WINDHOEK. For two years running, Socialbrite has released a list of the most popular Twitter hashtags for social change: basically, a snapshot of the hottest topics for the We Are the World set. Looking through last year’s list, I was happy to see Communication for Development is getting some serious buzz. It looks like people are buying that better communication is part and parcel of social change, not just an afterthought to make things look and sound good after it’s done. The only thing is, the communications that people are tweeting about and what I actually do couldn’t be much more different.
Of Socialbrite’s top 45 tags, three focus on communications:
- #nptech, for nonprofits’ use of technology
- #4change, for a monthly chat on taking advantage of social media
- #video4change, for cool video advocacy
These are all about harnessing advanced technologies (social media, video, etc.) to transform how we connect with people. What I spend more of my time doing, on the other hand, is lo-fi writing and design: These attract way less discussion online, even though I’d argue they’re the real bedrock of what we do. Any cutting-edge communications technology will fail without them. Which makes me wonder why, say, an active “#npwriting” community hasn’t come together like the “#nptech” one?
One possibility is that nonprofits just have bigger tech teams, so more people naturally end up talking tech. To get some sense of this, I found the current proportion of full-time writers and designers at a couple places I’ve worked, and I compared this against the average share of full-time techies at similarly large nonprofits (the ones with budgets over $10 million in NTEN’s 2011 Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Survey Report):
Obviously this is purely suggestive, but it doesn’t look like the writing and design communities at big NGOs are always all that tiny. Sometimes they’re smaller than the tech teams you’d find at similar organizations (as in the case of the first organization), but they can also be way bigger (as with the second organization, which maintains a hefty copywriting pool for its fundraising; it outsources its design rather than do it internally).
So maybe writing and design just aren’t trending because people don’t see them as the next big game changers, the way everyone’s worried they’ll miss out on the social media revolution. Every one of us, from health workers to accountants, has always had to write and format documents as part of this job, and what we produce isn’t usually anything to tweet home about. Think about this: NGO writers and designers have courtside seats right where the world’s cultures, big and small, are facing off in ways no one has ever seen before - and what’s our response? Regurgitated, jargon-filled writing and default Office layouts, mostly. Show me the people who are using this position to pioneer new narratives and forms, and I will use that hashtag to death. I mean, seriously.