Social Media Advocacy: A Guide to Effective Online Engagement
An overwhelming majority of Congress is on social media. About 99 percent of the House and 100 percent of the Senate are present on Facebook and Twitter, sharing more than 2,300 stories every day.
The composition of congressional staff is evolving to accommodate these new communication channels, with titles like “Digital Director,” “New Media Director,” “Digital Press Assistant,” and “Social Media Associate” becoming increasingly prevalent.
The ubiquity of social media platforms in the political landscape underscores the fact that leveraging them for advocacy is no longer optional. While traditional outreach methods remain valuable, social media offers a dynamic platform to drive change and foster ongoing dialogue.
To learn how individuals and organizations can use social media advocacy to raise awareness, connect with legislators, and drive policy change, keep reading.
What is Social Media Advocacy?
Social media advocacy refers to using social media platforms to promote a cause, idea, or issue to raise awareness, generate support, and encourage action among a wider audience.
Why Social Media Should Be Central to Your Advocacy Strategy
Social media advocacy efforts should target two primary audiences: your advocate community and policymakers. Targeting these two audiences can help you achieve three main goals:
- Build Relationships: Social media is all about community. Effective social media advocacy campaigns build relationships with not only advocates, but legislative offices as well. Use your social media platforms to engage with your communities through Facebook groups, Twitter comments, reposts, etc.
- Educate & Drive Action: Some advocates might engage with your newsletters and respond to your text messages, while others might be more likely to interact through social media. Use social media to keep advocates informed about your organization’s activities and developments on issues. As people turn to these platforms for news and current events, meeting them on the platform they choose is essential.
- Move Policymakers: The combination of relationship building and encouraging advocate action can lead to legislative influence. No other channel allows organizations to capture the attention of policymakers in a public arena. One common way to make your organization heard in Washington is by encouraging advocates to Tweet at their legislators.
Choosing the Right Campaigns for Social Media
While most advocacy campaigns can incorporate a social media component, not all campaigns suit all social platforms. Events like fly-ins, advocacy days, and in-district visits can benefit from sharing images of interactions with legislators. Virtual fly-ins also offer a unique way to connect, even in the digital space.
Selecting the Right Platforms for Advocacy
Different social media platforms serve different goals, making it essential to align your strategy with the platform’s strengths:
- Twitter: Ideal for engaging legislators due to its public nature. It allows you to pre-draft messages for advocates to share, enabling swift and coordinated outreach.
- Facebook: Offers robust group functionality to foster a sense of community among advocates. While it’s effective for driving action, engaging legislators can be more challenging.
- Instagram: Best suited for storytelling and keeping advocates engaged with your organization’s mission. While not ideal for direct legislative asks, it can be a powerful tool for maintaining a connection with advocates.
- TikTok: If you’re aiming for virality, TikTok is an excellent option. But remember: federal employees and many of their contractors are not allowed to use the platform due to privacy concerns.
Keep in mind that many campaigns benefit from a multi-channel approach, using social media in conjunction with email, texting, and even paid digital media. Be careful sharing the exact same content across platforms, though, as this could cause what is often called “content fatigue.” Instead, repurpose content to best fit the platform. For example, you might want to use an infographic on Instagram and a video of someone explaining the concept on TikTok.
Measuring the Impact of Social Campaigns
One great aspect of social media advocacy is that you can easily attach metrics to your campaigns and track and monitor your success.
For starters, you can use a tool like Quorum to see how often lawmakers on Facebook and Twitter mention your issue. You can even see how often advocates send social media messages to their legislators.
Mentions of “ALS” by federal lawmakers by state. Source: Quorum
Social Media Advocacy in Action: The ALS Association
The ALS Association serves as a prime example of an organization that has successfully harnessed social media for advocacy. The association’s hashtag #ALSAdvocacy and its account @alsassociation have been recognized over 300 times in the past five years by more than 100 members of Congress.
Moreover, this only represents dialogue referencing the association and its advocacy hashtag. An even larger conversation surrounds ALS in general, with nearly 3,000 mentions of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in the same period.
These numbers clearly indicate that social media is alive and well on Capitol Hill. The ALS Association successfully leverages social media to engage with advocates and lawmakers, which has led to increased funding for ALS research.