Change is getting Louder
Our Journey from Crowdfunded Billboards to Crowd-Promotion for Accelerating Change
Louder launched nearly five years ago, as LoudSauce, with an audacious vision: to build a world in which regular citizens have the power to choose which voices and stories are promoted.
Today, I am thrilled to announce that Louder has been acquired by Change.org.
We’re excited to join a global platform of more than 120 million users creating change worldwide, and work to fundamentally transform the ways in which regular people can promote the issues they care about most.
All of our work with Louder has given us the expertise to understand the motivations and needs of the cultural organizers and amplifiers of our times, and we are so excited to help accelerate the impact of such a transformative civic platform as Change.org.
At the beginning…
When we started Louder back in 2011, social media was on the rise but crowdfunding was still in its infancy, so we started experimenting with giving regular people access to the power of advertising through small-dollar donations.
In our first phase, tens of thousands of people funded hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach over 35 million people with crowdfunded promotion. We helped more than 200 people fund a TV ad for the Story of Stuff project on A&E’s Hoarders, and inspired hundreds of Greek expats to fund a billboard in Times Square encouraging people to travel to Greece during the economic crisis.
After receiving support from the Knight Foundation and joining the Matter accelerator program, we took a step back and asked ourselves:
What if we could build a version of our crowd-promotion
platform designed for the scale of the internet?
We tested an embeddable “Make it Louder” button on sites like Upworthy to offer users a way to crowdfund promoted posts on Facebook. We also experimented with a model where links with the most upvotes within a certain political conversation (like Net Neutrality or Climate Change) would get promoted to 10,000 people, paid for by a mission-aligned sponsor.
Most recently, we offered people a way to “give the gift of reach” to creatives whose voices, they believed, deserved more attention. We helped artists like Favianna Rodriguez and Mahader Tesfai, and authors like Ai-jen Poo, to reach new audiences of over 10,000 people, funded by their fans.
We are witnessing a unique moment in the evolution of media and civic participation.
As we begin this next phase, it’s exciting to think about scaling the impact of Louder as part of Change.org, especially during this time of evolution for the internet and our democracy as we approach the 2016 election in the United States.
Commercialized culture defined the second half of 20th century America, with corporate and political brand advertising dominating mainstream television. In the social media age, however, authentic sharing and word of mouth carry more weight than interruptive banner ads and TV commercials.
We grew to love Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube because they represented a refreshing alternative to commercialized culture. Social media has given us the power to collectively decide what is valued and promoted among our communities with clicks, likes, and shares. Journalists cover the latest trending videos, petitions and crowdfunding campaigns knowing that they are signals of grassroots politics and creativity.
Is the Honeymoon over for Social Media?
It’s become clear, however, these platforms are also media companies with investors looking for a financial return. And as they have matured, each platform has found ways to broker access to their audiences by selling advertising, most successfully through forms that are native to their platforms. But while these new ad platforms (especially Facebook) have finally cracked a way to make money for advertisers, the monetization of our feeds is making our social media more like the commercialized culture of the past.
We believers in the internet have long highlighted its democratizing potential, but if large brands and big money end up becoming the primary customers of social media advertising, then the internet will face the same fate as AM radio, FM radio, broadcast television, and cable before it (read Tim Wu’s The Master Switch for the amazing stories). In each case, the pioneers preached about the new medium’s potential to transform education and democracy, and then eventually it became a product for commercial advertisers.
There is relative consensus that big money is corrupting our democracy, but we may want to consider if big money may be starting to corrupt our social media as well. We need to maintain a way for authentic peer networks to influence which ideas spread, while also providing a way for platforms we love to actually make money.
Crowd-Promoted: A New Way for Civic Media
We have largely assumed that the main customers of advertising are big companies and big politics. But with technology, decentralized networks — what Steven Johnson calls “peer progressives”- have already driven attention and funding to create awareness and demand change. To put it simply, what if we applied crowdfunding to the medium of advertising?
In addition to Louder, Change.org has been experimenting with crowd-promotion through their promoted petition product where users can chip-in so petitions are shown to other potential supporters. These petitions attract signatures from regular citizens, and then they also attract grassroots, bottom up funding from super supporters who believe these stories and ideas deserve to reach audiences beyond their usual friends and networks.
Celebrating the Amplifiers of Change.org
And this is why we are so excited to be joining Change.org at this particular moment in the evolution of the internet and our democracy. As a fellow certified B Corp, Change.org is uniquely positioned to continue to test and grow new business models that serve citizens directly in their efforts to create change.
To our friends, family, supporters, investors, advisors, and users who have been with us along the way: Thank you. We couldn’t have done this without you.
Thanks in particular to our early investors, including Huston Hedinger, Matter, Knight Foundation, and Nia Community Fund, as well as everyone in my friends and family round including my parents, uncle, and my wife Christie George.
We can’t wait to work with more Change.org users who are speaking up and taking action for what they believe in, and look forward to highlighting stories and insights of amplifiers from different communities around the world pioneering this emerging era of crowd-promotion.