Egypt Debrief: Social media lessons for Jewish community

As seen in The Jewish Week

With the Internet playing such a high profile role in the events in the Middle East, what can we learn about more effectively leveraging social media? How can we use social media to foster a more engaged and activated Jewish community? We consulted with Amy Niles Gonzalez and David Sable, both highly regarded digital marketing experts, to offer insights into recent events and how to become a more digital savvy community.

Tahrir Square Take-away

Amy Niles Gonzalez

Amy Niles Gonzalez: “There are two key themes to consider here: one is the sense of personal and community investment in an issue or a movement. The other is the sense of urgency. People are most likely to engage and take action when there is an imminent threat. We should look at the Egyptian experience to understand what community existed before the protests and how it had been building overtime. We should also consider what tipped people from engaged to activated. In understanding how we can better engage the Jewish community, we should consider how to make the network – and the related appeals – as personal, emotional and relevant as possible. Ultimately the measure of success will be how the online community can and does take tangible action offline.”

David Sable

David Sable: “I could not agree more! What has become clear is that the leaders of the “revolution” had been in touch with their contemporaries abroad for a while. They shared lessons learned, encouraged each other and ultimately fed each other energy. This should not be a surprise to us as it follows classic revolutionary patterns – think of the Russian Revolution or Ché. Small groups, linked in complex ways, sharing and building. The Web amplifies human social behavior, but it doesn’t create it.

Furthermore it also highlights the two dichotomies of the Facebook/Twitter experience: On the one hand it’s a new broadcast channel that allows you to get to a lot of people quickly, though they are “friends” only in the sense that they see your message. On the other hand it is incredibly intimate, immediate, and feels personal.

It seems to me we need to begin building communities that replicate our current experiences – we need to amplify them. The shtetl was a social network. The ghettoes were social networks. Our synagogues are social networks. The JCC…you get the picture. What is it we accomplish together, on a daily or weekly basis, and how can we use the Web to amplify and make more efficient those actions?”

The Jewish Community Experience

Amy: “Online communities are most effective when they answer the following questions: Why does it matter to me? Why now? What can I do – easily and simply – to make a difference? The “Great Schlep” campaign is a great example of a successful organizing effort because it had a personal connection (grandparents), an emotional appeal (belief in change), a sense of urgency (election), and a clear, tangible way to have impact (get out the vote in key states).

One of the ongoing challenges in organizing the Jewish community online is trying to unify the different opinions and perspectives that Jews bring to their religion, culture and politics – across the states and around the world. It is difficult to create a single rallying cry when within the community there are so many fragmented perspectives and experiences with Judaism as a religion, a culture and a political state.”

David: “Again – pitch true. I’d only add the following: It’s about the Value Exchange. What do I get back for what I put in? Frankly, I don’t believe we can all connect – otherwise it’s more like broadcast. It is all about discrete groups coalescing around discrete exchanges of value that are important to them. Individuals in multiple groups allows for critical cross-fertilization. This is the ‘web’ of connections that really creates exponential value.”

Fostering an Active & Engaged Community

Amy: “The Internet offers an inexpensive venue for sharing thoughts and ideas that people are already forming in their “offline” lives, enabling connections and communications that closely mirror real life. The challenge here is to understand how people are already engaging and why. By organizing likeminded people together online, we can prime them to take action when you give them something to do – be it forwarding an email or petition to friends and family, calling a government official, attending an event, or giving money.

Keep in mind that online organizing cannot exist in a vacuum. To be effective, the network, message and appeals should be integrated across multiple channels (events, press, coverage, etc.). The degree to which people ultimately participate will be largely contingent on how personally relevant a given appeal is to them and their real life network of friends, family and neighbors.”

David: “True, true and true. We must understand the need and build around it. For example, a neighborhood-based Orthodox community might create a Twitter network to let people know the status of the Shabbat Eruv; a diffuse group of socially-minded young people might create a rapid response network for providing coats during cold weather or blood during shortages; a Social Service Agency might consider linking philanthropists to help them in key times. Find the need, amplify the behavior and create the value exchange – in this case the feeling of having helped and made a difference.”

Next Steps: A Social Media To-do List

Amy: “Start by thinking through and analyzing what are in place now – from donor lists and PR lists to email lists and social networks. What organizations already exist and what defines their core constituencies? Look for common threads – and examine where and why there are niche or fragmented audiences. Then you need to determine a goal. How are you going to measure the “success” of the community? In the size of the list? Dollars raised? Actions taken?  

With the goals in place, devise a narrative. Make a plan for communicating regularly and asking only when it’s really important. Above all, be open and genuine, encourage discussion and allow disagreement. People are most likely to engage in something that they believe to be authentic and relevant to their day-to-day lives.”

David: “AMEN. And it must be kept fresh – every network needs an active curator to keep us all awake!”

Amy Niles Gonzalez is Founder and President of Blueprint Interactive, a new media strategy, marketing and design firm. She has worked on a wide range of political and issue advocacy campaigns from state legislative to presidential, as well as numerous banking and commercial clients.

David Sable is global CEO of Young+Rubicam advertising, the third largest agency. Sable is considered one of the smartest and most innovative marketing executives on Madison Ave. An active member of the Jewish community, he participates in UJA and is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Week.