Due to the large amount of work we do in the non-profit sector we are fortunate enough to come across many different types of organisations with varied aims and objectives. The big community which exists around these organisations forms an alliance of like minded individuals who can serve as an extended support network to help one another, but what tools exist which can transform the alliance into widespread public awareness and cause political pressure to influence change?. This post will look at e-advocacy tools and how they can power change online by being integrated into open source frameworks like Drupal and help organisations to not only illustrate the support they have but also keep their audiences involved in the campaign on a long term basis.
Garnering public opinion
The greatest success to e-advocacy is achieved by being able to gather and present public opinion and to be show this support through to the those individuals who are able to ensure that the message is heard at the highest level. I came across an extremely interesting site from the U.S. which aims to bridge the gap between the general public and members of congress called POPVOX. It uniquely allows site audiences to offer opinions on bills with congressmen and women being able to log in and check what people are saying about their bills, naturally I would assume there is a range of profile data offered with regards to the constituents who choose to voice their opinion and it seems as though this allows officials to be able to back their actions with trustworthy data.
Whilst i would think POPVOX is the first of many such sites which will soon becoming further into mainstream knowledge there is much that digital manager can do on their own digital spaces. For example, they can incorporate petition sign up forms onto their sites, where possible showing the list of those who have already signed up is great for encouraging new users to get involved, of course it’s always a positive to be able to connect this with social media profiles so once someone has signed they can let all of their networks know too.
Online polls and surveys are not only engaging but also extremely useful for finding out information from respondents which may not be immediately visible. These can range from the quickpolls which ask one question and immediately publish results on screen to full surveys which can, in our experience either be programmed through the appropriate module in Drupal or imbedded through a third party supplier like Survey Monkey. Each have their own merits and it usually will come down to how complex the survey is and where the most cost effective solution lies.
A very important part of the campaigning with MP’s is of course the reliability of the data which is handed to them. Website administrators will have to go to lengths to ensure any information/support they gain is genuine and in some cases be traceable, petitions are one such example of this. In most cases it seems that a solution which covers a number of bases is to integrate a CRM tool with the website forms so that all data is automatically pushed to an application which can help to backup, organise and manage data such as registration info, communications preferences, donations info, events and can also provide useful reports as well. One of the most commonly used in the third sector is CIVICRM which has recently announced its integrations features with Drupal and WordPress. CIVI allows you to perform all of the tasks mentioned above and is specifically designed to support charities and non profits, it is a free and open source platform and definitely fits in with the ethos we believe in here at Pedalo.
Spreading the message
Although different organisations will be at different points within their overall communications strategy there is always room for attracting new support and one of the best ways to do this is by allow the existing supporters of the organisation to the ability to easily spread your messages with integrated sharing. Whilst social media sites like Facebook and Twitter form the most obvious ways to increase reach and get conversations growing they will require some internal resource to maintain conversations and offer some 2way conversation with your organisation. RSS feeds of news and events helps people to simply subscribe and have information delivered to them from the site and options to email articles to friends should be a staple of any sharing functionality.
However, in order to motivate individuals to share there most of course be some meatier, in depth content which will gain their support. The humble blog plays a great part in offering a space to continually update users on a given topic and can be easily shared too. Blogs are great for providing powerful search engine ranking results and can help your site be noticed by anyone who searches for key words in your topical blog. The email newsletter should not be underestimated and subscriber lists will give you a great indication as to what is happening with your traffic levels, not only the growth but also using third party software like Mailchimp you can see if your mail is being opened or if any links are being followed too.
With the success of the Kony2012 campaign (success in terms of spread) the power of viral content was put on centre stage for the world to see. Rich media and user generated content is what makes the web go crazy and when you can combine the two as Invisible Children did the outcomes can be incredible. Tools such as Youtube and Flickr and great allow messages to be distilled into videos and pictures which are much easier to consume and the same content can be posted over social networks, links can be emailed and they can also be embedded onto websites too.
What the makers of POPVOX have shown is that there is a real divide between those who are in the know regarding matters of policy and the rest of the general public. Whilst the response from those that are in the know will simply always be that you can find all you need from a newspaper it seems such a waste when we live in an era where the world can be served to you on a digital plate. In addition to becoming more informed about matters that your digital networks are concerned with the barriers to participation are significantly lowered through digital forms and it can make almost everyone sit up and take notice when you are only a few clicks away from giving your opinion and possibly being part of a change that effects you or people you know directly. The best campaigns use a number of online tools but separate their uses so that blogs for example, have different content to newsletters and Facebook followers are asked to participate in discussions which are different to Linkedin users, however rich content can work in all areas. It seems that the key here is in developing sites which have their core aims distilled into clear messages with clear cues to action. To create change there must be movement and deliberate action and to make that happen on a larger scale the effort to do so should be lowered as far as possible. Luckily we live in an era where our digital surroundings make this as simple as see, point, click and type.
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