Salsa Blog

Actions in Salsa: Best Practices

This is a guest blog post from Anne Dougherty (Clean Water Action).  Anne is a Salsa user superstar and recently received the Hot Tamale Award at our user conference for her organizing work at Clean Water Action.

Tips for getting the most out of what we have right now

While there are a lot of directions online actions can go, I'd like to address some of the things you might want to consider as you're trying to get the most out of the Salsa Actions tool as it exists in 2010.

Basic Questions

Two basic questions inform your actions before you even start to use the Salsa toolset.

  1. Who do I want to engage?
  2. What do I want to know when the action is over?

Who you want to engage applies to two very different groups of people. It applies to both the targets of your action and to your supporters, and it informs what type of action will be most effective in achieving your organization's programmatic goals.

Choosing your action type: Petition or Letter to a Decision maker

Salsa offers two basic types of actions: petitions and letters to a decision maker.

Petitions collect signatures but do not directly communicate with any outside decision maker targets. Typically, petitions are good for long life, long term actions backed by on the ground efforts. Petitions are only useful if your organization does something with the signatures and comments you collect.

In other words: unless you are using a petition as a way of building your mailing list, if you don't have an organizer or lobbyist who is willing to take a stack of paper into a decision maker's office and present that impressive number of signatures and those heartfelt comments, a petition probably isn't the right type of action for you.

Letters to a decision maker provide a mechanism for direct, immediate communication from your supporters to decision makers. This type of action is effective for short timeline actions - such as the infamous "They just told us they're going to vote on the bill Thursday and I know it's 6 p.m. on Tuesday but do you think we can do something?" panicked phone call from an organizer - as well as being a good way to let decision maker targets know that people in their specific districts care about and support your position on an issue.

What type of action you choose also depends upon how engaged your supporters are or how familiar they are with the concept of online advocacy.

Petitions provide a low barrier to entry for a supporter base not used to your organization "doing" actions. They don't require district matching and they can allow for public anonymity.

Letter to decision maker actions require that supporters provide personal information up front and with legislative targets require some interaction to match the supporter with the right legislator.

Take a minute before setting up your action to think about what resources your organization has to back up the action and who receptive your supporters might be to taking action before you choose the type of action you're going to build.

So my action is over, now what?

Thinking about what you want to know about your supporters before you set up an action is the only way to have the data you'll need after the action is over. Think about three little words as you set up your action: chain of engagement.

Blaze these two words into your mind or pin them over your desk, or write them backwards in magic marker on your forehead so you see them every day in the mirror. They are three of the top 20 most important words you can remember when it comes to online advocacy.

The chain of engagement and collecting the right data on your supporters are what will help you be more effective in achieving programmatic goals, getting your supporters more deeply committed to your organization, and will help you transform supporters and activists into donors. How do you do this? Simple: use tags to build a knowledge base about your supporters.

By adding tags to your actions to can track everything from your supporters' interest in

  • a particular issue area
    if you work on more than one or if you frame a major issue in different ways this can be very helpful in determining which supporters will respond to short timeline action requests.
  • in communicating with decision makers
    some supporters have no interest in communicating directly with their legislators or with other decision makers; some supporters love the opportunity to let "the powers that be" know what for and when and why. Knowing this will help you pick the right kind of action so you can maximize your organization's resources.
  • interest in action by locality
    it may be that some of your supporters just want to take action online while others of your supporters are more interested in coming to in-person events. If you work in multiple locations, identifying actions by locality can help you figure this out.
  • where your supporters are coming from
    you can add tags to the URLs you use in various places, on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, in the e-mails you send out, and on your web site, that will give you some insight into how effective your efforts at outreach have been. If you find, for example, that your organization has been spending a ton of time on Facebook outreach yet none of your action takers have that special Facebook tag you added to the URL you posted you will have a better idea idea of where your resources are best spent for promoting actions.

Adding links to the chain

While Actions is a powerful tool offered by Salsa, make sure you're using all the tools in the Salsa toolset to promote your action opportunities.

Integrate social media into your actions

You can integrate social media sharing into your Salsa actions using an Actions & Petitions template. Building this template is pretty easy.

  1. Just go to your web site templates library (Website Management > Salsa templates).
  2. Edit your default template and copy all the HTML you see there.
  3. Create a new template and name it something that makes sense (like Actions & Petitions).
  4. Paste the HTML you copied out of your default template into this new template.
  5. Remove the HTMLtag from your new template and save it.

You can find more detailed instructions on how to do this in Salsa Commons.

Once you've got your actions and petitions template in place, you can use code from Facebook and from Twitter, or services like Tweetmeme, to allow your supporters to share your actions with their social networks.

Follow-up with your supporters

While the Actions tool provides that nice, big box on the follow-up tab where you can put text that thanks your supporters after they sign your petition or send a message to a decision maker the reality is that if you use this box you're missing an opportunity to add another link to the chain of engagement.

The Actions tool also provides a place for you to enter a redirect path. Take the time to build a tell-a-friend, or TAF, form so that people who have just taken action are asked to tell their friends about an issue that they obviously care enough about to spend time on. Or, you can use that redirect path to solicit your action takers for a donation.

Which ever one you do, make sure that you don't miss the opportunity to continue to keep your supporters involved even after they've signed or sent a letter. Asking them to do something else, something that has a low barrier to entry like sending a message to a friend about your action, while they are still engaged with your issue increases the chances that your supporters will do that second thing.

Another, often over looked, tool for keeping supporters involved is the e-mail trigger. You can set up a time trigger to automatically send a message an hour, a day, or even a week after a supporter takes action. It's always nice to say thank you, and you get another opportunity to ask them to tell a friend or make a donation.

Key Points

The Actions tool has a lot of tabs and "moving parts" and can be intimidating.  Don't be afraid of it. Experiment. Add yourself as a custom target so you can see what messages delivered to such targets look like.

Make sure you figure out what your goal is before you set up the action. Often under pressure we lose sight of all the possibilities that can come out of getting a supporter involved enough to sign her name or send a message to his legislators. That 10 or 15 minutes spent in advance to figure out what you want to know after the action is over is well worth the investment.

Lastly, make sure you use all the tools in the Salsa toolset to maximize your impact and engage your supporters. The tools in Salsa are designed to work together. Use that to your, and your organization's, advantage.

Topics: Salsa