David Leavitt's picture

David Leavitt

Senior Vice President, Digital

David likes to brag about that one time when he was invited to give a speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At Weber Shandwick, David uses his journalism background to create digital content strategies. He served for seven years as an editor at the online news service Greenwire and two years at the National Journal, where he edited the daily syndicated news feed for MSNBC.com and Fox News. Tucked away in a box in his basement is a diploma from the University of Rochester in New York, where David graduated cum laude, majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism and history.


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Mar 25

SXSW: In Search of the Next Big Thing

David Leavitt














Flickr Creative Commons photo by Nan Palmero.


Now that a couple weeks have passed since the interactive portion of South By Southwest (SXSW), what stands out as the Next Big Thing?

Wearable technology? Sure. The SXSW tradeshow floor was a sea of start-ups touting new ways to make clothes “smarter.” 3-D printing technology? Absolutely. Oreo set up an installation that printed edible cookies customized by Twitter’s trending topics at any particular moment. (If that doesn’t make sense, it’s okay. I stood there mesmerized by it but didn’t really understand it myself.)

But with Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as conference speakers — both by video, of course — it’s no surprise that in addition to technology hardware, the big themes this year were big data and privacy. (Are you sick of hearing the term “big data” yet?) On the privacy front, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee noted that the Internet can simultaneously be a tool for both freedom and oppression. “There are certain rights that should be more enshrined,” he said.

Beyond technology and the Internet, see if you can spot the theme with these three conference speakers:

  • Statistician and writer Nate Silver said his biggest fear with his new FiveThirtyEight project is that his inflated stardom will make it too easy to venture in ill-advised areas. "When you’re somebody’s boss, you don’t get pushback on your bullshit ideas,” he told attendees.
  • During a question-and-answer session with fashion entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso, someone asked how she deals with complicated issues at her vintage clothing company Nasty Gal. Amoruso replied, “When confronted by a problem, I ask a lot of people what they think.”
  • And then there’s astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who made “curiosity” the theme of his keynote address. “Kids turn over rocks. It’s how they learn. We tend to tell people the answer and that denies them the opportunity to find out.”

The common theme? Question the world around you and surround yourself with people who question you. Perhaps that idea isn’t the Next Big Thing, but it’s certainly something that can help us discover what is.


Mar 21

It’s the message the counts

David Leavitt

Several team members from Social Impact attended the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

Are you spending your time focusing on getting Facebook likes? Or working overtime to optimize your search engine results?

Feel free to stop.

From a social engagement perspective, the theme at South By Southwest was for organizations to focus on making their online presences as useful as possible for their audiences. The rest, said panelist after panelist, will follow.

For example, rather than focus on getting likes, dedicate your time to making your content likeable. Rather than sweating over your SEO efforts, make sure your content is compelling enough for people to engage with it, share it and link to it.

At his keynote address, Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal discussed his effort to raise money for a museum honoring inventor Nikola Tesla, an online fundraising project that has brought in over $1.3 million. Was it me, Inman asked rhetorically? Was it the Indiegogo crowd-funding platform? Inman modestly declared that in fact the fundraising was successful because of Nikola Tesla himself and his compelling story.

The lesson? Find and create and compelling content first, worry about how to dress it up and market it second. 

Mar 21

Hardware is the new software

David Leavitt

Several team members from Social Impact attended the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

The interactive portion of South By Southwest has wrapped up, which means it’s time for the inevitable discussion of what "next big thing" made a splash in Austin the way Twitter (2007), Foursquare (2009) and GroupMe (2011) did in previous years. (And Highlight in 2012, although it wasn’t heard from again.)

What software application had everyone buzzing this year?

Actually, there wasn’t one.

The lack of a breakthrough, must-have app let attendees focus on the hardware side of things. For example, three innovative products:

Looking back, 2012 will likely be remembered as the year that SXSW attendees looked up from their phones to see how digital was changing the physical world.

Feb 11

Why I like that CNN exists even if I don’t feel like watching it

David Leavitt

If your Facebook and Twitter feeds are an aggregation of stories from your friends, then platforms such as Pinterest, Storify and Flipboard are aggregators of the aggregators. That is, they organize content published elsewhere and help us make sense of the Internet.

Still, they bore me (with one exception that I’ll explain in a minute). 

I appreciate them the way that I appreciate CNN: I like that it’s there, I just don’t want to watch it.

Even as the world’s iconic cable TV news channel, CNN doesn’t get very good ratings. On an average day, it comes in a distant third in the ratings behind Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

But during a breaking news event, everything changes. When something big happens — such as Navy SEALs killing Bin Laden or the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law — CNN dominates the TV ratings. On Obama’s Inauguration Day last month, CNN crushed the other networks by a wide margin

Just as CNN thrives during live events, so do social aggregation channels. And this is the exception I mentioned earlier. 

A platform called RebelMouse, which is less than a year old, brings multiple social networks (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr) together in one place. Unlike Storify, a user can curate the content either manually or as an automated process. Much like CNN, it can be most compelling during a big news moment. News organizations have jumped at this trend — you can use RebelMouse to follow the blizzard in New England on NPR’s Winter Storm Nemo page or Fashion Week on the Wall Street Journal’s page.

For a nonprofit, a tool like RebelMouse can be useful by making all the work you put into your social channels accessible to audiences who don’t use those networks. Especially around big events.


Mar 8

SXSW for nonprofits and foundations

David Leavitt

Flickr Creative Commons photo by betsyweber

Several members from the Social Impact team will be attending the upcoming South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

As we get set to head this year’s conference, it’s worthwhile to look back at what we were talking about last year at SXSW with respect to nonprofits and foundations.

We explored whether QR codes would be the next big thing. We observed the many startups dedicated to advanced text messaging and joked that texting is the new texting. And perhaps more importantly, we examined the trend toward using mobile technology to organize engagement in the physical world.

What’s on tap this year? Here is a small sampling of the sessions we look forward to attending. As always, we’ll share insights here and on Twitter @WSSocialImpact.

  • 21st Century Giving: Social Philanthropy’s Rise: People around the world are using social media in engaging and creative ways to raise money for the causes that are most meaningful to them. Leaders from top social networking sites share case studies to discuss the trend of social philanthropy. 
  • Social Change, Social Media & Social Filmmaking: Bringing together top filmmakers, change agents & digital communicators, this panel will share practical tips, tools & tactics for activists, non-profit pros, volunteers & creatives to affect social change through documentary-style online video.
  • Build. Community Is Easy, Saving the World Is Hard: The panel will uncover the organizational strategies of community building, maintaining engagement over time, and uniting a group of people who may have never met face-to-face. From helping people quit tobacco to establishing support groups for rare diseases and supporting healthy lifestyles, each organization approaches community engagement in a unique way.
  • Design for Social Innovation and Public Good: A new movement is gaining momentum in the design world— a movement to expand the applications of high design beyond its elitist client base to solve complex social problems. This panel will engage an array of leaders in the public interest design movement who use design thinking in various ways to address global challenges and engender social innovation at different scales.


Mar 7

What’s your timeline for adding Facebook Timeline?

David Leavitt

Facebook has announced big changes to brand pages, which affect every organization, association, company and nonprofit on Facebook. This means that brands (more than ever) now need to be storytellers – not marketers – on Facebook, as the timeline format turns the Facebook page into a true storytelling canvas.

Do you have a plan in place?

Brand pages can now showcase the entire history of their brand, dating back long before Facebook’s creation and featuring important moments in brand history. A great example is the New York Times timeline, which now features facts and information about the newspaper going back to its founding in 1851.

In the new format, if you want to post something important you don’t have to worry about it being buried in other comments on their page.

As my colleague Lauren Melcher points out, Facebook pages will no longer display content in a purely chronological order. Administrators can choose which posts take two columns instead of just one. In addition, the new setup allows brands to pin a post to the top of a brand page and hide other posts. This gives brands much more control over their Facebook page content layout and messaging.

Meanwhile, instead of posting complaints and questions directly on a Facebook page, visitors now have the option to message the administrators directly. Administrators reply directly to answer questions and minimize the number of negative posts on their own pages.

As you can see, these are big changes. All brand pages will migrate to the new format on March 30 whether they’re ready or not. Make sure your organization isn’t left behind.

Sep 24

Final thoughts from the Social Good Summit

David Leavitt

The Social Good Summit organizers put on a good event this year. They brought together nonprofits, celebrities, world leaders and agencies to discuss how innovations in communications technology can make the world a better place.

However, the event’s tagline could use some work:  "New Power. New Players. New Platforms." Let's address the tagline's three statements in reverse order:

New Platforms. 

When social media was in its infancy a decade ago, it was the Wild West for new platforms. A new site popped up every day, it seemed. However, things have settled down in the last few years.

At this point, many nonprofits have joined the world of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. For the most part, there’s little reason for them to seek new platforms. The existing social platforms are constantly reinventing themselves. And startups such as Juno have a hard time breaking through

In fact, the oldest platforms are among the most valuable. Broadcast and print outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post remain the gold standard for nonprofits seeking attention.  

Pundits love to cite the Arab protests this spring as an example of the power of Twitter. But, in fact, 75 percent of Egyptians do not have Internet access, let alone Twitter accounts. And only 0.027 percent of tweets about Egypt, Yemen or Tunisia were written in those countries. “TV and radio were huge players in creating global awareness of the Tahrir Square protests,” said Palestinian-American media scholar Hegla Tawil-Souri in her address to summit attendees. “And freedom of assembly offline was the real driver in Egypt.” The world isn’t looking for new platforms.  

New Players. 

Who are the new players? Has a nonprofit’s donor base changed? Probably not. There’s no question that the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa are a great example that everyday people can make a difference. But revolutions have taken place throughout history, with or without the Internet – the constant has been the people. The players are the same as they’ve always been.  

New Power.

Aha! Now we’re onto something. Activists have more power today than ever before. As my colleague Jackie Titus pointed out earlier this week, social technologies have empowered activists with a voice and a platform that has limitless potential.  

  • The power to be informed: Print newspapers are rapidly losing circulation and yet people have access to more timely information than at any point in human history.
  • The power to share and rally other activists: Social technologies make it easier than ever before for people to spread information and get it into more people’s hands.  

Where does this leave us? We have the platforms at our disposal. Let’s take the next step by demonstrating, through real-world examples, how they are empowering players to do social good.  

We have the platforms at our disposal. Let’s take the next step by demonstrating through real-world examples how they are empowering players to do social good.

Sep 19

Dispatches from Social Good Summit

David Leavitt

As we did last year, we'll be sending a team to the Social Good Summit, held this week in New York City. The event -- sponsored by Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation -- is billed as a summit to disuss how innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. 

We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog and in real-time on Twitter: @WSSocialImpact.

Last year, our team came home with some valuable lessons in ways to use new media to make the world a better place. For example: 

We look forward to a week of spirited discussions. If you'll be attending, let us know in the comments of this post or by @replying us on Twitter.

Aug 5

The quest to measure influence

David Leavitt
There’s no perfect way to determine someone’s social influence.
Sure, many tools promise to crank out a score that measures each person’s ability to influence others online. Using a service called Klout, for instance, I discovered that my influence score peaked at 44.91 on June 29 and has since fallen to 43.0.
Klout began as a service to measure influence on Twitter, but its algorithm has since expanded to examine activity on Facebook and LinkedIn. This week, Klout branched out further into the social media landscape by factoring a person’s YouTube activity and Foursquare engagement levels into each influence score.
It’s an inexact science at best, and Klout scores should be seen as only one indicator and not the end-all-be-all of who is important.
Still, some businesses are signaling they believe the scores to be a reasonable indicator of influence. For instance, European music service Spotify launched in the United States last month by offering access primarily to people with high Klout scores, calling them “U.S. Spotify Ambassadors.”
At Weber Shandwick, we are versed in the best in breed analytics tools, but our greatest value-add lays within our experience distilling the ocean of data to help drive your strategy. 
Besides, the important thing isn’t the “influence score” but rather how you engage those influencers to maximize your outreach and deliver on your strategy.  
Jul 15

Google Plus: What it is and what it means for businesses and nonprofits

David Leavitt

So. What does everyone think about Google Plus?

If you’re like most people, you haven’t joined it or played around with it too much. Still, when a $190 billion digital company starts a social networking platform, we should all take notice.

To start with, Google did a great job by redefining what it means to be someone’s online “friend.”

Over the years, the term “friend” on Facebook has come to mean just about anyone we’ve ever met or done business with. However, all friends are not equal, and the sort of thing I want to share with my family is different than what I discuss with my college friends or work colleagues.

The entire Google Plus platform is based on that premise.

(Yes, there are ways to set up different categories in Facebook to share things with only certain people, but most people find that process overly complicated and neglect to do it.)

On Google Plus, you see discrete streams of the “circles” you create. Just your family. Just your high school pals. Just your buddies who like baseball.

Given Google’s product portfolio (Google search, YouTube, Gmail, Picasa, Maps, Docs, Calendar, etc.), chances are that if you’re looking to do something online, Google can help make it happen.

Will it work?

With Facebook’s 750 million users, half of whom log in every day, it’s likely that most people you know are regular or occasional users. The fledgling Google Plus has a long way to go to reach the critical mass it will need to become a go-to sharing tool.

On the other hand, Google’s search page gets more than 1 billion visitors per month, and it features a new toolbar across the top of the page with a Google Plus "notification window" similar to Facebook that will bring a lot of attention to the new service. Suddenly, anyone doing a simple Google search will be reminded that there are new things to see on Google Plus.

What about business and nonprofits?

On Facebook, brands have set up shop. Nonprofits collect donations. Activist groups collect letters to policymakers. Stores can sell their products. Consumers can even buy plane tickets on Delta’s Facebook page.

The landscape is different at Google Plus. For now, brands will have to stay on the sidelines.

Google writes: “We are discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users. Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles.”

We’ll check back with updates as the situation changes.