By Clare Ellis
You’ve probably been there – that moment at the end of a film that has just exposed some terrible wrongdoing. You’re emotionally pumped, full of outrage, and ready to do something about it – NOW! At that moment you’re putty in the hands of the movie director. And then … nothing. Credits roll, the lights go on, the audience leaves the theater.
It’s amazing how often the people who pour heart, soul, and money into shooting a film – or researching an article or writing a book – fail to take the next step and turn audience response into action. I still remember the end of An Inconvenient Truth. The audience, many of us with tears streaming down our faces, watched eagerly as the film ended and cut to a screen citing “What You Can Do.” So what CAN we do? Not much, it appeared. Apart from a standard-issue appeal to “write to your congressman,” the boldest action item on the on-screen list was to switch to low-energy light bulbs. It’s not often you get to hear tears dry up.
Connect the audience to the story
In another example of a missed opportunity a recent story in O magazine detailed Michigan resident Lynn Henning’s brave fight against factory-farming. The article detailed the enormous amount of suffering and environmental damage that CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, have introduced to the rural community of Lenawee County, Michigan, where Henning lives. It was a story well told by writer Kathy Dobie and I hung onto every word. And then it was over.
I wasn’t the only frustrated reader. In a follow up issue the editors remarked on the flood of letters from similarly moved readers who’d written to ask, “but what can we do about it!” The editors printed the following response – too late of course to run with the actual article: Buy animal products stamped certifiedhumane, shop at farmers markets, and contact the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club for advice.
That’s all? Curious to see what the Sierra Club offered – and how the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club had capitalized on this amazing exposure (O’s readership is roughly 1.5M readers) – I visited the site.
They built it and no one came
First, The Michigan Chapter should be commended for doing an amazing job compiling some truly helpful resources on how to take action against factory farming. The problem is I’m betting not many people know about them. The Club has no Twitter account and rarely mentions factory farming on its Facebook page. Even that windfall, the Lynn Henning article, came and went in a whoosh; was mentioned only twice – once when the magazine came out and another time when a member posted the story.
“We haven’t been as good as we could be keeping those pages alive and in front of people, unfortunately,” says Gail Philbin, assistant director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. It’s a challenge many small nonprofits face – how to do the work and promote it at the same time. Philbin says the Michigan Chapter is on the verge of launching a Twitter account and plans a series of house parties to talk about factory farming, which they’ll be promoting on Facebook and the website.
That’s great, because in this crazy information-congested age you have no choice but to make it easy for people to act on your message. How?
A few things even a resource-strapped nonprofit – or farm or food business – can do to drum up support.
Figure out your story. Pretend you’re telling someone what your organization does in a sentence or two. Then get it down on paper and refine it until you’re satisfied it does the job.
Seize every opportunity to tell it. A riveting story about a lone woman’s battle against factory farming in your own backyard appears in a huge national magazine? Yeehah! You blast the news everywhere – invite her to help answer questions on FB or Twitter, ask for the magazine to link to your organization, put together a short video of her efforts and her tie to your organization and launch it on YouTube, keep her story alive by regularly updating members on her progress.
Hunker down for the long haul. This is not a short-term campaign. It’s an ongoing effort. Become a reliable and constant source of information about your topic.
Connect with people as many ways as possible. Tell your story in newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, and face-to-face gatherings. We’re all different and we all have preferred ways of getting information.
Offer clear action items. Look for every opportunity to convert interest into action whether that means signing up for a newsletter, donating money, or delving into solid resources on how to challenge factory farming. Make it easy for people to do something about it.
Clare Ellis, Media Chief, Good Food Media Group
To find local food in your area, check out Pick-A-Pepper.com
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