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Supercharge Your Nonprofit Social Media and Advocacy Strategy

By Joe Baker, Care 2

Social media has revolutionized so much of our lives and the way we interact in the world, and it's no different for advocacy groups. If you are starting a new advocacy campaign, one of your first thoughts is probably how you are going to reach people on social media sites and, crucially, get them to champion your cause? One way to better raise awareness for your cause is by teaming the power of social media with online petitions.

Here are five key ways in which petitions and social media go together to help boost advocacy campaigns:

1. Social media is where online communities are just waiting to take action

Search keywords like #mentalhealth or #savethetiger on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook and you will see large communities already tweeting in support of these causes. By browsing simple hashtags and adding them to your own posts you can get your advocacy campaign in front of the people who are already tuned in to the issues you are working on. Even if you are trying to introduce a new approach to a cause that very few people have heard about, tagging your social media posts with general labels like #causes or #advocacy will still help your advocacy drive get the attention it deserves.

2. Petitions put the action into social media advocacy

Successful advocacy needs three key elements in order to be successful: a) a clear goal—something that advocacy groups do well, b) engagement – which savvy use of social media can provide and the last piece of the puzzle c) is to give supporters something actionable – where they can feel like they are directly contributing to moving a campaign forward. Online petitions, provided by simple-to-use petition websites, give Internet-users a way to contribute to the causes they care about in a meaningful way and can promote a sense of long-term involvement with the cause as they track how the petition develops and how the targets of that petition react.

3. Petitions are perfect for social sharing

Sharing petitions on social media is incredibly easy, and many petition websites have built in ways that users can share the petition they just signed directly to their social media platforms. That means that your initial effort of getting your campaign in front of the right people can quickly pay off as they begin to share the petition for you.

Recently a petition circulated asking that Disney, the makers of the hit film Frozen, work harder to include aspirational figures for minorities and, in this case, young people with Down's syndrome. This petition went viral, garnering over 79,000 signatures. Virality can be fickle but this example, which wasn't the work of an advocacy group but just one concerned individual, shows how social sharing can quickly turn a small petition into a formidable campaign.

4. Social media and petitions can get you in the spotlight

One major challenge for any advocacy group is getting a campaign in the news. What we've seen in the past few years is that online news sites love petitions, and particularly those that trend on social media, because they are, in themselves, a news story.

Daily Kos' campaign for reform of the Senate's broken filibuster rule is a prime example. The filibuster rule itself is a rather dry topic, but lawmakers abusing the filibuster to make it incredibly difficult to pass any meaningful reforms is a real problem, and it's one that angers people every single legislative session.

Daily Kos focused on this in 2011 and began campaigning to have the filibuster overhauled to allow a simple majority the power to get legislation through. Thousands have signed successive petitions on this issue and it has attracted nationwide press attention, and led to other advocacy groups adding their support to the cause. Although change has not yet happened, it demonstrates how the relationship between petitions and social media can be a significant advantage when wanting to get press attention.

5. Don't Believe the "Slacktivism" Critics: Online Advocacy Translates

Snopes infamously once said that online petitions are "slacktivism," a way to make social media users feel good about themselves but in reality that online petitions don't really create change.

However, that's not what the research says. If engaged communities sign petitions, the research shows that they're also more likely to donate to the causes they have previously advocated for, and are probably more likely to have long term relationships with the advocacy groups behind those petitions. That's not because petitions magically change people, but rather because these people were already passionate about this subject anyway—it's just that social media and online petitions offer the perfect tools to allow them to express that passion.

As you've seen, social media and petitions make a strong team that can help any advocacy group or lone cause crusader raise awareness about the issues they care about. True, these are simple methods, but if used properly they can be incredibly powerful tools for positive change.

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Topics: Advocacy