• July 9, 2021

5 Ways to Boost Engagement Right Now

If you had to defend the value of your program before leadership right now, what story would you tell? If you don't like the answer, it's not too late to change. Here are some ideas.

With half the year in our rearview mirror and the summer slowdown just ahead, this is a good time for government relations teams to assess performance and make adjustments. 

How has your legislative program fared? How will it do between now and the start of the election early next year? If you had to defend the value of your program before the C-suite right now—and many of us will do exactly that in budget requests later this year—what story would you tell?

Of course, nothing trumps legislative victories, but not every organization is lucky enough to have a long list to tout. Instead, many programs will turn to numbers, reporting increases in engagement, legislative contacts, list size and other metrics. There’s no shame in that. It’s how GR teams report ROI. But it does highlight an important point. 

Every organization should be looking to boost their engagement numbers right now.

Boosting your metrics now will improve the story you can tell at the end of the year. They will make it easier to show value, justify resources and get the green light for next year’s requests. With that in mind, here are five good ideas that can juice up engagement numbers this year, and the data to back them up.

Launch a Text Messaging Program Right Now

If you want to increase both metrics and impact, text messaging is the single biggest improvement you can make to your program. Nothing else even comes close.

Text allows you to contact your advocates directly, wherever they are, and have them take action immediately on their phones. It offers a modern form of communication to seamlessly address your most dedicated supporters. It also increases numbers dramatically. 

While most advocacy relies on email, inboxes get more full each year, making it increasingly difficult to grow performance metrics. Text messaging represents a solid alternative to improve your numbers. Take a look:

  • Penetration. The average open rate for advocacy email is in the teens. The average for text messaging is 99 percent. When you use text, your supporters see and read your message.
  • Response. More than half the action generated by a text campaign takes place in the first seven minutes after the message is sent, making them ideal for rapid response and increasing the sense of urgency that drives effective campaigns.
  • Conversion. While the average conversion rate for advocacy email is in the low single digits, conversion rates for text messaging are often two or three times higher. Double-digit conversion rates are routine. During the height of the advocacy boom caused by the pandemic, when 52,000 people were taking action on the Capitol Canary platform every day, text continued to cut through the noise. Conversion rates almost tripled, growing from an average of 6 percent to 16 percent.

Importantly, text is also a tool you can implement quickly. Capitol Canary has helped hundreds of organizations start programs in the last decade, and there’s no major barrier to entry. Organizations build a list of supporters who opt in with mobile numbers, and then create a strategy to govern how and when to exercise that list (text is a tool for important issues only). Most organizations start relatively small. But even a modest list can have impressive impact. 

Use Keywords and Shortcodes With Text 

Text becomes dramatically more effective when used with keywords and shortcodes, such as “Text SOA2020 to 52886.” The reason is simple: it increases your organization’s reach. 

By combining text messaging with keywords and shortcodes, an organization can appeal to supporters who are not yet part of their list. Using this approach through social media, virtual events and advertising can build support for your issue and grow your list of advocates. 

During the pandemic advocacy boom last year, for example, acquisition among associations using this approach grew by an average of 533 percent, according to Capitol Canary’s State of Advocacy 2020 report. The average number of new supporters per campaign grew from 40 to 260. Indeed, stories abound of organizations using text, keywords and shortcodes in unique ways. The NAACP famously put a text campaign using a keyword and a shortcode on a billboard in New York City’s Times Square.

Enable Social Sharing on All Your Campaigns

Very few tactics are more effective at growing your list and boosting activity than social sharing. If your organization does one thing to acquire new advocates moving forward, this should be it.

In an advocacy context, social sharing takes place when an organization launches a campaign to its supporters and those supporters then share that campaign with friends, relatives and colleagues on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The result is broad exposure and more activity. At times of crisis, people turn to their networks for support, and this was especially true during the pandemic, when people were forced to work from home. The result is that 2020 became a case study in what organizations can accomplish using social sharing, and the numbers were impressive.

Capitol Canary’s State of Advocacy 2020 report, which studied how companies, associations and nonprofits performed in the first half of 2020, had many statistics showing the power of social sharing. But let’s focus on associations as an example. Those that enabled social sharing on Facebook for campaigns run from March 13 to May 30 last year—the high-water mark for pandemic-related advocacy—saw a massive 3,212-percent gain in the average number of new advocates per campaign over the same period in 2019. That’s right—the average number of advocates acquired was more than 33 times higher

To put that in real terms, campaigns during that period in 2019 drew an average of 26 new supporters. In 2020, that number was more than 850. The trend was also clear on Twitter, though the numbers were smaller. Perhaps the best thing about this tactic is that it is very easy to implement: simply enable social sharing on your campaigns and encourage your audience to share. 

Identify and Cultivate ‘Super Advocates’

At every organization, there are advocates who do more than others to show their support. These are the folks who respond to every text and email, who attend virtual events and who donate money or time when asked. They are your true believers, your base. They are Super Advocates.

Identifying these people through their activities, spotlighting their work and rewarding them can have a dramatic impact on your engagement numbers over time. It’s also something you can implement immediately—and it has little or no cost. 

One good example is Expedia Group, the global travel brand that operates well-known properties like Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Travelocity.com, as well as short-term rental leaders like VRBO and HomeAway. Expedia understands well how to work with Super Advocates. In Arizona, where the company was facing bills that would regulate short-term rentals, the results were dramatic. 

In an email to all their state advocates, Expedia saw an open rate of 62 percent, a click rate of 10.5 percent and a conversion rate of almost 5 percent. Those numbers look stellar, until you learn that an email to Super Advocates had an open rate of 76 percent, a click rate of nearly 48 percent and a conversion rate of almost 32 percent. The Super Advocate list was smaller, but their engagement was far more energetic.

Expedia’s Super Advocates were even willing to go a step further. More than 100 showed up to rally at Arizona’s state capitol building. 

Use a Professional Advocacy Emailer

Email is the workhorse of the advocacy industry, but not all email tools are equal. A professional advocacy emailer is optimized to send messages to public officials,

whether in Congress, regulatory agencies, states or municipalities. Free products and legacy systems are not. Over time, using a professional tool can help your metrics.

For example,  professional advocacy emailer has features that help maintain your sending reputation. Capitol Canary’s tool provides an email validator, which scans the email addresses you add to ensure they are sound and removes addresses that would otherwise bounce, hurting your metrics.

Advocacy emailers can also boost numbers. When Capitol Canary launched its emailer in 2018, it afforded the opportunity to compare how the organizations we work with performed before and after. The results were revealing. Organizations that adopted the email tool in 2018 and 2019 saw an average increase of 98 percent in advocate activity (actions that include contacting elected officials). The earliest adopters in 2018 saw an increase of 156 percent in connections with public officials.

The lesson is clear: government relations professionals should be using professional tools—especially when engagement numbers matter.