Fired Up? Start a Twitter Petition

Tips for Online Activists from the Creators of Act.ly

This Wednesday, Industry Minister Tony Clement confirmed via Twitter that the CRTC would be forced to overturn a recent decision to allow usage-based billing. If you read my last post, you’ll know that OpenMedia.ca, a non-profit advocacy group, has been orchestrating a highly successful online campaign, urging the MP to take action against the decision. Four days ago, their petition stood at 190,000 signatures—today over 416,000 Canadians have signed. Likewise, close to 10,000 users have asked Minister Clement to “stop the meter on Internet use,” using act.ly, a Twitter petition tool.

Impressed by OpenMedia.ca’s campaign, I wanted to learn more about act.ly which allows petitioners to target one Twitter user—a la @TonyClement_MP—with their key message. Instead of sharing a cause-related tweet with followers and trying to drive action through RTs, act.ly provides activists the opportunity to lobby one decision-maker (think: politician or corporate executive). Drive enough tweet traffic to that account and you may get a response—in this case, the reversal of the CRTC’s decision. To learn more, I emailed the tool’s creators, Jim Gilliam and Jesse Haff, who launched act.ly in June 2009.

Jim Gilliam, co-creator of act.ly
Jim Gilliam
Jesse Haff, co-creator of act.ly
Jesse Haff

Q&A with Jim and Jesse on Act.ly

Q1: When you launched, you indicated that act.ly was created in response to Clay Johnson’s post on Twitter and the future of email marketing. His post focused on using Twitter to “out-raise” donations, but you created a tool to drive petitions. Why take this direction?

A1: The dirty little secret of online activism is that signing a petition almost always comes before making a donation. It’s just math. Asking someone to sign a petition will spread faster than asking someone to donate because it’s easier to sign a petition. Signing a petition can lead to donating, and we saw a campaign like that go instantly viral when Rep. Joe Wilson yelled “YOU LIE” at President Obama during the 2010 State of the Union address.  The act.ly petition spread insanely fast, and the act.ly page had the ability for people to donate on ActBlue to his opponent, who ended up raising over a million dollars in like 24 hours.

Q2: Who did you hope would use the tool? Who is actually using it?

A2: We built this as activists, and we’re quite outspoken in our own political views, but we wanted everyone to use it. It’s quite exciting when someone does something we never anticipated. We certainly didn’t expect a 15-year old girl to petition Justin Bieber for a date, but she got nearly 2000 tweets. What matters is that people are empowered to make their voice heard.  That feeling of empowerment gives you confidence to make a difference in the world.

Q3. What are the most memorable responses received from those targeted by an act.ly petition?

A3: The most memorable response for me was from Senator Claire McCaskill. Over a thousand people tweeted asking her to co-sponsor a bill on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She was flooded with mentions, and got visibly upset on Twitter. She never responded to the petition directly, and dismissed it all with “Warning, if you’re from MO & want to tweet me on any issue, I’d advise waiting till tomorrow. Hard to weed thru many form tweets I’m getting.”  Never mind the fact that some of those tweets were coming from Missouri, as is quite evident on the act.ly map. When it came up for a vote recently though, she did vote in favor of repeal.

The biggest surprise has been that politicians don’t respond particularly well to act.ly, but corporations, particularly the more sophisticated ones with social marketing departments, tend to be fairly responsive.

Q4. On the site, there are petitions created to advocate for the public good alongside those created by TV fans hoping for a celebrity guest on a talk show or a DVD. Will a time come when you decide that, like PetitionOnline, only “public petitions for responsible public advocacy” appear on act.ly?

A4: No. The @actly Twitter account regularly tweets the newest #1 petitions, and they are frequently things we don’t agree with. Some folks don’t understand that and get mad at us, but we are committed to staying as unbiased as possible in operating the service. And as biased as possible in our personal accounts.

Q5. In Canada, OpenMedia.ca has launched an act.ly petition to Stop the Meter on Internet Use directed at Minister Tony Clement. Why do you think it’s caught fire, eliciting almost 10,000 tweets and now the #1 act.ly petition of all time?

OpenMedia.ca screenshot of act.ly petition

A5. Cause it’s terrible! And it’s about the Internet. Petitions about online services like Google Maps, or when it looked like Yahoo was going to shut down Delicious, tend to do enormously well. They also tend to get responses from the companies. Yahoo is no longer shutting down Delicious, and Google Maps has made at least two additions I believe based on act.ly petitions.

Q6. What advice would you give to someone about to launch a petition?

A6. The single biggest piece of advice is don’t plan. The best act.ly petitions are the ones based on something happening in the news right this second. So just put it out there, it either takes off or it doesn’t.

Q7. What would you tell the target of an act.ly petition?

A7. Don’t be afraid. Any organization focused on customer service knows that when someone is upset, just showing them some respect can go a long way to flipping them into a fan. And on Twitter, even if you don’t convert that person, since it’s so public, you’ll probably win a lot of others over.

Q8. When you launched the tool in June 2009, you hoped to provide analytics in the future. What’s the status of this feature?

A8. We started work on a pro version of act.ly called, wait for it…. “pro.act.ly” over a year ago.  As we talked to all the activists, non-profits and campaigns that we hoped to be our customers, we found that they had two major problems. Managing all the different channels whether it was Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging, or whatever the new hot social media service that they absolutely had to be on right now was getting totally overwhelming. And all the existing options were complicated and very expensive. So we decided to go big and build an affordable set of tools to bring all that together and make it as simple to set up and manage as a blog.

We changed the name to NationBuilder, and are in private beta testing right now. Folks can get on the invite list to be notified of when it’s available.

NationBuilder screenshot

Inspired to try act.ly? Share your cause and your experiences by posting a comment or leaving an email.

Resources

How Act.ly is Helping Canadians Stop the Meter on Internet Use

Advocate for Change One Tweet at a Time

OpenMedia.ca Logo
While researching this post online, I was streaming a movie via Netflix in the background—something that’ll cost me a lot more given Tuesday’s ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

And that’s precisely what Steve Anderson, National Coordinator for OpenMedia.ca is fighting: usage-based billing by Internet Service Providers (ISP) that dings consumers who exceed their monthly data limits.

“People want more Internet, not less,” says Steve. “Usage-based billing runs explicitly contrary to the principles of an open Internet and to consumer choice.”

He also argues that big telecommunications companies like Bell, Shaw and Rogers have a vested interest in curbing consumers’ access to on-demand services like Netflix and iTunes. These corporations also provide TV programming—a service that is increasingly obsolete when you consider that we can download, stream and view content whenever and wherever we want.

So how are Steve and the dedicated crew at OpenMedia.ca campaigning for change?

Online petitions.

They run a website where Canadians can call on decision-makers in Ottawa—namely, Industry Minister Tony Clement—to “stop the meter on Internet use.” Within 24 hours of launching the petition on Monday, November 1, 2010, over a thousand people signed. Three months later, over 189,000 have signed the petition.

Plus, citizens can tap Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness and prompt others to act. The Twitter version of the petition is organized through act.ly, a clever tool launched in June 2009 by Jim Gilliam and Jesse Haff who believe people can harness the power of Twitter to “tweet change.”

Like the web version, Minister Tony Clement is the target of OpenMedia.ca’s act.ly petition, meaning every tweet sent appears in his @Mentions stream. Close to 7,000 Twitter users have sent him the tweet, making it the top petition on the site at the moment and second over all time.

On November 3, 2010, Minister Tony Clement sent the following tweet in response:

Minister Tony Clement's Tweet in Response to OpenMedia.ca's act.ly petition.

In spite of the outcry, the regulation has gone forward. But the movement continues to grow strength—a model of modern advocacy in a digital age. Two days ago, the online petition stood at 107,000 and the act.ly version at almost 5,000; today, the former is closing in on 190,000 signatures and the latter on 7,000 tweets. In this specific case, I admit there’s symmetry to using the Internet to safeguard access to the Internet.

Who would you @Reply to see change? Post or email me your suggestions!

Top 5 act.ly petitions catching fire this month:

  1. @TonyClement_MP Stop The Meter
  2. Biz Stone: Open Twitter Translation to Catalan and other languages
  3. Oprah Winfrey: Do A Show On Childhood Cancer – #1 Disease Killer of Kids!
  4. Sarah Palin: Accept Responsibility for Her Role in Rep. Giffords’ shooting
  5. Warner Bros.: Create a Special 10th Anniversary DVD for Smallville

Listen & Speak Up: Open Discussion on Xenophobia at UBC

Tomorrow, my friend Zi-Ann Lum and the WAY TOO AZN committee are hosting an open dialogue to discuss how the media covers “Asian”/”White” anxieties for public consumption at UBC’s Vancouver campus.

The springboard for the discussion will be two recent, widely distributed articles: the infamous ‘Too Asian’? article published in MacLean’s magazine on Nov. 10, 2010, and Amy Chua’s Why Asian Mothers are Superior article from The Wall Street Journal published January 8, 2011. In addition, the dialogue will consider the local, culturally-fuelled debate over the location of St. John’s Hospice on campus.

All students, faculty, staff and members of the public are invited to this free event. I think it will be an excellent means of kickstarting a meaningful discussion on multiculturalism and the media. I remember the event in the fall which was organized in response to the MacLean’s article–the room was full and buzzing with energy. People really want to talk about these issues. Unfortunately, time proved short in the fall and we only got to hear from a couple of people from the audience. Tomorrow, the whole idea is to promote an honest, open dialogue.

Listen & speak up!

Event Details
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Noon to 2PM
Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, Dodson Room

Media Space: University of Washington’s New TV Series

Media Space on uwtv.org

Last week, I trekked to Whidbey Island, WA, for a content retreat. I arrived the night before the event so I spent my first evening getting settled in my motel room and watching television. And that’s when I discovered a hidden gem: Media Space, a new series hosted by Hanson Hosein, an award-winning TV correspondent and Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington.

For digital media geeks like me, this lucky find elicits the same endorphins as tweens at a Justin Bieber concert. Really.

On its own website, Media Space is described as “the program [that] connects viewers to the hot-button issues brought forth by a constantly evolving medium…Hosein, holds court with the change-agents influencing the digital media movement and storytelling.”

Every month, Hosein interviews a thought leader from the industry, such as Ben Huh who created viral blogs like I Can Has Cheezburger and the FAIL blog. The show originates as a Livestream webcast, with interactive engagement via Twitter using hashtag #mediaspace. Then, a 30-minute, primetime broadcast appears later in the month exclusively on uwtv.org.

Next Tuesday, January 18, at 6PM (PST), Hosein will interview Brent Friedman, Founding Partner of Electric Farm Entertainment, in front of a live audience about how the digital media revolution is not only transforming how Hollywood does business, but how it tells stories.

Following the discussion, a public salon will be held with Hosein, Friedman, Russell Sparkman (co-founder of Fusionspark Media) and John du Pre Gauntt (founder of Media Dojo). They will lead a more in-depth conversation about the digital infrastructure for storytelling and its future—including ownership and net neutrality. For details, see Amanda Weber’s write-up or register online to attend in person.

If you can’t watch be there, catch the broadcast of “Entertainment and Innovation: “Transmedia Storytelling – What is it?” on Wednesday, January 26 at 9PM (PST). I’ll definitely be watching!

It’s the Story, Stupid: Content Marketing

I’m back home after spending a couple of days at a content marketing retreat on Whidbey Island hosted by the Langley Center for New Media.

Storytelling was the kernel in every presenter’s session—from the mechanics and psychology of storytelling to measuring its impact. Forget key messages and feature-benefit adspeak—it’s about the story, stupid.

For a pithy round-up of key ideas, see Kathy Hanbury’s blog post 28 Content Marketing Tips from the Content Marketing Masters. Or take a look at Drew Davis’s adept curation of the retreat’s key tweets, presentations and pix via Storify.

Storify screen shot
Screen shot of Storify created by Drew Davis

I peeked over Drew’s shoulder a few times while he assembled the page on Storify. “Note to self,” I thought, “look up this tool.” So when I came home, I read Storify Wants to Pull Stories from the Stream, a review on GigaOM.

Funnily, I think Storify neatly captures the mood of the retreat and our hyper-focus on storytelling. “Turn what people post on social media into compelling stories,” reads the tagline on Storify’s homepage.

Co-founder Burt Herman adds, “We’re coming at it from the point of view of story-telling — it’s about creating a really rich experience about an event. There are all of these real-time updates, so many that we are drowning in them. This is about finding relevance in the noise.” (Source: GigaOM)

Aggregating, curating and creating content are top of mind for many professionals these days. For me, Storify is emblematic of the zeitgeist, a reflection of how journalists (and marketers) are re-inventing how we tell stories in a digital age.

So are you a believer or is this just a new round of gurus, books and webcasts?

5 Reasons Why I’m Loving #CMRL 2011

It’s the morning of Day 2 at Content Marketing Retreat 2011 on Whidbey Island, WA. I didn’t sleep well and I’m up early.

Why?

Because Day 1 rocked. My mind’s buzzing with thoughts from Edelman’s Trust Barometer and Aristotle’s Story Structure to new tools like Gist and Dlvr.it. With 11 presenters in the span of one day, there’s a lot to look up, turn over, question and explore.

Mulling over Day 1, I’ve teased out five “ah-ha” moments where I learned something new or corroborated long-held, personal beliefs.

  1. Content Marketing means we are no longer limited to “renting” space in third-party media publications, including newspapers, magazines and websites. When each of us is now a publisher, we “own” the means of creating and syndicating quality, branded content. I find this both liberating and daunting—the obligation to produce better content has never been higher. (Via @juntajoe)
  2. Statistics may seem sexy to some but the reality is that we don’t connect to percentages and figures—we connect to people like ourselves. Stack stories with dry data and you’re hamstringed. Instead, focus on crafting a narrative about people. (Via @terrinop, Jack Penland and @hrhmedia)
  3. Traditional marketing married a message to an audience. Today, you need to think about engaging customers through the power of narrative. I can’t get lazy—got to go back to my storytelling roots. (Via @hrhmedia)
  4. Leave analysis-paralysis behind and just start creating content. Quality is important but so is quantity—after all, you never know what will resonate with the audience. Plus, the content you create and publish has a relatively long shelf-life, unlike more traditional means of communication like one-hit ads. (Via @heinzmarketing and @juntajoe)
  5. Turf wars abound—but don’t get bogged down competing over who “owns” content in your organization. While you squabble, who is creating or publishing content? Different content creators need to work together so that content can get re-purposed for multiple channels (as appropriate). (Via @TPLDrew and @heinzmarketing)

In summary, Day 1 rocked. Off to join the group for Day 2 and get my learn on!

Paper.li Breaks My Indifference Threshold

paper.li LogoFor several months, I’ve steadfastly ignored any tweets informing me that a user’s “Daily is out!” But that changed a couple of weeks back when I “earned” a mention in my friend Ajay’s virtual paper, breaking my indifference threshold.

My interest was piqued and so I started asking the Twitterverse about paper.li, the free online tool that Ajay and others are using to re-format their Twitter stream into a virtual newspaper.

Background
Create your newspaper for free–that’s paper.li’s call to action and aptly sums up the service. The tool culls your Twitter feed (and, as of early December, public Facebook accounts too) and kicks out a vanity URL (http://paper.li/tbains) with a subset of pages that mimic the look and feel of online newspapers. All of the “stories” are links that the people you follow have shared.

The settings can be tweaked so that you send out a daily, morning and evening edition or a weekly update to your followers. You can also customize the name of your paper, changing The *Tracy Bains* Daily to The *Diamond Cut* Daily.  To promote your personalized paper, set up automatic tweets that are published whenever your paper updates.

Followers can subscribe to your paper or, in turn, you can bookmark papers that you’d like to revisit regularly.

Screen grab of a paper.li daily

Pros

  • Simplicity: Authenticate your ID and the paper populates itself. That’s as easy as it gets.
  • Style: The pages are sleek, easy to scan and professional. A beautiful design means a higher likelihood of return visitors.
  • Clever Micro-Promotions: Your top “contributors” will get special @mentions in the daily tweet set up to alert users that a new edition awaits. Just as I did, these folks are likely to get curious, RT the post, read and/or subscribe to your paper–extending its reach.
  • Promising R&D: Paper.li is taking off. Eleven days ago, it co-won LeWeb Startups Competition in Europe, coming in #1 for Virality. Last month, Guy Kawasaki joined its newly created Advisory Board. During the summer, SmallRivers–the startup developing paper.li–got a fresh infusion of cash from a new set of investors. Awards, celebrity advisors and money aren’t a guarantee of future success in themselves but they are promising signs.

Cons

  • No Mods: At the moment, you can’t tailor your page in terms of which links (and therefore contributors) get featured or the sections included in your paper. I want granular control of what goes up and/or who gets the “hero treatment” in my paper. But Iskander Pols, paper.li’s co-founder, recently responded to a similar comment on the site’s blog, indicating they “are looking into offering more control” to publishers.
  • Few Stats: In mid-November, paper.li started posting the number of unique views and subscribers each edition garners. Nice start but I want to know who the subscribers are or, at least, their demographic breakdown. And I’d love to be able to generate a comparison of subscribers versus Twitter followers–is it the same? Different? Etc.

My Prediction
When I started researching paper.li, all of the reviews talked about how the service offers the user a new way to consume their own Twitter feed. Even paper.li describes itself as “a great way to discover content that matters to you–even if you are not connected 24/7!”

Why would I give up Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or even New Twitter to view my tweets? I wouldn’t.

But a smart marketer would see the value in judiciously following industry experts who generate top-notch content that could be aggregated to create a quality paper. You could easily augment the content that you are carefully producing and posting on your blog and/or corporate website with a well-planned Twitter paper populated with industry news, trends and links.

If paper.li continues to stretch and grow, the first-movers who build credibility within their niche for consistently curating good content will outpace their rivals.

Resources
Hungry for more on paper.li? Check out these articles or add your own in the Comments section:

‘Too Asian’?: UBC’s School of Journalism Takes on MacLean’s

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the heated debate sparked by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler’s article ‘Too Asian’? published in Maclean’s on Nov. 10, 2010. To read the unsanitized version, you can find it here on tooasian.ca.

The authors’ ham-fisted approach was clearly intended to trigger sales/clicks by sensationalizing what could have been a legitimate discussion on diversity and admissions at Canadian universities. Instead, the article reached back to tap old prejudices and fears against Asians.

The Asian stereotypes at work in the article hit a tender spot. A week or so earlier, I watched the “Chinese professor” ad spot sponsored by the Citizens Against Government Waste during the U.S. mid-term elections which pandered to the same ugly, xenophobia across the border.

Like many who read the article, I was forced to ask myself how many others harboured the same feelings and resentments as the unnamed party girls from the article.

Judging from personal experience, more than I was ready to acknowledge. After all, I had recently attended a local event where someone living on campus informed me that UBC was “too Chinese.” While I brushed off that incident as an anomaly, the article was harder to ignore.

But it didn’t take long before MacLean’s attracted detractors and defenders. Here’s just a small sample of what’s out there:

Last Thursday, UBC’s School of Journalism hosted a free forum to discuss the article, featuring:

  • Dr. Kerry Jang, Professor, UBC Psychiatry and Vancouver City Councillor
  • Dr. Henry Yu, Associate Professor, Dept. of History, UBC and Principal pro tem, St. John’s College, UBC)
  • Dr. Candis Callison, Assistant Professor, UBC School of Journalism
  • Elysa Hogg, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts
  • William Tao, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts

Despite a snowy day in Vancouver, the room was packed. I snagged a seat at the front by pure chance. I can’t adequately summarize every panelist’s comments here due to space so I’ll touch on key points:

  • The article addresses a subject that we as Canadians should be open to discuss: race, diversity and university admissions.
  • How the authors choose to frame the discussion, however, was sensational and false.
  • MacLean’s does not represent “The Media.”
  • MacLean’s newsroom lacks diversity and, therefore, a balanced perspective.  
  • We should be able to debate the issue but also question the data and how it’s collected.

The 1.5-hour forum was terrific—but lacked enough time for the audience to participate. Only three students were able to pose questions and two expressed surprise at the panelists’ use of humour. I think the panelists’ measured, thoughtful responses failed to jive with students who were outraged by the article and seeking a space to express themselves.

Surely, creating that space will be on Alden Habacon’s to-do list when CBC’s former Manager of Diversity Initiatives for the English TV network joins UBC on Dec. 1 as the new Director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development.

To check out the audio, visit tooasian.ca, a website set up by “Asian Canadians who are tired of negative stereotypes published by the media.” Also, Samantha Jung has posted her live blog of the forum on her website, Inward / Onward.