Mary Ellen Cagnassola, Communications Coordinator, Community Access Unlimited
The digital age is in full swing, and with it comes a host of opportunities and potential dangers for professional media and communications. In the social service, justice and advocacy sector that I call home, the risks of coming across as tone deaf – or, even worse, not woke – are particularly high, even for the most well-intentioned communications professionals.
Consumers are not only acutely aware of blatant marketing tactics, but they have no qualms about calling them out and turning an organization or business into a trending hashtag of Internet nightmares (looking at you, Kendall Jenner Pepsi campaign). That’s why it’s so essential, especially during months of awareness, to think like a storyteller and not a marketer when strategizing how your organization can effectively promote its mission in conjunction with modern media trends.
There are three guiding principles that inform the content I create for my organization, Community Access Unlimited, which supports individuals with different abilities and youth at risk. These rules have yet to let me down.
Be genuine. If your heart, passion and intentions are in the right place and supported by research, you can never fail. Emphasis on research – that aforementioned do-gooder trifecta can be flawed, so always prepare to back your stuff up.
Do the work. There are plenty of stories in your organization, you just have to put on your scoop hat and seek them out. A compelling narrative that shows how your organization is furthering “X Awareness Month” will always rise above a say-nothing hashtag post. Most nonprofits are notoriously stretched thin and are lucky to have one person at the social media and digital content helm, never mind the entire team it would take to perform this kind of work at the for-profit or national/global nonprofit level. It is impossible to stay abreast of every social media holiday and trending topic, and sometimes good enough is good enough. Don’t feel bad about keeping a post to a simple #HappyRandomInternetHoliday on busy days, but do stay aware of potential awareness-centered events that pertain to your organization’s focus. Once in a while, the stars align, and something amazing happens at the perfect conjecture, such as when one of my organization’s members passed his CDL test during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This was an exciting opportunity to spotlight one of our member’s accomplishments while simultaneously raising awareness around the issue of disability employment. However, there is a fine line between sharing a noteworthy story and exploitation, which brings us to:
DO NOT TOKENIZE. For instance, this April, it would be so easy for me to post a picture of a Community Access Unlimited member with autism and wish everyone a #HappyAutismAwarenessMonth, but the people we support are not selling points. They are human beings, and I will never use their images or likeness to create meaningless content in the hopes of glomming onto a trending hashtag. Seek consent, and always make sure there is a point to what you’re putting out into the ether. If you’re confused about how to accomplish this task, here are a few examples that can make your organization appear socially aware, entertaining and possibly provide an opportunity for cross-promotion.
While the guidelines we just covered are pretty universal, that does not mean your team or point person should stop there. No matter your audience, if you develop a strong set of values around spreading awareness via digital content and storytelling, it will resonate with people and give your employees something they can be proud to share. Go forth and make the Internet a better place!