Digital Advocacy: How to Generate Activist Impact with Political Calls-to-Action
In recent years, we’ve seen that even politics can migrate to the digital space. For better or for worse, this shift has created new channels for taking action and has democratized digital advocacy tools in innovative and exciting ways. Especially during the WFH mandates that have accompanied the COVID pandemic, we’ve seen digital advocacy make more space for social and racial justice, support public health campaigns, and impact presidential elections.
Like any other form of online marketing, digital advocacy requires intentional communication strategies and audience nurturing. Read on to learn more about the most common political calls-to-action, or CTAs, including petitions, legislative CTAs, and direct action public pressure campaigns. We’ll also share advocacy and political calls-to-action examples and best practices to help your org motivate activists and supporters towards real change.
Political calls-to-action often come in the form of petitions, one of the most popular methods of digital advocacy. They’re easy to make, easy to share, and easy to sign. This ease of use has also made online petitions the go-to example of “slacktivism.” Critics argue that the low-effort, low-commitment, and low-risk can make petitions one of the more ineffective methods of digital advocacy. However, with the right tools, you can make petitions work for your organization.
Petitions can be a great way to introduce your organization to people and spread the word about important issues. Perhaps most importantly, petitions can help you build a list of people who are passionate about your cause and have the potential to take further actions. While no single petition is going to be revolutionary, a good online petition can plant the seeds for future change.
Cultivate awareness for your cause and organization
A well-crafted and well-timed petition can spread awareness of your cause and organization. Creating a petition in response to a current event or a trending topic is a great way to build off current interest in an issue. However, you don’t need to go viral to have an impact. It is most important that you choose a goal that is aligned with the goals and work of your organization.
A worthwhile petition also needs to have a clear target and a clear action. For example, a petition to “Save the Whales” is too vague and too broad; it’s unclear how the petition will make an impact on this goal. In contrast, “Tell Mayor Moby to Sign the Clean Oceans Act” has a clear action and target, and i’s clear what a victory for this petition would look like. You want to choose a goal that is actionable, realistic, and helps serve the larger goals of your organization’s mission.
Lastly, make sure to spread the word by sharing the petition on social media and inviting existing supporters to sign and share with friends.
Build relationships with potential supporters
Don’t forget to reach out to your signers! Now that you have a list of people who are passionate about your cause, it’s time to introduce them to your organization and invite them to take further action.
Civic researcher Katie Krontiris says that many people ”can’t remember the topic of the last [petition] they signed.” An automated email welcome series is a great way to introduce new supporters to your organization and stay top-of-mind. By reaching out, you can start cultivating a more meaningful relationship between signers and your organization.
Make sure to keep people updated on the petition’s goal. Was the Clean Ocean Act signed? Let your supporters know! Is Mayor Moby doubling down on his commitment to Big Trash? Use this as an opportunity to inspire additional actions.
Finally, remember that petitions are just the first step! According to Randy Paynter, founder of online petition site, Care2, people who sign a petition are more likely to get involved with or donate to the nonprofits working to help the petition’s cause. Invite petition signers to take further action, whether it be donating to your organization, attending events, or signing up to be a volunteer.
Another type of petition is an advocacy sign-up form that directly interfaces with outreach to government officials, especially elected representatives.
These advocacy forms might form the call-to-action ask around “send a letter to your congresswoman” or “sign this petition to tell the Speaker of the House to pass this [very important] bill!”
The benefits of these types of asks when they exist as call-to-action items are multiple:
- They follow all the petition best practices out-of-the-box. They have a clear target, a clear action, and are low-lift.
- They generate more personal buy-in, especially if they include the ability to contact local elected officials.
- They can generate real responses. Congressional offices and local elected officials may actually engage with your cause. While any response (if it comes) likely won’t be immediate, some elected officials and most U.S. members of Congress offer constituent services that include fielding public comments, concerns, etc. It should be noted, however, that actual phone calls are most likely to get a response.
- They provide a lot of versatility when it comes to providing users with options to contact representatives. Some forms let you include pre-written responses, some let users write their own letters, and some offer additional information about following up (like phone numbers).
- They give your organization an opportunity to show impact. Did your organization facilitate hundreds of calls to a Congressional office? That’s awesome! You can take that back to your supporters as something to celebrate while creating social proof for your cause.
- Most importantly, they are phenomenal lead generation tools that can foster further engagement.
Does your organization have a legislative action or advocacy program? If so, these types of action items are essential to building up grassroots momentum.
Most importantly, these forms provide a built-in timeline for following up with supporters to generate further support.
Did the bill you advocate for pass? Great! Celebrate it and claim the victory as even more reason to get involved, whether that be to volunteer, donate, etc. Did the bill you advocated for die in the Senate? Great! Use this frustration as motivation to do even more next time it goes to the floor. (2018 and 2020 saw unprecedented jumps in grassroots political engagement and giving for a reason, and for better or worse that energy was not in response to perceived positive political achievements).
Political Call-to-Action Example From The ACLU
In this example of a legislative call-to-action, the ACLU encourages supporters to reach out to their representatives through this easily navigable form. The form includes prewritten text that signers can change, allowing folks who care about the issue intimately to add personal anecdotes. Not only is this form great for pressuring elected representatives, but it also acts as a lead generation tool that fosters much greater emotional buy-in than a standard email CTA. (And yes, in case you were wondering, this form takes users directly into a donation ask!)
Direct Action Public Pressure Campaigns
The internet is a powerful tool. It can change behavior, politics, and societies. Some highly engaged activists choose to maximize the potential impact of digital tools through tactics that range from benign, to aggressive, to potentially illegal and/or prohibited by a platform’s terms of service. Whole Whale does not in any way condone, endorse, or recommend illegal or harassing behavior. Whole Whale does not offer legal advice. Consult an attorney or other credentialed professional before engaging in any tactic if you are unsure about its legality.
That said, there are ways to use direct action campaigns to give life to your cause and get it the attention it deserves. Let’s face it, cutting through digital noise can be tough. Using social media direct action tactics can help you rise above the fray!
Tweet Storms #tweetstorm
The classic direct action tactic is organizing a social media pressure campaign, on high-volume platforms like Twitter especially. The most successful tweet storms follow a strategy that focuses on direct, targeted attention towards a specific public individual, institution, or organization. When organizing a social media pressure campaign, there are ways to frame the action to make it most effective.
- Direct attention towards a specific individual, institution or company’s social account. Vaguely shouting into the Twitter void isn’t all that different from normal behavior on the platform. Consider directing attention towards a public figure or a visible account that represents stakeholders who can meaningfully move the needle in favor of your cause. Whether that be the U.S. Secretary of State or the main account of a particular company, make the attention specific.
Be courteous and do NOT harass the accounts of either an individual or institution. Firm politeness will be much more likely to generate an official response or open up a dialogue. Do NOT violate the user terms and conditions governing appropriate on-platform behavior. In short, you’re trying to generate attention, NOT trying to bully someone. Don’t be a bully.
- Make a specific ask. Tweeting at your U.S. Senator is great, but tweeting at your U.S. Senator because you’re trying to get them to pass a specific resolution will be much more effective and show that you’re knowledgeable about steps they can meaningfully take to address your concern.
- Demand reasonable change. Hate to break it to you, but capitalism isn’t going anywhere (anytime soon), and no one person has the power to reverse climate change. But you can make your demand reasonable, meaningful, and incremental. Did a company fail to meet a climate emissions standard? Create attention so that they feel public pressure. Did your town council approve a new building development ignoring the needs of the community? It’s much easier to rally opposition to a specific building than to garner support for “housing justice” more generally.
- Coordinate your efforts and make it frictionless with supporters. Use the same hashtag. Send out infographics. Have supporters change their profile picture. Coordinating with your core audience and communicating the when and where will make your attention much more potent. You can even create a “toolkit” that includes pre-written tweets so people can participate without having to create their own messaging.
Example of a Tweet Storm
International human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International uses tweet storms to advocate for both broad causes and specific legal cases.
In the below example, Amnesty International joined other NGOs and diaspora organizations to advocate for humanitarian access to the Tigray region of Ethiopia. While this Tweet was posted in February 2021, the #AllowAccessToTigray hashtag is still popular (as recently as September 2021) among activists and Twitter users sounding the alarm on the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
This Twitter pressure campaign works because:
- It asks for something specific. Allowing humanitarian aid to access a conflict zone is a specific policy decision of a government.
- The #hashtag is short, descriptive, and includes the ask
- The tweet targets the person who is most likely to be able to change the situation, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali. While the head of a country’s government is unlikely to respond to a Twitter campaign, the Prime Minister represents a government figure that organizers and the community can use to coalesce visibility and support.
While a Tweet storm might intend to catch the attention of public officials, especially people in government or other positions of leadership, it could very well be used alternatively as a public information campaign. Amnesty International knows that a Tweet won’t end violent conflict, but the awareness a campaign like this generates can keep it in the public consciousness and influence journalists, mobilize communities, and focus attention.
Use the tips and best practices above to engage your supporters in political activism with CTAs that really drive progress towards your goal. You can also augment your digital advocacy work with volunteer recruitment strategies, peer-to-peer fundraising and other online fundraising campaigns.
P.S. – Want a tool that automates Tweets to elected officials? Check out Whole Whale’s very own Politweets.