When was the last time you thought critically about engaging your most passionate advocates around your cause? Have you been putting it off? Do you want to learn more about proper online engagement before you devise an advocates plan and roll it out? Are you trying to avoid potential pitfalls when connecting with online influencers? If you are already reading this post with great interest you are probably in charge of digital outreach, communications, or social media at a nonprofit or NGO. That’s great because this article is for you.
Before we get started, how can you tell if you need to increase engagement with online advocates? If you consistently post information, news, photos, and stories via social media and only a small percentage of your followers share your content, then you should rework your advocate strategy.
How do you engage your digital advocates, make sure they stay on your side, and spread your message? Here’s how it works.
- Find Your Organization’s Advocates: Before you engage your online advocates you need to find them first. How do you do that? They are surprisingly easy to spot. Your advocates are always some of the first to retweet your messages, share your content on Facebook, tumble your blog posts or leave a comment on a Youtube video. They may even write blog posts about the organization or cause you work for. Truly passionate advocates make their feelings known in the digital space. They’re really not shy about it. For some reason your cause resonates with them in special ways and they want to express it to their peers. Keep an eagle eye out for those passionate people who love your organization’s cause and start a conversation with them. If you are managing a fairly sizable social media portfolio you can always create a call-out for advocates to sign up to engage with your cause.
Some of the most engaged and passionate advocates I have seen online are people who give up their birthdays in support of Charity Water. Not only is this brilliant marketing, Charity Water gave their advocates something to rally behind. More on that later.
Communication strategies have morphed into being more personalized and not as authoritative. Indeed, there is a fine line between the two, but make sure your communication strategy draws people in instead of chases them away.
- Engage the One Percent: Raise your hand if you ever thought you’d learn the art of creating super fans from Lady Gaga. Most of your hands are probably still down right now, but I will tell you there is a lot to learn about how she has engaged the top one percent of her fans to spread her messages.
Lady Gaga experts (yes, they do exist) have dissected Lady Gaga’s amazing rapport with her fans and how she has created unearthly loyalty in them. While your cause probably won’t create fans like Gaga’s “Little Monsters” you can learn a lot from Jackie Huba’s book, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics, about how you can use Lady Gaga’s tactics to create an impressive global core of advocates.
- Talk to Your Advocates, Not At Them: Now that social media has democratized the web it bears repeating, no matter how many times it's been said, that you should always talk to your advocates, not at them. Communication strategies have morphed into being more personalized and not as authoritative. Indeed, there is a fine line between the two, but make sure your communication strategy draws people in instead of chases them away.
One organization that does a fantastic job of disseminating information and having conversations with advocates is GAIN’s Future Fortified campaign. I love how their social media team connects with followers on both Twitter and Facebook in a personalized way, but also provides timely and important information about global nutrition.
- Give Your Advocates Something to Do: There are a ton of cause-related campaigns that give advocates an organized way to make their voices heard. It’s a powerful strategy to create a collective voice for your cause. I mentioned Charity Water above and how they have encouraged their advocates to donate their birthdays for global water relief. The United Nations also encouraged their advocates to share photos and video showing their support for Malala last month during the Youth Takeover of the UN headquarters. Visit the UN’s Storify round-up of advocates who latched onto the cause of #educationfirst and supported Malala’s educational cause through multimedia. Also, check out what UNICEF is doing with their #endviolence campaign with their advocates.
Additionally, if your organization has the financial resources or friends who work pro-bono in digital media you may want to test creative waters to engage your advocates. Just today I saw a new Gatorade campaign where fans can customize their own digital Gatorade bottle with a personal photo, filters, and text and upload their creation to the #WinFromWithin Gallery. Gatorade provided their most ardent fans the opportunity to identify with their brand and then allowed them to share their personalized bottle with their friends and readers across social media. It's a win-win for everyone - for Gatorade and for their fans.
Customization is the name of the game these days from personalizing your car to your shoes to your cellphone case and then sharing your digital creations with your friends. If your organization can make it work, a large digital media campaign like Gatorade’s #WinFromWithin online promotion may serve your organization well and create even more passionate advocates for your cause.
- Don’t Get Greedy: As soon as advocates begin connecting and sharing your organization’s messages en masse you’ll probably feel an adrenaline rush thinking about the potential impact they can create for your cause. A word of caution: don’t go overboard!
I have seen organizations engage advocates and then put them directly to work pushing out messages through social media. This is great, but don’t abuse your power. Advocates are special precisely because they already believe in your cause. You don’t want to make them feel like they’re being used. By all means, give your advocates actions to take, but make sure they are periodic, not every day or every other day. Be strategic about how you utilize your organization’s influencers. An organization that really understands how to engage with and put advocates to work for great causes is the ONE Campaign. Look to them for intelligent ways in which you can also work with advocates.
I hope these steps help you grow your base of fans, friends and advocates. If you have an example of an organization that gathers, supports and engages with their advocates in a smart way be sure to tweet me at @jenniferjames.