Social media can be a powerful tool for connecting advocacy groups, lawmakers, and constituents. Used wisely, sites like Facebook and Twitter can help organizations recruit new followers, broadcast public policy campaigns to spark action, and spread awareness with staggering effect. Dr. Michael Cornfield, an Associate Professor at George Washington University and the Research Director at the Global Center for Political Management, spoke on Phone2Action’s recent webinar about ways in which Facebook and Twitter can provide valuable data for lawmakers and advocacy groups alike.
Here are some highlights from the webinar as well as takeaways that advocacy professionals can incorporate when leveraging social media in their campaigns.
Online Advocacy Is Like Offline Advocacy
There are four steps to advocacy, whether you’re trying to gain support online or offline.
- Find the people who will join your cause. These are your prospects.
- Get their attention.
- Hold their attention.
- Spring them on lawmakers at the critical moment. Mobilize them to send messages and engage with legislators both in person and online.
What’s the Big Difference?
Unlike offline advocacy, every action taken, piece of content published, and connection made is recorded online. This is true for lawmakers, constituents, and advocacy groups alike. As we’ve seen, careers can be ruined by a simple misstep on social media.
While the public aspect of these channels means that anyone can be held accountable, it also allows for the collection of useful data. Social listening, or the analysis of what we see on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, can be a form of intelligence for lawmakers and advocacy organizations. It’s easy to determine if a message is resonating with target audiences through the level of interaction supporters have with social posts as well as the degree of virality a post achieves. Advocacy organizations can use this information to quickly and easily adjust their efforts to ensure they are being as effective as possible.
Learn from Trump
Regardless of one’s views on his politics, Trump has mastered the art of social media. Twitter, in particular, connected him with the public during his candidacy, and has been instrumental in his communications with constituents during his presidency. His tweets are provocative, generating both outrage and interest at the same time. He consistently uses a conversational, authentic voice; followers can sense that it is Trump using his own words, rather than a member of his public relations team. He also amplifies the voices of everyday people by retweeting them. These techniques create compelling content that followers spread for free.
Trump’s example can show advocacy organizations the importance of an authentic voice and personal stories. Social media rewards language that resonates with real people, not “wonky” Washington speak. By combining this style with real-life stories, organizations can attract passionate advocates who are primed for mobilization when the time is right.
Phone2Action data shows that a social media presence among policymakers is almost universal. Every US Senator is on Facebook and Twitter. Most Members of the US House and state governors can say the same.
Cornfield points out that in just a few years, the platforms have gone “from zero to near 100 percent participation.” Social media’s pervasive political presence means advocates have every incentive to make the most of its platforms, especially since it is common for lawmakers to check social media before making key decisions to hear what their constituents are thinking. Here are some tips for doing it right.
Tips for Social Media Engagement
Be Your Public Self
Although these communications may feel intimate, you are not having a one-on-one conversation or chatting with a group of friends. Everything you type is accessible to journalists, opponents, and the rest of the world. Do not say anything you wouldn’t broadcast, because all of your comments and actions are public and permanent.
Adopt a Hot Hashtag
Hashtags are #MagicalYardSigns. They can be seen from anywhere in the world and lead viewers to political information, discussions, and campaign actions. Hashtags are free exposure for your cause. As analysis tools, they allow advocacy groups and lawmakers to make sense of what constituents are saying on the whole. The top hashtag of the 2016 campaign was #MakeAmericaGreatAgain or #MAGA. #BlackLivesMatter was another hashtag that garnered significant attention.
Tell a Compelling Story
“The best way to communicate with your supporters is to tell a story – a serial – and keep them waiting for more news,” says Cornfield. Highlight the stories of real people impacted by your issue. Tell your followers about an important upcoming vote. Package your message so that followers are looking “backward and forward as well as at the present day.”
Supplement Online Tactics with Offline Ones
Of course, in-person advocacy can supplement what you do on social media. There’s great value in engaging with lawmakers at town hall meetings, rallies, and local offices. “We live in a hybrid world that is partly online and partly offline,” says Cornfield, “and both elements are important.”
To learn more about social media advocacy, click here to view the complete webinar with Dr. Cornfield. Or, get started today by promoting your campaigns on Twitter and Facebook. Download our whitepaper, Ads for Advocacy: 8 Best Practices for Social Media Ads, to learn tips and tricks to get the best return on investment on your online advertising efforts.