Welcome to the age of social media! At risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I really cannot believe how far we have come. I remember the first Iraq war in ’90 or ’91, and a bunch of friends and I were going to a peace march against it. Without Facebook and Twitter…how did we even know there was a peace march or where to find one? I guess we called each other, I don’t remember exactly. A few years after that, my sorority sisters and I wanted to submit a Letter to the Editor. So we had to do rough drafts with pen and paper, and then type it out on a typewriter and mail it in via snail mail. That seems crazy, doesn’t it? And it was only about 20 years ago.
Welcome to the age of technology and social media. Your citizen lobbying and advocacy can be much more effective and much easier for you to do with technology and social media.
How to effectively use social media effectively and efficiently for lobbying and advocacy.
Social media is a very effective tool to spreading your message when done correctly. Here are some tips for using social media effectively, starting with Facebook and Twitter.
- Moderation is key. For your own personal timeline, just share articles occasionally (I stink at this!). Too much overwhelms people.
- Consistency is key. Stay on topic–remember from Unit 1, if you are promoting a zillion causes, people don’t take you as seriously.
- Stay professional on both your own timeline and when posting comments on others’. No cursing, no tasteless memes, no personal insults. Attack the paint, not the painter.
- I was once told by a researcher whom I have great respect for: “After the 3rd volley in a debate, most bystanders cannot tell you whose point is accurate or correct.” This is why this particular person declines most TV appearances he is invited to and something I try to remember before entering any Facebook or Twitter debates.
- When posting on a legislator’s timeline, stay on topic. If they posted something about veterans, don’t respond with a comment about how you wish they would change education funding. You will also find lots of trolls on both Facebook and Twitter on politicians’ pages. They only want to rile you up…so no matter how vile or completely rude and tasteless their comment to you is, ignore them.
- Do not repeatedly tag your legislator’s page on Facebook or handle on Twitter. It’s rude. Once or twice when you know they are voting on something fine, but not all the time.
- On Twitter, before tweeting at someone, do a brief glance over their timeline to see what has transpired recently. Again, if they are currently attend a memorial service for Veterans, it’s really tasteless to tweet at them during that time about something else.
- Look for hashtags on Twitter to see what people have been saying. If you are following legislators and non-profits, chances are you will easily find tweets relevant to what you are looking for.
- If there is a vote pending, like in the next day or two, I may tweet at them once or twice a day, asking them to vote yay/nay on the topic, but no more than that. Unless they engage you in conversation, any more is stalkerish.
- Do a follow up tweet to thank them, if they voted the way you wanted.
- I use Twubs to follow with hashtags and conversations. Twitter moves very quickly!
- Twitter has made it very easy to find legislators. Do any search on “Senators on Twitter” and lists will appear. There also are Twitter handles for @HouseGOP @SenateGOP and so on, so that you can tag the entire party as well.
- Do the best that you can in 140 characters, stay professional, no cursing. But grammar and spelling gets a pass on Twitter, if you need to abbreviate to make your point fit.
- If you receive an email alert or something like that, a call to action, with a canned tweet in it–do it if you really don’t have time that day. But if you have a few extra minutes, personalize it and make it your own, but still use their hashtag. Retweet a few others too.
- During big events like Election Days and State of the Union, hop on Twitter. For example during State of the Union, there is a separate hashtag #SOTU4PWD which stands for “state of the union for people with disabilities.” So it’s fun to be with (virtually) people who are passionate about the same things as you.
- Going back to finding the non-profits and organizations that resonate with you and your cause–follow them on all their social media platforms. Join their email lists and you may find Google Hangouts, Twitter chats and other online events that interest you.
- Know that most legislators have staff people do their Facebook and Twitter, you most likely are not talking with them directly. They usually just monitor overall Twitter activity, not specific tweets. Still, it’s fun to think it might be them!
To blog or not to blog-other social media sites to consider
Blogging is considered a form of new media and sometimes social media. There are also sites like Tumblr that are a mix between social media and blogging. In deciding whether or not to start a blog….it depends on what your goals are. If you think “I will put it out there and they will come” you are wrong, dead wrong. There is already so much other noise and information out there, that it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to get people to find your blog. And, then you have to learn the whole business of blogging–hosting sites, learning wordpress, building an audience, it all takes time. If you want a large, successful blog then know that it will take as much of your time as starting any other small business. The only difference is that it costs less than a brick and mortar business and you can do it in your PJs.
However…if you want to utilize one of the free blogging sites just as a brain dump or online filing cabinet, then it might be for you. Better yet, consider a Tumblr site that you create for your cause, and then you are just collecting and curating the content of others. If you want to write blog posts in support of your cause or passion, I would recommend that you look around online and find sites that will accept a guest post from you. There are many big blogs that have dozens or hundreds of contributors, that might be a good option. You may then find that you have a tremendous following on Tumblr or Reddit which may be just as effective. If you think you might like being in front of the camera, consider starting a YouTube channel and doing videos. There are other options to starting a blog.
Other sites where you might find interesting information, debates and discussion:
Reddit– Know that reddit users are very particular about their rules! Definitely hang out and watch before you jump in and participate, or they will eat you alive.
Getting involved in internet debates
Vaccines, guns, Keystone Pipeline, Obama….it seems like the internet discussions are endless, doesn’t it? Remember the point above that I got from a well-known media lightning rod for an issue–after the 3rd volley, no one really knows what you are talking about. Sometimes we still get sucked in, but just make sure you are staying professional and well spoken. Do we really change people’s minds? I don’t know. I know that when it comes to vaccines and guns, I have a personal rule to not engage in discussion. I don’t think that we are changing minds. I’d rather my energy go to contacting legislators to create some real change. Doesn’t mean I won’t post an article or two, but I rarely debate gun ownership any more.
Your assignment for Unit 5
- Join a few social networks if you haven’t already.
- Follow the pages or feeds of some groups and politicians that are relevant to your cause.
- Hang out on Twitter, see what it’s like. (so that you’re ready to tweet if a voting day comes up!)
Edited, November 2016: Given the recent election, there is LOTS of talk about contacting your legislators and getting involved. One former staffer also posted this article or series of Tweets (ironically) on how to do this. I want to address what she says about Twitter, and please please know that this isn’t a “nyah, nyah, I know more than you.” It’s a different view. She has a view as a former staffer, my view is as someone who works in blogging and social media, and has attended many conferences about them.
I think she’s incorrect about Twitter, and doesn’t necessarily understand the goal. When I tweet at a legislator, my goal is not to get a return tweet that says, “Gee, thanks! I’ll look into it!” I know that is never going to happen.
Twitter is about creating a movement. It’s about gaining momentum, getting others on board. As an example, this weekend, I put out several tweets about Rare Disease Legislative Action Day. Not one legislator tweeted me back. And that’s ok, that wasn’t my goal. But, I did get many retweets. My tweet had a link with information to take action. So, at last check, my original tweets have reached over 100k people due to retweeting. My hope is that a few will read the link and act. That’s it. That will be a few more phone calls from people who are not in my social media audience.
The mainstream media absolutely checks Twitter for trends and moods, and thus can influence people that way.
Anyway, she gives lots of great advice….but please don’t dismiss Twitter. It has some value and it only takes 20 seconds to compose and send a tweet, and less than 2 seconds to retweet.