Grassroots Advocacy in the Mobile Age

ximenahartsock.gifjeb-ory-headshot.gifBy Ximena Hartsock & Jeb Ory, Cofounders, Phone2Action

Technology advances are opening up new methods of digital grassroots advocacy that are changing online and offline organizing.

Just years ago, many of us believed that the four pillars of grassroots advocacy – defined as efforts where citizens meet with and speak to power about a cause – were:

  • Rallies
  • In-person visits to a state capitol
  • Letter-writing campaigns
  • Calling campaigns

Each method still exists, and several new, important ones have emerged that are profoundly impacting the popular “mix” of grassroots advocacy.

The Branches

Grassroots advocacy can be separated into two main categories – publicly visible advocacy (such as a rally or major advertising campaign) and private advocacy (such as a constituent calling or emailing an elected official).

Prior to the digital age, rallies and protests were the main vehicle for public advocacy; people have been rallying in the streets for one cause or another since ancient times.

The new entrants in the digital age are multimedia advertising campaigns (applying the same techniques to driving public discourse that have been perfected in traditional advertising) and social media advocacy. Specifically, Twitter and Facebook are the new frontiers allowing people to connect with one another and directly with their elected officials in a public, universally accessible forum.

As reported in 2011 in Stratfor:

“Social media can also allow a movement to be far more nimble about choosing its day of action and, when that day comes, to spread the action order like wildfire. Instead of organizing campaigns around fixed dates, protest movements can reach hundreds of thousands of adherents with a single Facebook post or Twitter feed, launching a massive call to action in seconds.”

Real Validation

The same thing that contributed to the rise of networks like Facebook and Twitter over Myspace and its cohort — the concept of a validated online persona (using your real name instead of a “screen” name) — has also made advocacy over these mediums so powerful. With an authentic online persona comes trust and influence. Today, you may see posts from the New York Times in your Facebook News Feed in between posts from your friends, sharing the moments and things they care about. By mixing professional journalism and personal content, these platforms have democratized access to information (and thus, influence), and have given ordinary people the power to start and drive a movement to effect real change.

Other, private methods of advocacy still play pivotal roles, although they too have changed with time.

Any elected official will tell you that direct, in-person meetings with their constituents are the most effective means of direct advocacy. “The most important thing you can do,” said Senator Tom Kean from New Jersey, “to impact laws is talk to your legislators.” However, in-person visits are expensive and difficult for most people. He continued, “100 emails [sent to an official on a single topic] is a LOT!”

Writing postal letters, a rare practice nowadays, has been replaced by sending emails. Emailing officials can be one of the most effective methods of communicating with an official. However, determining who one’s elected officials are is not easy. For example, to email a federal official, an advocate needs to know her own nine-digit zip code (information that you need to pull from a piece of mail or the USPS website).

Calling officials remains one of the most accessible forms of connecting with officials that has the highest impact, although the process of determining your officials’ phone numbers can be even more discouraging than figuring out your own nine-digit zip code.

Effective advocacy campaigns employ both online and offline advocacy methods. Social media advocacy coupled with an aggressive emailing and calling campaign can help raise visibility at every level – local, state, and federal – ultimately influencing how officials vote.

Digital grassroots platforms, such as Phone2Action, can help you carry out successful campaigns. An effective grassroots advocacy platform helps your organization accomplish your advocacy goals, track engagement, and reach elected officials at the local, state, and federal level.  

The top five most important factors to designing an advocacy campaign are:

  1. Meeting supporters where they are. Supporters have different preferences on how they like to take action. Some people like to Tweet, others use Facebook. Still others prefer to send emails, sign petitions, or make phone calls. It’s important to give people options to maximize conversions. 
  2. Integrate calls-to-action in everything you do. Consistency in strategy is key.
  3. Consider implementing text messaging into your campaign. The open rate for text messages is around 99% (this is five times the open rate of marketing emails), and 90% of texts are read in the first three minutes.
  4. Measure, measure, measure. Digital grassroots platforms like Phone2Action gives you the analytics and tools you need for a successful campaign.
  5. Focus on the supporter: Advocates often feel hesitant about contacting a legislator, so it’s important to use tools that make the advocacy process easy and rewarding. Make the advocate the protagonist, not just the campaign.

Lastly, keep it real. Advocacy as an industry exists because of people’s desire to improve the world. Identity and heart helps define successful, authentic campaigns.