In the latest Engagement Community Call two provocative agenda items drove the community — organisation — tech discussion: , the first “We suck at International Campaigning” and the second “Is the Greenpeace brand dying?”
I formulated these agenda points to address an issue the Planet 4 team (and Greenpeace more broadly) has long been aware of, the dissolution of the Greenpeace brand through a plethora of microsites — alternative Greenpeace websites designed specifically for campaigns, like this one, this one or this other one. We’ll come back to this in a moment, as the conversation went well past technological phenomenon and into a heated discussion about how we work.
Digital needs to be part of campaign planning
At the organizational level, we identified a number of areas that make our distributed campaign model difficult in practice. Distributed does not mean chaotic, it needs a clear process, structure and accountability to function properly. It seems that some of the identified problems are centered on a feeling of fragmentation. Fragmentation of teams, processes, technologies…as a global non-profit, there are naturally a lot of ins and outs!
At a meta-level we talked about the fact that we need to ensure that proper skills exist on campaign teams from the very beginning, during the proposal / pitching process. The group discussed that technical and digital people are not being involved in the decisions around new campaigns, resulting into loads of in-house branding and technical talent not being consulted. The result is wasted resources and the short, short shelf lives of microsites, which most often exist at vanity URLs.
The group also talked about how to improve collaboration around Full Power Moments (FPM), the points in time when the entire organisation, in 55 countries, are supposed to push on a particular campaign. A FPM is actually an agreement, but the group felt too much effort needed to be put into “convincing” Greenpeace offices to participate. Basically, Full Power Moments are not enforceable. The fragmented technological landscape makes it incredibly difficult for global campaign teams to deploy, run and evaluate a global push. This in turn leads to ‘workaround’ microsites/platforms being created.
Another issue we identified was the over dependence on agencies which reinforces fragmentation. International campaigns usually work with external agencies on the campaign materials because they have no access to internal resources. Agencies don’t necessarily understand the technology landscape of Greenpeace, and end up writing code that needs to be rewritten, sometimes multiple times, to work well with the multitude of engagement systems used across offices who participate in those global campaigns. The external designers create new visual identities, often with logos and new color schemes for each campaign push. The result is that the several campaign pushes make it difficult to recognize the global campaigns, global asks, global priorities. Many followers don’t even know when a campaign is from Greenpeace.
“In distributed campaigning we often turn to ad/digital/etc agencies because it’s easier to pay someone external from the budget than lobby for the same resource internally.” Flora Hevesi
A last great point raised in the call, is the absence of supporter journey in global campaigns. A “supporter journey” is an engagement ladder — it’s the name we use for the theory of helping a supporter become more involved in our mission. For example, a new supporter might be asked to sign a petition on a specific topic they’ve shown interest in. Later, Greenpeace might acknowledge that interest and ask the supporter to become more deeply involved in the topic as a volunteer. This is, of course, an extremely truncated example, but you get the point. However, in international campaigns, leads on engaged supporters are passed on to individual countries. It becomes difficult to send out relevant updates to the supporters to mobilize them again. One of the reasons for this is that microsites do not provide audience segmentation. In most cases leads forwarded to local offices are emails, first / last name and country.
How this results in microsites
The over dependence on agencies is key to understanding where microsites come from and why, but there’s more to the story.
Perceived benefits of microsites
- International campaigns cannot cater to the multiple systems various offices are using, so microsites seem like an easy solution. There might be one analytics account on a microsite, which is beneficial, but if a campaign has microsites for each office, the technical work often gets passed to other teams. A recent example, voiced in the call, revealed that the Systems team had to connect 34 different CRMs to be able to measure engagement. Planet 4 can take care of this issue.
- Campaigns need and want creative liberty. Planet 4 was built with this in mind.
- Sometimes we need to downplay the Greenpeace brand. We find that in certain instances, we will have higher conversion rates if Greenpeace is not immediately obvious in the menu/navigation. We also want to help give the microphone to marginalized communities and otherwise be a global citizen. Given our complex history, this is sometimes easier when “Greenpeace” isn’t at the center. The Planet 4 software was built to also allow us to highlight our collaborators first.
- Vanity URLs look cool and are easy to remember. They might be more printable or otherwise serve an important function in helping our supporters take action on behalf of the planet. They’re cheap to maintain, but only if they’re all held in the same DNS account.
- Vanity URLs are great for internal campaign teams, but the data says that average direct traffic to a campaign site is 3% and search traffic is about 5%. This means people are coming through social media shares or URLs that point directly to content. We’re not using them in a structured way (using the same DNS) or benefiting from SEO once a campaign team has moved on.
- Brand dissolution doesn’t have to be part of this story but it often is. Because there is little to no structure around the creative liberties a campaign team takes, agencies often come up with completely new things that obfuscate the Greenpeace brand.
- The financial costs of agencies designing and developing new sites for each campaign is astronomical. Additionally, once a campaign has been won, the URL is discarded and the content of the campaign disappears, making it impossible for other campaigns to reuse successful materials and resources. Take this as an example — http://detox.greenpeace.org/en/trueinnovation/
- Offices do not have insights to supporter journey. Since campaign microsites are existing outside of an office’s digital assets, the syncing of leads and analytical insights can be opaque to the office. The trade off is that it’s neither the international campaign team OR the office who has a better overview. The goal is to make sure that both have the same overview without additional effort.
- Agencies and campaign teams are unaware of global Greenpeace tech policies. Microsites are not being checked for privacy, security, data storage, GDPR and all the things. P4 is always a better choice because we are stringent in making sure we follow the Greenpeace technical and legal policies.
How can Planet 4 be part of the solution
With such fragmented technological landscape and no easy way to coordinate, Greenpeace will be unable to create new, deeper forms of engagement. Planet 4 was always seen as part of the solution.
The Planet 4 team has always intended on developing a software that could stop the overproliferation of new microsites and propose a CMS solution (or a few solutions) for global campaigning. With the launch of prototype, pilot (GP Greece) and implementation plan it’s time to explain to the global community something that doesn’t seem to be clear.
Planet 4 is a piece of software, not a design.
In the short term, one of the objectives of he Planet 4 team is to demonstrate how small edits can completely change how a site built on P4 looks. Since NROs will be able to customize child themes, whereas the Master ones will remain fixed, Planet 4 is extremely flexible, and allowing campaigners to have their own custom layout and offices to benefit from a globally supported system. The continuously-evolving Handbook (which itself is an example on P4 child theme customization!) will be useful to campaign teams to develop new designs, new styles and new kinds of content.
Planet 4 will become a solid solution for both institutional and campaign sites only if the community keeps giving the project team input
Please, help the Planet 4 team prioritize and build features that campaigners desperately need..
We can’t do it without you, let’s work together. Join a future community call and let’s keep the conversation going.
Special thanks: A huge shout out to all the people who attended the community call on February 20th. It was a lively conversation, without which this post would not have been possible. Thanks to Tom Allen for his contributions. And an extra special thanks to Gábor Galgócz who wrote the majority of the included insights and explained them to me so that I could explain them to you.