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Lessons for journalism from a nonprofit's social engagement campaign

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The women's media outlet World Pulse had built a robust community of 18,000 active members, but it didn't want the conversation to stop there. It wanted to give members a chance to speak to a wider audience on key issues--and to make their voices heard by policy makers.

The nonprofit's successful campaign to gather women's stories and use those to craft a communiqué to world leaders at the G20 summit in Moscow was more social justice work than journalism, but it offers lessons to newsrooms that want to engage users in ways that go beyond retweets and Facebook "likes."

World Pulse's recent Girls Transform the World campaign invited girls and women to identify, share and reflect on barriers to girls' education and to propose solutions. World Pulse received hundreds of responses from some 60 countries, including from repressive societies where girls’ stories often go untold.

The community shared stories about the effects of education policies, child marriage and pregnancy, security and school facilities. In addition to creating an active discussion inside the community, World Pulse aggregated and organized 350 stories and gave them to delegates of the G(irls)20 Summit, who then delivered the communiqué to the G20 summit.

IJNet recently spoke with World Pulse Digital Action Campaign Manager Leana Mayzlina and Content Coordinator Kim Crane, and came away with these tips for engaging a community:

Cultivating community must be an ongoing activity

An active community is always ready to participate. The people who are part of World Pulse’s PulseWire community did not join overnight or just for purposes of the campaign. Instead, the nonprofit constantly engages with members and keeps an eye on pressing topics facing women in their societies. That way, campaign topics are based on issues coming out of the community organically.

Share your objective

When launching the campaign, World Pulse shared its key goal: To get girls’ and womens’ stories into the hands of the G20 leaders to affect policy changes. That goal motivated people to participate and make their voices heard. “We show them their stories can affect change,” Mayzlina said. “Otherwise they often wouldn’t put themselves through the trauma of reliving [them].”

Be clear with instructions

“At one point, we had several different engagement opportunities going on,” Crane said. “This confused people because they didn’t understand which to write about.” World Pulse learned to keep the outsider’s perspective in mind when explaining how to participate, and to state instructions clearly.

Help people feel safe and supported

Because the most compelling stories are often the hardest to tell, World Pulse strives to cultivate a nurturing and positive community space. An online community manager maintains the community area of the website, and campaign-specific “listener” volunteers work with community-produced content. Writers receive feedback from other writers and members as well. Because language can be a barrier, the campaign also offered French-English translation for women in Africa. And because many women come from repressive regimes or home environments, World Pulse allows them to participate anonymously.

“Women say 'I need this, I need a space, I need to share my story,' ” Mayzlina said. “They know they will be heard by supportive women, and that empowers them to write freely.”

Offer social media as an alternative way to participate

World Pulse used social media to let people know the campaign was coming, to share stories as they emerged, and to share impact when the campaign had closed.

People who didn’t want to write full story submissions on the website were offered other opportunities to engage via social media. For instance, World Pulse posted a picture with a connection to girl’s education and challenged people to give it a powerful caption. Hundreds of people responded. In that way, the whole community was part of the campaign, even if they didn’t personally submit a story.

Communicate impact

World Pulse keeps its community informed about the impact their stories are having. During the campaign, World Pulse wrote blog updates and used social media to share details on how content was being used. They constantly updated the campaign page with stories. They sent campaign details to members, and gave the public concrete ways to use and share the information.

“We are continually reinforcing what the point is and what’s it all about,” Crane said. “That is the key.”

Jessica Weiss, a former IJNet managing editor, is a Buenos Aires-based freelance writer.

Image courtesy of Flickr user SummerRain812 under a Creative Commons License.

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