When we think about using social media for our advocacy efforts, we tend to think of Facebook campaigns, Twitter storms, or YouTube videos. They remain among the most popular social media platforms used in advocacy campaigns. However, there’s one platform that doesn’t get much attention in the advocacy space: blogs. Yes, blogs. I think we’ve overlook this tool as an effective way to help push legislation. Here are some ideas on how to use a blog post for your advocacy efforts.
The AARP has a very particular person in mind when producing content for its social media platforms. Her name is is Rhonda, a 50-something working woman looking forward to her retirement but still engaged in current events and popular culture.
Rhonda, however, isn’t a single person but a composite created by a team at AARP to represent the audience the organization is trying to reach in its advocacy communications. As described by an article by the Public Affairs Council, AARP gathered a range of information about the social media habits of its members first, and then aggregated these insights into a model personality for the organization to address.
Much of the talking AARP does to Rhonda takes place on Facebook because that’s where most of its members are on social media. And the strategy is proving to be successful: in early 2013, engagement rates on the group’s Facebook page nearly doubled.
The piece is an interesting case study on finding a consistent voice in an important advocacy communications channel.
How AARP Found Its Social Media Voice (Public Affairs Council)
Techniques do exist to halt slips in organic reach for content on Facebook. Because the social media platform aimed to cut down on mindless “likes” with its algorithm changes, many of these techniques involve sharing quality content with a group.
On Epolitics, Beth Becker of Indigo Strategies offers some experiments for Facebook users looking to preserve their reach in this new algorithmic order. First and foremost, she writes, those using Facebook for advocacy have to change how they think about content. “It’s no longer enough for people to SEE your content and think it’s cool; for them to actually Like/Share/Comment/RT or otherwise interact with it, they must be willing to be seen doing so by other people,” she says (emphasis in the original.)
Watching a video or listening to an audio file may be part of that new way of thinking, for instance. If so, Becker suggests including content uploaded directly from YouTube and including thumbnail images for blog posts that may be shared.
Learning to Live with Facebook’s Algorithm Changes (Epolitics.com)
Guest blogger Zahra Leonie Baptiste on TechSoup Canada has written practical and easy tips for making video and finding content to shoot. Sometimes footage around the office is good enough, even without cool CGI explosions or talking raccoons. Maybe steer clear of the post’s example, though — a staff volleyball game.
Tips for Creating Low-to-No Cost Videos for Nonprofits (TechSoup Canada)
Whether it’s a nonprofit, a professional association, or an issue advocacy body, evaluating the effectiveness of an organization is both critical and extremely difficult. It requires not only interrogating the strategic goals and overall values of the organization, but taking apart and examining all its different parts to make sure they’re executing those goals and values fully.
This blog has covered how the nonprofit advisory group NTEN provides help to those groups trying to evaluate the efficacy of technologically-driven parts of their organizations. Now, NTEN has turned the magnifying glass of organizational practice upon itself. On its website, it’s published its internal impact evaluation, which it’s worked on since 2011, “to identify outcomes, indicators, and discrete measurements to help us answer to the questions of what we do and if it is working.”
After spending several years working at a think tank that also did advocacy, I realized the importance of not only mobilizing activists, but educating them on the complexities of the issues for which they were asked to take action.
Organizations like the Center for American Progress, and more recently the Heritage Foundation, have 501(c)(4) action funds to add punch to the policy reports issued by their 501(c)(3) think tanks. As these think tanks publish articles, videos and infographics about the key issues of the day, they will occasionally launch a corresponding action campaign. The result is a campaign with a capacity to ensure that action takers know what they’re asking lawmakers to do and why their “ask” is important.
The need for educating activists in addition to mobilizing them was made abundantly clear to me many years ago. I was talking with a Congressional staffer who was complaining about the many telephone campaigns targeting his boss’s office. It seems that when questioned further about the issue, the callers would often reveal that they had little or no knowledge beyond the assigned script. And this completely undermined the impact of their call.
In order to avoid such scenarios – or better yet, to ensure that your activists make the strongest impact possible — you have to make them knowledgeable about your issue. This step will ensure that they can maximize their influence on their elected officials and beyond.
As the 2014 election revs up, electoral politics seem to seep into every policy discussion. Charities, which are forbidden by Internal Revenue Service rules from both lobbying and participating in political campaigns, may decide to steer clear of doing issue advocacy during and election season just to be safe. After all, recent court cases have blurred the lines between what constitutes issue advocacy, civic engagement, and electioneering for tax-exempt groups more that they’ve ever been.
Although there is no bright line test that the IRS uses to distinguish between issue advocacy and political campaigning, charities can feel confident in retaining their special tax-exempt status if they focus on educating the public about issues themselves. Once they start mentioning candidates, political parties, or campaign platforms directly, writes nonprofit law blogger Gene Takagi, then charities start getting into trouble.
When it comes to politics, Americans generally behave online as they do in the “real” world. In today’s context, that means people on either end of the political spectrum are the most likely to engage in political activism, while moderates are more likely to sit on the sidelines.
That’s the main takeaway from this morning’s presentation by Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Internet Project at the Public Affairs Council Social Media and Advocacy Summit. Smith emphasized that those citizens on the end of either pole of political ideology are also the social media subscribers who most regularly post or interact with political content on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere. Most in the middle, meanwhile, tend to steer clear of such behaviors. “Social media offers a way to find, identify, and reach your “super fans,” he noted in a slide. But many moderates “probably don’t really know or care very much about your particular issue.”
Those unengaged moderates can be activated to action. That process is best done at the personal behest of a super fan.
Smith’s slides are up on the Pew website. They include a wealth of information from the center’s Internet research project. The conference is still going on, too — follow #SMAS14 on Twitter for the latest, including a presentation this afternoon by Roll Call editor-in-chief Christina Bellantoni!
Advocacy-related podcasts and Internet radio programs can fill downtime and commutes with useful information. Two of this blog’s editorial advisors — Colin Delany and Alan Rosenblatt — regularly contribute to Internet-based broadcasts. The list below represents a variety of advocacy-related perspectives that may come in handy on the next subway ride or drive into work.
This list is just a survey, not a personal endorsement. Please feel free to suggest other programs or podcasts you find useful in the comments section below.
Make it personal: that’s the takeaway of several fine best practices examples for effective email. Or, as one communications consultant tells Socialbrite.org’s John Haydon, ”I don’t think ‘campaigns’ so much as building relationships via email.”
Using unique personal stories and humor can improve the effectiveness of individual email pieces, as two of Haydon’s examples demonstrate. But there is no silver bullet email that will take care of an organization’s fundraising needs all at once. Repeated personalized contact that cultivates relationships with members and donors is needed to maximize email’s effectiveness.
For those members who have fallen off as active supporters, direct and personal contact can also bring them back from the cold. Karla Capers at the Union of Concerned Scientists offers a three-pronged email campaign that invites inactive users back, reminds them why they may have signed up in the first place, and then gives them one last chance to re-engage before being cut off. This approach returned almost five percent of inactive members back to regular contact.
Haydon’s post includes links to valuable additional advice from the pros he contacted for the piece.
Reactivate Your Email List (Getting Attention.org)