This past week, I was lucky enough to participate in the Chicago Nerd Social Club's Leverage 101 panel. Now, admittedly, as CNSC board member I might have been obligated to attend. As a nonprofit communications professional, I think the 2008 - 2012 series has a strong sense of social justice, beginning with its opening narration:
The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you. ...Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide... "leverage".
But it's more than just clever writing....the greatest thing about Leverage is that it provides some great insights into how nonprofits can better engage in social media advocacy. It's a field that near to my heart - as part of my professional background, I mobilized communities around chemical dependency and tobacco prevention. So I understand not only the need to engage others...but to also engage others around a common cause.
The first thing about engaging in social media advocacy - especially around heated topics (like tobacco prevention or social justice) is that the opposition usually tends to have three things in common:
- They can often be better organized, and will have an almost immediate response. (Searching for a recent Boston magazine article about a controversial movement resulted in several "requests for clarification" posted within hours;
- The opposition may often have more resources; and
- The opposition will deflect arguments, shift focus, and behave badly. In other words, they'll cheat.
For nonprofits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations, social media advocacy draws attention and conversation around critical issues. But mission-driven organizations do not have to behave like their detractors, and Leverage provides plenty of guiding principles around better social media advocacy.
- Have a plan, but be willing to improvise: One of the major themes of the show is that Nathan Ford - the leader of the "crew"- often has a multitude of plans. (He also has a life that is somewhat out of control). Developing a strategy for engaging potential and current advocates - while being flexible enough to adapt when things change and/or new conversation possibilities appear - can strengthen a nonprofit's ability to drive their mission forward.
- Know your audience, but more importantly - know your opponents: Hardison - the tech expert of the group - often creates elaborate presentations and does the research to learn about each week's "mark". (For an explanation of confidence terms, consider reading David Maurer's The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. By understanding the mark, the team is better able to work against them. (Also, by knowing their allies, it becomes easier to build a stronger team against their opponent).
- Go Where (and Know How) People Are Talking - Nonprofits (and other organizations) often wonder where their efforts would have the greatest effort. One of the Leverage team, Sophie, is a "known" grifter who serves as an "inside person" - the one who goes out and engages to find the mark. In social media, knowing where people are talking (in terms of channels) and how they discuss issues can be key in driving your advocacy efforts.
- Be Strong, But Don't Be A Troll - Part of your social media advocacy efforts should involve a response plan in case opponents go on the attack. Such as the case with Eliot, the team's "muscle", knowing how to defend yourself without succumbing to your own worst impulse is critical for social media advocacy. Elliot is a man who knows how to defend himself, but refuses to use a gun - your job is to know your limits.
- Never be afraid to "steal" from those before you - Parker, the thief of the group, has a great working knowledge of how to locate and acquire specific objects. As nonprofit advocates, our job is to find resources and information that we can "steal", whether it is another's advice or an online resource. Consider checking out the Community Tool Box, which has some great resources for both communications and advocacy (as well as other community development tools).
If all of that doesn't convince you to watch Leverage, please note that the show is available on DVD, as well as streaming via Netflix and Hulu. It's not just an informative show....it's also quite entertaining.
And as always, thanks for reading!
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