hope of young queer Africans living on the continent, the reverse could do just as much (if not more) harm.

For instance, the BET.com article highlighted a few of the organizations I’ve worked with who are leading change; Iranti.org, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa, and WHER, a community-building organization for queer Nigerian women, to name a few. Many of these organizations would not be able to operate in the absence of international support; LGBTI Africans are barely permitted to exist in certain countries, let alone organize.

What if funding for LGBTI organizations like SMUG of Uganda and TIER Nigeria were left at the mercy of their homophobic governments? How would activists such as Zanele Muholi, continue to receive support from individuals overseas for her work photographing south African black lesbians in the townships if the story of LGBTI Africa was presented as “all good”?

Last I checked, all is not good. But my point is that all is not bad, either; we need complexity, we need balance.

Check out an excerpt from the interview here: 

With the spread of technology and social media, today’s African LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities have greater access to resources and their greatest asset to speak of: each other.

However, given the mainstream news coverage of Africa’s many LGBTI communities that exploits the narrative of a sad, shameful Africa, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than repression and brutal violence is happening. Nigerian LGBTI activist Spectra says that although Africa has its issues, gay rights activists on the continent are seeing success in their movement for equality.

“We’re constantly hearing about people being murdered, constantly hearing about women being raped,” Spectra told BET.com. “It’s the very, very reductive, very simplistic narrative, and what’s missing is everything else quite honestly.”

Final Thoughts: The more stories we have in the media, the more likelihood we’ll see the range of experiences needed to reflect what is wholly true about LGBTI Africans; that our experiences are neither good, nor bad, that we face challenges from our governments and from each other, that there is pain and suffering, healing and joy in being queer and African, in being human; no single “positive” or “negative” story is capable of conveying our humanity.

My story is one of many, just as the BET.com article is one of many that contributes to LGBTI Africa’s depiction in the big picture. There’s still more work to be done. Let’s get “write” to it. ;)

Relevant Links on My Blog:

Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist

I recently spoke at a panel at NYU’s “Making It In Media” lunch panel and discussion series, which prompted a personal reflection of my non-conventional, non-linear career trajectory as a writer and a media activist.

Read “Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise” if you’d like some background.

In that post, I talked about the importance of leading from within, knowing yourself enough to carve a career path for yourself that’s beautifully unconventional. However, in addition to sharing my personal story and philosophy, I wanted to share a few tangible new media tips, tricks, and strategies that have been helpful to me in  my career so far. (Note: Join my mailing list if you’re interested in more of these.)

These tips don’t hold all the answers to “Making It In Media”, not by a stretch. But I do believe they will be helpful to anyone who’s just getting started with social media, would like to learn how to be use it more strategically, or even serve as a good refresher for someone who’s been tweeting and blogging for years.

At the core of my message is, of course, my mantra: “Love Is My Revolution”; my work serves to support and uplift others, and so I write and share from this place, always. But, also intrinsic in my message about using media for change is another simple idea: no matter how much technology we use, people are still people.

Thus, in order to achieve real influence, you’re going to have to apply the normal rules of effective communication, whether or not you’re tweeting from a smartphone, updating Facebook  via iPad, or publishing an op-ed for the HuffingtonPost. Because in order to achieve real influence, truly connect with others online, you’re going to have to dare to be human.

So, here are 10 Tips for Making it In Media, from a passionate, introverted writer who strongly believes in the power of using social media for social change, including being human enough to intermittently tweet about your cats, courageous enough to stand for what you do know, and brave enough to admit when you don’t know nearly enough about a whole lot of things:

1. Take a Position: So, you wanna be a thought leader… Well, the good news is that the digital space is filled with followers, spectators, and consumers, all passively experiencing the web. Consider this: A few studies have shown that in most online communities, 90% of the users are lurkers (i.e. they never contribute/just read and consume), 9% contribute a little, and 1% account for nearly all the action. This is VERY good news for anyone who has something important to say– the odds are already in your favor. Tap into the power of being in the 1%. The 90% are eagerly waiting for you to say something.

2. Engage in (Dis)agreement: I once dated a woman who would make outlandish statements, and then, when I would counter or challenge, would say to me, “I don’t need to defend my ideas to you.” I found that alarming, and then (with my activist hat on) really scary. To think that there are so many people moving through the world carrying the same ideas in their heads they’ve had since they were four! Why? Because they don’t enjoy confrontation. But (respectful) disagreement, though uncomfortable for some, is actually very healthy; it forces us to re-think our initial ideas, and–through debate with othersstrengthen our arguments, or can them altogether. If you’re going to take a position (as in step one), be prepared to see it through. Find people who disagree (and agree) with you, too. You can change the world, one debate at a time.

3. Choose Your Battles: So, I know I just said that debate and dialogue are good, but unfortunately–and just as in real life–they’re all not worthwhile. Use your airtime wisely. Before you engage, especially in disagreement, consider the level of influence or visibility of the person you’re debating, and the number of people watching. Don’t waste your airtime, for instance, on a Twitter troll (no pic, virtually no followers, but lots of venom/animosity) who’s just looking for a fight, someone to bully. Avoid back and forths with hecklers who have little to no influence (this is subjective, so you can assess for yourself). The way I see it, if I’m going to spend time investing in an online conversation, a whole lot of people better be watching, and possibly being swayed… ’cause again I write for influence, for change. That is always worth it.

4. Participate in Pertinent Conversations: Now, the first three tips assume you got on a soapbox one day and people started listening to you, asking you questions, agreeing or disagreeing. This assumes you already have a base network. But what if you’re just getting started? It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. If you’re not sharing your ideas with others, you’re basically talking to yourself. Ever seen someone standing in the middle of a networking event spouting off every other minute about how much they know? Weird (and obnoxious); you’ll most likely be ignored. If that happens, how will anyone know that you could possibly hold the key to curing cancer? How can you get people to listen to you? Well, for starters, get off the soapbox and find a conversation that’s already happening; introduce yourself, chime in, contribute intelligently, let your brilliance speak for itself. You’ll find that people are more likely to engage in conversation than voluntarily sign up for (your) lecture. Use that to your advantage. And remember to always leave people with a way to get in touch with you if they want!

5. Niche Your Knowledge: Be consistent. I’m not saying you should sound like a robot, just focus. If you can, choose a niche. It’ll make it easier for people to remember why they need to stay connected with you, and when they should recommend you to someone else (e.g. “You’re writing a paper about feminism in Atlanta, I know an amazing blogger who writes about that stuff!”).  Additionally, niche-ing yourself will also help you in determining how, where, and with whom to spend your time. Some experts call this platform-building. Check it out. Dan is awesome. And his newsletter got me to stop intermittently tweeting about my cats amidst political calls to action (well, mostly).

6. Specialize, But Stand Out: So you’ve been smart about engaging in conversations related to your field of expertise, nurturing a larger, yet more focused platform to showcase your brilliance. Bravo! But now, you have a different task to conquer — distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of other self-proclaimed gurus in your field. Now that people know you’re the go-to person, say for cute cat photos feminism in Liberia, now what? What separates you from that other feminist who write about Liberia? Why would an audience choose to stay connected to you? What’s in it for them? This line of questioning may sound cynical, but the truth is that everyone wants something. You want followers, fans, and influence. What do you think your followers want from you? If you can find a way to convey nuance to your audience, you’ll get more attention. Better yet, if you can find a way to offer something of value to them, say *cough* a list of tips for Making It In Media, you’re more likely to earn their loyalty (and prove that you may actually know what you’re talking about). For example, there are hundreds of progressive/feminist blogs on the internet that tend to all say the same exact thing; I’ve managed to create a niche for myself that allows me to write about a range of issues because my brand isn’t tied to what I write about, but how I write about them. Ask, Melissa Hill Perry — she digs my principles of afrofeminism (win!).  So find out what makes you unique, even within your niche. Create value, and earn loyalty.

7. Quality over Quantity: When I first started publishing my writing online, I couldn’t imagine how bloggers could find the time or energy to crank out post after post after post, while I would slave away for days, sometimes weeks over a single piece. So, at first, I tried to “keep up” by publishing more frequently, which only resulted in my publishing more crap; I actually lost readership. See, in an effort to emulate other bloggers,  I’d begun writing about whatever I thought was “the thing” to write about; my pieces lacked focus, passion, depth, and didn’t help build my reputation. In fact, they distorted it. The minute I returned to writing the longer, personal, insightful commentary I was known for, my readership began to grow again. Moreover, publishing less frequently (but more regularly) meant that I could spend more time in between deadlines promoting each piece. I came to deeply appreciate my work as critical, thorough, and creative; eventually, the loyalty of my readers affirmed that my words are worth the wait. The lesson here: People may visit your site once for a blog post, but it’s the quality that will keep the same readers coming back, repeatedly.

8. Collaborate with Others: It’s no secret: self-absorption is quite prevalent in media spaces. So many people are trying so hard to “make it” they’ve forgotten that we’re all part of a larger ecosystem. Now, before you dismiss this as a “feel good” tip, remember tip #4; if you think engaging with other people in your space could be beneficial, consider the power of collaborating with them. Incidentally, Tyler Perry and Oprah — two highly successful and influential black media mavens — just decided to work together. What do they stand to gain? Combined clout, for one.It can’t hurt to pool their resources either; the entertainment industry is still systemically racist after all.

9: Connect and Support Others: But what about this idea of linking people to resources? Highlighting other people’s work just because? According to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, being a “Connector” has its rewards as well; if you’re genuinely helpful to others i.e. connect people to resources they need, people will appreciate you, perhaps come to rely on you, trust you, like you, and as a direct result, stay highly engaged and be eager to give you support when you need it. I saw this first-hand when my online fundraising campaign for Africans for Africa raised ~$15K; so many people donated money, connected me to resources I needed because they were eager to return the favor (some I couldn’t even remember doing!). I make it a point to list other blogs I read in my sidebar, mention other activists and organizations doing work similar to mine whenever I’m interviewed, and actively mentor young people. There’s value in connecting and supporting others. So don’t become just another self-serving loudspeaker. Give and you shall receive.

10. Be Purposeful: I haven’t necessarily put these tips in order, but if I had to think of the top three, this would certainly be one of them. Before I publish anything, speak anywhere, respond to any criticism, I ask myself three questions: “Who am I talking to?” “What is the most effective way I can deliver this message to them?” “What do I want to happen as a result of their listening?” Now, if you wanna write  or speak or be on TV etc just for the sake of being famous, then perhaps this won’t matter. If you run your blog like your personal diary, that too won’t matter. But, if you’re a bit like me, and you want to write for change i.e. you want to engage in transformational conversations with groups of people, then you must always consider these questions before you produce anything. I wouldn’t write about homophobia to a group of US college soccer players the way I would to an audience of religious African women, nor would I begin a conversation with harsh criticisms of views I don’t agree with if I really wanted them to see where I was coming from. Be purposeful in your use of media; know who you are and what you want to get out of it. And it’ll be a lot easier to navigate through the noise from feedback later.

A Word to the Wise: Practice Principled Apathy (aka Don’t Take It Personally)

This is an extra point, I know. But I simply couldn’t end without stressing this. The thing about taking a position is that you submit yourself (plus your ideas, and sometimes, even your character) to feedback and scrutiny by the 90%, spectators whose job it is in this system to validate or invalidate your position (See point #1). Simply put, you must be ready to deal with criticism, both good and bad.

Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

I have found that spending time reflecting on point #10 — leaves me better prepared to engage with comments and feedback, whether positive or negative, afterwards. When I know why I’m writing, and who I’m writing to, it’s a lot easier for me to choose who to engage with (and how) in the event of backlash. When I think about all the people I look up to, it’s easy to see that they all stood for something, and paid for it in mass criticism. That’s why it’s important to remember the why behind your use of media. If you keep your purpose — which is to help people — at the back of your mind, there’s no storm you won’t be able to weather.

And so I close with some wisdom from Spiderman, with a twist: With great influence comes a greater need for principled apathy.

You must learn to weed through the rubble for the nuggets that will either help you strengthen your message or nudge you further along the right track towards justice.

Well, there you have it! 10 Tips for Using Social Media for Social Change, after a Making It In Media, Accidentally.

Reminder: I wrote most of these tips from my experience as a writer who blogs, and uses her online social media channels for social justice, so the tips here may not be applicable to other media platforms. Hence, I encourage you to add to or adapt this list for your own purposes. You may also view what others have offered via the #howtomakeitinmedia Twitter chat archive on Storify. (Link coming soon).

Thanks for reading. I hope these get you started off in the right direction.

It would be great to hear from you, especially if you found it helpful, to encourage me to keep on sharing :) Which tips above do you often apply to your work? What other tips would you recommend to others — new and experienced — who are interested in more strategic use of media platforms for social justice? I often write these things and am never quite sure who’s reading them. 

One Love.


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