Technology as a Tool- Not a Tyrant

Reflecting on the state of American nonprofits in the current century, the stats are good. Even after a major dip with the recession a decade ago, overall giving is up across the board. One of the major forces for good has been the rise of technology and online giving, specifically for smaller nonprofits and faith-based nonprofits. Online giving has increased at a rate almost three times higher than giving as a whole, and the uncharted territory of online activism and social media-based outreach is just beginning to be understood.

The double-edged sword of the information era is the information itself. Separate from wisdom or even knowledge, information is objective data without an opinion. Stats and numbers themselves are overwhelming and it’s easy to turn to the internet to find easy answers and simple methodologies that parade as marketing insights. When we look at how young this whole internet era really is, it becomes clear that many of these viewpoints are actually a hot take, sacrificing quality in thought for publication speed.

Working in the education system, I was able to see firsthand how data-driven methodologies can become the new status quo, isolating us from the actual human beings we are trying to to work both with and for. Without a focus on human beings, and a desire to honestly connect through well-told stories and two-way communication, no strategy will bring people to your cause, no matter how many sad animals and Sarah McLachlan songs you share.

Let’s take a quick look at two major trends as we remind ourselves that tech should be optimizing our time, not dictating it.

Social Media Saturation

Rule of thirds. Eighty-twenty. Eighty-ten-ten. Headline formulas. Editorial calendars. Influencer marketing. There’s no shortage of templates and strategies, apps and services to make your social media accounts so heavy with content that your followers can’t go five minutes without thinking about you. But social media usage is changing and we can’t guarantee that the current status quo will continue.

When it comes down to it, people like social media because it makes it convenient to connect with what they care about. If I had to drive to the drugstore, develop a roll of film, order doubles, drive to the post office, and mail a set of photos to my parents every time I wanted to show them pictures of their granddaughters, I’d lose my mind. It’s only been a decade since the first iPhone, but the level of convenience that modern digital photo sharing has brought us is already becoming a fact of life. And this is just one facet of the convenience in communication that digital media has brought us.

This is great for non-profits who can use their online identities to share their stories and show meaningful results. The brands who decide to pump out automated marketing, spamming feeds with barely relevant links to meet some made-up quota of three tweets a day are missing the point. As users get more tech savvy, expect to see more followers blocking content or filtering their feeds so they can see more of what matters and less ‘7 Ways To…’ articles.

Search Engine Overkill and the C Word

We’ll look back at the early internet era as the age of the algorithm. Algorithms determine our newsfeeds and our search results, and it’s tempting to want to focus solely on pleasing our algorithmic overlords. Discoverability is certainly important, but as our focus shifts away from a meaningful sharing of ideas, we start to see that dirty C word: content.

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of using the ‘content’ terminology from time to time. It’s an easy way to group all of our output- photo, writing, video- into one easy-to-understand category. And like everything discussed here, it’s useful to an extent.

One problem with the content-mentality is that it’s a one-way street. Content without a conversation is pointless. A content farm is not a noble goal. A content farm is not a cool breeze running through the green pastures. A content farm is industrial, underfed ideas, hidden from the sun under a corrugated roof.

There can be value in SEO Analyzers and readability tests to make sure that we’re getting our core ideas across, but when it comes down to individuality and expression, err on the side of being human.

The Future of Internet Marketing

In the search for more understanding of technology and how it can best help us achieve our missions, we need to be careful to remember that trends and best practices are often just buzzwords masquerading as analysis. Let’s be free to experiment with technology, constantly evaluating as we do, never afraid to improvise our own path forward.

Everything happening online is still extremely young, and signs are still emerging that suggest we don’t know exactly what the future will hold. Let the machines be machines and let’s continue to be humans, wild and unpredictable.

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