How to use social media (blogs, Twitter, social networking) in your charity campaigns and why you should be doing it. A guide to e-campaigning.
What is social new media?
Social media and new media or new technologies, are changing the ways people interact in all areas of life. Social networking, mobile phones, blogs, wikis and a range of other recent innovations are quickly being adopted by campaigners looking to maximise the impact of their campaigns.
New media stands in contrast to ‘old media’, which includes print, TV and radio. New media is closely related to the term ‘web 2.0’, which emphasises the interactive and two-way nature of the experience provided.
People using new media have quickly come to expect an opportunity for dialogue, rather than a straight presentation of information. Many organisations, from all sectors, have changed their websites. Their old sites served primarily as ‘e-brochures’ for their work. Newer websites are often closer to ‘an online focus group’ which allow organisations to receive, as well as share and create information.
Advocates of new media have pointed to the ‘democratising’ aspects this shift has brought to communications. Using new media tools, anyone can disseminate their ideas on a scale previously available only to commercial media providers. Others have argued it has initiated an over-saturation of information available. These arguments have been increasingly trumped by recent innovations in searching, filtering, rating and self-policing of web content.
It can seem confusing starting out in this area as social media and new media are terms that are often used interchangeably, but also for some people can hold slightly different definitions.
The main thing to remember is that social media by its nature is interactive and about seeking a dialogue or establishing connections. For some this point is the distinction - you could post up a podcast with your thoughts on an issue, the difference is whether you are then actively seeking out views and responses.
Why new media?
As popular as the idea of new media has become, there is still limited resources on how it can and does relate to campaigning. Here are some of the key reasons why new media is being used by campaigners:
New media reaches greater numbers
There is a huge difference in potential reach between a paper petition and an e-petition. Websites like 38degrees.org.uk have achieved massive influence with governments, through the sheer numbers (many millions) they have mobilised through simple online petitions.
New media engages a younger audience
An estimated 75 per cent of young people in Britain actively, confidently and regularly use the internet. Social networks such as Facebook provide an entry-point for campaigns and organisations looking to communicate with young people, in an environment in which they are already comfortable interacting.
New media saves money
The cost of hiring people to fundraise, circulate petitions, phone supporters and hold meetings can be incredibly expensive. These costs cannot be eliminated, but they can often be considerably reduced by, for example, using email messages or text messages to communicate with supporters.
New media can work outside of your group’s ‘reach'
Accessibility issues – whether in relation to physical mobility, geographic area, or organisational remit – can often be overcome through the use of new media tools. You can give a house-bound supporter the chance to write to their MP or sign a petition directly through a website. You could also use the internet to gain supporters from across the country, despite your group being based in a small patch of west London. The people you reach and involve can be expanded vastly through new media.
New media can increase your speed of communication
Traditional mail and personal phone calls cannot get a message to a large number of people as quickly as campaigners often need them to. Sending a mass text message or Twitter update to campaign supporters immediately before action is required can help to reach a large number of supporters instantly and affordably.
Key questions about new media
As with any other campaign tactic, it's important to ask yourself the right questions before you launch into a new media campaign. You need to know why you are using this approach and how it will help you achieve your objectives.
Why are you using new media?
What can it offer your campaign that other methods cannot?
Would a traditional postcard campaign have a stronger impact than an email campaign? If not, why not?
Who are you trying to reach?
Is new media appropriate for your audience? For example, are you to trying to reach an older audience?
How does it fit with any other tactics or methods your campaign is using?
How do your online actions complement your ‘offline’ actions?
Who will be responsible for the online actions including monitoring and dealing with responses from supporters?
Top tips on new media
Build a strong database for your campaign
Strength in size, but more importantly, depth of information is crucial to a strong database. The more you know about the people you are contacting, the more precisely you can target your communications to them. This must be balanced with the need to make sure your sign-up forms are not too long. One solution is to allow people to add more detailed profile information as they become more engaged in your campaign.
LASA's Advice and Information Management System (AIMS) is a contact management database that can be customised to your requirements - and the entry level package is completely free.
Use brief, focused communication
One challenge presented by changes in technology has been the decrease in people's patience with lengthy communications. Barack Obama’s presidential e-campaign rarely sent supporter emails of more than 200 words. The emails often featured video and usually contained only one key ‘ask’, such as a small donation or volunteer action, with a single weblink attached.
Make your campaign personal
One of the major shifts in new media campaigning has been the need to personalise contact with supporters. Targeting the right people with the right messages, so they do not feel like ‘a number’, has proven to be crucial to strong e-campaigns. Think about how you feel when you get a list email that has your name on it and specific information about your interests, rather than a longer, more generic email that is aimed at a large range of different people.
Strategise for different levels of campaign engagement
Design your e-campaign to take supporters ‘up a ladder’, moving them from one activity, to the next, in an intuitive way. If a supporter signs a petition, your website could then suggest that they write a letter to their MP, or you could send them a follow-up email the next day asking them to do this. If the supporter writes a letter to their MP, you could then invite them to a local organising meeting.
At the same time, you need to bear in mind ‘the overload factor’, where supporters get fed-up because you are asking too much of them.
Coordinate online and ‘offline’ campaign activism
If you are organising a publicity stunt or holding a public rally, maybe it would also be a good time to launch a new 'write to your MP' e-tool or something similar. If you can get your story into people’s minds in advance, extensive research shows that they are more likely to open your email about the story. If they open the email, they are more likely to take the action.