As marketers, communicators, and fundraisers, it’s our job to tell stories. Stories about our mission, what we do, our programs, our successes, the lives we’ve helped change. Whatever tools we use, however technology evolves, our task (to raise awareness and funds to enact the change we want to see) is to tell the story of the problem as we see it and what we’ve done, are doing and are going to do to solve it.

But the trends and developments in technology have clouded those efforts.

Social media has allowed us to grow our online communities, and to engage with these communities in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.  We can interact with individuals, our online communities and the public, getting feedback, soliciting opinion, sharing content.This engagement is truly interactive—and I mean that in the truest definition of the word.

So with this new source of content (produced by our constituents) and with the emphasis on online communities (whether that be through message boards, your e-mail program, social media networks or other platforms) there arises an intriguing editorial question, a question you might have asked or been asked when preparing remarks for an event, or conceiving your next newsletter, or even over dinner with a friend.

What should we talk about, and who decides?

We want to generate excitement. We want to sustain interest and grow our community. Whether it’s follows, followers, likes, shares, favorites, retweets, click-throughs or some other measurement, we want those numbers going up. That would symbolize increased engagement, and it’s proof that we are speaking on matters relevant to our audience. All good things.

But not the only thing. And perhaps not the most important thing.

I’ll explain using two examples from my past career.

  1. I worked at ABCNews.com during one of the most heightened and long-lasting news cycles ever: the 2000 presidential election, which lasted for a good two months after Election Day. You know what content generated the most clicks on our web site? Recipes that Emeril Lagasse featured on Good Morning America. The advertising team loved it, the editorial side, not so much. Were we in the business to cover the news, or to disseminate spicy New Orleans-influenced recipes?
  2. During my time managing the web site for what is now the Jewish Federations of North America, one of the most consistently popular web pages was an article on Jewish death, burial and mourning practices. It was an important piece of content, and we were glad it was there for those who needed it during a clear time of need.  But while it was a valuable and meaningful offering, it was relatively tangential to our mission, programs and initiatives.

In both cases, an audience was speaking through its online behavior on what kind of content it wanted. And you can’t argue with that. As I’m sure Emeril would agree, you don’t want to take your most popular items off the menu. But in terms of establishing your editorial priorities to educate your base and the public on matters of most importance to your mission, your values, and your initiatives—really, the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of your organization’s efforts—it’s up to you to set the table of contents in your storytelling.

A teacher doesn’t let the students set the curriculum. A chef chooses his own ingredients. An author may be wise to what sells, but uses her own imagination in writing a book. Crowdsourced information is valuable, but it represents the voice of the crowd, not always your or your organization’s voice.

Be bold in your editorial decision making, and strive for the right balance of speaking to and with your community.

What do you think? How does your organization make its editorial decisions? What role does your online community play in that process?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Gilman is a Senior Interactive Consultant at Blackbaud, where he was worked since January 2008 assisting non-profits with their online fundraising and marketing. He has worked on strategy development and online campaign management with organizations such as UNCF-United Negro College Fund, the Cleveland Clinic, the Carter Center, Duke Cancer Institute, Nature Canada and many more.

He relocated to Austin from New York, where he served as the Director of Online Communications for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. At NCLD Scott directed Web-related activities including content development, technology maintenance, online marketing, partnership-building and Web usage analysis. Prior to NCLD, Scott was Assistant Director of Internet Initiatives at the Jewish Federations of North America and Associate Producer at ABCNews.com.

Scott is originally from Louisville, Ky., and holds a B.A in Literature/Writing from Columbia University, a B.A. in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a M.A. in Media Studies from The New School.

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