Whenever I’m called in to provide the leaders of both public and private sectors training and guidance on using digital tools, I sometimes get a little bit of resistance. And that resistance almost always focuses on a single complaint:I just don’t have time for this. People in leadership positions are already juggling a million different roles and tasks, and I’m asking them to take on another that doesn’t, at first glance, feel like it has immediate return on time investment. In the nonprofit world especially, movement leaders experience intensive levels of stress, and social media doesn’t always seem to make sense in the scramble of trying to save the world.
I took the plunge I always said that I wouldn’t take: this week, I got business-married. I created a digital strategy agency, Lux Digital, with my longtime collaborator, Sonal Bains, after a decade of happily swimming through the life of being an independent consultant. Becoming a company was something I flat-out rejected for years–I valued my freedom too much to load myself with the burdens that a company would surely bring me. But then, last summer, I saw a new light. Here’s the story of how I’ve made this journey.
Lux has been a long time in the making. Ten years ago, I finally admitted to myself, and eventually to my boss, that I wasn’t cut out for a corporate, 9-to-5 life. After years in telecommunications, advertising and finance, I struck out on my own as a freelancer. At that time, freelancing was just starting to come into the cultural consciousness as a Real Job™, and no longer one just for writers and designers. Freelancing life has been good to me: While the hustle for the next paycheck comes with a certain amount of stress, that stress has been much more manageable for me to deal with than living within the constraints of everyday office life. I’ve built up a wildly successful practice over this past decade. I teach my clients how to use digital tools to accomplish their goals, I’ve written a book, Share This!, about how we will all change the world with our social selves online, and have been blessed with an expansive network of co-conspirators, mentors and just deeply lovely people.
Along the way, I met a fantastic young activist and strategist–Sonal–at a party in DC. We connected initially because my necklace matched her earrings, and then she shared a bizarrely funny poem that had catalyzed the breakup with her then-boyfriend. (Happy ending, though: They got married last year.) Sensibility synchronicity–especially around humor and taste–is one of my keys to finding connection in this world, so when Sonal started freelancing as a digital strategist a few years later, we started working together almost immediately. We found our greatest successes in the clients that we shared centered around helping them feel their way through and share the emotional content of their work, and thus be able to deeply connect with their communities.
People often asked us why we didn’t form a business together, and like the partner who wasn’t willing to get married, I’d often answer, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But by last summer, freelance life had finally started to wear on me: Being in charge of every single detail all the time left me no more energy to pursue other kinds work that make me feel passionate and alive. I have another life as a graphic artist and storyteller, as well as life of performance that I had dropped around the time I started writing my book.
I shared my feelings about my digital work with Sonal, and she said, “I’ve been thinking about the bigger picture, too. We should make it official and finally team up. Let’s make an agency.” We spent several hours in Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn hashing out just what that meant, and by that evening, we had a plan. When we shared the idea with a few close friends and advisors, they were thrilled. “[You’re] combining your awesomeness into Voltron-like immensity,” said author and comedian Baratunde Thurston. It was like getting business-engaged, and we started planning our business-wedding.
Three months in, we found that our day-to-day lives weren’t allowing for the space we needed to really make a launch happen. Sonal suggested that we sequester ourselves someplace warm and beach-y to dig deep. It hit me that visiting Ruth Ann and Bill Harnisch in the Bahamas might be the perfect setting: brilliant advisors close by, aforementioned warm beach requirement, a gorgeous and comfort-filled home, and the ability to be as connected or disconnected with the rest of the world as we saw fit. (Sonal chose the former, I chose the latter. We complement each other well, often. There are plenty of chocolate-and-peanut-butter jokes in this partnership.) We chose mid-February for our retreat, and set up a series of goals and exercises to complete while we were there.
First order of business was branding, and obviously, a name for our agency. The ideas of sun, fire and light resonated deeply with both of us, and on the first morning of our retreat, we started exploring that resonance. At that moment, a flame-colored butterfly flew into the room. She fluttered around through the house for a minute, but then became clearly stressed as she didn’t know how to get back outside. Sonal and I jumped up, and, barely even speaking to one another, we guided the butterfly back outside. It hit us: This is what we do. We guide our clients, in fluid concert with one another. We love working together for our clients’ joy and freedom.
We were also visited by a pair of hawks that live near the house; the first visit came as we were just about to begin a Skype session with Thrivable’s Jean Russell, who facilitated exercises that helped us identify our network of collaborators and others. Hawks and butterflies. Insight, clarity, beauty.
Later, after a run on the beach, Sonal came to me with her discovery of our name:
Lux. Light. Yes.
Thus, Lux Digital has been born. We’re looking forward to the many collaborations and manifestations that this endeavor will bring.
About Lux Digital: We’re based in New York, and we provide leaders in the public, private and social sectors online strategies which create measurable impact and deep engagement. A myriad of targeted services comes in that package: campaign-based and organizational strategy development, online/offline social event integration and implementation, as well as workshops, webinars and training on tools, content and analytics/measurement.
With the supposed death of journalism looming over media junkies worldwide, it’s easy to wave off plenty of media innovations as passing fads while we mourn our shrinking paychecks or lost jobs. But there’s a new kid on the block that I’m ridiculously excited about– Symbolia, a new magazine for comics journalism. I’m biased about this particular innovation on two fronts: I’m a comics nerd & artist myself (a new collection of stories from me is due out Spring 2013), and Symbolia’s creator, Erin Polgreen, has been a friend and co-conspirator since our days in the independent media movement in the US. But with its launch on Monday, Symbolia has accomplished two major feats: elevated the status of illustrated, sequential art as a form in a neglected space, and created a new space for us to reimagine what journalism can look– and feel– like. [Start now: download Symbolia for iPad from iTunes, or get thePDF version.]
In the myriad of things to be thankful for on this fine American holiday: family, friends, home, the ongoing generosity of volunteers continuing to push through to provide mutual aid in the ongoing devastation of Hurricane Sandy. But, I also wanted to take a moment to share some of the mobile goodies that make my life just a little bit easier, make me smile a little more and make things in the DZ operation run just a little smoother. Enjoy your turkey/tofurkey!
Nerds in the aftermath of Sandy sprang into action: We’ve seen some innovative technology solutions address many aspects of the fallout of the storm. It got me poking around at what’s working and what isn’t, and starting to look at communications solutions we can start to put in place before the next storm, disaster, revolution or what-have-you.
The Valise Society salon that my friend Tobias hosted for me in Berlin was covered by one of Germany’s largest weekly publications, DIE ZEIT, in their print publication. (I also spoke at their new online newsroom and had a Google hangout with them while I was in Berlin.) English translation follows.
BlogHer, that fabulous and conveniently named network and conference of women who are bloggers, hosts a yearly day long career development day called Pathfinder Day. This year, on August 2nd, I’m leading the Change Agent track with Cheryl Contee. We promise, one way or another, your life will be changed if you come spend a day with us. Hee.
Normally the registration is $79 ($79!! What a bargain!), but BlogHer knows that that’s steep for many women who could really use this time to figure out their next steps in their online careers. So, they’ve given us each 2 passes to give away– if you’re interested, leave a comment on this post below, and I’ll pick 2 women at random. You don’t have to leave your life story or anything, but if you’re not someone I normally travel with in my circles, it’d be great to learn a little about why you’d like to attend, and why a free pass would be extra useful for you.
Otherwise, if you can swing it, and you’re ready, join us on August 2nd.
That’s right! Me, who never wins anything! Planned Parenthood awards all kinds of designations each year, and for my work on Planned Parenthood Saved Me, they’ve given me their first-ever 2012 Social Media award. I’m honored!
Here are the remarks I shared at the award luncheon today:
First, thank you Planned Parenthood, not only for your health care and advocacy, but for championing women without fail, with what seems like without compromise. That’s rare in our political climate. Planned Parenthood has successfully negotiated that emotional connection we all feel to the work they do, whether that’s through their clinics or their advocacy, and turned it into a relationship. They’ve embraced social media, both their own properties and the wider world’s conversations.
But also, I’m sharing this award with all the women who shared their stories on Planned Parenthood Saved Me. It’s a crying shame that we live in a world where this is an act of bravery, but that’s what it was. The women that said, “I would have bled to death if it weren’t Planned Parenthood,” or “Planned Parenthood’s staff were the only people who understood me after I was assaulted,” or “Planned Parenthood found my cancer.” That’s what you do. That is your work, and we thank you.
Which is the last thing I want to share– I really want people to understand that PP Saved Me blew up not because Rachel Maddow read from it on her show, or that it was in the Washington Post and a dozen other major major outlets. More than half the traffic to the site came before any major media mention, and that traffic came from Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr.
Women sharing their stories with one another made the difference her. Our stories matter, more than ever.
If you want to learn more about how the Planned Parenthood Saved me campaign worked, check out this 10-minute talk I gave at Personal Democracy Forum: “Don’t Mess with Our Boobs: Ad-Hoc Networks and Online Power.“
There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy.
Every few months, it seems like, when the Internet gets its big knickers on and does something righteous, invariably, someone somewhere gets up on a stage and declares that anyone, if the idea is good enough, can be successful on the Internet. Whether that’s a business plan, a political campaign or a cultural meme: you, too, can make it big. It’s our American rugged individualism, intertwined with what looks like an open digital frontier, all packaged up into an utopian bliss for the new century.
What’s true is that more people than ever have access to information, tools and networks that make things happen. And while the news often covers the darker sides of connective technologies like the Internet and mobile devices becoming mainstream, there’s plenty of good to celebrate. Look at just this past week in Internet do-gooding: A video showing a school bus monitor being gut-wrenchingly harassed by 13-year-old boys until she cried sparked a fundraising campaign for her, one that’s now reached over $650,000.
Where things go awry in the analysis of these kinds of situations is two-fold: one, that there is a secret to making something “go viral” (short answer: there isn’t), and two, anyone can create explosive story at any time if the story has merit. If you’re good enough and smart enough, doggone it, people will like you. And you will win the Internet.
Canada! You like me, you really like me. After my appearance on CBC Connect last night, CBC Radio got in touch to schedule a bunch of local radio interviews with me today. Some of these will be live, and some are taped (no idea which are which), but if you’re tuning in today, as is your patriotic Canadian duty, you might hear me talking about crowdfunding in the wake of the Karen Klein bullying story.
(All times Eastern)
Paul Castle – Host
Allison Devereux – Host
Alan Neal – Host
Laura diBattista – Host
Stephen Quinn – Host
Larry Updike – Host
Dave White – Host
Cathy Alex – Producer/Host, Voyage North
Jo-Ann Roberts (Host)