Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Six Tools for Advocate Engagement -- Part 2

As promised, here are the three remaining tools for engaging advocates in grassroots policy efforts.

Tool #4: Web 2.0 and You – as somewhat overused as the term is becoming, the idea of “Web 2.0” has useful applications to the advocacy arena. What is web 2.0? It’s a term of art that describes the evolving ways in which people are using the Internet. At first, the Internet was used for information distribution – if you wanted information on a certain topic you went to the Internet and accessed it. In recent years, however, the Internet has evolved into a tool for users to create and post their own content, from books to music to pictures. Think of sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube as the leading edge of the “user generated content” idea. As people become more used to and, in fact, expect to generate content of their own, these tools become more integral to the online experience. Why is this important? Recent studies show that 40% of people in online communities participate more in social activism than before they joined the community. This is a ready made group of people just crying out to be involved in social causes! Associations need to harness the power of Web 2.0 for their own policy-related purposes – and some are already doing so. The American Cancer Society, for example, recently raised $40,000 in a “virtual walkathon” in Second Life. No walking – just sitting at the computer. Likewise, any political candidate worth his or her salt has a MySpace page. From ring tones to online music sharing to wikis, finding ways to allow advocates to create their own content related to your policy issue will become increasing essential to any successful advocacy effort.

Tool #5: Recognition – the policy environment is difficult, and advocates need to know that their efforts are appreciated, especially since the legislative process moves as slowly as molasses (if that fast). Fortunately, there are a number of quick and easy tools to help provide for that recognition. In addition to the traditional tchochkie approach (hats, mugs, etc.), associations should consider posting an advocates hall of fame on their website to honor those members that have gone the extra mile, such as by hosting a site visit or sending a personal letter. In addition, associations should consider making mention of the efforts of their members in their ongoing newsletters and other outreach materials, as well as prominent posts on the blog (you have one right?) thanking members for their efforts.

Tool #6: Fun – Advocacy can be as exciting as a video game. In fact, there’s a legislative fantasy congress online at www.fantasycongress.org – it’s like fantasy baseball, but for the U.S. government. If that sounds a little too dorky for you, consider how your association can use existing online environments like Second Life to promote your cause in whole new ways. Likewise look at some of the examples of organizations like PBS (www.pbs.org) who has developed a series of online quizzes and games around its programs – many of them are for kids, but some are for adults as well!

There are so many examples to consider – if you’re interested in more ideas, post a comment and we’

Monday, January 29, 2007

Six Tools for Advocate Engagement (Part 1)

In the last blog I outlined three key "myths and realities" of engagism and how it relates to citizen advocacy. I mentioned some tools for implementing engagist ideas in the advocacy arena and, true to my word, today I’m offering three of those tools, with the remaining coming in the next blog entry.

And the winners are...

Tool #1: Market Segmentation: In order to gain access to the powerful 1%, you really have to hit them where they live. And that means tailoring your communications to unique subsections of your advocacy group. So, for example, if your advocacy organization is involved in animal welfare issues, you need to have an understanding of which advocates really love dogs versus which prefer cats (or rabbits or ferrets or whatever). That way, you can target your messages to inspire those that will be most likely to take action on a particular issue based on the aspect of the issue that appeals most to them. The dog people might not be inspired by a "save the bunnies" message -- but the bunny people sure will. This is a variation of the approach / phenomenon that Chris Anderson describes in the "The Long Tail," and it is TREMENDOUSLY applicable to advocacy efforts.

Tool #2: Vary Your Outreach: The average American household now has over 25 electronic devices, most of which can be used to either send or receive messages. In short, people receive information in any one of a dozen different forms – email, phone calls – even the old-fashioned letter! And, perhaps most important, different people pay attention to different sources of input. For example younger people tend to focus on texting and IM. In many cases, sending them an e-mail is like sending a carrier pigeon. Effective advocacy efforts will identify the various ways in which their audience communicates and then utilize all those means to get the message out.

Tool #3: Multi-Way Communications: Just as advocacy leaders need to vary how they reach out to advocates, they also need to consider what tools they have in place to allow advocate to advocate and advocate to leadership communication. Using simple techniques such as online advocacy surveys (see a sample here), wikis and chat rooms, advocate leaders can encourage feedback from their leading edge. And remember, any feedback, even the negative stuff, is useful.

Check back from three more tools (including many great Web 2.0 ideas) in the next blog entry!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Engaging Advocates in Advocacy

I recently gave a presentation at the Public Affairs Council conference on effective tools for “motivating” advocates. Many associations and companies recognize the value of having their employees and members delivering messages to policy makers. That said, the leaders of the effort get frustrated when the advocates respond half-heartedly or not at all to their pleas for letters, phone calls and visits to elected officials on a particular issue. In the advocacy world, this question of “motivating advocates” is a huge one – thousands of organizations struggle with it every day.

What I sought to do in the session was to have participants look at their advocacy networks in a whole new way. Rather then viewing them simply as tools to be turned on and off based on the directions of the national (or state) organization, advocates need to feel engaged in the process from the beginning. Through engagement, organizations can turn advocacy into something for their members’ “want to do” list instead of the “have to do” list. To achieve this goal, a few common myths need to be overcome:

1) Myth Number One: “We need thousands of advocates to make a difference, and it’s difficult to get thousands of people truly engaged.” Actually, quality works far better than quantity in dealing with policy makers. Given the vast array of bulk e-mail and form letters received every day in legislators’ offices, elected officials and their staff generally give these missives less weight than personal, thoughtful communications from constituents who really care. Currently, associations tend to focus on how they can make it as easy as possible for advocates to simply “point and click” to send a form message. This approach is a good first step to get advocates interested in and excited about the process. Through engagism, organizations can take their efforts to the next level by motivating and activating that powerful 1% that is willing to compose and deliver a personal message – and that powerful 1% might be willing to reach out to other potential advocates, helping the organization expand its network exponentially.

2) Myth Number Two: “Legislative situations are complicated. We can’t trust our advocates to come up with their own messages.” Here’s the catch-22: If the messages that advocates are delivering aren’t personal they aren’t effective. So, if you can’t trust your advocates to come up with their own messages, you probably aren’t going to be as effective as you’d like to be in swaying opinion leaders. Engaging advocates early in the process through ongoing discussions (blogs, list serves, etc.) helps them understand the language and the nuances better – and makes them better prepared to develop personal stories that tie the policy issue back to their own situation. It’s called the “advocacy-conviction connection” – people need to believe in and feel passionate about what they are saying in order to truly sway the opinions of others. Hey, if the Nuclear Energy Institute does it (and you better believe they have some complicated issues), so can you.

3) Myth Number Three: “If we engage our advocates, some of them will say mean things about our policy ideas, and that would be bad.” Actually, negative comments can be good because they demonstrate passion! If your advocates care enough about what you’re saying to respond (even if not very nicely), you’re one step closer to finding that powerful 1%. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to do everything you can to turn that negative energy into positive energy by listening to their concerns and doing what’s reasonable to respond. Intel does this when launching a software application. The first thing they do is send the application to their list of certified naysayers, who do everything they can to break it down. They use this information to identify problems and make fixes before selling it to their customers. Both sides are happy – Intel has a better product, and the naysayers have been listened to.

Tomorrow I’ll share some tips and tools for creating a culture of engagism in an association setting – or maybe that will take up several blogs...