Planned Parenthood Movement Building: Leadership, Engagement, Stories, and Platform for Self-Organizing

8 years ago

Source: Planned Parenthood Fan Page Profile Photos

Allison Fine and I have been busy working on a book about how social media and connectedness is changing the way nonprofits are creating social change.   Earlier this week, we had an amazing conversation with Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards
and Tom Subak, Vice President of Online Services, to learn more about Planned Parenthood's movement building techniques.

Last week, I gave a presentation to a group of Bay Area Foundation program officers and funders who work on population research issues. (I tried to use sex metaphors to explain social media)   One of the examples I shared was Planned Parenthood's social networking presence - so it was good to get the inside story.   Tom and Cecile shared a rich story about culture change, loosing control, building relationships, story telling, multi-channel strategies, engagement techniques, online/offline metrics, and more.

A couple of takeaways from the interview:

  • Leaders Lead Culture Change.   Over the past three years, Planned Parenthood has built an impressive Internet presence and social media strategy.  Cecile Richards, president, paved the way.  Says Richards, "Confidentiality is a big part of Planned Parenthood’s culture. And, as you know being successful with social media is the opposite of that. Three years ago, not everyone was convinced that we needed to shift our investment into our online presence.  However, given that we’re trying to reach young people – how could we ignore the place where most of them get their information?”
Tom Subak, Vice President of Online Services, adds "Looking back over the three years, Cecile made it clear to everyone that the Internet was a critical part of our future and that she was going to be personally involved in the organization's transformation to embrace it."

  • Social media is described in terms of the mission, not the tools.  While the board wasn’t against technology or social media, it was a little bit of a mystery. Says Tom, "We don't talk about Facebook or Twitter. We talk about how using the tools expands our mission."  And, they don't just talk, it is backed up with reports and graphs about how the use of the tools supports their work -- the connection between the online efforts and people using services on land. But, as Cecile points out the storyline isn’t about technology or social media, it’s about movement building and the people they serve.
  • Giving Up Control and Relationship Building:   As Cecile and Tom shared, their passionate activists are shaping the organization's campaign messaging and content.   "That's less so on email, of course, but now with all the work we’ve done cultivating and building relationships on Facebook and Myspace – when something happens, the response is there.  We help guide it."  Activists are sharing their personal stories in their own words, images, and videos across social networks with little prodding from the organization.
So, how specifically do they build relationships on social networks?  As Tom says, "There are many ways, but we do spend a great deal of time sending virtual birthday cards to folks. (It’s a great job for summer interns once you’ve put together your overall strategies and you can guide them)."  Obviously this is working because when they need to ask their activists to mobilize to support them when their funding is in danger, the activists are there. Sometimes before they ask.
  • Platform for Self-Organizing:  As Tom Subak recalls, in the beginning stages of their social networking strategies, they goal was to get as many people to join their fan page.  They realized quickly it was the wrong approach.  "We’ve stopped cramming calls to action down people’s throats because we understand that’s not the culture of MySpace or Facebook or the way social media can be successful. We created a platform for folks to have a dialogue in the way they want. We support it, guide it."


As Tom Subak adds, "On social networks, we have a very light touch – we give people the opportunity to respond. It often happens through the wall comments – we go through the discussion areas, comments, photos and videos and we  take those stories to share with decision-makers." 
  • The Power of Sharing Stories:   Planned Parenthood has built the infrastructure to be successful.  Their online services department is in charge of web site presence, email messaging, and social networking.   They work in collaboration with the communications team.  As Tom Subak mentions, "But something was missing: The intersection of content that we create with what our supporters create. It doesn’t matter whether it is on our web site or somewhere else. There are millions of stories inside of Planned Parenthood – the stories are incredible. We put a human face on our work and what we’re doing. With our stories, we try to figure out how to get more people engaged and change the public’s view. We now have a department called the New Media Content team. Their job is to create, edit, repurpose, identify content across all our channels. Where does this all come together – part of the organization that is thinking about content – in the way that content exists in now. It doesn’t matter where it is or who created. Another thing to is that it doesn’t matter where the content lives – we’ve been creating widgets that can placed anywhere – not just on our site"

I've been thinking about this interview, especially this idea of the intersection of content that the organization creates with what their supporters create and share.   And, yes the whole balancing act of how you facilitate that without controlling it.  Perhaps it is a little more than a content creation strategy where your organization is doing all the heavy lifting, creating, editing, and production grids.   It's how you use the conversation to generate, aggregate, and facilitate social content.

Duct Tape Marketing blog has an interesting post called "Engaging Content Creates Engagement" which gets at connection.

Engagement is not really created by being a nice, genuine, caring and attentive sort of chap on twitter. It’s hard to create much momentum in any kind of social network without some of those qualities, but true engagement, engagement that leads to customers and partners, is created with content. Or, perhaps more accurately, engagement is created with engaging content.

The post goes onto discuss the balance between conversation and content.  Others have a different take. For example, John Cass, in his post "Measuring Engagement in Social Media."

I often think this idea of engagement is lost in the shuffle when thinking about how to use social media for marketing. Why is that? Well marketers are comfortable with creating advertising to attract customers, here the focus is on attracting customers and converting them, if engagement occurs it is to sell the product, the concept of engagement around the customer's content is something new, and the ROI of that activity still has to be justified for many marketers.

This is not to say that content marketing is not a good idea, or a wrong step, it's just I think content marketing is a stepping stone in the development of marketing to engagement. I also understand that many in the industry would suggest engagement is part and parcel of content marketing, but I think there's still some debate about the definition of content marketing and differences in how content marketing and inbound marketing practices are implemented.

How do you think about your content strategy in the context of movement buliding?

Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits, writes Beth's Blog.

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