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Social Action Networks Defined

social action network 4 One of the more significant trends in online politics and public affairs over the last few years has been the rise of Social Action Networks.

A Social Action Network is an online community that allows members to connect and organize around shared political passions.  If visiting a social network like Facebook is like walking into a bar, visiting a Social Action Network is like walking into a campaign headquarters. 

With prominent examples such as My.BarackObama.com and our own Push.Pickensplan.com, Social Action Networks are changing the way political and public affairs work is performed. 

Social Action Networks (SANs):

  • Tend to focus on creating substantial change for an issue, movement or political candidate.
  • Serve as a hub where people can become members of a particular movement for change.
  • Have the potential to globally connect like-minded people around issues that they care about.
  • Encourage members to share their view and thoughts while contributing content and building awareness for a cause.
  • Encourage their members to transform their passion on an issue into action.
  • Provide opportunities for members to participate both within the network and offline.
  • Are transparent and allow for uncensored and open discussions to take place between members.
  • Usually have specific outlined goals

    These are just a few focus points on Social Action Networks. If you are thinking about starting one, be prepared to roll up your sleeves. It can be a lot of work, but it’s a terrific way to build awareness for your organization or movement. 

    In the upcoming weeks we’ll address what you should put on your to do list, talk about what to avoid, discuss ways to build your Social Action Network, and provide examples of successful case studies.

    New NewsHour Site Spotlights Multimedia Content and Team

    During last year’s election cycle, I worked as the Online NewsHour’s associate editor for the Vote 2008 site, and while the site and show changed considerably during my year and a half there, bold revisions on the site today (and soon, the show) demonstrate an invigorated energy at the organization to keep up with new media during rocky times for traditional journalism.

    In addition to a new design layout, some new site features include a new blog, written by both online and on-air employees, and the promotion of online video, something the site’s actually had for a long time but was never given its due prominence.

    Of course, one of the most prominent features of the site and show is its new correspondent. Hari Sreenivasan, who comes to the NewsHour from years at CBS News, will be joining the on-air broadcast and working with the Online team to combine new media efforts.

    Sreenivasan talked to The Bivings Group about the new site and the strategy behind its design.

    … and about new social media and outreach efforts.

    … and last, what other news outlets can learn from the redesign.

    Blending the traditional program with Online efforts has not been an easy task. It took years to get the teams in the even in the same building, let alone the same work space.

    Many of the new initiatives emerge due to pressure from dwindling sponsorship resources earlier in the year.

    “Newspapers are thinning, and television has its own crisis,” show anchor Jim Lehrer said in an interview with the New York Times in May.

    With the Online changes come revisions to the show format and a new name. Starting Monday, “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” will officially become “The PBS NewsHour.”

    All of these changes reflect a struggle within Public Broadcasting to find a place across all media spaces, promoting brand without losing purpose.

    Lehrer told the New York Times in a more recent article, that he’s “’very concerned about serious journalism,’ and for longtime practitioners of the craft, ‘we damn well better get with it.’”

    Tim Ryan Launches First House Social Network for Constituents?


    Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-OH) launched his own custom social network yesterday, using the Ning platform.  In and of itself, this isn’t particularly notable.  Lots of politicians have launched their own Ning networks.  However, in every case I know of the focus of the socnet has been on winning elections, and the networks have been launched under the banner of a campaign web program. 

    Ryan has done something entirely different here.  His network was built as an extension of his official House web presence, and is a tool for him to communicate openly with his constituents.  Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I believe Ryan is the first House or Senate member to launch their own social network for the purpose of connecting with their constituents.

    Rules for web communications in the House and Senate are notoriously archaic, so the fact that Ryan was able to launch this strikes me as a significant step.  It will be interesting to see how the network does, and if others follow Ryan’s lead. 

    Medical Openness in Social Media

    As social networking sites and technologies have flourished over the last few years, there has been much discussion about privacy today.  It is not that uncommon for people to provide updates about their personal lives on their Facebook accounts or Twitter feeds.  They talk about if they are sick, have a crush on somebody, are out partying, etc.

    While this information sharing is innocuous at times while concerning at others, there are some social networks that are pushing the limits.  For instance, while at the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit last week, I learned about the site PatientsLikeMe.  This is a fascinating site in which people with medical conditions come to connect with other people suffering from the same condition.  However, there is so much more than providing moral support and answering questions, people are expected to build detailed profiles about their bodies and health histories.  When they undergo treatment, they are encourage to share their experiences to it.  Does it give them gas?  Do they get headaches?  Is their sex life affected?  Of course, does the treatment actually work?

    Now, it is one thing for me to announce on Facebook that I’m going to have Papa John’s Pizza for dinner tonight, but it is another to share personal side effects of a medication that I’m currently taking.  PatientsLikeMe does acknowledge privacy, but expounds upon the importance of openness on the site by stating: “You see, we believe sharing your healthcare experiences and outcomes is good…for a greater purpose: speeding up the pace of research and fixing a broken healthcare system.”  By sharing detailed health information about yourself, you help others understand how medical conditions and the procedures used to treat them work.

    So, do you think that openly sharing your health information on the Internet is worth the potential it can to help others with their health?

    Federal Government and Social Media

    It is day two of the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit, and I had an interesting conversation at lunch with a person who works in a well known US federal agency.  I’m not going to share this person’s name or agency since I don’t want this person to get unwanted attention.

    This person follows the the following maxim when it comes to new experiments: “It is sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”  This is in reference to how this person set up a Facebook page for their particular department.  Further, he/she also follows retweets about how members of the public react to interacting with the agency.  If they find someone who has a question, the agency provides an answer via twitter.

    I was surprised that this person seems to enjoy a degree of freedom that I did not expect one could have in the bureaucratic federal government.  This person mentioned that while he/she and his/her boss are “uncomfortable” for a week or two after starting something like a department Facebook page without permission, they have been vindicated.  Of course, that’s if what they do succeeds; they would be in trouble if something they do fails.

    I applaud this person’s initiative and willingness to trail blaze.  Of course, I understand that there is judgment required when trying new strategies out.  It is one thing to send someone to a useful webpage via twitter than it is to divulge sensitive information over a non-government network.  Further, I understand the comfort and protection of waiting to get permission before experimenting, but nonetheless I wish this person success.  Hopefully, he/she will help inspire federal agencies to use social media more to serve the public better.