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We’re Spending More Time Online: What Does That Mean for Digital Advocacy?

Many people started the year thinking that the U.S. presidential election will be our biggest focus in 2020. I even forecasted in my 2020 trends predictions blog in December that we will see an increase in digital advocacy efforts around local and presidential races. While that hasn’t been completely wrong, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly shifted people’s attentions—and actions. My colleague Dan Smith analyzed how campaigns have adjusted, but what about grassroots campaigns and advocates?

While we may have expected an increase in election-related advocacy efforts, what we’re really seeing are people turning their concerns around COVID-19 into action. Phone2Action has been reporting on the “boom in grassroots advocacy”— more than 20,000 more people a day are now taking an action through their platform than before March 13. In its April 25 newsletter, Phone2Action was reporting an 111% increase in new advocates supporting campaigns.

Finding ways to connect that energy to the future elections and legislative goals that will be imperative to your grassroots campaign are the key to success moving forward. However, you can’t go about business as usual right now because attentions are more focused on COVID-19 and legislative priorities may have shifted. So, how can you use your ongoing digital advocacy campaign efforts to do this?

First, focus on keeping your advocates engaged and continuing to deepen your relationship with them.

  • Use your communications to learn more about your advocates. Ask what they are interested in hearing about and taking action on, and then use this information to inform your future efforts.
  • It can take time to get people used to using their platform for advocacy. Promote a steady stream of smaller actions like sharing a message on social media or referring a friend to your program to get them started and keep them engaged.
  • Think ahead to what you are going to need your advocates to be informed about, whether it’s a future piece of legislation or general education around an issue. What information do they need to hear to take the actions you want them to in the future?

At the same time, it is important to think about what is next for your issue and campaign as you manage against the unexpected.

  • The landscape around and conversation about just about everything has changed. Leverage social media listening capabilities to understand what this means for your efforts. How has COVID-19 impacted your issue area? What is your audience talking about now? What opportunities exist to engage your existing advocates or recruit new ones?
  • Who are the new leading voices relevant to your issue? The uptick in grassroots advocacy can provide opportunities to identify and partner with the new advocates emerging as influential leaders. A new report from USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations shows that PR professionals and activists think that community leaders and average citizens will be the most influential in the future—so look beyond your typical players to understand and identify these new voices.

The world has changed and while you need to be aware and evolve, you can’t go quiet until you need your advocates again. A campaign that is nimble in managing against the evolving landscape and demonstrates an understanding of who its advocates are and what information they need to be able to take meaningful action is always going to be impactful.

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