Workshop on social media for activists (part 1)

Last week I hosted a workshop on social media and advocacy.  Here’s a write up of the first section of this workshop.  More to come in the coming days.

Three principles

1. Social media is not an end to itself.  We should remind ourselves that we use technology to achieve our S.M.A.R.T. goals.

2. Only use the tools that you are going to use effectively.  This sage advice comes courtesy of Jen Angel, our media strategy 201 workshop trainer.  Don’t do twitter if you don’t want to tweet daily.  And good facebook requires a commitment of 2 to 4 hours a week. Stick with the technology you’ve chosen and do it well.

3. Offline advocacy and online advocacy should complement each other.  This is as simple as putting facebook logos on your posters, to as complicated as channelling your online activists (your petition signers and facebook group members) up the ladder of engagement to deep and effective offline organizing.

The Ladder of Engagement

Groundwire was the organization (consulting firm to be exact) that came up with this nice concept called the ladder of engagement. At the bottom you have a lot of people getting involved a little bit.  Technology is key here because it facilitates the engagement of people without using a huge amount of time and energy.  The top of the ladder is for people who are involved in a major way (such as being a board chair); their involvement requires a significant amount of face-to-face time from organizers and staff.

Check out how the Surfrider Foundation is using this ladder of engagement in its offline and online organizing work.


Now the details. Let’s start with the social media and online tools that most advocacy groups take advantage of. Then we’ll move to other important but not essential tech tools.


Check out this video of Matt Compton from the New Organizing Institute succinctly talking about the ingredients of a good email.

Now, take a look at this sample email written by the best-of-the-best, online campaigning group, Avaaz.   What do you all like about it?  What do you think could be improved upon?

  • I like how this email embraces the BOLDS, links, bullet points and colour that you need to attract and pull your readers’ attention.
  • I also like how the purpose of this email is REALLY OBVIOUS; they want you to take action and sign that petition, hence the many “TAKE ACTION” links.
  • The writing is succinct and uses “active” tense.
  • The subject line is pithy (and that’s important because it might be the only thing your blackberry-wielding subscriber is going to read).
  • And yes, this email embraces the theory of change concept because the email explains why signing this email is strategic and fits within Avaaz’s larger campaign to create change.

Clarify Purpose

Are you securing donations?  Asking people to sign a petition? Reminding people about a day of action? Or is your email more of a “news you can use” newsletter kind of thing, with links to relevant articles, grants, job announcements and more. (This type of email is commonly used by coalitions; like this email newsletter from the California Food & Justice Coalition.)

Additional Pointers

  • Give people the option to choose their list, like Rainforest Action Network does.
  • Create an Html and text version.
  • Send out regular emails. Once a week or once a month; it doesn’t matter, just be consistent.  This article has a theory that emails are more likely to be read if you send them at 10am or 1pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays.
  • Avoid being blocked (no attachments, unsubscribe people)
  • I use a mass email provider. I like mailchimp because it has a database, lets me develop the sign up page, tracks analytics, gives me a sign up button, is free up to 2000 subscribers, can put people into different groups and campaigns, send a test email. Read Idealware’s assessment of mass email providers.
  • Evaluate your email.  Mass email providers allow you to review your growth rate and click through rate for specific links.  It also helps to have a “why are you leaving?” prompt when people unsubscribe.