How to Become a Digital Activist
The truth is, the statement above doesn’t really describe what I do, it’s just the fastest way to answer the question and move on with the conversation.
In fact, if someone were to say to me “Let’s have a lengthy conversation about what you do for a living and what it means to the world,” well I’d instantly get heart eyes and pour my soul out to them on what it’s like to be a Digital Activist.
Since I don’t have anyone beating down my door asking either of those questions, I decided to be proactive and share my experience here in an effort to help others better understand the critical role a Digital Activist plays across businesses, teams, and the world. Let’s start with the basics…
What is Digital Activism?
By definition, digital activism is a form of activism that uses the internet and digital media as key platforms for mass mobilization and to drive social and political change.
Some examples of this could be campaigns like Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, or the Blue Campaign focused on raising awareness on how to identify and respond to instances of Human Trafficking.
All of these are considered social or political campaigns that are working to drive awareness and action to fight for their causes.
But digital activism isn’t just for the world of politics. For me, I use digital activism to create communities of people to move missions and society forward at IBM and with innovators around the world. Still not sure what I mean? I’ll break it down for you in the next section.
Five Steps to Become a Digital Activist
1. Declaring your mission
Digital activism starts with the need for change. This could be political and societal change like the examples above, or in my case, the need to drive cultural change across an international corporation.
No matter the cause, you need to have a very clear mission on what change you want to drive and why. By declaring your mission statement, desired outcomes, and measurements for success, you can begin to plan your digital activation strategy.
A Personal Example: At IBM, I have created and executed many digital activation campaigns for various programs and missions I have been tasked to lead. One of those campaigns focused on the mission of “Driving a culture of innovation and storytelling across the IBM Services organization.”
The outcomes we were looking for were 1) new, innovative solutions that would solve our clients’ and world problems, 2) a platform to enable a growing community of innovators to engage and collaborate, and 3) business growth through partnerships with these innovators. Some of our measurements of success were revenue growth, community size, and engagement.
2. Knowing your target demographic
Once you know what change is needed, then it’s time to understand who are the demographics that need to make this change along with any other stakeholders that could influence them or the current culture.
There are several Design Thinking exercises you can do to better understand your “users” or different personas, but it basically comes down to understanding their wants, needs, influences, and goals. If you can learn to think like your user, you can begin to see what will motivate them to act in this new way to drive your mission forward.
A Personal Example: In my campaigns at IBM, I have had many target demographics I was trying to reach. In one campaign focused on reskilling and upskilling our workforce, we used cognitive analytics to map our supply (our professionals) with the demand (skills our clients needed.)
We were able to use those insights to identify IBMers that could be trained to take on new and important jobs for our customers while also investing in their professional development and careers. Our “target demographic” was the employees we needed to take action to reskill and upskill to better serve our clients.
3. Finding your champions
This is likely one of the most important steps as you get started as champions are mini digital activists, who will help lead the charge towards this new society or world you are working to build.
For many organizations, people feel the “trickle down effect” works best to drive awareness— this could be executives sending out mass communications, guidance and mandates to employees or a Governor declaring a “Stay-at-home” order, which I think we can all relate to at the moment.
In many situations, top-down change management is important, but for a successful digital activation campaign, the most effective way to drive change is through a grassroots movement.
By creating a network of champions, you now have mission evangelists who take on the role of advisor, advocate and coach to your target demographic. These are people on the ground working with your audience to build trust and relationships.
A Personal Example: With every new mission or program I take on at IBM, one of the first steps I take is to create a small community of champions to help me. I start by recruiting colleagues I’ve worked with over the past ten years to join in a collaborative space. At IBM, a very useful tool to do this is with Slack, where you can create channels for different projects and communities. Another real-life example of creating a group of champions is through Facebook Groups, as seen with Lean In Circles.
I typically start with 50 or so people that I personally invite to be champions, and then I challenge or incent them to invite collegues from their network or teams, who would be interested in our mission and helping us accomplish our goals, to join our cause.
The past two digital activation campaigns I ran grew from approx. 50 to over 2500 IBMers around the world in a matter of months. These champions were there by choice and ready to help drive culture change across their teams and company.
4. Creating meaningful content
Now that you know your audience and also have a community of champions to help you reach them, it’s time to create meaningful content that can help tell the story and inspire action. This content takes many forms— it can be a blog like you are reading right now, a video posted on social media or dedicated youtube channel, a podcast, or even a hashtag like we saw with #metoo.
Some things to consider when creating this content are: 1) Is it clear on what change is needed and why? 2) Will it resonate with your audience? 3) Will it inspire them to take action? 4) Is the story being told in a concise and compelling way to make the audience feel a certain way?
A Personal Example: One of the best ways to get people to share personal experiences or to take an action is for them to see others doing it first. When working to drive a culture of innovation and storytelling across our Services organization, the first thing we did was start finding and telling stories of innovation that could be used as examples of what we were looking for.
We started creating videos of IBMers innovating for our clients and even started a podcast that featured IBMers and clients around the world, who are disrupting markets through innovation and technology. Soon after we went live with this podcast series, our target audience started bringing forward their own stories and engaging within our the community space we created for them.
By sharing examples of how you want people to act or behave, it will show them the path forward to begin to act in that new way.
5. Executing your digital activation strategy
The final step in driving real change is to create and execute a digital activation strategy leveraging the foundation you’ve put in place with your champion network and content-sharing channels.
You must have frequent, consistent, and compelling content being shared in order to reach all of your stakeholders. This includes having a communications schedule, retrospectives on what is working and what is not, a feedback loop that allows your champions and stakeholders to share what they are hearing on the front-lines, and the willingness to adapt when results are not meeting expectations.
A Personal Example: In March, I began a new cross-IBM role focused on enhancing our IBM Client Experience through quality initiatives. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I started by understanding the mission and my target audience, began building a community of champions, created content, and am now finalizing my strategy.
To give you a view into what a strategy looks like, for me, it is very similar to a communications plan. It lays out all mediums we will use to reach our stakeholders, who those stakeholders are, how frequently we will communicate with them, and how we will measure each workstream's effectiveness.
Once you have determined all of these aspects in your strategy, the best way to begin is just that— begin. You will start to see what is working and what is not, which will allow you to course-correct, as needed.
As industries and society continue to move to a more digital world, we will all see a rise in the need for digital activism and those leaders who can truly ignite change across large groups of people.
My hope is by laying out what digital activism is and how it can be used for good, one day when asked what it is that I do for a living, I can speak the truth from my digital activist heart and people will smile... not because I’m speaking gibberish, but because they understand.
They understand that by igniting change, I am helping lead us to a smarter and safer world.
Today was a rough Monday. I'm not one of those people who instantly hates Mondays, but this particular one was far from great. It was full of meetings where a decision couldn't be reached, stalls and roadblocks surfaced for almost every project, and we left with more questions than answers.
For someone whose obsession is productivity and progress, today was not my day.
But as I performed a self-retrospective of what went wrong, I realized how few and far between these "hard" days are. And that's mainly because of the rules and practices I started implementing many years ago when I first began working from home.
Now that the world has been turned on its axis, I imagine many others have found themselves in the same place that I was back then asking, "How do I remain productive and manage my time in this new normal?"
If you are currently in this situation, I hope these five steps can help you as they did me.
We've all been there...
We’ve all been there— that dreaded conference call that drags on and on, and when it’s time to hang up, you have nothing to show for it. No issues were resolved, action plans created or decisions made. The only thing the call resulted in was an agreement that a follow-up meeting was required.
The good news is you don’t have to participate in this madness any longer. Take control of your calendar, your time and your sanity by running meetings in an effective and productive manner. Here are five steps you can take today to make it happen:
1. Prepare ahead of time
A way to prepare ahead of time is by using your calendar as a way to prioritize your work. If you find yourself unmotivated to work on a proposal, go ahead and schedule a review of it with your boss for a day or week out so you now have a deadline to work towards.
Once reviews and cadences are scheduled, I typically spend a couple of hours on Sundays looking at my week ahead and identifying if there is any preparation required for my meetings. I also make time at the end of each day to reflect and look forward to ensure that everyone is prepped and materials are ready for meetings on the following day's schedule.
For example, if you’ll be sharing your screen for a demo or presentation, be sure everyone has the right access and links to materials prior to the call. That way, you can get right into the agenda without any delays.
For brainstorming or working sessions, you should create a collaborative workspace ahead of your meeting. There are plenty of agile and social tools available to enable file- and screen-sharing, document collaboration and effective virtual brainstorming sessions. Making use of these resources will take your meeting’s productivity to a whole new level.
A few of my favorites are the collaborative tools like Mural and Trello, and file/notes sharing with Box.
While preparing for a meeting may require more time than the meeting itself, just think of the time and effort you’ll save when you’re able to accomplish in one meeting what usually takes four.
2. Determine a clear objective
If you’re not sure what you want to accomplish during a meeting, how will your audience know the objective?
Clearly stating the purpose of the call in the meeting invite, in an email or on a slide will set the tone for attendees. Consider providing more information in an email beforehand to give insight into what you will discuss. Doing so may even identify a need for additional people to be added to the discussion if the meeting subject is their area of expertise.
3. Set an agenda and stick to it
Keeping to a schedule may seem simple, but it can be hard to do. I use either a PowerPoint or an agenda posted in our collaborative space to keep attendees on track. If you know that certain individuals tend to overrun your meetings by going into too much detail, be sure to go over the agenda with them up front and assign time frames to each item.
If you've been clear about the meeting objective and prepared an agenda ahead of time, you should have no issues moving the discussion along to reach your desired outcome.
4. Document, document, document
Another common mistake people make is not capturing what was discussed during a call. Meeting notes are not optional. It’s critical to recap each working session by highlighting key discussion points and next steps.
Take your notes a step further by listing owners for each action and due dates as discussed during the meeting. As common courtesy, don’t assign an owner without confirming with them first. Summarize at the end with information on when the team will reconvene to continue the conversation or review progress.
5. Follow through
To build strong relationships with colleagues and customers, the most important thing we can do is what we said we would do. Be sure to fulfill the actions you own, and provide a heads-up if anything will be late or different from what was agreed to during discussions.
Continue to look for ways to go above and beyond. Maybe you can get something done in two days instead of four, or perhaps you can provide additional recommendations on how to resolve ongoing issues.
What really matters isn’t what you said during the conference call; It’s what you do afterwards that can make or break your reputation and business relationships.
There you have it — sounds easy, right? That’s because it is!
To run an efficient and productive meeting in any industry, and yes even from home, all you need to do is take control. By ensuring everyone understands the objective, what needs to be accomplished, and has access to the necessary materials, you will start to see progress and productivity across all of your projects immediately. It’s that simple.
What ways do you stay productive and manage your time? Share your experiences in the comments below!
What if I don't have a dream?
While listening to an audio book recently, a super energetic author started talking about dreams-- or more specifically, why people give up on them.
She starts by asking the listener, "What is your dream? What do you want out of life?" A question I instantly hated.
It's my least favorite interview question and I'd go as far as saying it makes me angry when people act as if in order to be successful, you need to have an answer ready to go.
I've never been one of those people who had a five or ten-year plan. While I am SUCH a planner, I have just never been able to see that far in advance and know what was likely to happen, or even what I wanted to happen.
After all, five years ago... heck, two years ago, I would never have imagined I could have the life that I'm living today. Not that it's super glamorous or extraordinary by Hollywood or history book standards, but it's a tremendously fulfilled and happy one nonetheless.
But happiness isn't really what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about planning for the future, which right this second in the middle of a freaking Pandemic is pretty much impossible to do. And is probably why I started to freak out a little while listening to this book thinking, "Holy shit, I need to know what my dream is."
But here's the thing... I just don't. I know that I aspire to be better, to do better and create something bigger than myself. I just don't know what that is.
So I decided the next best thing I can do is think of smaller goals that I have for myself that may or may not be related to what I really want in life... since that is still to be determined.
When I asked myself, "What little things do I want to accomplish in the next few years?" I instantly rattled off a handful of goals with no issue. It seemed much more manageable than asking what my "purpose-for-life, why-I'm-here-on-this-Earth, I'm-pathetic-unless-I-reach-the-stars" dream is.
One of those smaller goals I listed off in my head was something I've wanted to do ever since childhood when my father would give me a funny title and ask me to write a story to go along with it-- I want to write a book.
When I was younger, I thought I'd write fiction novels with witty characters and brilliant leading ladies, but since becoming a fairly successful professional working in Corporate America over the past eleven years, I've realized that the stories I really need to tell are the the very real lessons and insights I've gained that could bring value to other people's lives.
But I've tried this writing thing before and have always gotten overwhelmed not knowing where to even start putting together all these thoughts and topics into one cohesive story or book.
So last night, as I continued to hear this bubbly author's voice ringing in my ears, taunting me to DARE to have a dream-- I realized maybe what I need is to start small and check off one goal at a time until, one day, I finally have some inkling of an idea as to what I really want out of my life.
So that brings us to today. It's the first step of me becoming a book author. Oh yes, I'm aware that this is a blog, not a book. A blog that no one is even likely to read, but it's where I can pour my thoughts, ideas, rants, and hard lessons so that one day, when I'm ready, I will get closer to knowing and achieving my dreams.