RYOT Igniting Social Change

This past weekend I attended the 5th Annual Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard. For those unfamiliar, this summit is the largest student-run conference on social innovation in the country and features keynote speeches and panel discussions from leaders across all fields. The year’s conference attracted a wide array of notable individuals including former president of Trader Joe’s Doug Rauch, VP of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia Rick Ridgeway, MasterCard’s Chief Emerging Payments Officer Edward McLaughlin, along with 50+ prominent designers, artists, venture capitalists, journalists, and activists.

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All contributed to an enlightening discussion surrounding the development of innovative solutions to solve the world’s most pressing problems. It was humbling to take in the advice of these socially minded leaders while sitting alongside hundreds of students pursuing equally noble ventures. And though Saturday’s all-day event cut into some tailgating time, I’m so glad I stayed until the end to hear from one keynote speaker in particular:

Bryn Mooser

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Besides having a fascinating background—growing up in Zimbabwe, serving in the Peace Corp, building Haiti’s largest cholera center, gaining recognition as a distinguished filmmaker—Bryn Mooser is the co-founder of RYOT News, a news site that connects every published news story to an action. Mooser launched RYOT in October of 2012 with a determination to fundamentally change the way Millennials interact with their news. With RYOT Mooser wants to change the way we think about news consumption. News as it functions today is a one-way flow of information, but Mooser and his partners believe readers should be given the opportunity to do something about the stories you read. In explaining the name “RYOT,” Mooser quoted Martin Luther King saying, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” RYOT encourages Millennials to read the news and then “become the news” by completing the linked call to action—for example, signing a petition, sending a tweet in support, or making a donation. Rather than becoming depressed when reading the news, readers can feel empowered. RYOT wants to show Millennials what’s happening in the world, but also show what they can do about it.

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Time only allowed for about a 45-minute presentation from Mooser on Saturday, but I was completely inspired by his talk so I’ve been looking more into his work with RYOT—especially because I think he’s really onto some things I think add color to the conversations we’ve been having this semester around the potential of social media.

Calls to Action Engage and Mobilize

Mooser references a quote by German anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he says, “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.” As I said, RYOT looks to change this passive approach we take to news consumption by linking the stories with specific actions. Mooser and his partners have the advantage of leveraging the connections they’ve built with nonprofits and NGOs around the world over the years in order to link their news stories to credible and truly impactful actions.

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Inbound Marketing is Tough for Nonprofits

Social media has disrupted the non-profit sector for the better, but also for the worse. Due to limited resources, nonprofits struggle with content marketing to bring people to the site and more importantly bring attention to the cause. Mooser explains that nonprofits are stretched so thin that they simply can’t create enough content to compete in this loud digital space: “There was a study that came out last year that said the average nonprofit website got 7,000 unique visitors a month. We wanted to completely shift that model. On a busy day on our site we’ll get 7,000 people every minute. We are able to use these stories to drive impact back to nonprofits, and they can use the RYOT content. This is how the partnership works: free content that nonprofits can send out to their networks.” Additionally, in less than two years RYOT has raised over $1.3 million for select nonprofits through an interesting advertising model that gives to nonprofits based on site visitation. The more readers, the more money that is donated.

A Step Closer Towards Civic Participation

Indeed the debate ensues surrounding the efficacy and legitimacy of online petitions and change movements. But Mooser counters that it’s a good start, quoting Bono who said, “clicktivism is the gateway drug to true activism.” In an interview, Mooser explains that, “spreading messages through social media is the beginning to teaching a young mind to become a global citizen, interact with the world, and to learn how to become involved in causes they care about.”

And lastly, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Social media has created an unprecedented scale of communication. Mooser says, “I can tweet at somebody who’s at a refugee camp outside of Syria…We have access like we’ve never had before. There’s no excuse not to understand fuller what your neighbor is doing…We should all be kept up at night.”

Mooser’s vision for a new model of news consumption and the opportunity to highlight the work being done in the nonprofit sector makes me really excited for the important role social media will continue to play in this area.

Sources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avLG2uTrba4

http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2014/05/30/the-future-of-breaking-news-is-here-and-its-called-ryot/

http://www.adlibbing.org/2014/02/07/interview-bryn-mooser/#.VGK8MIf8gRY

7 comments

  1. Caroline – it is so cool to read about your experience at the conference this weekend, I wish I knew about it! It sounds like Bryn has such an innovative and relevant way of looking at the world, especially in terms of social media. I particularly love when you quoted him for saying “there’s no excuse not to understand fuller what you’re neighbor is doing… We should all be kept up at night.” I think he is getting at a few really interesting points. First off, it is true that if we attempt to keep up with all that is going on in the world, with our neighbor, with social media, we would never sleep. But at the same time, he did an amazing job of explaining why it is our responsibility to know what is happening and to do something about it, and finding out the what, how, where, and when can easily happen through social media.To his last point “we should all be kept up at night,” I can totally see his point because if we know all that is happening in the world, we should always be thinking about how we can contribute at all times — his news channel helps us do exactly that, which I think is most powerful.

  2. Great post Caroline! I’ve heard of Ryot before but I’ve never really checked them out. Turns out that it also covers mainstream news/controversies and also reports on everyday people doing extraordinary actions. (Here’s one about HIV stigma breaking: http://www.ryot.org/woman-found-hiv-via-text-now-shes-breaking-stigma/864405 ) The fact that Ryot allows users to spread stories can potentially inspire and give hope to those potentially facing the same issues. Like you mentioned, it provides the proper instruments for audience empowerment, instead of just serving as a one-way informational channel.

    Based on your numbers, Ryot is definitely great in volume, and I find it awesome that they’re collaborating with non-profits for content and cause-awareness. This provides Ryot with the ability to socially mobilize its audience to help a cause, becoming a very powerful problem solver. On the flip side, I really do hope that Mooser has a stable control over what is being reported to maintain his vision of promoting civic participation. As news media get more traction from stories such as Eminem’s controversial lyrics or Kim Kardashian’s internet-breaking endeavors, Ryot should also give a fair promotion global events and stories that actually requires such social awareness.

  3. What a fabulous post. Thanks for writing it. I do plan to learn more about what he and RYOT does. I really like the idea of trying to move media toward action, and i’d be interested to know how successful their efforts have been.

  4. To echo everyone else so far, awesome awesome post. It was a really cool thing to read. I’ve had conversations where we talked about what sort of gaps remain unfilled in the social media sphere, and news is always one of the things we talk about. I really hope that RYOT and Bryn can change that in future conversations. There is precedence for taking conversations on social media and moving them into an action: see something as harmless as a impromptu dance routine at the train station or something as meaningful as the Arab Spring. So why not approach the idea of how we consume the news? And with such a committed man at the helm (what a chilling quote to culminate the piece), RYOT has a truly substantial chance to make a difference. I do think that initial user buy-in will not necessarily be easy. I imagine that what sounds good on paper may not translate so easily to action, but like you stated, if you can engage in a “clicktivism” then activism is the next step.

  5. Awesome post Caroline! I’m so happy you shared this. RYOT sounds like an amazing new way to engage with media and news. I definitely understand the inbound struggle that non-profits can have. I’m familiar with call-to-actions from using the HubSpot portal. They really can make a huge difference with the way people interact with articles and blog posts. I’m interested to see if RYOT can actually take off (I hope it does!)

  6. Great post Caroline! I am really interested in how social media can benefit the non-profit sector since it is one of the few engagement channels that both big corps and small NGOs can afford to exploit in equal measure.

    I would posit that one of traditional marketing challenges for non-profits that carries over the social engagement is that there’s a fundamental communication gap between those who are already fully immersed in the cause an that are not. In trying to communicate your beliefs, speak in the language of a passion that your target audience doesn’t have yet. You have to first find the things that your audience does care about and find a way to relate your cause to that.

    This makes me think of a for-profit crowdsourcing company called CrowdRise that I learned about at the Hubspot INBOUND conference this year (love talking about that). CrowdRise is unique because their market is exclusively non-profits and charitable causes. One of the ways CrowdRise works to raise awareness for their clients is through very personal and direct social media engagement. Check them out! Crowdrise.com

  7. Awesome post, Caroline! Mooser’s platform is truly inspired. I remember looking into the characteristics that define the millennial generation for a marketing class year, and finding author David Burnstein’s assertion that millennials have both a sense of civic idealism and the pragmatism to understand the necessity of restructuring current institutions in order to effect change. Generation Y is also extremely connected, and has a global mindset. RYOT plays in perfectly to these definitions of the millennial generation, providing pragmatic means for addressing civic ideals. I love the concept of “clicktivism”–it makes us feel empowered, like we can easily contribute to global causes, just in our daily browsing activity. It’s also cool how RYOT has provided new levels of power and reach for nonprofits, but I wonder if Mooser will move toward incorporating for-profit social enterprise in RYOT’s network. It’s hard to know how effectively nonprofits are using the funds raised through RYOT’s advertising model, and social enterprises might be able to afford to form more mutually beneficial partnerships with RYOT that help to grow the platform, while still making equal social impacts to those of nonprofits, if not greater.

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