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.
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:
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.
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.
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.