COVID Effect Digest: Six Lessons From The Advocacy Boom

Editor’s Note: to see all 15 issues of the Phone2Action Digest, visit the archive.

The past four months have seen unprecedented levels of digital engagement—more than we have ever seen at Phone2Action since we began in 2012. 

Since early on in the pandemic, we noticed a rapid increase in campaign creation and advocate activity. To share the data, we launched a weekly newsletter called the Phone2Action Digest, which quantified the extraordinary action taking place. On July 9 we published our last edition of the Digest and in this post we will share the insights we found and their implications for advocacy.

In less than 6 hours, 481,000 messages were sent to lawmakers using Phone2Action tools.

The first version of the Digest was published Saturday, March 21, exactly eight days after the U.S. declared that COVID-19 was a national emergency. We did not know that our world (literally the entire world) was about to change. Nor did we know that same Saturday we would contain the most active hours in the history of Phone2Action. In less than 6 hours, 481,000 messages were sent to lawmakers using Phone2Action tools. In a few days, we would surpass one million advocates, more than 70 percent of them brand new.

Organizations using Phone2Action were leading the country in engaging people. All frontline organizations from the American Nurses Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians to the National Restaurant Association and the air and ground travel industries quickly reacted to the situation, mobilizing their advocates to act. The week of March 18 to 25, more than 1,000 campaigns were launched on the Phone2Action platform. In less than a week, more than 1 million people took action, sending roughly 2.4 million messages to Congress and hundreds of thousands of messages to state officials.


The COVID Effect Impact was real

“It was very cool to see in front of us this type of activity. We were riding the wave and observing it at the same time. Kind of surreal to watch back to that week” said Jeffrey Blankfeld, lead developer and data engineer at Phone2Action.

We called this moment The COVID Effect. Here are six important lessons that we learned.


1. When There is Urgency, There is Action

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are about 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. There are also about 92,000 trade associations and an increasing number of companies launching advocacy programs. 

During the past four months, we have seen all of these organizations mobilize their communities to act. Among the organizations that activated, about 50 percent launched more than one campaign a month and 20 percent averaged a campaign a week. The calls to action varied from asking people to email, call or tweet Congress, governors or mayors to asking people to participate by sharing selfies or donating. People were ready to act. Conversion rates (the rate at which people take action on a campaign) jumped from 6 percent before March 13 to 16 percent after.

Looking at the data, the best day and time to send advocacy emails, launch a campaign or get people to take action is on Thursdays between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST.

“The most interesting finding for me was the increase in conversion rate and the increase in advocate activity per day and minute, in all industries and issues, said Snehal Shinde, a Phone2Action data analyst and Digest author. “Seeing the conversion rate in aggregate almost triple was just the tip of the iceberg. When we dug deeper into the conversion rate by customer topic/issue, it really blew my mind to see several issues had more than 20 percent conversion post COVID. It was clear that people were participating in campaigns that were meaningful to them, which made some industries go off the charts.”

Conversion rates from 6 to 16 percent


2. Mobile is a Participation Equalizer

In 2012, the name Phone2Action was inspired by the belief that mobile phones would eventually become the driving force behind digital engagement. At the time of our founding, the adoption of mobile devices across demographics was low. Today, there is 96-percent cell phone penetration in the U.S. and 81-percent smartphone adoption. We have come a long way and the social distance enforced by the pandemic has made everyone across demographics lean on technology to connect. Technology-powered civic engagement in recent months has set a precedent for a new relationship—more digital—between lawmakers and their constituents.

Our phones are made for action. At no other time has this statement been as significant as during the pandemic. While broadband access is not universal in the U.S., mobile phone access is. With social distancing measures in place, people were motivated to use their phones to engage online.

Some other fun facts: we saw more than 1,100 visitors viewing from gaming systems such as the Xbox, the PS4 and the WiiU. We even have some old-schoolers on PS Vita! Game on.

“One of the largest wow-factor takeaways I had was that by taking the time to optimize your campaigns for mobile devices, you can greatly improve conversion rates,” said Kevin Pomorski, Phone2Action data analyst and Digerst author. “In Digest V12, we compared Tweet-Your-Legislator campaigns that had the browser-based default web feel to those with a more mobile-friendly version. By creating a custom mobile description, the tweet conversions improved by 30 percent!” 

Some other fun facts: we saw more than 1,100 visitors viewing from gaming systems such as the Xbox, the PS4 and the WiiU. We even have some old-schoolers on PS Vita! Game on.

Some other fun facts: we saw more than 1,100 visitors viewing from gaming systems such as the Xbox, the PS4 and the WiiU. We even have some old-schoolers on PS Vita! Game on.


3. Seize the Moment

This year started out like any other year, but took a 180-degree turn with the spread of COVID-19. In response, millions of people took action and asked Congress to pass a stimulus package. We were curious to see if civic engagement would slow down after March 26, when the CARES Act was passed, but we actually saw advocacy shift to the state level. In fact we saw advocate activity increase in every state regardless of whether or not their legislatures were in session. In April, when Michigan’s legislature was in session, digital activity increased 1300% and at the same time, when Florida’s legislature was no longer in session, their activity tripled. In parallel, we observed GOTV activity peak at the end of May after the death of George Floyd when civil rights organizations took the lead on campaign activity.

Trend in GOTV Activity in first semester of 2020

Momentum continued through May and peaked again after the killing of George Floyd, when civil rights organizations took the lead on campaigns and simultaneously pushed the use of GOTV tools. Black Futures Lab launched an action center in February that exploded on June 1. The June 2 primaries had the highest level of election tool activity on the Phone2Action platform since 2016. Since then, both legislative campaigns and election activity have continued strong. 

“I loved to see the trend in election activity and was fascinated by how COVID put a sudden halt to all of that at the start of March,” said Siddharth Kamath, a Phone2Action data analyst and Digest author. “But, we saw activity shoot up again in huge numbers. We now know that the activity around election-related campaigns has already exceeded numbers from 2016 and 2018, which is very interesting to see so early in the election cycle.”


4. Our Social Networks are Influential

The most effective method to acquire new advocates since March has been people encouraging their social networks to act, better known as social shares. Advocates are sharing a lot more than before (which may be driven by the “urgency”) and people are acting on those calls, which has resulted in large numbers of new advocates joining campaigns. The chart below shows how social shares increased after the emergency declaration (411 percent on Facebook and 154 percent on Twitter). What’s better is that new advocates are stickier than before and 70 times more likely to take action again and become long term supporters of your campaign.

Advocates Taking Action on Social Media Table

ALSO, more advocates are taking action in all states regardless of party and whether the legislature is in session.


5. There is No Exhaustion

It is normal to worry about overtaxing your advocates, but when advocacy has momentum there is no need to slow down campaigns. In fact, because the appetite is there, advocates may wonder why you’re not leading the way. Advocacy leaders have created an average of 10 campaigns a month asking people to continue to take action and engage in different ways, including donations. New advocates are coming back for more, so take advantage of the opportunity and offer them something to act on.


6. GenXers, Millennials and Women Lead the Way

Activity Increase by Generation in Phone2Action CampaignsActivity Increase by Gender in Phone2Action Campaigns

While all generational groups had an increase in activity, GenX and Millennials had the highest increase for trade associations, non profits and companies. Women also participated in highest rates as prior to COVID. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have where you are” and that could not be more true now. Advocacy organizations have mobilized communities in unprecedented ways during the pandemic—all through technology. 

At Phone2Action, we are proud to have been able to help our partner organizations navigate these unprecedented times, and serve them in their advocacy goals and adaptations to digital life. On this link you will be able to find copies of all the digest newsletters for reference. While the weekly Digest will no longer be distributed in the current format, we will continue our effort to provide data-driven advocacy insights in our monthly newsletter, The BOLT.

Last year we launched the flagship report, State of Advocacy 2019. This year, State of Advocacy 2020 will be launched in a couple of months and will focus significantly on The COVID Effect. Our goal is to inform and guide advocacy and public affairs professionals through the digital civic revolution. 

This is a transformational moment. Make the most of it

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