Rearview Mirror: The Rollercoaster Ride of 2018
Somehow, during the same year that Mic slammed its doors closed (opening in 2019: Bryan Goldberg’s take on political and social justice journalism for millennials!) Facebook pivoted back to “friends” (after strong-arming just about every publisher to pivot to video the year before) and Snapchat took the kind of nose dive that allowed every digital strategist over 35 to breathe a sign of relief (seriously, I know too many people who never intended to learn the platform), 2018 actually managed to be a year filled with promise for independent journalism and advocacy organizations alike.
Why? Because the words “scalability” and “reach” have returned to us as terms that refer to reasonable expectations again. Gone are the days when any person might say “let’s make this go viral” and leave a meeting with dignity intact. Since Facebook traded in its role as the world’s greatest subterfuge in favor of a quieter existence, answering the question “how should we fund our organization/outlet” with “let’s try X on Facebook” doesn’t ignite the same kind of excitement that it once did.
In short: The reality of an Internet dictated by personal curiosity rather than public sharing has returned, and it’s on us—publishers, activists, and strategists of all kinds—to figure out how to capture attention and turn it into action, without believing the fairytale that Facebook might help us get there. The gig is up.
The first step to a successful 2019, assuming that your organization or outlet has already looked closely at your mission and goals, is to decide what the ideas of scale and impact mean for your audience or in your community. When it’s time to decide how to drive attention to an article or point of action, what matters the most once users arrive ready to engage?
Mark my words, 2019 will be the year of shrinking audiences and growing communities. We’ll see digital strategies that wrap around to include audio, print, and events more often. We’ll watch as organizations and outlets test assumptions about what works—and present solutions that are specific to their missions. Email, the gold standard for driving engaged traffic, will continue to shine for cultivating mutuality and trust with readers or community members, but fundraising conversion rates will likely decline across the board. Most of all, we’ll see organizations do a better job of not just listening to those who believe in their work, but actually implementing feedback in a visible, nuanced way.
At Bitch this year, we tested Groundsource as an engagement tool for our podcasts, following in the footsteps of Reveal’s brilliant strategy. In years past, we used Hearken to publish work that was informed by reader questions—and nearly every time, those stories were more engaging than those our editors assigned themselves. We integrated Slack with Survey Monkey, so that each time a new email subscriber responded to the two questions we included in their “Welcome to Bitch!” email (What’s the most important issue to you this week? and What were you looking for when you found us?), staff could see the feedback right away and keep a finger on the pulse of our community. All of it brought us closer to the people we served. And all of it helped our relationships scale deeper rather than wider.
Of course, I moved over to ThinkShout this year in and effort to continue to grow and learn and challenge myself as a creative, curious person working on technical and strategic solutions to some of the biggest social justice fights of our time. It’s been an unbelievable privilege to continue to serve and solve for attention, engagement, and action.
Here’s to another twelve months of turning over stones and seeing what’s growing underneath.
Here are a few reads that have caught my attention and held it recently:
Chartbeat’s year in review of most engaging stories of 2018
ActBlue’s year in digital fundraising
The New Yorker’s unreal (but real) piece on mind-controlled robotics
Maggie Nelson’s Something Bright, Then Holes