It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum  this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.
I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation  for details.
There are longer-term costs though, for working with digital media – it’s expensive to create and maintain an online and social media presence, and regularly updating your site is not free. According to my co-panelist, Ben Krause from Sean Penn’s relief organization, J/P HRO, “You need to be out in front of your messaging and you have to actively manage your sites.” Initially, his organization was not prepared to respond to online reactions to their organization, so they took down their sites until they could figure out how to best manage them.
The networks of people you engage to spread the word about your work have also got to be factored into your communication campaign planning. How are you going to handle questions relevant to your topic or not relevant to your topic but related to your organization’s work? These were some of the issues we had to address with the course facilitators on the MOOC. How do you engage people to move beyond a slogan – whether it’s Turn Down the Heat or Help Haiti Home? What you ask of your audience – whether it is to take climate action or donate to a cause – has to be fair, clear and aligned with their values.
Finally, people have to be able to access your information easily so you need to plan how to make your information easily downloadable. EcoCity Builders presented on a series of mapping pilots that they have been doing in a number of cities around the world. In Medellin, their team worked with the city government to map the water supply, electricity, roads, the incidence of crime and violence, mortality rates and ages of the city’s population. As maps are notoriously slow to download, they have preloaded them to make them easy to download.
Finally, you cannot be wedded to a single technology as something new will surely turn up three months from now. After the session, I was left with the sense that we are living in a communication world whose contours are rapidly shifting and where change is the only constant. It was great to meet some fellow travelers along the way.
Photograph courtesy of Dana Smillie via the World Bank Photo Collection, available here