9.15.2011

My #140 Conference Talk: Three Little Words

Today I had the great pleasure of speaking at the #140 Conference. Below is the text of the talk I gave, entitled, Three Little Words: How one tweet changed an election (unabridged version).



Three little words. 

You can put a lot of power and meaning into three little words. 

I love you.

It's a girl.

Up yours, lady - I've heard them all.

But in April of 2011, at the onset of - what? - our fourth election in seven years? What I wasn't hearing - at least, not on Twitter - was any real discussion of that crucial election.

And that was troubling. Because we talk about everything on Twitter. And women on Twitter, well they really talk about everything. And MOMs on twitter? Well, you know there is no subject verboten to the moms on Twitter. 

So one night - April 5, 2011, I was having my regular BBM chat with the women that save my life every night - and these are smart, smart women - and we started talking about it. Why? Why aren't the women on twitter - why isn't our immediate community, the moms on twitter -talking about the election? Why, in between talking about everything from the completely mundane to the totally profound (in 140 characters or less, of course), hadn't our community been talking about the election? Where was that conversation? It simply wasn't there.

So we decided to start that conversation. 

On April 6, I tweeted the following: 

Do you know who you’re voting for? Do you know the parties’ stand on family issues? We need to #momthevote.
Mom The Vote
Mom the vote, that's it; three little words, with the goal being that the moms on twitter start sharing information and asking questions about platform issues that are important to families - which, by the way, is every issue. 
When my little mommy mafia BBM group discussed the plan, we thought that maybe everyday we could tweet some of the most important family issues from each of the party platforms, and start a meaningful discussion. We thought that information was power, that we did not want to see a fifth election in eight years, and that, quite frankly, the current voter stats were nothing less than shameful. 55.8% of my demographic voted in the 2008 election. That's gross. I knew we could do better. 
So of course, we turned to twitter and challenged my community to get involved. I told my community that we needed to Mom The Vote.
My community listened.
My tweet was retweeted, and retweeted and retweeted.
The momthevote hashtag was all over twitter and within days the conversation had exploded, so we did what anybody with the internet and a message would do and we started a Facebook page. And if we thought that the conversation in 140 characters or less had been fruitful, well, we had no idea what kind of bountiful harvest the FB page would bring. Within days we had hundreds of fans and had reached out to a completely different, completely engaged Facebook community. These were not my twitter peeps, and the ride we were on was nothing short of thrilling. 
Within 4 weeks, the Facebook page netted over 60, 000 hits and nearly 2,000 impressions per post, and the momthevote hashtag was hitting 4 million impressions - weekly. There were some pretty amazing things happening - Margaret Atwood used our hashtag repeatedly, pundits and professors were commenting on Mom The Vote - noting that they expected the movement to account for a 1% increase in voter turnout - 1% - it may not seem like a lot, but when the total voter turnout in 2008 was less than 57%, 1% is a significant number - and most importantly, the politicians were noticing. The Liberals were the first to capitalize on the momentum of Mom the Vote, reaching out almost immediately and making themselves completely available to voters online. We also heard directly from The Green Party and the NDP, both of whom incorporated the movement directly into campaign materials and press releases. No word from the Conservatives, despite reaching out to them directly. And whether or not the parties were simply paying us lip service, one thing was clear - Mom the Vote was making an impact with potential voters, and the politicians knew it. Apathy, it seemed, truly was boring, and thousands of women in social media and beyond were telling the politicians precisely what they wanted out of this election.
 And then the traditional media took notice. 
now before I get into that, I think I should tell you just a tiny bit about myself. I have been a professional copywriter for more than 11 years, and I have two speciaties: one is writing very prosaic, very flowery liner notes for nature sound classical and ambient music CDs, and the other, is advertising. And in my capacity as an ad writer, my most important job is to come up with a hook. A headline. An attention grabber. Something catchy. 
And I knew, that if I wanted people to not just listen, but to talk, I had to give them something to talk about. Something catchy, something engaging, and something that everybody I wanted to reach could claim equally as their own. In the weeks following my initial tweet, I was asked many times how I cultivated this movement, this phenomenon. And I answered the question the same way every time - I didn't. I came up with three iittle words. I came up with a catchy tagline and  everybody else did the rest. 
When the globe and mail called me within days of launching the momthevote hashtag, I was pretty excited. I did an interview over the phone, and then they came over to my house to do a photo shoot. You'd think the photo shoot would have been less nerve-wracking than the interview, but it wasn't. I absolutely hate talking on the phone, but I know how to be professional and articulate and get the job done well. But a photoshoot? I'm a social person, but I am a blogger - I really do prefer to stay on the safe side of the screen, and honestly, I have a face for twitter. I also have the housekeeping skills for twitter, and because I am a blogger and a social media junkie, I am also somewhat of a narcissist, so I was convinced that whatever photo was published would be completely scrutinized by readers and that my appearance and that of my house would be judged. Oh, the interview I wasn't worried about; the words I said I wasn't worried about. What I was worried about was that somebody would see the picture including my two very adorable children sitting on the dining room table while I typed at my netbook and think, Oh, she's one of those mothers that lets her kids climb on the furniture while she's on the computer!
Luckily, that's not what happened - at least, I don't think it is - and anyway, I had to get over it pretty quickly, because next up, the CBC called. And they wanted me for a segment on the National - the National! You don't say no to the National no matter how much time you're going to have to spend cleaning your house beforehand. And then a radio station in the Maritimes called and they wanted me for their morning program, and then the Star called and then CBC radio called and they wanted me for Metro Morning, but I let Emma Waverman do that interview on Mom the Vote's behalf because they wanted me to be there at 5 in the morning.
Mom The Vote may have began as a social media campaign, or more correctly, a campaign on social media, but that's not where it stayed. And think about Twitter, about Facebook, about Blogs even to a certain extent - most of what we do online is totally reactionary. We can be eloquent, we can be smart, we can be passionate and we can be clever and dramatic, but usually we are being those things in reaction to something that has happened or was heard of in traditional media. Look at the trending topics on any given day on Twitter - ok ignore the ridiculous #Whoyourbabymama hashtags - and you'll see that almost everything we tweet about is in reaction to some current event or news. And that's amazing; I love knowing which celebrity died before my mother can call and tell me, but Mom The Vote was truly different. Mom the Vote was something that was created, that had its start on Twitter and in social media, and that the rest of Canada reacted to. And that's the part that really blew my mind.
And we did it all on virtually no budget. Our budget was about equal to the price of a Starbucks coffee, and that was, in fact, spent on a Starbucks. The political parties spend thousands - millions - on advertising campaigns and election outreach, and we got an nation talking about our platform, the Mom The Vote platform, on the price of a Starbucks coffee. 
But this couldn't have happened if I hadn't stayed engaged, if I hadn't continued to be the persona behind Mom The Vote. I could have just put it out there and let it go, but there is a social aspect to social media, and that's where the politicians and the mainstream media get it wrong, and we get it right. 
Staying non-partisan was certainly a challenge, mostly on the FB page where different rules apply and passions run deep and hot, but if I wanted this to work, I had to own it. I had to remain non-partisan because that's what I said I was going to do, and I had to keep tweeting because that's what I said I was going to do, and I had to keep talking to the politicians and the media because I said we should Mom The Vote, and when you put it out there, it's out there. People will hold you to your statements, especially political statements, especially political statements that are supposed to be non-partisan. It wasn't always easy. I can move a lot of experiences from that whirlwind month into the "Lessons Learned" category, but they won't all be cautionary tales (like, you never know which angle they're going to shoot from, so do the dishes). 
And one of the most important things that I learned was, you can start a social media campaign and you can spend thousands of dollars and you can have press materials and marketing materials and you can have flashy websites and a manifesto and go to the ends of the internet to make sure your campaign gains momentum. 
Or, you can know your audience, trust your timing, own your message and simply come up with Three Little Words. 

Thank you.

If you're interested in watching the footage of the talk, you can find it here
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4 comments:

  1. Seriously, you are the awesomest. This is totally inspiring for people to get going on their own campaign for something that matters to them. Good stuff, woman.

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  2. Just another reason why I like you!

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  3. you do make a mark, not just in social media, but everyday life. kids won't remember the dishes in the sink, rather their mom and dad are smart, informed and...well cool. anyway, doing dishes in not a life skill. reading and listening are. thanks for putting yourself out there.
    Christi

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  4. You totally rocked that. :)

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