Top Ten Online Advocacy Mistakes

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This post first appeared on the InterAction blog.

Do you want to succeed at online advocacy? Of course you do! Fortunately, thousands of us have been toiling away in this field for years. In the process, we’ve done just about everything wrong you can imagine. But you don’t have to repeat our errors. Check out ten of my favorite mistakes nonprofits often make when they approach online advocacy.

1. Not knowing your goals.

It’s communications 101: if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to get there. Time spent establishing your online goals as specifically as possible is almost never wasted. Are you trying to get a state-level bill passed? A rule blocked? A corporation to change policy? Do you need to grow your list? Build a social media following? Grow a small-donor base? Each of these situations requires its own strategy and will reward some tactics over others.

2. Mobile is a fad!

No, it’s not! Repeat after me: mobile phones almost certainly will be the main digital channel through which people interact with your organization in the future. If your web pages don’t work well on mobile, they might as well not exist. If people can’t act on your emails (sign petitions, give money) easily via phone, you’re going to lose conversions. It’s a fact.

3. Chasing shiny objects

The kids are on Snapchat! We should be too. But is your actual audience on Snapchat? Even if they are, is Snapchat the best way to get them to take action? Focus on the tools and tactics that are likely to move you toward your goals, not the shiny new toys.

4. Writing off email

Email is not dead, despite constant proclamations to the contrary. It reaches more people than social media, and it remains our most reliable tool for fundraising and mobilization. Perhaps one day we’ll all be plugged into the hive-mind and email will lose its utility, but for now, ignore its potential at your peril.

5. Once and done

Recycling is a virtue! Online, you don’t have to use a piece of content once. If it works, try it again. Images, videos and infographics may be more successful when you publish them a second time, particularly if you post on a weekend or in the evening to reach a different audience. More broadly, look for stories and other content from old e-newsletters or fundraising emails that you could reuse. Plus, think about repackaging for different media: a factsheet could become a series of tweets, an infographic and a short video interview with an issue expert. Try to wring every bit of value from everything you create.

6. Picking the wrong audience(s)

If you’re advocating for better Social Security benefits, you probably won’t have much luck recruiting college students. The internet naturally breaks down into interest-based niches; be sure you’re targeting the right ones. And be sure your content is designed to motivate THEM specifically.

7. Being sloooooooooow

In a digital world, rapid response happens in seconds. If your executive director has to approve every tweet, you’re likely to miss the proverbial boat.

8. Pennywise and pound foolish

Nonprofits have to watch their budgets, but sometimes frugality can cost you in the long term. For instance, “boosting” content on Facebook helps you reach far more people than your posts would on their own, but groups are often reluctant to do it. Considering the staff time that goes into maintaining social media channels, spending a few dollars to double or triple your reach is a bargain (even $5 can make a difference).

9. Not following up

Too often, people never hear from nonprofits after they’ve taken an action or given money. Report back! Let people know what their good work led to. Otherwise, they may not be there the next time you need them.

10. Chasing virality

Repeat after me: you cannot MAKE a video or other piece of content “go viral.” Content marketing usually looks more like trench warfare than blitzkrieg. It’s a steady accumulation of small victories, in the form of new email signups, new social media “shares” and new donations. Don’t think in terms of a single, blow-them-off-their-feet idea. Instead, think of content as a stream, a constant process of putting out information that will motivate and mobilize potential supporters. Not as sexy as an Ice Bucket Challenge, but a lot more reliable — and replicable.

What are your favorite mistakes? See something here that you think is wrong, wrong, wrong? Leave your ideas in the comments below.


Colin Delany is the founder and editor of Epolitics.com. Delany will be speaking at the InterAction Forum’s Communications track workshop, “Planning and Measuring Social Media and Digital Advocacy: What Really Matters” on Tuesday, April 19.

Note: This post is part of a series highlighting the various workshop tracks at InterAction Forum 2016.

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