Ben Rattray with Change.org wrote in this morning with the news that the organization has developed a Facebook application specifically to enable advocacy in the Facebook universe. How does it work? Once you install the app, you can choose from a variety of causes that others have created or you can make your own.
After you’ve added a cause, it appears in your profile and visitors can click through to view more information. You can also directly invite friends to join the cause, just as you can invite them to add other Facebook apps. Advocacy groups and political campaigns are going to be particularly interested in this feature: causes can be associated with particular nonprofits or candidates, and Facebook users can donate to them directly through the Change.org application. Interestingly, anyone who’s joined a cause can suggest fundraising targets — I just added National Environmental Trust to the list of possible Global Warming beneficiaries, for instance. Coming soon: the ability to run advocacy email campaigns. I asked Ben how that will work, particularly with the various email deliverability issues involving Congress. Here’s his reply:
Thanks for the note Colin. We’re working with Democracy in Action on the online actions to address both issues you mentioned. First, users who start online actions will have access to the same sort of tools that DIA and other large vendors currently offer nonprofits — specifically, users will be able to select whether to target national or state legislative bodies (where the emails sent by those who join the action will be directed to their representatives based on their address) or to target specific representatives. The way we then deal with webforms and capcha is through a widget that DIA working on that allows users to complete the webform/capcha from directly within our site (and from within Facebook) — so the user experience is seamless and drop-dead easy.
The other cool thing we’re doing is adding a social layer on top of the actions to build a greater sense of community among activists. E-actions have traditionally been pretty boring, isolated acts, and we’re doing is to try to make these more social and participatory. For example, all of the letters that are sent through our actions will be by default public, so users can see the letters written by their friends, rate the most popular/compelling letters, and use interesting letters as a starting point for further discussion and action. That is, we want to see online actions as a starting point for engagement, not as an endpoint.
Initial impressions: pretty easy to figure out, though it’d be nice to have some kind of introduction to using the tool right on the Add This Application page. That’s a very minor quibble, though — I’m really impressed with the potential of this application and others that will follow it its wake. A big limitation of Change.org and other targeted social networks is that they have to persuade people to join; this Facebook app lets them bring their tools to online spaces that are already full of potential activists. Good work!