64ForSuu.org: Launching a New Campaign in 6 Days

Campaigning has never been an activity with long lead-times. Yet the 64ForSuu.org campaign site in support of Burma's illegally imprisoned democratically elected leader - Aung San Suu Kyi - was pulled together in just 6 days.
64ForSuu.org: Launching a New Campaign in 6 Days
The 64ForSuu.org website homepage
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi was elected as the leader of Burma - only to be imprisoned by Generals and illegally detained for decades.

If you are interested in the campaign, go directly to: 64ForSuu.org orfollow the 64ForSuu blog

For anyone interested in how the campaign was put together, read on.

Since most people who read my blog are campaigners and campaign managers and we deal with campaigns every day, all day, I'll focus on how it got set-up and delivered in 6 days.

Note: I had no formal involvement with this campaign other than helping it find someone to deliver it in the time-scale required and giving free advice on the requirements. I am interested in it as a case for rapid e-campaigning.

It Started With a Phone Call

On Thursday 21 May, The Burma Campaign UK got a phone call. It was from a prominent UK figure who suggested a campaign be put together in the lead-up to Aung San Suu Kyi's 64th birthday and launched on the day she was to have been released. A coalition was rapidly formed around the 64 For Suu Campaign.

The Burma Campaign UK is a small with a small budget and small team, so budget was also made available to commission the website. Since Burma campaigning is what The Burma Campaign UK do, they jumped at the opportunity.

The 64 For Suu campaign is a coalition - not a Burma Campaign UK project. Coalition members include: US Campaign for Burma, Open Society Institute, Not On Our Watch, Amnesty International, Avaaz, English Pen, Trade Union Congress, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch.

Budget: £5,000

Deadline: Wed 27 May 2009 launch date

Constraint: it was a long-weekend in the UK (with good weather forecast), so most people had plans.

The underlying driver is that in the last few weeks, Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisioned and put on trial for 'breaking the terms of her illegal house arrest': someone swam to her house and stayed there despite being asked to leave and despite being guarded by those who imprisioned her. So this was already a hot media issue.

Finding a Design and Development Team

The next challenge was finding someone to design the site and develop it.  Part of the challenge was that it was top-secret (embargoed in media-speak) until launch. Since Aung San Suu Kyi was already a top story in the media, any link to the Burma Campaign UK could easily have guessed the topic. So a public call for help was not directly possible, and they had to find someone who was available and willing to work over the long weekend.

Johnny from the Burma Campaign UK called me late Thursday afternoon to ask for advice on a team. At this point I was already travelling for a long weekend abroad. After talking it through, I offered to put a call out on some email lists I am on where web design-development teams are known to be in the community and interested in campaigning.

What I asked was he develop a list of priorities to help any prospective suppliers to know what they were getting into. The requirements were:

Priority one (essential to site):

The site must be able to endure heavy traffic. Visitors are able to come to site and:

  • Submit short text messages less than one hundred words long
  • Embed videos from other sites
  • Submit images

The site will also:

  • Integrate Twitter messages (if tagged appropriately).
  • Integrate submitted content on a feed (facebook style) on the site homepage.

The site must be able to:

  • Gather email, location and name date from users when they submit their data. This data must be able to be exported easily.
  • Allow visitors to be able to sort all submitted entries (video, text, image, tweets) by content type, date submitted, views.
  • Be user moderated where users can flag bad content and the site manager can remove.
  • Go viral by including “share” features for social networks etc..
  • Able to include captcha’s on the sign up page if needed.

Priority two (would enrich site)

  • Users to be able to vote up or down content (digg style)
  • Content to be shown on a map automatically  according to where the user uploaded it from (if they submitted location details)
  • Site to be searchable

Johnny set up a generic email address at Google Mail to receive proposals and 10 were received.

Design, Development and Hosting

Rechord was the selected provider (over nine others who offered their services) for design and development, primarily because they could deliver on time, and on budget which meant working over a long-weekend with great weather. They are also personally passionate about the issue and were known to Johnny through their participation in the annual eCampaigning Forum event and on the eCampaigning Forum Network email list so both of those factors helped. This is despite having a full workload until July!

By the end of Friday the design was done and then it was on to the site development. All while most of us (myself included) relaxed for the long weekend.

Despite the prioritised requirements list, a number of major features were not mentioned up-front and had to be added. This included a blog, contact page and press page

By Tuesday night (21:30 BST) the site was ready (at least with the priority one requirements) and Johnny had sent out a launch email embargoed until 00:01 27 May.

Web hosting was provided by Catalyst2 who, over the sunny bank weekend, designed and built a server and hosting capable handling peak demand and other scenarios.  This is important since the Burma Campaign UK had experienced overwhelming demand with different scenarios in the last 18 months.

This hosting aspect is critical as any human rights and peace organisations taking on military regemes or issues related to the a military will know.

Content and Allies

While the site development was going on, the 64 For suu coalition was busy collecting and developing the content for the site as well as lining up allies for the campaign. This included Sarah Brown (wife of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown), Stephen Fry (well know UK actor) and other celebrities.

The 64 For suu coalition lined up a number of allies, including George Clooney, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, David Beckham, Daniel Craig, and the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The plan with famous allies was, among other things, to get suportive video clips of them and to get them posting messages of support on twitter.

The Launch

Homepage of the 64ForSuu.org campaign site
Ths 64ForSuu.org site was designed, developed and launched in 6 days.

The site was launched on Wednesday 27 May and immediately started to attract support via Twitter, photos and videos:

  • Twitter: #assk64 has tag or 64forsuu.org site references (and was already the third most popular tag on Twitter by 11am)
  • See the text, twitter, photo and video messages via the gallery
  • Searching for "Aung San Suu Kyi" or "Burma" didn't see the site in the first page of results yet, but given that searching for "64forsuu" returns 300+ results, it is likely only a matter of time.
  • Since Johnny (then a volunteer) was one of the people responsible for the massive Facebook Group to support the Monk's protests in Burma in September 2007, it is obvious he would also post there as well.

Post Launch

Too many campaigns I have worked on have a pause after launch due to staff exhaustion. However this is the most important time. The 64 For Suu coalition team seem to be working flat-out promoting the site and have delegated many tasks to volunteers.

One such task was setting up the 64forSuu twitter account and then following anyone who mentioned the hashtag #assk64, the campaign 64forsuu or other related keywords.  Turns out there is a service for auto-following anyone who mentions keywords you decide upon: Twollow.com.

The site was multi-lingual. this is normally a significant complicating factor in the design and build of a website and in the ongoing maintenance.  However in this case it wasn't because the translations (including English) were independent of the site using the GetText system and using Pootle to delegate localisations (language translations and local adaptations). Luckily Rechord has this experience because they has just worked on Oxfam's The Big Promise project with me and I had specified using GetText because it simplifies the localisation process.

Highlights

  • Over 17,000 64's* were submitted to the site from over 100 countries (*64forSuu.org asked people to submit a message of support to Burma's imprisoned democracy leader via videos, text or twitter message. These messages of support are known as 64's.)
  • World leaders including Prime Minister Gordon Brown submitted 64's
  • Major celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, Daniel Craig, David Beckham and Bono submitted 64's
  • There have been over 76,000 unique visits; the site has proved popular in ASEAN countries. Thailand and Singapore rank third and fourth in number of visits, while Burma is eighth.
  • Through replies and re-tweets, the campaign message reached an estimated 5 million people through Twitter alone in its first five days.
  • Celebrities who tweeted include Stephen Fry, Yoko Ono, Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore.
  • Supporters were able to submit their 64 via 64forSuu.org, Twitter and Facebook
  • The site generated thousands of media articles according to Google news
  • The site was attacked through a sophisticated cyber attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's 64th birthday. June 19th. (see details)
  • We wanted the site to be as accessible as possible worldwide so we translated the interface into 9 languages including: Burmese, Indonesian, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Thai.
  • The site was part of a huge growth in online support for Aung San Suu Kyi, we saw over 60,000 new people join her Facebook page

Insider Perspective

Johnny Chatterton, the Project Manager for 64forSuu.org (then with Burma Campaign UK and now with 38 Degrees) also contributed to this posting with the following:

Thanks Duane for putting this post together. 64forSuu.org has been a very successful project in a number of ways, we saw Presidents, Prime ministers and celebrities submit messages of support to Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Millions of people were reached by the website through Twitter, Facebook, email and coalition campaign sites.

  • We intended 64foSuu.org to be an emergency campaign - to show the outrage worldwide at the ongoing sham trial of Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in the run up to her 64th Birthday. As such the campaign was a huge succeess in engaging high profile support and thousands of new supporters of the global campaign for a free, democratic Burma.
  • The website was groundbreaking in a number of ways, not least the time in which it was put together. We were pleased at the way we managed to integrate, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube into the site as this allowed us to reach a very wide audience. This was critical as we have over 100,000 supporters on Facebook.
  • Personally the project has been fantastic to work on. When we launched it on May 27th it was fantastic to see hundreds of tweets flood in. The site then started to gain momentum and we saw surges of engagement linked to key events and the support of key celebrities. I was also very happy with the way that the development team at Rechord and the hosting team at Catalyst2 dealt with the cyber attack on the site. The attack couldn't have come at a worst time; the site was attacked on Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday on the day the campaign culminated . However, as Duane wrote, from the outset we asked the team to be ready to for a cyber attack and as such they responded rapidly and effectively. The system we had created worked and despite the sophisticated nature of the attack we were only offline for 20 minutes - for security however I can't go into the technical details of how the site was attacked.
  • The project simply would not have been produced so quickly if we hadn't arranged an extremely streamlined decision making progress, this was helped by the fact that the key decision makers (The Directors at the Burma Campaign UK) had Blackberrys so I could contact them and share designs with them at all times. The fact that the site was cross-platform was also critical to its success as it meant we reached a far wider audience than a website alone would have. The wide coalition supporting the site helped in generating both content for the site and media interest in the site.
  • Initially it appeared that Aung San Suu Kyi's trial would be concluded very quickly, but in fact it has been drawn out to such an extent that it is still ongoing. This has meant that the site is still relevant as people are still giving messages of support to Aung San Suu Kyi on the website and are still engaged with the issues.
  • I'd also like to underline how grateful we are to everyone that supported 64forSuu.org and to the development team that made it possible especially Rachel Collinson and her team at Rechord and Jacob Colton and the team at Catalyst2 . The team we assembled was a pleasure to work with, responding quickly, professionally and creatively as the project evolved and grew.

Lessons Learned

Many organisations take months or years to plan a campaign, so if you wated to do it in 6 days or less, what should you do?:

  1. Be open to opportunities when they present themselves. The 64 For suu coalition had two opportunities: the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and the call from a prominent figure to do something (with supporting funding)
  2.  Prioritise your needs for a website. It needs to be simple but compelling. You can improve things that are lower priority after launch
  3. Streamline signoff. The 64 For suu coalition small team size is a virtune in this case. Larger organisations will need to form a team with full signoff authority and instant available if they want to move quickly.
  4. Ask for what you really need. The 64 For suu coalition asked for people who could deliver over the long weekend and got it.  In campaigning we do things that not only we are passionate about, but others are too. They will do what it takes to help if you ask them. The budget helps - but it was not the determining factor.
  5. Approach allies to help with launch promotion
  6. Keep content to the minimum for launch and focus on the essential.
  7. Provide allies (e.g. bloggers, allies, journalists) with an embargoed launch brief so they can prepare to distribute it to coincide with your launch
As usual, I'm sure there is other learning from the campaign -

so please add it below.

by Duane Raymond published May 27, 2009,
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Anonymous

Gene wrote:

Being the totally anal, nitpicking, hairsplitting old dawg that I am, I've been looking for all the things that could have been so much better in this amazing coup that the campaign has pulled off. Sadly, apart from the choice of URL, I can't think of anything else.

Congratulations, rock on in the Web 2.0 world, and a big shout-out to Rechord and Catalyst2 (and Duane, despite being pigmentally-challenged, you still kick ass).

What a trip!

  • Aug 17, 2009 06:05 AM