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Digital for social good: Five takeaways from Stream 2015

I just spent two days with 300 of the smartest, most creative people I’ve ever encountered. This is true praise, as my work makes me lucky enough to meet lots of people like that.

Jim Rosenberg

WPP’s Stream unconference this year was a 2.5 day mind meld around all things digital – from the neuroscience of marketing (did your eyes really see what they saw?) to the latest thinking around content strategy… and even a session on work/life balance. Sadly, I was catching up on emails during that one. Here are five takeaways that will affect social good in the coming year:

1. Agencies and nonprofits still struggle to understand each other.

Ad guy, want to help a charity? Great. Charity, got an idea for a big campaign? Cool. Be sensible. Success requires taking time to really get a strong brief and understand the context and the constraints that each side faces. Well-intentioned agencies can get into the weeds without insisting on a really tight scope of work and brief from a social good organization.

I’ve seen this in my own experience, and my view was reinforced during a pitch session where teams proposed digital solutions to help address the refugee situation stemming from the four year-old war in Syria. All pitches were well intended, but often lacked context or depended on wildly unlikely things (such as bringing M-PESA to Turkey; there’s lots of well-documented reasons why M-PESA hasn’t rolled out in more markets). To be fair, the pitches were of high quality given the time each team had to pull it all together.

2. There’s a general consensus around what works when it comes to engaging audiences.

This is what works: being clear about a call to action, knowing your audience, crafting content that’s got a story to it, measuring and analyzing results and adjusting based on the data. Mobile internet, smartphones are pervasive now. Though search and social algorithms will change, functionalities continue to evolve.

We have reached cruising altitude with digital. Some 22 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave us the free and open World Wide Web, eight years since the first iPhone and 11 years since Facebook came to be, we have some well established principles around good user experience, design, and audience-focused content. Nonprofits ignore these at their own risk.

3. Everyone is just giddy about virtual and augmented reality, but the use cases are nascent.

For nonprofit marketing and communications, it is hard to see how this scales up in the near term. Hopefully we’ll see more people playing with the medium, the way the UN did at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. My brain is already filling up with ideas on how to play with this, and hopefully the tech firms driving VR/AR will keep their favorite causes in mind as they zero in on ways to monetize the platform.

4. Nonprofits risk being left behind as more sophisticated (read: more expensive) ways of serving content come to market.

Several people I met talked about how paid reach and engagement is becoming the path of choice for big brands – some are even avoiding the daily, hourly ‘feeding the beast’ of content and instead are focusing on deep spending on a few signature pieces of video per campaign and then putting massive ad spends behind them on social platforms.

This makes a lot of sense, but few nonprofits I know have the budget to do that. And many must work to satisfy internal demands for content pushes (think of the health expert demanding his blog get posted on Facebook, for example, when few people are going to Facebook to read health blogs!). It will be some time before we will need to grapple with mobile optimized content formats, such as Apple News and the new Google mobile preview product. Study publishers to see how they cope.

5. Size matters, but not the way you think it does.

Smaller can be better when it comes to nimble digital activations. Some of the most upbeat participants were from small start-ups or who had become stars on Instagram or YouTube – while some of the more frustrated folks I met were from really big brands where decision making is slower and more formalized when it comes to trying new things and innovating.

No doubt 2016 will be super disruptive to us all - though I wonder if we’re going to end up living in a version of “Minority Report” or “The Matrix”…or perhaps we’ll go more the route of how Parisian taxi drivers responded to Uber. In any case, the most thought provoking moment at Stream for me was when a dinner companion said, “We all should really be reading more novels and fiction. That’s how you understand the human condition.” Digital marketing may be about data, but it’s about poetry, too.

Jim Rosenberg is chief communications officer at Accion, a global nonprofit dedicated to building a financially inclusive world with economic opportunity for all, by giving people the financial tools they need to improve their lives.

JR

Jim Rosenberg

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