Below is the transcript from the Interview with Alan W. Silberberg conducted by Gennefer Snowfield:
Interview was posted 3/13/09
You2Gov: Politics With a Purpose
Most cause marketing discussions center around marketing the company, product, or service that has partnered with a non-profit organization. Few focus on nonprofits marketing themselves as a means to gain awareness for their cause. And fewer still, discuss how causes can rally support from a government standpoint.
But, for many nonprofits, this is a critical element to keep their organizations running and generate the aid they need to affect change. You2Gov.org, a platform designed to connect users with Elected Officials and political representatives under the rubric of open government, has created social software that allows groups to tap into community affiliations with a fully automated system for managing fundraising, marketing, and operational activities. Their goal is to offer users a front end forum for bringing political, social, and environmental issues to light and back end management tools for transforming that exposure into organized tasks for making a difference. And with the ability to track your progress against a set of clearly defined objectives, that impact is measurable — and repeatable.
I spoke with Alan W. Silberberg, Co-Founder and CEO, to learn more about his vision, and while political power may never fully be in the hands of the people, You2Gov appoints everyone a delegate of their own destiny, and levels the playing field to bring Capitol Hill down to the community level.
You2Gov is focused on empowering the people to affect political decisions. What tools and services do you offer to achieve that?
We designed a custom database containing all the State and Federal Elected Officials that allows the citizen user to take control of their civic life, much like they would take control of their online banking or online identity with easy desktop access. This database of over 9,400 Elected Officials is inside a social network engine that allows group formation, bulletin boards, email, complete social integration of group needs, and tools to provide best use social media practices. Cutting Edge News and current Government Reports allow users to become informed citizens while contacting their elected officials.
Since building the proprietary tools of the “Contact Your Representative” engine, we have created an additional software platform that integrates all the advocacy connectivity of the website with a Social Networking Constituent Relations Management suite (SNCRM). This is being marketed to groups, companies, and trade associations that have current and future advocacy needs, through which our cutting edge Open Government tools provide a solution.
What was the impetus behind the creation of You2Gov?
Ralph J. Shapira, the Chairman, was very unhappy with the possibility of Super Delegates deciding the outcome of the Democratic side of the 2008 Presidential Election. This led to a basic question being asked: How do average people get in touch with their Elected Officials, if at all? So, it became part of a larger mission to create the tools to facilitate Open Government, and create a transparent communications process available to anyone. Since then, we have built on that original vision by creating a tool kit that can help transform groups, transform cause marketing and provide cutting edge social media tools.
What has been the response so far? What political changes have you been able to affect to date?
There have been tens of thousands of visitors to You2Gov. There is a continuing list of blog, news articles and other mentions in the media and blogosphere. The company is currently engaged in educating the Legislatures and Congress, as well as the State Houses and White House. For a long time, many people did not necessarily have the means to connect themselves with their Elected Officials. This, in fact, is still hard for many people to grasp. We don’t reveal the messages sent to Elected Officials by users as they are kept strictly private, but the response has been terrific. People report to us they get response letters from the Elected Officials, and it has opened many eyes as to how online advocacy has adapted to the social media age.
Tell us more about your Direct Democracy 3.0 software, and how that helps benefit nonprofits and organizations seeking to spark social change.
Direct Democracy 3.0 is a custom, hybrid social media platform that incorporates our front end “Contact Your Representative” engine and the Government 2.0 tools that make up the Open Government part of the offering, along with a unique Social Networking Constituent Management (SNCRM) system. This SNCRM allows for complete campaign management, including advertising online, fundraising, event management and newsletters, groups, bulletin boards, full reporting, and even Political Campaign Management.
What benefits and resources do they receive by implementing the software?
The major benefits are: complete social media advocacy software that brings together two powerful technologies into one. With this tool set, a group can simultaneously advocate, fundraise, articulate and market its message, motivate its current members/users (retention) and use the social media tools and feeds to create a unique branded environment. Creation of new members/users through a turnkey publishing platform/social media network is made easier and seamless.
How do you tie causes into the service and help consumers gain government support for those causes?
We created a tool set that takes cause marketing to a whole new level. Through the service, groups can contact officials; request funds for a cause; social network the cause; and run all the advertising, marketing, fundraising, newsletters, and other communications all in one place.
What causes have been the most popular with users?
The Wall Street Bailout was huge in the fall, and lately a lot of searches have centered around Obama, the Stimulus and the economy in general. That seems to be where most searches are occurring. But we also see a lot of interest in “social” political issues, environment, and healthcare.
How do you measure the impact on those causes and communicate it back to customers?
Our tools allow complete measurement of the impact through multilayer reporting and tool utilization. It is up to each group to decide how best to utilize the SNCRM to create the custom environment that is suited to each group’s mission. Each software suite has a complete back-end control room that allows for full reporting, and breakdown of information in clear and actionable ways.
How has the political sector responded at the local, state, and national levels?
Many of our beta testers were Government leaders, officials, and politicians. The result so far has been tremendously positive, with much excitement about the Open Government possibilities our website and software open up on both sides of the equation. Open Government advocates and leaders are excited about our offering, and it has been described as disruptive technology.
Where are you seeing the greatest action being taken?
The Bailout, the Stimulus, and the economic situation have refocused America’s priorities. Now is the time to both learn from past mistakes, while also creating new realities that can offer an improvement. As more groups adopt the You2Gov platform, it will engender a growth in online advocacy and transparent oversight of Government at the State and Federal levels. The tools are there. The desire for change is there. Inertia is turning in the Open Government direction. So the greatest action will ultimately be lots of smaller groups that are using social media tools to become highly organized and effective in creating their own reality.
What social and environmental issues are at the forefront?
Clearly, economic concerns are at the forefront at the moment. But we are also seeing ever increasing warnings about environmental issues. And the fact that the Pentagon, the EU and China all agree on this issue, reinforces its significance. America may have gone through a political change in the past few months, but societal concerns are still deeply prevalent. We are also seeing growing issues around clean water.
How do you define the concept of online advocacy? How do you think that relates to, and can help advance, cause marketing?
Online advocacy takes many forms. It involves organizing, and causing to action, through new forms of group management and empowerment. We targeted the civic/political arena because it is something so clearly in need of transparent tools to facilitate communications.
But online advocacy begins with having the tools available to transform your group into the best advocate for your issue so that they can get exposure and aid for their cause. I think cause marketing and online advocacy are almost one and the same now. They have to be integrated together in a thoughtful way that delivers more power and strength to both the group and the message. Cause marketing evolves with the tools that emerge to provide new avenues for voices to be heard. Awareness is critical in cause marketing and social media tools help shine a light on important issues.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for political action and causes to merge?
When using the power of groups to affect both political and societal change at the speed of the Internet. When this becomes an efficient process, it will transform how Governments are forced to deal with the Shareholders (Us) and how ideas of transparency and Open Government get put into practice. Right now, there is still a partial silo mentality – many Governments don’t want to embrace real transparent and Open Management. So when groups using the tools that You2Gov has created become proficient in them, it will gain momentum and bring rapid change.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle in this process, and what is You2Gov doing to overcome it?
We are both educating companies and groups on the benefits that accrue from using cutting edge social media tools like You2Gov, while simultaneously demonstrating an economics theorem of “Opportunity Cost.” If your company does not dive into the social networking space, the costs of not doing so far outweigh the risks of jumping in.
How would you recommend that companies, consumers, and nonprofits work together in using the You2Gov platform to make a measurable difference?
The more that people realize Government does not want us to be in control, the more likely we will all want more control. As more and more groups get into using online advocacy platforms, and more of us start contacting our Government officials regularly, then we will begin to see real change. The tools are there. We created them. Now it is up to the groups themselves to take greater control of their cause(s). So, the more groups that start organizing politically around their issue, the more likely they will be able to influence awareness and change.
The wheels of change go round and round…
The thing about change is that it requires ongoing action, which is why cause marketing works best when it’s part of a fully integrated corporate mission, where all company activities are continually moving it forward. You2Gov’s platform closes the loop on that process by giving groups the tools to keep the tides of change turning, making cause partnerships that much stronger, and generating the awareness needed to fuel all cause-related efforts. That awareness helps attract for-profits to the cause, rallies support for the issue among consumers, corporate and political constituents, and creates visibility to drive aid, action, and change. The power of the human spirit is strong — especially when the technology matches the passion put behind it.