Ben Rattray on

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO of is presenting. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Rise of the social web has been huge. Activism by proxy – people are interested in organizations and these organizations act on their behalf. They get information from direct email and the organization acts. People by themselves are unable to take action at the national level so they need proxies, outside of traditional media, for example through blogs. The Web would disintermediate existing organizations, allowing people to get together and collectively running action. So we have a toolset to create action and to allow NGOs to organize.

First version of the site was launched two years ago – we worked with Amnesty, Green Peace and other big brands – and we found: 1) leadership matters and narrative really matters – little groups would start with very deep engagement but then the question what’s next would come up. 2) question of how does this impact organizations: new organizations and existing bureaucracies. New organizations: there are outliers which gain prominence in really powerful ways, and a dynamic network like MoveOn becomes an organization.

Obama campaign: narrative was by far the most important factor, over myBarackObama – they provided a framework in which people could act. Organizations are now looking at the online tools used by the Obama campaign, they wanna use them too. The problem is not people being not being networked online, is people lacking a narrative. They need a really compelling message to propagate across the network.

Right now incredible amount of interest in change – what do you do to keep up the momentum? Nonprofits need narrative and they need to empower people on how to take action. It is not enough to just gather million of people together. At we have embraced a model where we try to tell people why this matters and what they can do. Channels built around certain issues i.e. global warming, human rights etc.

If you care about engagement through information: in mainstream media stories very boring and no continuity, you read about it once and that is it. Need for coverage which engages people. At homeless people blogging about their experiences. People blogging from prison. Autistic bloggers talking about their experiences. This model has been created in order to get deep engagement. The next step is to enable action. Most people are lurkers, only a small percentage is very active, but it is very important that they know they can participate by leaving comments etc. if they want to.

Response from Joe Green, Founder of Facebook Causes: technology forms group very quickly – this is sth we have started to take for granted but which is the new amazing thing about technology. What do people do once they are in these groups? You create a marketplace for better run groups. Leadership forms and structure forms, opening up opportunities for more people to become leaders.Technology allows you to scale really quickly. People who are very good grasroots organizers on the ground, do not know what to do online: what you do offline, do it online.

Author: Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro (BSc LSE; MPhil, DPhil, Oxon) is a sociologist and a professional in the printing industry.

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