Friday, October 28, 2005


Email and blogging--together again!

I am coming to the world of blogs rather late, and don't know much. I'll start by being very up front about that.

I do know a bit about email, and about the "flash mob" behavior of people online. Email us and we will come (those of us who don't blog at least). In remarkable numbers and with remarkable consistancy. The transfer of information among blogs is much more mysterious, and seems to rely on a combination of reputation (individual bloggers with readers) and persistance.

It seems to me that email and blogs work together to pass information to the full range of people who use the internet, and that any non-profit attempting to reach a mass audience must have both tools and use them both well.

I once surveyed my email base and asked how many people were bloggers. I guess I expected bloggers to be fairly well represented, and was quite surprised to find out that almost none of the people who take our emails also blog. Really, almost none. Instead, my email advocates tell me pretty consistently that what they like about being on our list is the brevity of the messaging, the immediate access to actions they can take, and the fact that they can do it all very quickly. Lots and lots of folks are reading nonprofit and advocacy email alerts at work, and lots of others are doing so in between very busy life activities. So they want reliable information from a trusted source about urgent issues with a quick way to participate. They want us to respect their time.

I believe that these folks -- people who primarily respond to email and don't have a lot of time to surf the web or dig through lots of complex information -- represent the vast majority of people using the internet.

But blogs capture a different audience and bloggers are a different sort. Perhaps one day I'll really be one, and be better able to assess the veracity of this hypothesis. But I see blogs -- particularly niche blogs, which I find the most interesting -- as a way to reach policy makers, the news media, issue mavens, and political junkies. Most people don't think about politics at all, and even right before a major election they think about it perhaps a few minutes in a day. But issue mavens and political junkies think about this stuff all the time and make sure that ideas are circulated, commented on, poked and prodded. And that helps nonprofit advocates really get a handle on whether the information they are putting out and the issues they have picked will resonate when they hit the floor of a state legislature or a local city council. You reach the most active and interested five percent of the population, and your issue gets a vetting that it probably needs.

So email reaches most people, and if you do it with respect for their time, you can really motivate people to civic activity (I'll post more about motivating people to take off line activity another day). And blogs reach a few key people who can help you figure out if your issue is interesting, your plan well crafted, and if you are ready for the opposition you will face when you roll it out in real world political forums.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Why start another political blog?

Because politics on the internet is just that interesting!

A few years ago my organization threw me headfirst into online grassroots organizing. Its been quite a ride. And in all that time I never thought to start blogging, if you can imagine, because I spend all day every day crafting email-based campaigns. And after writing all that email, its hard to imagine getting back online to join the great blog cacophany.

But I've learned a bit about blogging in the past year from my lovely spouse--Scott Henson, of GritsForBreakfast. And I've helped create two organizational blogs for the ACLU of Texas and for Consumers Union (Consumer Scribbler). The first is already good. The Scribbler needs a lot more scribbling.

When I thought about what I may have to contribute to the already significant and substative ongoing dialog about the role of the internet--I decided to focus on how nonprofit organizations need to change and adjust to get their message out in this modern media universe. Because the messages from good, hard working nonprofit advocates are important. Nonprofit organizations do some of the nation's leading research and policy development in dozens of areas rarely covered by the major media--criminal justice policy, consumer product safety, media consolidation, hunger, malaria and other preventable disease, and so much more.

But many nonprofit organizations are really struggling to get their message out. All of us who join organizations and volunteer are flooded with email. We read what we can. We screen out a lot. And nonprofits don't necessarily find ways to talk to people where they are; instead we assume that if we talk enough or put out enough white papers, that people will join us where we are. Mostly that just keeps the conversation circle really small.

I don't expect anyone to read this blog for the time being. I have everything to learn about blogging, but the best way to learn is by doing.

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