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SxSWi: How Social Networking is Changing Advocacy

“How Social Networking is Changing Advocacy” examined changes brought about in nonprofit advocacy by social networking technology and how nonprofits have capitalized on those changes to strengthen their relationships with supporters and serve their missions.

The growth of social networking has allowed advocacy to happen in a more meaningful way than the Internet alone. Social networking caters to peer-to-peer, trusted relationships which gives nonprofits who use social media a decided advantage over for-profits in connecting with people. Additionally, the demographic that is most likely to engage in on-the-ground advocacy is also the very same demographic that is the heaviest user of social networking technology.

However, the loose nature of online social networks has created a paradigm shift for those organizations using social networking for advocacy. Online social networking has resulted in a shift to a more decentralized, less militant and non-traditional type of advocacy. While there is a fear that this type of advocacy might result in a diluted message the opposite is, in fact, true. Organizations who allow their supporters to engage in direct advocacy are more likely to reach a wider audience because their supporters will reach out to their networks from a less official but more genuine place.

Social networking allows both organization and supporter to hear each better and communicate more productively. Organizations who are adept at the listening side of social networking can get a better sense of what their supporters want and how much they are willing to engage in support of a cause. For instance, an organization might be inclined to email their more ardent supporters more often with calls to action while asking new supporters to change their online avatars to a campaign related image.

Social media creates a new prospect acquisition funnel because it lowers the barrier to engagement. By lowering the barriers to engagement, i.e. asking supporters to share a petition on their Facebook wall, organizations are more likely to create long-term support for their cause. Long-term support comes by way of leveling up engagement, building upon actionable ideas, i.e.asking a Facebook fan to share your organization’s information after they have liked your page. There has been tremendous creativity among organizations in harnessing social media technology to connect and involve supporters. Examples include Engage, a Washington, DC based organization, that embedded gaming mechanics into campaigning for political candidates and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who offers points for online and offline actions that can be used to “purchase” free merchandise.

Ultimately if anything is to be learned from the intersection of social networking and advocacy is that people want to engage and it is dependent upon us as organizations to create a way for them do so.

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