Candidate College on Social Media in Local Politics

In 2011, I participated in a candidate training organized by Morgan Pehme of Civic NY, a good government group. While I was a panelist on the last session (which addressed social media in particular) the highlight for me was asking four high powered campaign consultants about using new media in local campaigns. Specifically – are any of them claiming expertise in using new media? And if not – who do they recognize in the field as having expertise they respect?

The answers were revealing. There was a recognition that politics is changing, and that this is an important field. Just not important enough that any of these folks needed to develop actual expertise it, in contrast to other campaign management skills involving field, fundraising or phone calls. For one of them, it was enough to hire bright young things and be done with it. None of them could name an actual ‘expert’. The most fascinating response was that ‘social media is only worth 100-200 votes, so you can give it to a volunteer if that’s what they are most passionate about. Don’t waste too much time on it.’ (I couldn’t stop thinking about former Congressman Weiner while hearing this.)

And then the New York Times Magazine article about the Republican’s use of online strategies in the 2012 election came out two weeks ago. In it, you can hear the frustration of Republican operatives who tried mightily to help their team do better at social media and online tools generally – but failed mightily in multiple dimensions.

“There are always elders at the top who say, ‘That’s not important,’ And that’s where the left has beaten us, by giving smart people the space and trusting them to have success. It’s a fundamentally anti-entrepreneurial model we’ve embraced.”

Here in New York, the division isn’t between R’s and D’s. It’s between smart, entrepreneurial people who don’t have status power, and the insular, top down cohort of political consultants and campaign managers who essentially run every race. My impression is that some of them are now working on the question of how to project expertise in social media, online advertising, and other new media tools, notwithstanding that just about all of them adopted counter-factual opinions and practices in the last few years. And that’s actually progress; even their most misguided and trusting clients are demanding that the folks who yesterday said that social media wasn’t that important now offer guidance on using Twitter. Obviously, folks like me are in the same category as ‘premature anti-fascists’ were in the 40s; clearly suspicious for not having soberly waited to become a late adopter.

I suspect that almost none of them are asking the most important question in 21st Century, open source and open ended politics: how do we remove that insular filter that puts us two steps behind instead of being the ones that are two steps ahead? That my friends, is the real question. Social media just gives us a better way to ask it.

If you want to help answer that question while learning hard social media skills, don’t forget to register for Organizing New York, March 22-24.


Nonprofits and IT: Lessons From Sysadmin Country

501 Tech NYC Logo501 Tech NYC: Connect. Learn. Change the world!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

6 – 7 p.m. Socializing
7 – 8 p.m. Discussion

Nonprofits need hardware, software, training, budgets and policies. And the person at the center of all that is often your friendly nonprofit systems administrator, or sysadmin. We need them, we love them, and we’re inviting some of them to speak at our next event on August 17.

Many small nonprofits no longer have dedicated sysadmins. The functions they might have been in charge of are now distributed to other staff or outsourced. Kayza Kleinman and Nick Pytel will lead our next meeting, in a format we call ‘Ask the Sysadmin.’

Questions already in the pipeline include:

  • What are relevant acceptable use policies for social media in the office?
  • What’s new in cost-effective computing? What kind of equipment will be smartest nonprofits be using in 3-5 years?
  • How are we protecting data and passwords in 2012?
  • How is the job of nonprofit sysadmin changing?
  • What are the top five things sysadmins wish everyone knew?

If you have a question you’d like to see discussed, or an answer you want to present, send a note to or post on our Facebook Wall.

Who this is for:

Sysadmins working at nonprofit organizations, executive directors and COO’s in charge of hardware and software, consultants who deliver IT services to nonprofits, staff at nonprofits who have to manage technology as part of their role.

Featured Guests:

Kayza Kleinman is director of the Information and Technology Department of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI). Since joining the organization in 1988 she has overseen the growth and maintenance of the infrastructure needed to support JCCGCI’s extensive service management and administrative needs, including design and implementation of systems to support client management, fiscal management and reporting to funding sources. She implemented the Department’s technical assistance system. Kayza also supervises computer equipment maintenance and upgrade.

Kayza provides senior level technology consulting services to small to medium-sized nonprofits. Her services include designing and presenting workshops, conducting organizational needs assessments, installing hardware and software, writing custom software, training clients in computer usage and website development. 

Nicholas Pytel is a veteran IT Manager with fifteen years experience providing leadership, direction, and strategy to organizations.  Currently the IT Director of the New York Hotel Trades Council (, he maintains a mac and windows network, Blackberry PDA’s, data center, and 150 workstations.  During the last six years, he has twice upgraded the infrastructure (network, wireless, desktop, data and voice services).  He is an expert in IT procurement, asset management, vendor contracts, and disaster recovery planning.  

Mr. Pytel was formerly the director of RatTech, an organization that helped recycle computers (and other technology) and restore them to productive use.

Before moving to NYC, he was the owner of NPTS in Tallahassee, Fl – a technology consulting firm providing network topology design, hardware & software procurement and installation, and consulting services for small to midsize corporate clusters, individuals, and educational institutions. 

Have a question you’d like answered? Tweet with our hashtag #501TechNYC!

Space generously donated by

Planned Parenthood logo


Stay in touch.

On Facebook? So are we! Join us there and be the first to know of upcoming events.

 Spread the word!
We welcome anyone interested in using technology for nonprofit and advocacy efforts.

Your co-organizers are:
Thomas Negron, Big Duck
Charles Lenchner, Organizing 2.0
Farra Trompeter, Big Duck

We Don’ Need No Stinkin’ Social Media Experts

A few days ago Peter Shankman wrote a provocative post about why one should never hire a “Social Media Expert”. His main point is that

“Social media is just another facet of marketing and customer service. Say it with me. Repeat it until you know it by heart. Bind it as a sign upon your hands and upon thy gates. Social media, by itself, will not help you.”

This was posted on ProgressivExchange and attracted a more than usual amount of attention. A fair number of “social media experts” are on that list. But it’s a fair debate: do we need social media experts in the nonprofit/organizing/campaign space? When? How?

Nonprofit and political communication staff can’t be assumed to know when or how to use social media, online ads, online video, a microsite, or any other kind of nontraditional, digital strategy. I’ve met them. Here are four typical responses from insufficiently skilled communicators:

  1. Hire a trusted consulting firm (who might be clueless as well) and pay them loads of money for advice one could have Googled and execution that a junior staffer could have done – for a whole lot less.
  2. Reject unfamiliar methodologies.
  3. Encourage staff to present digital strategies, but then reject them, so they can take credit for internal crowd-sourcing while still following (2) above.
  4. Read up on the literature and try their best, but since they only have 100 hours doing this ‘stuff’ they combine relative ignorance with alpha male self-confidence, wasting time and money as they themselves seek to master digital strategy on the fly, ensuring that the organization only advances as fast as they can acquire new skills and insights. (In other words, slowly and inefficiently!)

None of these four options are indefensible. They just aren’t as good as what real leaders do. Here are the alternatives:

  1. Look for a consulting firm or consultant who really has expertise in digital strategy, and learn how to tell the difference between those who get this field and those that don’t, between the traditional strategic PR and media consulting and the Fission/Rad Campaigns of the world. It ain’t the same thing, not by a long shot.
  2. Cultivate a digital strategist internally from your board or a staff member and cede power to them over their areas of expertise. Acquirethe skill of managing an expert, as you would with an attorney or accountant, instead of arrogantly deciding to become that kind of expert yourself. (Arrogant = because you aren’t actually doing to spend the time it takes.)
  3. Crowdsource questions about strategy only if you or someone else in the room has the expertise to evaluate them properly. Absent that element, why waste everyone’s time?
  4. By all means, build your own expertise in digital strategy. Just try and remember the 10,000 hours rule. Someone who has spent five years doing this will know more than you. And after five years, they will have ten years, so even if you changed your career to become a digital strategist, they still might have something to teach you. Be humble and aware of your core competencies, use experts – including social media consultants – judiciously. Don’t force your entire organization to be as slow as you might be.

After sending a version of this response to the list, a bunch of folks wrote to me appreciating how these approaches are laid out. What do you think?

Before you answer, consider viewing this oldie but a goodie about those damn social media experts: