I started Feednet last year as a way to support organizers and activists in building stronger communications strategies, to think about communications scale without thinking about my day job, and to bother my friends about esoteric trends in digital media.
My hope was that a regular roundup of cool campaigns, new strategies in digital communications, and updates on the evil shit tech companies are doing would help other movement folks navigate the messed up world of digital communications in a way that fit into their already overwhelming organizing lives.
Our media, digital platforms, and even our freaking self conceptions have deep roots in the banal evil spewed from corporate power structures most movements are fighting against.
Only a month or so after I started Feednet, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. While there was a ton of media coverage of what was happening, there wasn’t a ton of… well, you know, actual media scrutiny on what social media companies like Facebook were doing policy wise after this scandal.
There were also a lot of major changes to social media that deeply impacted how I do my job.
Digital strategies I had used for years just… stopped working.
I’m talking very basic digital media tactics: asking your friends/other organizations to share your content, making images with your analysis instead of just posting it as text, posting videos on your personal page and your organizing page: they all stopped reaching people at a rate proportional to the amount of effort they required.
Why are you making me read this sloppy Media Studies 101 rant, H?
Because we can stay up to date on every micro algorithmic change to Facebook/Twitter/Snap, but the hot take will always be the same:
When there’s a change to social media platforms, it’s usually so those platforms can make even more money. So, no matter what we as small social media platforms do, the change probably made it harder for everyone without boatloads of money** to reach anyone on those platforms.
So now what?
Something else that happened this year: I figured out how to do communications for a small-ish organizing group without wasting everyone’s time or going grey early (hi co-workers and members who read this!). The people I work are amazing and you should be jealous that I get to work with them!
This year, I realized 2 things about teaching communications:
1. There is nothing more infuriating than learning a specific technology skill (livetweeting, making a graphic, creating a video) and then having the impact of that skill be reduced to nothing bc “the news feed is different now”.
2. Every time I put real time and energy into working with people on how to communicate in a way that is authentic to them, I was happier, they were happier, and, even if we didn’t have a *content strategy*, we could make one a lot easier than if we had spent the equivalent amount of time learning specific communications skills.
So… you just think everyone should just do media spokesperson trainings all the time?
There are lots of reasons why movements/organizers/activists don’t spend a ton of time on helping people communicate well — they’re the same reason why I get 1–2 frantic emails a month about doing media spokesperson trainings but those trainings never happen.
Like most things in organizing, it’s about time, energy, capacity. Unlike most other things in organizing, there are a lot of other variables that make setting goals around this kind of training really hard.
For most small organizing groups, there are a lack of clear systems or goals for building up someone’s media or speaking skills, and media coverage is too volatile to prioritize building that system.
But here’s the thing: I’ve worked with amazing people who have been on CNN, Fox News (really!) Chicago stations like Univision, or the Jam, and who have talked to reporters at a ton of different publications, from tiny local niche papers to places like Time or Ebony.
Real talk: some of the people I worked with have done really well, charming the reporter/talk show host, changing the story of their campaign, and getting invited back to talk more about their work… and some of them have NOT.
What made the people great on camera or confident in a written interview wasn’t the amount of prep time, confidence, or “natural speaking ability” they had.
It’s that they were already using a strong system to guide their words while on camera, to evaluate how effective their soundbite or clip really was, and to improve their communications abilities overall.
People who have consistent, systemic support working towards a goal are better at speaking to the media and to the people in their lives about their work, and that translates across all forms of communications in a way that digital marketing or social media strategy just doesn’t anymore.
As organizers, we NEED to prioritize building these kinds of systems for the deeper work: thinking about the hidden scripts in our campaign stories, the structural racism and classism in our words and in the words of reporters, and how to tie the abstract and wonky pieces of our campaigns into the experiences of everyone in our work.
If we keep focusing only on the marketing technicalities of digital media, we’ll lose: we’re playing the power elite’s own game, and they’ll keep changing the rules.
If we want to shift reality with our limited resources, we have to start by building storytelling systems that work for us.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of this, but not nearly as much time as I would like.
That said, I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about how people actually build skills: through regularly and repeatedly taking action, and working with someone who knows more to evaluate that action.
Okay but really, so now what?
In 2019, I am going to be taking the more general communications trainings and tools I’ve been working on for six years (from media spokesperson trainings to writing and storytelling strategy) and scaling them in a way that actually helps organizers and activists build their speaking, writing, and storytelling skills.
The internet’s broken: we have to spend more time building general communications training/teaching tools to thrive.
What are you going to do differently in 2019?
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