In its simplest form, advocacy is the choice to take action in order to create change.
We see advocacy in our lives every day. It looks like an individual in a metro station handing out brochures in support of a cause, to emails in our inboxes gathering signatures for a virtual petition, to hundreds and thousands of people marching in support of—or against—a cause. Regardless of the definition, or how many people participate, advocacy has played and will always play a vital role in a healthy democracy.
Even after 15 years of studying and working in advocacy, I am still motivated by the excitement of finding solutions and creating processes that engage all Americans in the political process. But what worked yesterday may not necessarily work today or tomorrow. Advocacy campaigns must be innovative, nimble and constantly rethinking and reevaluating whether their tactics are successful in not only reaching voters but persuading those voters to mobilize and engage on behalf of a cause.
Social media has played a powerful role—and will continue to do so—in helping candidates and causes amplify their message. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of the American public in April 2021 used some type of social media, but there are still millions of Americans who aren’t active on social media platforms.
In addition, the advent of fake news, a 24-hour news cycle, bots and fake profiles, have created social media echo chambers—politically polarized groups where individuals only follow others with the same viewpoints. To combat this, advocacy campaigns must be innovative in reaching voters by utilizing tactics such as peer-to-peer outreach and personalized messaging.
Looking to the future, there are four rising trends in advocacy that campaigns, causes and companies should implement to quickly and creatively drive action.
- National advocacy campaigns will continue to exist, but there will be greater emphasis on advocacy campaigns happening at the state and local level. With Republicans predicted to take the U.S. House, and possibly the Senate, this November, there will be gridlock at the federal level. Companies and voters will look to their state and local representatives to get things done. State legislatures, county commissioners and local mayors are going to be quite busy over the next two years. Organizations should take a deeper look at the depth of their advocacy campaigns, evaluating the reach of their supporter base and ensuring they are present at all levels of government. In addition, they should evaluate their resources and organize and identify advocates in areas where they are not currently present but may need them in the future.
- We are seeing a greater levels of employee engagement and activation. Employees are not only an organization’s greatest asset, but an organization’s best messengers. Companies must place a greater emphasis on engaging their employees and educating them on company values, initiatives, external messages, etc.
- Social media will continue to play a role in advocacy, but local news will play an even greater role. After all, three-fourths of Americans still say they have at least some trust in the information that comes from local news organizations. Advocacy campaigns should place a strong focus on engaging state and local reporters and work to place both positive, earned media stories as well as opinion pieces in local outlets—alongside utilizing social media.
- Lastly, message personalization and peer-to-peer campaigning will become the crux of organizing. A message that speaks to a potential advocate in Bismarck, North Dakota may need to look very different to persuade a potential advocate in Miami, Florida. In addition, if the goal is to convince a legislator to vote a certain way, an advocacy campaign should recruit messengers to whom the legislator listens to—whether that be their political supporters, neighbors to kitchen cabinet members or even family members. Advocacy campaigns must not only tailor their messaging appropriately, but also ensure that the right messenger is doing the outreach on their behalf.