Supercharge your events using Mobilizon and mobilizon-reshare
Let’s say you’re a small to medium-sized organization where multiple people or units are in charge of planning and promoting public events. For example: you could be an agency, a publisher, an advocacy group, or a small political organization.
Let’s say you’re not satisfied with the amount of manual work that planning and promoting events requires. Let’s also say that you’re technologically savvy enough to understand the existential threat and implications posed by the adoption of Facebook Events or Meetup.com. For example, Facebook might decide to suspend your page or that you’re not the owner of the business or organization represented by the page. Appealing such decisions takes time and very often results in a loss of followers or engagement.
In the last few years, awareness about technological autonomy and the threats posed by dependency on major social media platforms have led many organizations to reconsider their media strategy due to the growing number of examples of businesses, NGOs and individuals that have suddenly lost access to their audience. Mounting concerns such as these have led to an increased interest in technological autonomy, touching communities much broader than old-school privacy-obsessed hacker niches.
This post will document a strategy to start tackling the issues related to “event liberation”: the idea that your ability to create events and your audience’s ability to discover and attend your events shouldn’t depend on technologies outside your control. I will describe how Tech Workers Coalition Italia currently approaches event promotion, illustrating the interaction design, the tools used in our strategy, the technical details of its adoption and the concerns of technological autonomy that informed our architecture.
To begin, here are our priorities:
- technological autonomy
- reduction of manual work
- distributed control inside the organization
- support for lean processes
- customization of our social media strategy
Some assumptions about your organization:
- you care about the stuff above
- you have your own server
- you have a sysadmin, or you are used to working with one
Meet the Star of the Show: Mobilizon
Mobilizon is a federated tool to host and discover events. It’s organized through so-called “instances”, independent servers connected to one another that are controlled by different organizations or individuals. In short, “federated” means that you can host your instance of Mobilizon on your server at mobilizon.mycoolorg.xyz, but whoever accesses the website can see the events of many other Mobilizon instances. The opposite is also true: events published on mobilizon.mycoolorg.xyz will be visible to whoever decides to “federate” with your instance. This mechanism allows autonomy and control over your data, but at the same time allows discoverability and aggregation on a global scale. If you want to dig deeper into federated technologies, you can look up some keywords like “fediverse” or tools like Mastodon.
Mobilizon is central and critical to the strategy we are going to explain because it will be the “source of truth” for all your events: you can plan them, set a date and location, create thorough descriptions, track RSVPs. It also allows a group of users to publish events under a single identity. This might come in handy, for instance, in umbrella organizations because you can give different permissions to different users in your group and have fine-grained control without having to share credentials.
On its own, Mobilizon won’t bring much visibility to your events unless you target the few niches that have already embraced this software. This is not much of a problem for us. Let’s see why.
Some fancy diagrams
To understand the big picture, we need to detail two flows: 1. The event journey through the platforms 2. The user journey through the Funnel
What are the current strategies to event distribution employed by most organizations? They schedule all the events manually and publish the event on a platform like Facebook Events, Meetup.com, Eventbrite, and so on, then manually add it to their website and subsequently publish them on your social media platforms. In practice, this not only means a lot of clicking, but also that you either give access and training on multiple platforms to anybody that can organize events, or you create a bottleneck where the promotion of events has to go through a single person or team, slowing down the entire process. Alternatively, you might choose to promote events only through one or two of your most-trafficked social media platforms, underutilizing the potential reach of your online presence.
A manual process is annoying, costly and error-prone. When we were designing processes for Tech Workers Coalition Italia, we understood that many organizations view event promotion as a major source of issues. Thus, we decided to employ a different strategy as soon as we were able to maintain it.
So what’s the strategy? First, we publish events on Mobilizon. Mobilizon will empower our website to pull event information and synchronize said information. At this point, a dedicated tool called mobilizon-reshare will automate the publication of events on our social media. This will keep the manual work to a minimum; for most scenarios, the members of your organization responsible for publishing events won’t have to learn any other tool beyond Mobilizon.
We picked Mobilizon for a reason: it is going to store our ground truth. The “golden copy” of the event sits on Mobilizon and everything else will ask Mobilizon for the list of upcoming events. Mobilizon becomes our central point for event planning—it comes with its own editing interface, permissions system, and all the structure we described in the previous section. On top of that, it offers a comfortable GraphQL interface to query the data, even without authentication.
In Tech Workers Coalition Italia, we believe that technological autonomy from big platforms are goals in line with both our self-interest and organization values. If your internal processes and your visibility depend on tools external to your organizational control, your organization is susceptible to aftershocks when these tools fail. We know many stories of small businesses or organizations that got kicked out of Facebook and Instagram, lose their followers without appeal, and fail to get back on their feet.
Therefore, we want to use Mobilizon to bring users away from big platforms and towards tools we control. In this diagram, we present an example illustrating our approach in TWC to thinking about how to direct users towards controlled tools and how the architecture fits into the overall strategy.
This is our funnel. In marketing lingo, a funnel is a model of how your users are moving or should be moving through different channels. In our context, we want our users to move through our social media pages, groups, or other digital channels.
The idea is to put tools under our control at the end of the funnel: a self-hosted Mattermost, a mailing list or a newsletter, maybe a Discourse forum. This way, in a catastrophic scenario, you will still retain the bulk of your followers and engage them to come to your events. Social media platforms become less crucial to your organization’s success, serving as a gateway to forward committed users, customers, and participants towards tools such as a newsletter where you can build a consolidated contact list or a Mattermost server dedicated to your community.
In our strategy, Mobilizon is not the platform where we want to gather and engage our users. Some users might sign up to your instance, especially if you require an RSVP, or follow your events through the iCal feed. You might reach some of them again, but Mobilizon is too new of a platform and most casual users won’t know what they can do with it. You probably don’t want to take the burden of bridging this cognitive gap. Mobilizon ends up taking a secondary role in the eyes of the casual user. We assume that some of them will eventually be interested in Mobilizon, therefore registering and growing the user base of the instance.
The viability of the whole approach is heavily dependent on your organization’s needs and goals, and it might not apply. The adoption of Mobilizon and mobilizon-reshare is not strictly dependent on a funnel design like ours, but we presented our version to give an example of the possibilities.
Automate your Social Media Manager
So, let’s move on and talk about the technical bits. As we saw in the previous section, we integrated Mobilizon in two ways: the first, with TWC’s website; the second, with our social media platforms.
The integration with the website is conceptually quite straightforward: you can use an existing plugin for the CMS powering your website or develop your own to make a GraphQL request to Mobilizon, cache the events locally, and render them the way you like. If you use Jekyll or WordPress, for example, there are already plugins that support this behavior. Resorting to this approach, you will have the list of events both on Mobilizon and on your website, but you won’t have duplicated data, manual work, or inconsistencies between the two.
Now, let’s move on to something a bit more complicated: promoting the events on social media. The “traditional” way involves entrusting somebody to manually create posts on each platform, format the content, maybe insert the dates, location, and other info about the event into dedicated fields and finally schedule the post so that it doesn’t conflict with the rest of the content plan. If you’re a professional, you might use dedicated software to track and publish on different platforms, but there’s still plenty of manual work to be done.
Now, mobilizon-reshare wants to address this problem by allowing an organization to automate some or all of these steps through an application that can be run on your server, giving you full control and privacy. The main feature of mobilizon-reshare is the possibility to download events from Mobilizon, decide if it’s time to publish an event and if it is, publish it on all the configured platforms.
Currently, in version 0.2, the supported platforms are:
You can control the behavior of the tool by executing it in specific time windows and days (for example using
cron) and by specifying options such as the length of the minimum break time between two events. This will prevent you from publishing a burst of events by mistake or at times when the expected engagement is very low, while at the same time not having to worry about planning and scheduling every single event. Events get published in your Mobilizon group by somebody in the organization and at the first valid slot, the scheduled event will go live.
mobilizon-reshare also offers a “recap” feature when you want to publish a summary of upcoming events that have already been published on a given platform.
There are many more goodies:
- Customize the templates used for each platform
- Interact manually through the CLI to retry failed publication attempts and troubleshoot your publication strategy
- Format events using the template engine without having to publish automatically. For example, if you want to avoid manually composing posts for every platform, mobilizon-reshare is still in a very early phase even though it fully supports the scenarios we just described, and it’s used in production in Tech Workers Coalition Italia. The project is currently looking for more Python developers to tackle the ambitious roadmap necessary to turn it into a mature social media suite.
This, in the short term, includes:
- Support for more platforms
- Easier configuration
- A web interface to allow non-technical users to use the tool
- Support for providers interested in offering mobilizon-reshare alongside Mobilizon
I hope this article will inspire you to tackle events in your organization from a new perspective and liberate them and yourself from dependency on big platforms. We have seen how to adopt Mobilizon and integrate it with different platforms. We have seen how to propagate events on multiple platforms automatically. Likewise, we have seen how such tools can be used as a part of a strategy adaptable to multiplying the potential of a small organization or to handling the complexity of a big organization.
Event liberation is part of a bigger change happening in the IT world that aims at liberating every form of data, personal and collective, from the silos created by a few companies. Mobilizon is just a small component of the fediverse that in turn is just one of many when it comes to the liberated software ecosystem of the future. Event managers and organizations are growing alongside these new technologies in a symbiotic relationship. Hopefully this approach will prevent the mistakes of the movements that in the last decades tried to liberate software only to discover that, if liberated software is suitable only for a niche of tech-savvy individuals and not for organizations, communities and exploited individuals with no time to develop technical skills, systemic change won’t happen and technology will be dominated by the most usable and available options.