Use Stories to Build Communities That Can Be Harnessed to Act

Technology provides platforms and tools but now, more than ever, social movements—online and offline—are built on the essence of our humanity.

To use technology well, embrace your humanity.

That’s a lesson my co-founders and I learned when we created Rappler, a social news startup in the Philippines. We relished the idea that technology now allows journalists to go beyond just telling stories; now we can move our no longer passive audience to action and help build institutions from the bottom up.

We built this cycle into our DNA: content creation, social media amplification, crowdsourcing and big data.

The same cycle can work for your non-profit group. Create compelling content by telling stories that matter. Share and engage on social media. Aim to scale. Then you’re ready to crowdsource action, which just means every person takes one small step to create something that didn’t exist before. Monitor the data, and infuse it right back into the mix.

Use stories to build communities. If you do that well, you can create social networks that can be harnessed to act—allowing you to tap into what I think is the real game-changer: social media.

After all, your physical social network is made up of your family and friends. What’s social media? Your family and friends on steroids, with no boundaries of time and space.

Social media is its own ecosystem, and to be effective, you have to bring down your barriers. Gone are the days when you can hide behind a voice of authority.

You’re not doing well on social media until you’re vulnerable.

That’s taboo for large bureaucracies, organizations, companies and governments, but today, you can’t hide behind your company or institution. People don’t listen to monolithic, faceless voices.

So now, you have to step out from under the shadow of your group and be yourself.

Now it’s about authenticity. Be real, because that’s how you build credibility. That’s why people follow you. That’s why people believe you.

In a world full of distractions, it’s your humanity that cuts through the noise.

Most institutions have a problem with being vulnerable. To them, it means losing control by giving their people freedom to be real, but there are ways to balance organizational risks with its potential rewards.

If you’re authentic, you can tell your story.

If your story is compelling, you can move your community to action—what tech people call crowdsourcing.

The easiest form of crowdsourcing on Rappler is our patented user-engagement model, which asks people to tell us how they feel. Why do we care? Because studies show that up to 80 percent of how people behave is not based on what they think—it’s based on how they feel.

On Rappler, every story has a mood meter. Working with psychologists, sociologists and the leaders behind our survey groups in the Philippines, we identified eight most common emotions, so people can click how the story makes them feel.

Every vote on every mood meter is an action point and is aggregated to crowdsource the mood of the day. That’s the easiest, most frictionless way to use the crowd, but you can do much more.

When an earthquake happens, our community can map the extent of the quake before government has had a chance to report it. We crowdsource real-time help in disasters, combining bottom-up, real-time reporting with top-down government workflows.

This is Project Agos, which we introduced in the 2012 Manila Social Good Summit. About a month later, Typhoon Haiyan, the worst storm to ever hit land globally, ravaged the Philippines. More than 6,000 people were killed, according to officials.

Working with government agencies, civil society groups, international non-governmental organizations and our social media community, we iterated the platform through succeeding typhoons, trying to connect real-time reporting from the crowd with the rescue efforts and responses from authorities.

Crowdsourcing is transparent. It happens fast, by people embedded in their real-world communities.

Many people want to help—they just want to know how.

Finally, each action point can be treated as data—whether structured, like the clicks on our mood meter, or unstructured, like social media.

You can use social network analysis to break down your communities and begin to understand what flows through their connections. This is the reason we developed our in-house analytics tool, Reach which allows you to do just that. Understanding the ties that bind allow you to mobilize specific communities based on its interests and your needs.

You’ll be able to identify force multipliers and key influencers.

What is your goal and how can your community help you accomplish it?

Technology provides platforms and tools but now, more than ever, social movements—online and offline—are built on the essence of our humanity.