Image description: A graphic with yellow background. Pink, purple and blue letters reading “Digital is a Realm”.
[Image description: A graphic with yellow background. Pink, purple and blue letters reading “Digital is a Realm”]. Need more help taking your offline work online? We just launched a Digital Hotline that offers rapid response digital strategy support to organizations trying to build effective digital infrastructure. Click here to get connected.

Our experience online is dominated by transactional interactions. The currency of the internet is likes, clicks and opens — the primary platforms we use are optimizing for shallow interactions at scale. And because the dominant economic model of digital platforms relies on harvesting personal data, we are trained to exchange our data for access to information that we need — think entering a valid email address to receive access to useful reports.

But what would it look like for us to transform our online experiences from transactional to relational? To bring our people along in understanding digital spaces as a realm where we have real opportunity to build & connect to others?

Digital is a realm in our world. It’s not a set of tools or a place where we have meaningless transactions with one another. The digital space is a place occupied by our people, our words, our ideas, and it is a place where action happens and power is contested.

We have a responsibility to bring our people along in the digital realm in the same way we have a responsibility to bring our people to liberation offline. Because oftentimes people are scared or overwhelmed by how big and boundless the internet is, they need us — their community leaders and organizers — to help them feel their power and their community connection online.

Pause & reflect: are you having two way conversations online? Are you following up with your people once they engage with you online?

Living Your Values

While doing our work in digital spaces, we need to ensure that we are bringing our same values that we hold offline and in relational organizing, onto our online platforms. In the same way that we are intentional about our facilitation of in-person gatherings — setting agreements for how we show up, arranging a room, choosing check-in questions + exercises to connect — we must decide how our online spaces reflect our shared values.

How do you practice relational organizing? What are the values you share as a community, and how do you practice living in them together? Do you have a system for identifying and ranking leaders? What are all the ways you do relational organizing? Name them, write them down and imagine how you might do that online.

At Kairos, most of the time we spend together as a network is online. Like any community, we’ve worked to make our values explicit and find ways to introduce and reinforce them. For example, one of our values is principled struggle — we hold each other accountable to our principles in honest and direct ways, come with curiosity, and hold responsibility for our feelings and actions.

Engaging in principled struggle looks different online and offline. In both realms, it means creating space for difficult conversations. It means creating a space of safety and trust, and not engaging in side conversations.

Most of the conversations the Kairos Fellows have over the year in their cohort are online. To make sure they are places for principled struggle, here’s how we set them up:

  • For cohort calls, we use Zoom, a video chat platform. Zoom allows us to see each other’s body language and use voice as well as text chat — and we make sure folks are prepared to have video on and give their full attention to the call.
  • We ensure we have agendas, so everyone is prepared for the conversation. Facilitators pay attention to body language, engage with each other, and call on folks to help move conversations along.
  • We take a full 30 minutes at the beginning of each call to check in about how we’re doing. We use the chat to lift each other up, react to jokes, and provide support as folks are talking. This allows us to deepen relationships across distance.
  • We use “stack” in the chat to manage conversations where lots of folks are engaging at the same time. Overlapping conversations are more awkward on calls, so we use the chat to manage crosstalk.
  • We don’t shy away from having hard conversations. We organize, agitate, and show up as our full selves.

Finding Your People Online

Connecting online in a meaningful sense does not mean you are on every single social media platform that’s out there. We need to focus our energy to where our people are online in the same way that we strategically pick where we want to engage offline. If you know your people most likely shop at Kroger, why focus your outreach strategy at Whole Foods? Those are two totally different communities with two different ways of engaging. If you know your people mostly use Facebook, why stretch your energy learning the latest TikTok dance? This is not to say that you can’t try new platforms, it is more about asking yourself: why am I on this platform? Are my people here?

Pause & reflect: If you had to pick only two online platforms, what are the two that your community members use most in their lives?

Choosing Your Pathway

Moving your offline conversations to online requires critically thinking about the types of messages, conversation, and relationships you need to have. Here are some questions to help guide you when you are thinking about how to move offline to online:

What kind of conversation are you having?

  • Relationship-building / 1:1
  • Strategy session or planning meeting
  • Training
  • Making an announcement, sending an update, delivering news

What kind of relationship are you building?

  • One to many: a broadcast message. You want to deliver information, but don’t necessarily need responses.
  • One to one: making an ask, deepening a relationship. You’re engaging in a conversation where you both expect responses from each other.
  • Many to many: community or group conversation. You’re discussing a topic where people may respond once or multiple times, to the group or to each other directly.

Is this a real-time conversation?

  • Real-time: people respond to each other within seconds or minutes.
  • Time-lapse: messages are exchanged over the course of days or weeks.

Answering these three questions about the specific activity you’re looking to engage in online will help you choose the best online space for your conversation.

Choosing Your Platform

After knowing where your people are and what your conversation pathway is, it is time to choose the online platform that will be the best for the types of conversations and relationships you want to have. Similar to offline places, online places serve a specific function and are limited in specific ways. So we must ask ourselves: is this platform’s function serving me, my community, and the work we are trying to move?

Here’s a breakdown of some popular online spaces, their functions, and the platform’s limits. Secure platforms are noted with an asterisk (*):

Places where you can directly contact people and your outreach is limited to only the people you have on your list:

Time-lapse:

  • Email
  • Blast SMS
  • Signal*

Real-time:

  • Slack
  • Peer to Peer texting

Places where you can reach a mass amount of people and your outreach is mediated by algorithms:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • TikTok

Places that serve as a temporary gathering space and may have capacity limit:

  • Zoom
  • Google Hangouts
  • Phone conferencing softwares

Navigating Changes

Pivoting to online work can be filled with joy, and you can build and maintain online relationships that feel authentic and personable. We need to have grace and flexibility while we navigate these changes to our work — our people may not be used to organizing online, and this entire situation is stressful and emotionally charged. This is also an important moment to examine how we can use digital spaces outside of a pandemic, and what that means for our efforts moving forward. We can use this moment to experiment with our online work, get creative with how we organize, and have fun figuring out this realm.

Need more help taking your offline work online? We just launched a Digital Hotline that offers rapid response digital strategy support to organizations trying to build effective digital infrastructure that will last for years to come. The Digital Hotline will put organizations in touch with Kairos staff, alumni, and fellows for strategy, data, and content support. Click here to get connected.

The Kairos Fellowship is a paid, full-time 8 month Fellowship for emerging digital leaders of color. Apply now: http://www.kairosfellows.org/