In today’s digital age, we are in no shortage of e-advocacy campaigns soliciting users to sign online petitions or to advocate for a cause. As one of our three tenets for using the web for social good, advocacy is a concept that has taken on a whole new meaning with the rise of social media.
Below we offer 10 things you must know about using social media for online advocacy:
1. Online Boosts – Not Replaces – Offline – There is often a misconception that social media is the silver bullet when it comes to advocating for a cause. As a result, advocates may tend to invest more time and resources into online engagement rather than offline. This should not be the case. Online advocacy via social media should boost your offline efforts, not replace them. Use your website and social media footprint to inform, rally, and organize offline activities, like visits to policymakers or calls to company representatives.
2. Facebook “Like” Fatigue? – In a recent New York Times article, contributor David Carr poses the question: “If you ‘like’ something, does that mean you care about it?” Get’s you thinking, right? How many times have you “liked” something on Facebook? And as Carr points out, “hitting the favorite button on the first episode of Mad Men is a remarkably different gesture than expressing digital solidarity with kidnapped children in Africa, but it all sort of looks the same at the keyboard.” But yet Facebook campaigns have successfully turned the tide in online advocacy for campaigns such as Kony 2012, Susan G. Komen backlash, the Bully Movie and internet censorhip. So despite the fatigue, it might still be useful after all. Read more of Carr’s article here “Hashtag Activism, and Its Limits.”
3. Lobbying versus Advocacy – While all lobbying is a form of advocacy; it’s important to remember that not all advocacy is lobbying. Advocacy means something much broader. Our favorite definition comes from Alliance for Justice, who suggests that “advocacy is any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. It includes public education, regulatory work, litigation, and work before administrative bodies, lobbying, voter registration, voter education, and more.” Our next post will dive into why this distinction between lobby and advocacy can be very important for your cause.
4. Integrating Fundraising with Advocacy – As mentioned in the previous post, more and more nonprofits are increasing their ability to successfully cross-market their advocacy and fundraising efforts. According to a recent Convio study, the number of online advocates also making online donations almost doubled from 2010 to 2011 (6.4% to 11.9% to be exact). Nothing wrong with a little double-dipping from supporter lists from time-to-time, but remember your audience, don’t do it too often, and make sure your ask is clear and visual.
5. Supporters are More Likely to Advocate than Donate – Although the statistics above that support integration of fundraising with advocacy, it’s important to remember that supporters are more likely to advocate than donate for your cause. You often have to build a base of trust and engagement before you ask supporters to dip into their wallets. Oftentimes, start with simple advocacy asks before hitting hard on fundraising.
6. Helpful Web Tools to Make Online Advocacy A Little Easier – While sending a personalized emails may be preferable and useful at times when advocating for a cause among policymakers, they may not be possible on the national level. Due to an influx of email, many policymakers have set up filtering programs or web forms to help ease the flow of traffic and verify the identity of the mailer. But have no fear! There are a few worthwhile free or cheap web tools to consider, including CitizenSpeak, Votizen and POPVOX. If you are an organization with larger bandwidth and budget, check out Capwiz, by CQ Roll Call or Salsa for a more complex online advocacy management system.
7. The Good (and Bad?) of One-stop Advocacy Platforms – Online platforms for creating petitions like Change.org or Care2.com reflects a rapidly-growing and very popular trend among online advocates. While these petitions have become too common for every issue under the sun, many have been quite successful. (Recall Nick Kristof’s NY Times piece where he profiles a fourth grade class and their success in online petitioning a movie studio to action). While these movements have been fantastic in creating change within governments, business and societal organizations, they have also made it a little more challenging for nonprofits themselves. These clearinghouse websites often limit nonprofits’ access to the list of subscribing emails of a petition due to privacy conditions, and often make it difficult to monitor online activists’ fact-checking and message.
8. Creating an Online Advocacy Calendar – Like with any communications team, your online advocacy strategy should include a general advocacy calendar to help create a timely plan for execution. Map out when Congress or Parliament is in session. Track when major conferences and conventions are taking place within your line of work. Note when key international holidays or days of remembrance. And once you have built your calendar, overlay the dates with key advocacy messages you want to hit at that particular time.
9. Building Your Email List – Advocacy online can be a fantastic way to build your list of supporters. These lists are highly valuable, and help you organize your fleet of advocates. Remember; don’t be afraid to take this email-list generating offline at conferences, meetings and around town. But don’t forget to always give supporters the chance to opt out of receiving messages from your organization.
10. Measuring Success – Measurement always seems to be looked over. But it is one of the most critical aspects to any good online advocacy campaign. What does success look like for each of your objectives? How will you know if you were successful? Is it in the number of signatures on your petition? The number of emails on your listserv? The number of hits to your platform page? We recommend tracking this monthly (or in some cases, weekly) in Excel with a list of criteria and stats. This should not be the only way to measure success, but a useful tool at best. Web tools like the ones mentioned above should also help.
What do you think? What other tidbits are critical to remember when engaging in online advocacy?
The “Back to School Yourself in Social Good” series will share the basics, the strategies, the experts and – yes — even homework, on how you can better use social media for social good. We’ll be covering topics like cause marketing, corporate responsibility and leading trends in online fundraising.