A variety of electronic, user-friendly communication technologies—like cell phones and computers—are becoming ever more accessible and affordable. Many non-profit and activist organisations have begun to use online and mobile tools in their campaigns, in effort to communicate faster with more people to reach a wider global audience and create more connected virtual communities.
The use of Internet-based technologies for cause-related activism, campaigning, fundraising, lobbying, and organising is called e-advocacy
Various e-advocacy tools are featured in this section, including blogging, list-servs, social networking sites, Twitter, multimedia and video-sharing through youTube, as well as e-mail to build subscribers and followers. We'll be adding more to this section in the year to come so please send us your online campaigning and e-advocacy stories.
E-advocacy tools can be useful mechanisms to boost an organisation's public awareness–raising efforts – creating new ways to communicate about on-going advocacy. They can also add new dimensions to free expression campaigns. Online resources also provide potential platforms through which individuals and organisations campaigning for similar causes, in the same or different regions of the world, can connect.
Many online tools are free and user-friendly, and can compliment or combine with the existing activities of your organisation to maximise impact. The Internet also makes it fairly easy to communicate with other freedom of expression or non-profit organisations engaged in similar e-advocacy work, so that you can learn and work together. Additionally, there are numerous resources available online to help you get started or work through any challenges you might encounter.
In order to use these tools, your organisation must have access to a computer and the Internet, and this may require a significant financial investment. Further, the effective
use of e-advocacy tools can require a substantial investment of time and human resources, as well as a fairly high degree of technological literacy. As a result, it is important to think strategically before engaging in an e-advocacy campaign.
It is important to think of e-advocacy as a means, not an end. Even if your organisation is equipped to run e-advocacy initiatives, this does not necessarily mean that you should. Your campaign strategy should dictate if and how you use e-advocacy, not the other way around.
As a result, in order to effectively assess if e-advocacy is right for you, your organisation should first develop a strategy and objectives for the campaign as a whole
. (See 'Building a Campaign Strategy').
Once you have an overall campaign strategy, you can begin to think about whether e-advocacy will compliment your goals by considering the following questions:
- What are the overarching objectives of the campaign? What do you want to achieve?
- Who is the target audience of the campaign?
- In what ways are you currently reaching this target audience? (e.g. alerts; publications; reports)
- Is e-advocacy an effective means of reaching the target audience(s)? (e.g. do the majority have consistent Internet access?)
- How would e-advocacy complement existing outreach activities?
If you have determined that e-advocacy may fit well with your overall campaign strategy, the next step is to assess your organisation's technical capacity.
At the most basic level, you need to have access to a computer that can connect to the Internet. As many e-advocacy tools are most successful when utilised frequently and consistently, it's best if you can check, update and utilise them at least every other day. Some online tools (such as Twitter
), require even more frequent engagement.
Even with these basic technological capacities, it is often daunting to familiarise yourself with new online tools. However, there is much support available—both online and offline—to help you do so. In terms of online support, there are several helpful sources at the end of each E-advocacy Tool and Resource section.
For offline support, you may consider engaging tech-savvy people in your community to assist and train the members of your organisation in working with new technologies. For example, youth and students often have practical knowledge and familiarity with new technologies, and may be willing to train members of your organisation on a volunteer basis. If you have the financial resources, you might also look into hiring an external consultant to help you develop an e-advocacy strategy or conduct a formal training for your staff.
As mentioned in the section above, e-advocacy activities have the potential to be quite time and labour intensive. As a result, you should consider whether you have sufficient in-house support and human resources to effectively utilise these tools.
Although having the technical skills is an incredibly important aspect of effectively using e-advocacy tools, you may also need to respond to public queries or comments, moderate messages, generate content, and so on. These jobs should be performed by someone who understands the campaigning and advocacy issues and can act as a public spokesperson for the organisation. Communications is an important component of this work, thus, it doesn't need to — and in fact ideally shouldn't - be only the role of the technical person in the organisation.
With this in mind, you need to consider the new tasks that will need to be built into your organisation's workload, and decide whether you need to dedicate in-house staff members to bolster technology capacity and communications via e-advocacy. If so, you will have to see whether this is a realistic change that your organisation can make. For example, if you can't dedicate paid staff to e-advocacy, is there someone who can come in on a volunteer basis to assist you?
Once you have assessed the capacity of your organisation to effectively utilise e-advocacy, it's time to look at what kind of e-advocacy activities will help you to meet your campaign objectives.
- SMS/text messaging
- Viral/Online campaigns
- Online petitions
- Social networking (Facebook; Twitter; MySpace; LinkedIn)
- Media sharing (YouTube, Flickr, Podcasting)
- Online advertising/banner campaigns
- Email newsletters
- Website dedicated to your campaign
- Revamping your organisation's existing website to better host more e-advocacy initiatives by:
- putting up social media promotion buttons (ShareThis buttons) to allow users to easily post your content to their personal pages.
- including an rss feed to help users more easily access and reproduce your content. This is a good idea if you run a site that consistently produces news items or updates.
How will you monitor the effectiveness of your e-advocacy activities? This can be a key consideration in deciding what e-advocacy tools to use. It is important to be able to link the impacts of your e-advocacy efforts back to the overall goals of your campaign strategy, and in order to do so you have to monitor the effectiveness of your activities.
There are a variety of tools out there to help with this, including:
- Benchmark studies : research on industry standards for web traffic in advocacy and advertising, such as Advocacy Online's 2009 study
- Google Analytics – Google Analytics monitor and analyse your website traffic
- Google Alerts – monitor Google results (web, news, etc.) for your webpage or campaign
- User surveys – survey readers, members, followers and web users, such as Survey Monkey