• September 17, 2021

How Social Media Helps Drive Advocacy

Industry statistics show that social media—both paid and organic—is one of the most powerful tools available for advocacy when organizations know how to use it correctly. Here's how to improve your game.

When you consider the tools available to conduct effective advocacy campaigns, social media may not be at the top of the list. Many organizations consider email and text messaging to be more reliable channels.

But industry statistics show that social media—both paid and organic—is one of the most powerful tools available when organizations know how to use it correctly and give it proper resources and attention. The reason can be summed up in a single word: reach.

Platforms such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram allow organizations to push campaigns beyond their list and take advantage of widespread sharing. That allows them to reach thousands of people they may not ordinarily contact.

If you look at some of the most effective advocacy over the last 18 months, including campaigns by the National Restaurant Association and the American Nurses Association, both of which activated hundreds of thousands of people, social media was a big part of the mix.

The Case for Social Media in Advocacy

For insight into how companies, associations and nonprofits harnessed social media to boost campaigns, it helps to look back at 2020, when the pandemic pushed advocacy numbers to record heights. During the peak, a total of 52,000 people took action every day on the Capitol Canary platform—roughly 36 people every minute.

Much of that was driven by social media. People working from home and frustrated by the pandemic turned to their networks for support and were willing to take action when asked. Consider these numbers from March 13 to May 30 of 2020, which were released in Capitol Canary’s 2020 State of Advocacy report:

  • Sharing associated with advocacy campaigns grew 287% on Facebook and 113% on Twitter.
  • The number of new advocates joining social campaigns grew by 600%.
  • The percentage of advocates who joined an organization through Facebook and then took repeated action grew from 1% before COVID to 31% after.

While it might be tempting to chalk this up to a crisis, with major pandemic relief bills moving through Congress, research shows that advocacy continued at an active pace this year. In the first 100 days of the Biden administration, more than 6,000 campaigns were created, driving roughly 4.1 million advocates to take more than 10 million individual actions.

The numbers make sense because the situation, while less volatile and scary than a year ago, remains largely the same. Many people are still working from home and many are still frustrated. The result is that there is no shortage of advocacy this year, and social media continues to be a prime channel.

Improving Your Social Media Game

So, how do organizations make more effective use of social media in advocacy? There are many ways to improve, some of which require a budget and many of which do not. Some are even simple enough to implement right away. Here are some ideas:

  • Enable Social on Your Email Campaigns. If you are using professional advocacy software, this will be a simple, no-cost option. Simply click the feature to allow the campaign to be sent via Facebook and Twitter and encourage your supporters to share. It may seem like a small thing, but metrics have shown again and again that an urgent and compelling campaign will resonate on social channels, often with dramatic results. For example, associations that enabled social sharing on Facebook for campaigns run from March 13 to May 30 of 2020 saw the number of new advocates acquired per campaign jump 33 times over the same period the previous year, according to the State of Advocacy report. To put that in real terms, campaigns during that period in 2019 attracted an average of 26 new supporters. In 2020, that number was more than 850.
  • Get Creative With Organic Channels. There’s no doubt that social platforms are noisy places, but many organizations have used creative campaigning to cut through the noise and get results. Consumer Reports, the well-known nonprofit that focuses on consumer protection, is a good example. While advocating for airlines to give passengers cash refunds rather than credits during the pandemic, the organization asked people to post selfies with a sign illustrating how much money they were owed and by which airline. Consumer Reports then took the photos and created collages targeting airlines on social media. The campaign, which used the hashtags #RefundPassengers and #PutPeopleFirst, received thousands of shares on Facebook.
  • Experiment With Paid Social. Paid social allows for serious targeting and can be extremely effective when used in support of advocacy. In fact, Facebook Lead Ads were the single largest source of new advocates for companies in the first half of 2020, according to the State of Advocacy report. Capitol Canary has a ready integration that makes it simple. The ads target specific audiences and make it easy to join campaigns. People tap the ad and the campaign form appears, pre-populated with their contact information from Facebook. Using Facebook Lead Ads, companies saw a 683-percent gain in the number of new advocates acquired from March 13 to May 30 of 2020 over the same period the previous year.

Professionalize Your Staff

While there is much you can do with tactics, the long-term answer to impactful social media is often to professionalize your social media staff.

Social media is serious business. The U.S. advertising spend on social platforms is estimated to top $49 billion this year and almost $57 billion next year, according to Statista. If your social channels are helmed by someone right out of college, you may consider putting a more experienced hand at the wheel.

Social media is a discipline, an expertise and a career. There’s no reason your social program should not be designed and run by someone with a demonstrable track record of results in your industry. If that kind of hire is unrealistic in your organization, there is no shortage of qualified, professional firms that can run your social channels or at least consult to make your team smarter.

While many questions have been asked about the ROI associated with social media, the benefits in an advocacy context are often clear: more new advocates and better engagement.