Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

I’ve completed another round of New Years-focused advocacy articles. The best of 2017. What to watch for in 2018.

New tools are slick and certainly improve our ability to communicate. So none of the below should be taken to mean that you shouldn’t bother with that new targeting technology, social media channel or VR application. By all means, you should.

The unspoken assumption is that new technology will make advocacy campaigns more effective and efficient.

I buy the argument that they improve efficiency.

Looking back since I started doing advocacy work (17 years or so), I’ve noticed that almost all of the innovations in our space are a function of time. We can undoubtedly do things faster–build our owned channels, produce content, target that content, acquire names for a database, etc.

This is all necessary and helpful, especially when clients are constantly asking for what’s new.

The problem is that we apply these new technologies in ways that reduce our effectiveness. Let me explain.

Over the holidays I got the opportunity re-read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl’s theory is that man finds life’s meaning in three ways, two of which are:

  1. By doing a work or deed
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone

(The third way is the most poignant, and probably the most important reason to read the book, but not as applicable to this post.)

For me, this book is call-to-arms for every aspect of my life, including my professional life.

Frankl’s words are a reminder of the simple fact that people are moved by other people. They’re moved by the opportunity to help achieve something worthwhile.

It stands to reason that figuring out how to add meaning to people’s lives will draw them to your cause. Our ability to do that is based on the relationships we invest in building.

Reading Frankl’s book and thinking back to those “what’s next” advocacy articles is what brought me to question of how we use technology.

Relationships, too, are a function of time. But in an inverse way to the technological advances upon which we have come to rely. Building advocate relationships is decidedly inefficient. It’s messy and time-consuming. It requires consistent engagement that leads to understanding that, eventually, creates intimacy. To me, it’s this journey that creates meaning.

Today’s natively digital campaigns are typically designed to avoid this inefficiency. We define a relationship, instead, as a neat system of transactions:

  1. Content is targeted
  2. Content is delivered
  3. Engagement is tracked
  4. Future engagement is personalized
  5. Personalized content increases engagement
  6. We move them up our engagement ladder

Voila. Our “relationship” is created.

But at this point, in most cases, we only know this person’s name, basic demographics and engagement history.

We’ve never picked up the phone to talk to them.

We’ve never asked them one question not related to our campaign.

We overlook that fact that everyone else running an advocacy campaign is doing the same exact thing.

Again, please don’t interpret this as me saying that great content isn’t necessary or useful; that your kick-ass Facebook video was a waste or that your analytics program is useless. See my comment above before hitting me with Gary Vaynerchuk quotes.

My point is that Frankl reminds us that, whatever technology we choose to use, we’re still required to show up. To invest ourselves in our issues. Every advocacy cause tells people why they ought to care. That’s part of the reason why we’re subjected to 30,000 brand messages every day.

Very few campaigns actually show people why.

Frankl challenges us to make relationships with advocates our primary purpose and to trust that, if we’re successful, those relationships will add meaning. And, from that meaning, all other good things–including the change we seek–will flow.

So, this year, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to focus as much on what I produce. Instead, I’m going to focus on how I produce it. I’m going to figure out how I can use the latest and greatest technological advancements to invest in spending more time with each advocate.

In 2018, I’m going to figure out how to use technology to be more inefficient.

Let me know what you think. Send me your thoughts at