The Quick and Dirty of Social Messaging

What is the quick and dirty of powerful Social Messaging? A good friend of mine once counseled me to stand for something or you will fall for anything. I think it’s good advice for organizations that support vulnerable citizens. Here are a few tips to help you get started on crafting your organizations profile and “brand” in a way that will enhance both your presence in community and the way in which the people you support are welcomed into community.

Practical Tips on Social Messaging.

  • Ensure your organization has developed position statements on issues that most fundamentally affect your constituency. Where do you stand on segregated living, group homes, institutions, sheltered workshops, supported decision making and guardianship, etc.
  • Identify and shed light on the skeletons in your closet. Do you run a sheltered work shop? Don’t dance around the truth.  Create a plan to transition people into meaningful paid employment, and then talk about that. It’s the right thing to do anyway.
  • Determine who speaks for the organization, to media, to the community and with regard to internal communications…  Or better yet, scrap that and ensure people with disabilities (or the people you serve) are positioned to speak on behalf of the organization whenever appropriate.
  • Facilitate the transitioning of people who receive services or support from your organization into decision making and leadership roles at every opportunity. Ensure proper support is in place.
  • Create “talking points” which everyone is well versed in and can easily be communicated to stakeholders, funders, media, and in their personal lives out side of work. This is your organizational elevator speech-you’ve got two minutes-spit it out!
  • Be sensitive of the images you use when promoting your organization and your work. Don’t show citizens with disabilities exclusively alone or in groups of people with disabilities. Remember the power of the ordinary. Show folks working, living, and playing in the community with peers of the same age and interest.
  • Try to stay away from images and phrases that re-enforce old ideas and stereotypes.  Portraying citizens with disabilities, bowling, in segregated classes, working in the 4 F’s (flowers, filth, fast food, or filing) will not help the general population change their minds about what they think they know about a life with a disability. Images and language that involve showcasing people with disabilities as primarily alone, as objects of pity or charity, as enlightened spiritual beings, as emotionally one dimensional (affectionate, loving, or sexually deviant or a-sexual) may raise you some money for the organization but will ultimately compromise the likelihood that the people you support will be included.
  • Stop using Comic Sans as a font in your materials. It is meant to look childlike and whimsical – people with disabilities and the issue of meaningful inclusion are neither.
  • Always, always, always use ‘people first’ language.
  • Resist the urge to be clever. Rhonda Weibe told me the other day “as citizens living with disabilities we there will always be people who are more clever, but there will never be people who are more us”. BE YOU! Tell an authentic story. (PS: There is nothing else clever or original you can do with the words ‘Down’ and ‘Syndrome’ – please stop trying!
  • Keep a close eye on your “strictly fund raising” efforts. Nothing is simply about raising money – events and campaigns speak volumes about who you are and what you believe in as an organization. Be true to your partners and their messages.
  • Be proactive and prepared to be reactive. Use media releases to respond to everything that affects your consistency. The more you put out the more likely it is that the press will come to you for reactions and quotes on major issues.

The single greatest, most profound marketing tool you have is the people you serve, their families, staff, and community members who have had their lives enhanced by working, living and learning along side their fellow citizens with disabilities. They believe and trust you to help them tell their stories. Don’t let them down!

Here is what I know to be true – numbers tell and stories sell. Tell an authentic, meaningful and purposeful story about the importance of inclusion and you will honor the individuals and families that you serve. There is nothing more profound you can do.

Krista Flint is an internationally renowned speaker with a strong background in non-profit leadership.  As the former Executive Director for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society and the former Social Marketing Director for Developmental Disabilities Resource Centre, Krista has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with emerging non-profit organizations.  For more information on Krista’s workshops, visit the consulting page of Inclusive Humanity which features lectures and training sessions for your organization on social marketing and other timely issues.