Reasons to Engage in Digital Advocacy
If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us (and it taught us many things), it’s that digital advocacy is a necessity when it comes to promoting a cause and/or seeking change. At the height of the pandemic, when we weren’t able to do anything in person, we did everything online—networking, advocating, fundraising, political campaigning, and selling products and services.
As a result, all of us, not just members of the generations weaned on digital tools, got used to using them. And the upgrades to technology were constant.
Today, there’s no going back. And there shouldn’t be. While digital advocacy will never completely replace face-to-face efforts, it serves as a lightning-quick, scalable, and powerful addition to traditional advocacy. For these reasons, we’d like to share what you should know about digital advocacy—if, indeed, you want to ramp up your own advocacy efforts, whether you’re a company, association, or nonprofit.
What is Digital Advocacy?
Digital advocacy is the use of technology to mobilize support for a specific cause or campaign. Digital advocates utilize a wide variety of tools, including, but not limited to, emails, text messages, online petitions, social media, websites, and virtual-event platforms.
Some organizations subsist solely on digital advocacy, sometimes by covering issues that appeal to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of advocates worldwide. But in most cases, digital advocacy is a complement to traditional advocacy methods, enabling users of digital tools to amplify their dedication to a cause.
For example, the Virginia Nurses Association, which, at the height of COVID, leveraged its website to lobby their governor to establish safety protocols for both patients and healthcare workers, has a page dedicated to online advocacy. Among its offerings are ways to take action, receive alerts, learn about policies, and reach out to legislators.
The point is, digital tools shouldn’t be used willy-nilly, or simply because they’re “cool.” As with traditional advocacy, each tool serves a specific purpose and should contribute positively to an organization’s overall efforts.
What You’ll Need
So, what “tools” are we talking about? Big Picture-wise, they should include: a database to maintain your list of advocates; either a staff member or a team capable of sending out emails and text messages; a website enabling advocates to take action; and an analytics suite to track progress and optimize performance. We’ll get into more detail about that last one below.
Meantime, as with any traditional advocacy campaign, including those for nonprofits, you should take a few basic steps when setting up a digital advocacy campaign. They include:
- Identify your audience, meaning your fellow advocates. Keeping their interests, skills, and expertise in mind, who would best serve as supporters of a specific cause or campaign?
- Know exactly what it is you want to say about an issue or cause in emails, texts, and on social media. Also, think about the imagery you’d like to use. Words alone don’t do the job; you need to capture people’s attention with visuals.
- Use social media platforms to help engage supporters effectively. For instance, Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly known as Twitter) can be great tools for connecting with potential allies on a personal level.
- Identify calls to action most suited to your cause. They could include recruiting advocates, reaching out to legislators, organizing a rally, or getting out the vote.
- At some point during the campaign, and definitely after it’s finished, evaluate your performance. What worked and didn’t work? How can you improve for the next campaign?
This is where analytics come in handy. Choosing the right advocacy software is essential to an impactful program. Many software programs, including our own CiviClick, are designed to help manage supporter relationships and keep track of which advocates can best contribute to specific efforts.
What You Should Do
While digital advocacy should be tailored to fit your organization’s ultimate goal or goals, there are several strategies common to just about every successful digitally-supported campaign. First, keep these things in mind:
- Establish realistic goals. Don’t shoot for the moon. Formulate concrete, measurable goals, whether around fundraising, mobilizing supporters or moving legislation forward.
- Create appropriate content. Once you’ve identified your target audience, develop content that speaks to those folks and provides them with reasons to care about and join your efforts.
When it comes to content, you also want a coherent strategy, one that focuses on appropriate social media channels and contains a timeline with plans for what to post and when. It is then very important to send relatable messages, educate your audience, and continually re-engage them so that they don’t forget about your cause.
If possible, you should also identify and engage grasstops advocates, individuals who are established leaders, politicians or celebrities, or all three. They have high-level influence, sometimes with policymakers and politicians. And because they’re so well-connected, they can use digital tools to boost support.
Finally, make getting involved easy. This can include creating message templates, pairing supporters with their representatives, and even telling them when to act. The most successful digital advocates complement these online actions with offline marches, demonstrations, and vigils to push for change. And they mobilize fellow advocates rapidly, offline and online.
Digital apps, social media and mobile browsing have altered the way people connect. Many digital practices make running an advocacy campaign more convenient, while also empowering advocacy groups to make an even bigger impact. The tools they use allow organizations to reach more supporters, advocate more quickly and, with the aid of advocacy software, collect key data.
Digital advocacy is also changing the ways in which association professionals, public affairs experts, and lobbyists perform their roles. It’s an efficient, effective, and key component to any strong government relations program, affording increased accessibility.
And the results often have long-term effects. Those using digital advocacy have helped change legislation, further their own organization’s goals, and experience growth in membership during campaigns.
Bolstered by our need for virtual connection during the pandemic, digital advocacy is here to stay. While the adoption of some digital tools takes practice, many are now much easier to use than they were just a few years ago. And some, including advocacy software, help organizations adapt quickly to changing circumstances and improve their advocacy strategies in both the short and long terms.
One thing hasn’t changed, however: People remain at the core of every advocacy effort. The digital tools organizations employ are only as good as those using them. Experience, expertise, and personal connections are still instrumental in ensuring the success of advocacy campaigns. Digital tools help to streamline the process, expand an advocacy constituency, and keep an ongoing record of what works and what doesn’t.