The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to petition the government – a process with echoes as far back as Imperial China. Americans see petitions as a government-sanctioned process to address a grievance, giving them a legitimacy that helps make them an effective tool for organizing.
On the campaign side, we commonly see them used to get candidates and initiatives on the ballots. For advocacy organizations, online petitions can recruit individual advocates as well as deliver advocacy messages directly to legislators and regulators. Petitions are an especially useful tool for hitting critical mass of support around an issue. Also: finding constituents of specific legislators, due to the ability to geo-targeting most online outreach.
Another application to consider? At StandUnited, we are increasingly working with advocacy groups to use petitions to test various aspects of issue advocacy campaigns while they are still in the planning stages. Beyond the advocacy benefits of petitions, they can:
- Test messagesg
- Test audiences
- Discover relationships among issues
As an example, an advocacy group had three potential legislative issues, all at least three months away from being considered. The group wanted to recruit new advocates, but they also see how the different segments of new recruits would respond to the three priority issues and the various messaging around them. The advocacy group didn’t know which issue would come up first, or if they would at all, and the issues were diverse enough that engagement among them would not likely be consistent.
To test these variables, we created a set of petitions and unique audience segments, or segmented groups, from those who signed. Then, these segmented groups could be tested to see how they responded to specific follow-up messaging.
Notably, the audience (petition signers) could be segmented by many dimensions. Different media channels and creative elements (example: online ads) will drive potential signers to the petition, so these channels can be tested one versus another. The peition language itself could also be split-tested to find out which version is more likely to be signed. The audience can easily be matched with a voter file, creating many more potential segments.
One potentially useful dimension is the relationship among issues when measuring engagement. Is an audience segment that is defined by one issue more or less likely to support another issue? Petitions provide a straightforward way to find answers.
Lest this sound complicated, expensive or both, the key point is that launching the petition campaign is quite simple. The petition platform (e.g., StandUnited) does the promotion, signature gathering and data delivery. With the audience data in hand, the advocacy group (or political campaign) is ready to do the analysis. If additional variables need to be tested, new petitions can launch quickly.
If your organization has used petitions or is considering them, a little planning can help you can get more out of your campaigns than just new advocates and their missives to legislators. Make your advocacy communications more effective as a whole over the long term: take advantage of petition-driven message testing and audience measurement.