Companies should aim to leverage technologies to engage customers, communities, and other stakeholders in innovative ways.
Companies and organizations engaging their stakeholders through an online campaign should understand that developing a successful campaign takes time and resources, as well as a community manager dedicated to running and monitoring the campaign.
Companies and organizations should aim to measure the impact from their engagement campaigns. The most powerful campaigns are those in which participants go above and beyond the actions suggested.
“Digital tools give us new opportunities to engage people.” —Dan Shannon, Purpose
“Data is like bricks to a construction builder. Anyone can take that data and software and make something great with it. Data is the raw material.” —Nathaniel Manning, Ushahidi
“Technology is a tool. If you put that tool in the hands of people who are good at making change, suddenly technology becomes a tool of change.” —Tim Scheu, Ashoka Changemakers
Erickson introduced the three speakers and asked them to explain how they use technology to drive change in their work.
Manning explained that Ushahidi is a technology company that builds open source tools to collect data. Through its tool Crowdmap, users can send a text message to report a particular event, for example, related to an election or in a crisis. The system collects the data about where and when the event took place and maps it. The Crowdmap software has been used in 60,000 versions to map supply chain, corruption, or crisis information.
Scheu talked about what it means to be a network practice leader at Ashoka and how Ashoka is leveraging technology to create networks of social entrepreneurs. Ashoka is a network of 3,000 social entrepreneurs that helps bridge the gap between large corporations and social entrepreneurs. Ashoka Changemakers runs prize competitions that help large corporations identify social entrepreneurs that companies and foundations can invest in. Through technology, Ashoka aims to leverage participation in the prize competitions and connect social entrepreneurs who are working on solving the same social issues. “Technology has totally changed the way these networks work,” said Scheu.
Next, Shannon explained how Purpose helps organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit) engage people in action to pursue a social goal or change. Purpose aims to unlock people’s power to change the world and create cutting-edge movements. It also develops open-source tools allowing campaigners to build compelling public engagement strategies and campaigns.
Erickson asked the panelists how organizations can sustain engagement beyond initial participation, such as signing an online petition or voting in an online competition. Shannon explained that organizations can first use low-barrier actions, such as signing a petition, to get participants in the door. Then they can propose increasingly higher barrier actions, such as sending a letter to a local politician or participating in a rally.
Manning added, “Technology is only 10 percent of the solution. If you forget that it’s about the people, it will not work.” He urged companies and users to publish raw data through open source tools. Manning argued that computers cannot glean data from reports published as PDFs, for instance, and people will, therefore, not use reports published in that format to drive decision-making.
Erickson asked the panelists how they measure the impact of their efforts. Scheu said that at Ashoka they are trying to measure the stickiness of the ties between people, and that they have built a peer-review tool that enables greater collaboration. Shannon stated that at Purpose they want to understand if people are taking the actions that the campaign is proposing or if they are going above and beyond those actions to do other things that Purpose had not thought about.
Erickson asked the panelists what advice they would like to give companies that are trying to figure out how to engage with their customers and stakeholders. Shannon explained that building a community of people who care about your campaign takes time, work, effort, and money. Companies must be ready to hire a community manager who engages people to take action and monitors and tracks the campaign. Manning continued by saying that companies need to be willing to try out new things, work with unexpected partners, change, and sometimes fail.
During the Q&A, one participant from a nonprofit organization stated that she did not have the budget to hire a community manager. She asked the panelists for advice given that restriction. Manning and Shannon underlined that Ushahidi and Purpose’s tools are open source and, therefore, free. Scheu advised the participant to look at who is doing similar things and then build on their work.