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Key Takeaways, Great and Small

October 29, 2009

I have a slight data fetish, so this week’s readings were a nice change of pace.  Sometimes when your environment is too touchy-feely, it’s nice to know that someone somewhere is taking facts and translating them into a real, effective strategy (as opposed to rationalizing decisions with “I feel like ….”).   I guess the moral of the moral of the story is, don’t get too caught up in the hype. People get excited about social networking even though good, old-fashioned email is the most important thing to focus on.  People make a big deal about Obama’s online campaign, which is, in fact exciting and novel, but a good online campaign can’t replace a good offline campaign.  This lesson applies to many instances where technology meets society.   For example, people act as though putting computers into schools will solve all sorts of education problems (i.e. getting kids to pay attention, teaching them “21st century skills”, etc.), forgetting that technology does no good without a coherent strategy behind it.

A lot of the findings from these papers seem pretty intuitive, but they are littered with moments that make me go, “Oh,  I hadn’t thought about that before!”  The effectiveness of email in these campaigns blows my mind–partly because everyone spends so much time getting excited about social networking, partly because emails rarely inspire me to take action, even on issues I deeply care about.    Even though it seems obvious that you would want to make your email as specific as possible for certain  groups, when I look back on my days of organizing campus events, I realize that I never tried to tailor my emails to my target audience.  It takes a lot of extra time and effort (or at least it seemed like it when I was an undergrad), so I’m glad that the payoff makes the effort worthwhile.

Another email note: It also seems obvious that emails should include only what is useful, and only come when necessary.  I would assume that minimizing email keeps people from getting annoyed or burned out.  According to the non-profits paper, however, “Cutting back on extraneous informational messaging may give subscribers fewer chances to leave your list.”  It’s a logical argument, but certainly not one I would have framed!

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get people to do things that are good for them–eat right and exercising, read the newspaper, read to their children, that sort of thing.  I’m trying to figure out how the lessons from the reading apply when I’m not trying to raise money or ask for any kind of large-scale action.  Rather, which of these gems of wisdom apply when you’re trying to get people to make good choices for themselves (and hopefully create more engaged citizens or alleviate the obesity epidemic along the way)?  There is potential in text message and email reminders, but how many reminders can people really take before everything becomes white noise?  Perhaps the answer lies in online communities like those described in Groundswell.   Which really brings me back to a bigger point, that different goals require different strategies and different technologies.

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