Several organizations who use Convio’s Advocacy product had a stimulating discussion yesterday here at the Convio Summit about online advocacy and what the future of the field is going to look like.
Oversimplifying, I’d say that people fell into two camps:
- Traditional Online Advocacy – where a constituent sends an electronic communication to the decision maker, who is often a legislator.
- Social Networking Online Advocacy -abandoning traditional online advocacy and instead using social networking tools to raise awareness and build a national movement. This could include sending letters to targets, or not.
Arguments in favor of approach number 2 were that the traditional methods have allowed for a number of discrete victories, but haven’t necessarily solved the overall problem (for whatever issue the organizations cared about). One participant said “We’re winning the battles, but we might still lose the war.”
Those in favor of preserving traditional online advocacy made several points – among them were legislative victories and a sense of stewardship to members. Financial supporters of organizations have come to expect that the group enables constituents to communicate directly with legislators on issues and to provide talking points and even sample letters.
Not everyone fell into one camp or the other – there were many folks in the room who believed that both approaches are going to continue to be effective and necessary. Full disclosure – I was one of those people. Not only do I believe that traditional online advocacy methods can be effective if they are deployed correctly, but I also think that enabling constituents to take action through a tool that you own and operate allows you to do something very important – ask activists to join your list. And those activists can then go on to become supporters of your organization in other ways, including by volunteering and/or donating.
Additionally, not every organization has a mission that lends itself well to a global movement, and not every constituent is going to want to broadcast their involvement with a cause or organization to their entire Facebook friend list.
However, the power of social networking tools to enable a massive response in a short period of time is undeniable. Facebook is the current power social networking tool du jour (actually, du decade), and the News Feed is a viral marketing tool without peer. Seeing that your friends – many of whom probably share your values – took action on a campaign, and being able to easily click and take your own action, is awesome enough. But combining that with “fishing where the fish are” – since so many people log into Facebook daily to update their status and see what their friends are up to – and you have a combination that makes an enormous impact on awareness and action.
I don’t know what the ultimate answer is or will be, but I also think that Facebook Connect has potential to build a bridge between these two methods and not force organizations to run parallel campaigns – one using their own software, and one using Facebook tools. Facebook Connect allows your constituents to take action on a campaign and then to click to update their News Feed to reflect that they took the action, also providing a link back to your campaign. It’s possible that this could help an organization tap into the power of Facebook while still offering new constituents a way to join their list. I’d be interested in seeing some data on viral marketing opt-in rates that are sourced to Facebook Connect.
Let’s continue this discussion – what do you think the future holds for online advocacy?