AAUW: How you will change the world with social media

The following is a workshop that I gave at the American Association of University Women’s annual meeting on June 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. I’ll post video if it comes, but below are the resources I mentioned, other things to look at, and my unedited crib notes.

View more presentations from Deanna Zandt.



Section 1: Ground rules
Section 2: Big picture of how it works
Section 3: Do’s & don’ts

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I view it a lot like a water cooler where I stop in to see what’s going on, share something interesting or funny, and just generally check in with what’s happening in the rest of the world. I don’t spend all day at the water cooler (okay, I’m an addict, I spend a lot of time there, but you don’t have to), but it both gives me a mental break from the grind and provides fodder for conversations.

Because so much of what social media is about is our very human need to be connected to one another, increasingly folks expect to be talked with, not at. Building relationships in a one-on-one basis can be time-consuming, but social media certainly helps ease some of that pain. Engaging with communities of all kinds can lessen some of the load you have to get the word out about your programs and noteworthy news.

One more way social media can complement the work you do is by acting as a curation filter for you. Sharing links is one of the primary activities in these spaces. The network you build can function as a personal guide to what’s important in your world, and help you find information and other people that you otherwise wouldn’t have stumbled upon on your own. This can also cut down on the time you spend trolling for information elsewhere.

You’ll end up adjusting your digital mix of news, email and social media over time, and that adjustment will be ongoing as your work and needs change. None of this is set in stone, and you should feel free to use the tools how you see fit.


There were two more campaigns that really made me step back and marvel at the resilience and resourcefulness of women online. The first was #mooreandme. Who knows what this one was about?

OK, the recap there. Michael Moore is that lovable lefty rabble rouser, who’s also kind of a dumbass. On the Keith Olbermann show, he publicly dismissed and ridiculed the women who are accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault. Dear sweet Lord, I thought my eye twitch would never go away, especially when the progressive left-o-sphere, led by many of the dudely and privileged persuasion, didn’t really take issue with this.

But, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown teamed up with WAM!’s Jaclyn Friedman, and Kate Harding, to kick Twitter into high gear and demand an apology from Moore. Using the hashtag #mooreandme – everyone know what a hashtag is? – thousands of tweets telling stories of rape, real rape, because all rape is real rape, could be heard. It blossomed. Moore never came right out an apologized, but he sort of mealy-mouthed his way through an interview with Rachel Maddow.

Now, traditionally speaking, what did this campaign accomplish? No laws were passed, no real apologies were made (I’m sorry, Olbermann, but pulling a “sorry you were offended” apology does not count), Assange’s case wasn’t necessarily affected. All things that traditionally we might have required to declare campaign success. But how many women felt a little less crazy? A little less alone in their outrage? On top of that, I have no doubt that the Maddow interview with Moore happened because of this campaign. If we had just let it go, as we’re often told to do, we wouldn’t have had any of this.



So if you’re missing from a number of social networks or media spaces, it’s a little awkward. It’s like, remember when it was OK to not have an email address? And then all of the sudden that wasn’t OK? This is where we’re going with these things. Part of that also is that you’re going to show up in search results one way or another, and social networks are coming up more and more in the top results, so this is a really good way to have tremendous influence on what comes up.

Outside of that, there’s a big social justice angle to all of these. These very public conversations about the things we care about are happening, and if we’re not in there helping to shape them, to add our perspective, to bring in voices that have otherwise gone ignored or been marginalized, those conversations will go on without us. Decisions will get made without the benefit of our experiences. That’s already been happening for the last few milennia for most of us, and it’s time to change that. But already we’re seeing people not jumping in– 80% of Wikipedia’s editors are male; largely white, single and middle to upper class. Wikipedia has already become the standard of our collective history. Does it represent you and your viewpoint? Does it represent the constituencies you are working for?

There’s an economy at work on the Internet, and it’s all about reputation. Increasingly, our lives are being built around referral, recommendation, and being known Out There. This isn’t new, or different, than how we’ve operated for eons it’s just that it’s all mapped out, and we can all see everything now.

Ah yes, influence. So, the currency of this economy You know the gift economy?  is social capital. Just like regular capital, it’s something that’s earned and invested, but not just for personal gain. This whole part of the world is about doing things because they’re a good idea, not just to Get Ahead. It’s like a simplified notion of karma, in many ways.

Here are some of the things that make up your social capital, according to Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor (with my explanations):

* Connections: Who do you know? Not just important or famous people, either. Are you connected to lots of different kinds of people who can complete different tasks?
* Reputation: What are you known for? What do people say about your expertise?
* Influence: Can you move groups of people, small or large, to take some action?
* Access to ideas, talent: Beyond your own skill set, do you have ways of reaching out to others with talent and knowledge?
* Access to resources: You may not be able to fund a particular project, but do you know people who can? Do you have ways of generating physical support?
* Potential access: Will your access to resources and talent stay static in the future, or will it continue to grow?
* Saved-up favors: We’re not writing down every good deed, but do people remember you for the ways that you help others? This is incredibly important. Is your own generosity with your social capital part of your reputation?
* Accomplishments: What awards have you won? What concrete recognition  papers or articles published, etc.  have you received for your work?

One of the biggest things is to know that authenticity is absolutely key here. Who you are  as a professional, as a person, whatever you choose to run with  needs to shine on in social media. Your voice is unique, your expertise and perspective are 100% you don’t lock them down in old school stuffy corporate speak. Conversations are important; messaging is more subtle.

When we participate in these kinds of authentic activities–when we share with one another, we do more than just “get the word out” about things that we care about. We reject prescribed identities and say “this is what it’s like to be a person in these shoes.” We beat down the doors of the powerful and demand to be heard in new ways. We find each other and say either overtly or covertly: “You are not alone.”

Many of you have heard me say this before, but I think it bears repeating. The main product of all this sharing is that we create empathy. Empathy is the opposite of apathy: it is when we don’t just recognize that other people have feelings, but when we actually share in the emotions of those around us. Studies have shown that when we’re participating on social networks, for example, oxytocin is released in our brains. That’s the hormone that’s responsible for feelings of affection and bonding… and yes, digital interactions can inspire that.


Your job here is to think of yourself as a curator, and a network weaver. Connect the dots for your community, both issues and people. Dig around through this garden that you’re growing and see what’s happening. Any other metaphors I can use here?


SECTION THREE: Do’s and Don’ts

When thinking about how to join the fray, one of my favorite analogies is to think of social media as an ad-hoc, informal get together whose attendees are constantly moving and shifting around the room. And just as you wouldn’t walk into a party, get up on a chair, and start yelling at everyone who can hear you that you’re awesome, you shouldn’t do that here, either.

Social media is called “social” for a reason. People expect to have conversations, and they expect them to be fairly authentic experiences. We’ll talk more in a bit about how this breaks down, but only 20-30% of your tweets should be tooting your own horn: the rest should be the other stuff: passing along interesting items from other people, thanking people, helping others, sharing their good news, etc.

A common fear that people have is of this new transparency.

Being transparent doesn’t mean giving away the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle, don’t worry. An example is how I started sharing bits of the book writing process when I was working on “Share This!” My editor and I had talked about me blogging my content as I was writing it, but I just found it too difficult in the end– there were just too many loose ends during most of it, and when it was time to tie everything up into a neat bow, that’s where all my brain energy had to go–I couldn’t focus on blogging. So instead, I used Twitter, Facebook and Flickr to show people what I was working on or thinking about. Short status updates relieved the pressure from me having to have a full analysis presented; people got a kick out of seeing photos of my wall o’ brainstorming or my to-do lists during editing. It helped them feel like they were in it there with me. And now that it’s coming out, a lot of folks in my community feel like they’re right there in the center of the action, because they’ve been in it with me for a year.


Who am I online?

* Pure professional. You’re an expert in your field and you want to share this with the world. Pick a couple of “beats” and focus your twittering on those beats. Find other folks tweeting about these topics and have conversations with them.

* Pure personal. Your cat is hilarious, you’re thinking about moving to Wisconsin, you’re on your way to Miami for a much needed vacation. You get the idea here, but do try to keep your audience in mind as you post some of your life’s minutiae. I’m guilty of posting weird stuff, for sure.

* The blended model. This is the way to go, and what ultimately makes Twitter so interesting, in my opinion. If I wanted to know people’s political analysis only, I’d go read their blogs. There’s a humanizing effect of reading about a distant colleague’s child’s first words, or seeing that people you think are on top of the world have bad days, too. It creates empathy and insight. When I tweeted that I’d had a really rough, emotional weekend once, I was surprised to see which followers spoke up to say, “Hey, we’re with you.” And it helped further complete a picture of me for them, as well.



People also fear making a mistake,  but it’s actually an oddly good way to build social capital. People like it when you take ownership of a mistake– when you say, “Oops, bad link in that last post” or “so-and-so just corrected me– it’s actually 80% of the population, thanks!”

One reason is that this is a MUCH more informal environment. We worry about everything on the Internet being Out There forever, but remember: everything’s out there forever. Everyone’s bits. So not only are the chances of finding your slipups in ten years next to nil, but people are much more understanding–because they’ve got their own slipups to worry about.

How do I know if I’m doing a good job?

For mass media, bigger always has meant better. You needed capital to own a printing press, and the more papers you sold, the bigger your empire became. Quantifiable metrics, such as the number of subscribers or viewers, were key, because thats how ad dollars were determined.

If you think about it, though, those numbers were padded in a big wayin terms of television viewership numbers, for example, not every cable subscriber is watching every channel.

Measuring authority based on sheer numbers is also an imperfect approach when it comes to digital media and social networks. Theres no easy way to rank relevance in the online space (yet); the sheer number of friends or followers you have on any given social network service doesnt tell you that much about your authority or influence.

No one can guarantee that each and every one of those people is genuinely invested in the material youre posting. You cant count on people to be committed to any kind of ac- tion you ask for, simply because large numbers of people are consuming the material.

If we keep obsessing about social network numbers the way we have over numbers of visitors to our websites, or numbers of subscribers to our newsletters, were going to fail at being effec- tive when reaching out to the people who might want or need the most to hear the stories we have to share. In fact, sometimes smaller numbers of followers and fans who have been culled and cultivated have a much greater ultimate impact than a large audience you dont know that much about.




Note that this will be a longer blog post at some point, but here are the key points from the talk:

– National broadcast (MTV) of a special on abortion. Exhale wanted to created a space where politics weren’t a part of the conversation, where women who’d had abortions–especially those 3 on the show–felt that they were loved & supported.

– Timeline: We had about 2 weeks to prep. We started working on it on Dec 8, but we weren’t allowed to announce the show until MTV gave the OK, which was Dec 22. Show aired on Dec 28.

– Tools/tactics we employed:
– Branding the campaign to be named similar to show “16 & Pregnant”
– Website where people could submit messages of love/support (WordPress based site + WooTheme. Hosting was $10/month and theme was $75).
– Twitter, existed already with 235 followers: Hashtag #16andloved. Used to share info about the special, and posts from 16 & Loved website, as well as engage in conversation.
– Facebook, had a Cause with about 1000 members. Decided to create a Page so that updates about the campaign were more likely to appear in fan’s timelines. Used to share info, and posts from the website.
– Set up Rowfeeder to track multiple terms for analysis after.
– Blogger strategy. Asked 10-11 key bloggers in repro justice arena to participate in a call with Exhale’s ED. Gave as much advanced access as we were allowed; embargoed the rest. Asked for participants for liveblogging the show, got 4-5.
– Partnerships. Found like-minded org’s to share content with.
– Live blog. Gave a place for people to congregate while watching the show.

– Outcomes:
– Twitter following increased from 235 to 465; 548 mentions of @ExhaleProVoice and  1563 mentions of #16andloved in 3 weeks.
– Facebook fan page went from 0 to 616 fans;  617 likes of posts with 1,152 active users
– Live blog ended up with 422 viewers, and it’s since been replayed 982 times
– About 25 blog posts and articles, including feminist strongholds of Feministing, Feministe, Jezebel; independent media such as Salon.com, Change.org, and Care2; mainstream media such as ABCNews, NY Post, Washington Post. Two weeks later, an article on the campaign appeared in the NY Times.

I could sit here and rattle off a whole bunch of numbers about website hits, or mentions on Twitter, or how the Facebook fan page exploded. But numbers don’t mean much of anything. They don’t. More on why later. What mattered in the end were messages like this one, from Tenell:

Today I found these videos on MTV and at first I didn’t even know what to think. I had an abortion myself at 16 and for just over two years I have tried to hide the pain that came along with my decision. I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with a boy who was unfaithful and was not there for me. If it was not for my family, I would not be here today. I did not want to have an abortion, but I was out of school at the time and I knew that down the road it would be the right decision. I went through with it and tried so hard to hide it from my life. Over the two years that followed, I was very sad and ashamed of what I did. Watching these videos makes me remember what I have been through and how strong I am today. Thank you for these videos, it feels very good to know that I am not alone and will never be. My mom and I have never been closer and I graduated from high school on time and now I am living for me with my current boyfriend, who is my best friend. He supports what I had to do and wouldn’t change me for anything, and after watching these videos, I know I wouldn’t change anything either. I think about what I had to go through everyday, but I know I made the right decision for me at that time. Thank you for reminding me that I am not a bad person and that I am not alone. Thank you.


I watched the show last night and I have to say I am so amazed and inspired by these girls for being able to not feel ashamed and embarassed of their choice! I watched, crying, wishing that I had someone to really talk to about my abortion! I have not even been able to tell my own mother! It has been several years – yet I still feel the weight of the choice I made! Although I know it was the best choice for me and my daughter that I did have at the time, there is such a stigma attached and even though it was just a “bunch of cells” at the time, I still felt much like Markai – it was still a part of me – and no one else would understand except the mother who had to endure it! So thanks for your voice – I know now I am not alone in my feelings and a little of my shame is gone!

And there are hundreds more like those.

So tell me: do we really care what the metrics are? Or are you, like me, overwhelmed with the sense that we made some women’s lives a tiny bit better?

One Response to “AAUW: How you will change the world with social media”

  1. Wanda Foster says:

    I really wanted to attend your presentation, but wasn’t able to. Would you please include me on any future information you share. I’m the Marketing Chair for our branch, and I want to make sure we use social media as effectively as we can.

    Thank you for sharing,


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