N2Y4 Conference: Social Engagement for Social Actions Case Study - Garage

kristy's picture

I'm blogging live from the "Garage" session.   Apologies in advance if I don't all get it exactly accurately, but will do my best!

There are two topics, so they've split the room into two sides, one on the topic of "Social Engagement for Social Actions", and the other on the topic of "Viral Storytelling for Social Justice - LGBT Advocacy and Equality."   I happened to already be sitting on the Social Actions side, but given the Prop 8 vote yesterday that rejected gay marriage in California, the other group would be timely!    About 2/3 of the room came to the Social Actions side - maybe they see it having more applicability to their particular project.


Peter Deitz, Founder and Executive Director, is speaking about Social Actions projects, with  colleague Joe Solomon, Director of Social Actions' Change the Web Challenge, whom he met last year at this conference.   Came in 3rd place last year.   They've created Social Actions, with a Google-sized ambition to aggregate data from sites like Change.org, idealist, and volunteermatch.org.   The idea is to  engage people more.   You can go to  search.socialactions.com, run a query.    They encourage developers to take a slice of that action cloud and embed on mobile phones, etc.

February launched Change the Web challenge, it's really hot.   Over 3,000 downloads on WordPress.   For each blog post, there are "related actions" that people can take.   For example, if the blog post was going to the zoo to see the polar bears, the action would be save the climate.  

Social Actions wants developers to build or enhance apps.   For example, take the Social Actions iPhone app and improve it.   Also provide feedback on Social Actions API to make it more effective.

How to Attract Developers to Help Build Apps

We're splitting into two groups.   Half represents the developers.   Half represent the sites like change.org who are trying to find volunteers.   Social Actions wants those sites to adopt a schema that includes RSS feeds and expiry date of the action, etc.   So Social Action needs to get those sites to spend their precious developer time to hook into the Social Actions schema, so that the data is better organized and more detailed.

I'm sitting in the "developers" group.   Joe Solomon explains that there are 100 developers in the Social Actions google group, sucked in with their Change the Web Challenge.   But activity has slowed down to a crawl, now that the challenge is over, even though their action is still needed for enhancing apps, building more effective apps, collaborating, and collaborating on open API itself.   Some of the apps were a map that shows the needs, another is an iPhone app.  

Now our "developer" group is being walked through an excercise to develop a fictitious developer profile, including "Joe's" hobbies, what matters to him most, etc.   The purpose is to spend at least 45 minutes thinking about this person, so that he becomes an important "customer" in your organization, and you think realistically about how to reach him and motivate him.  

So we're trying to get "Joe" to contribute to our app community.   We're going through a worksheet that shows a "ladder of engagement towars our targeted actions":

1. offering - what content, tool or relationships brings the user to the site?
2. know - how does the user first encounter the advocacy  or issue content or message?
3. care - how does the user become engaged and concerned?
4. act - how is the user invited to influence decision-makers? drive action
5. lead - how will users encourage others to know, care or act?  

Around our table here, there's a lively debate going on, as to whether competitions are a good thing or not to draw developers to the site. (first step on the ladder above.)   There's enthusiasm for having monthly face-to-face activities involving food and drink and screen games  to start the community, suggested by Debra from Napa Vally Parents Network.   Maybe find a champion developer who will be  the go-between, from the organization to the developer community.   Maybe instead of "competition" we call it "collaboration".  

Q: is it easy to integrate the blogs from blogger or Wordpress?   A:   yes, the wordpress ones got integrated into Drupal, so it's easy.  

Q: it takes a long time to develop an app, how long it will take?   A: a Wizard could take 10 hours, but the average developer would take up to 100 hours.   It all depends on the app and skill level of developer.

Moving onto step 2 of the ladder, we're back with having events in cities where developers cluster, showing up at conferences with events, having little weekly online puzzles with little prizes to draw them to the site, high-touch virtual relationships.   The suggestion is made to ask for tiny steps, rather than asking them for a huge commitment with the big prize.   Break it into baby steps.   What if you had a "wish board" where you list all the things you want, ask developers.   Joe says they did do that.   Alejandro from IJCentral mentioned that Ninjavideo.net is an example (though an  illegal TV content site), in that  it has lots of minicommunities where developers compete; this site draws developers to do that encoding for the illegal content because they like it, it's a high-brow competition of who can do it best.

Moving up the ladder to the top (5th step above), find a way to let developers know the results of their work, i.e. share back to them how many people clicked on it, how many took action, etc.   This will reinforce the most powerful actions.   For example, if you type "frogs" in the search engine, the social actions that had the most clicks on frogs will rise to the top.   Connie from Yahoo points out that developers want to outshine or engage more people and will enjoy that challenge, so give them metrics.   Eli from David Suzuki Foundation suggested a leaderboard showing these things.   Unless they want to be anonymous.  

Rob from Social Signal is helping us summarize the story we've developed.   Eli was just nominated to summarize the model of our story to the re-combined group (the other group representing the sites.)

How to Attract the Social Organizations to the Site

Now we've gotten together with the other half, who went through the same "ladder" exercise for attracting social site organizations to use Social Actions.   They created a user profile for a woman named Helen, exec director for community action org for 5-county area, including food bank, job training, after school programs, etc.   She's well-connected, old-school, volunteers time, been involved for 30 years, has a farm.   For work, she has to do a lot of reporting, which she hates, because her main skill is face to face.   The new social networking tools are not her thing, "I'll hire an intern to do it".   Looking at the ladder for Helen, moving up, would be testimony from trusted sources like other executive directors like her; 2nd tier, most likely her friend will connect her to the message or a site visit to a social organization, or engineering a success story; 3rd tier, a how-to event or Webinar would engage her, or matching with a mentor; 4th tier,   trying to get Helen to use the social actions  database, opportunities linked to adopting the open actions, so instead of talking techie with ED, explain how it ties into  community; 5th, create a mentor program to encourage others to care/act.  

 ... Uh oh!   out of time!    Clear the room for the next session!   Cheers - Kristy Holch

Alex from Social Signal said they'll be posting a link to the worksheet we used on her blog soon.