Creating Positive Social Media: Learnings from Social Storytelling, Journalism and Civic Tech Experts



“The reason why we’re good at saying no is because we’ve unwittingly created a media system where we have an oversupply of people talking and undersupply of people listening.” Micah Sifry, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Civic Hall


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In the last couple of years, social networks, free agents, mission-driven organizations, and anyone attempting to construct “shareable” narratives across multiple channels have been challenged.

Algorithmic changes, as well as increasing security and privacy concerns over social media giants like Facebook, has made the task more difficult than before.

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During #SMWNYC, experts in social storytelling, civic tech, and journalism shared what they know to work, miss, and which new platform, channel mix, and story/narrative structures can help any organization —regardless of size and social purpose- going up against the noisy information landscape that exists today.

The internet = a catalyst for people to stop

According to Micah Sifry, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Civic Hall, there is a problem in terms of moving things in a positive direction. The internet and social media have become a catalyst for people to stop, but not so much to go.

In other words, the internet is good at saying no, but not good at saying yes.

“The reason why we’re good at saying no is because we’ve unwittingly created a media system where we have an oversupply of people talking and undersupply of people listening,” Sifry explained.

Social media tools as they are today also do not incentivize people to listen and collaborate. Instead, they are designed to publish, Sifry suggested.

He described that when people already agree with something, the work is done and people can easily rally. Yet, an environment with much disagreement means more noise and a less clear signal.

Sifry explained that until tools are designed for collaboration and listening, people are left “dealing with a very tough environment for successful storytelling for meaningful change.”

Louis Bickford, CEO of, chimed in, stating that the ideal solution would be for people to approach socializing online not just with problems or by saying ‘look how terrible this thing is.’

A new approach

Instead, an approach with the authentic and compelling would more easily evoke empathy, build trust, and inspire an audience to action.

Mikhael Simmonds, who is the Northeast Regional Manager at Solutions Journalism and works with journalists and news organizations, believes that although the role of journalists and marketers is very different, they both care about an audience –wondering what they want, and what is authentic.

The lesson, Simmonds said, lies not only in listening, but also in focusing on who gets to tell a story or lead a narrative.

“The person telling that story lends a level of authenticity, the words they use how they express themselves makes a difference,” he explained.

He emphasized that there are details that may make a world of difference for an audience, which enable authenticity in an environment like social networking that still has trouble finding that.

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