Three Key Online Advocacy Trends to Watch in 2014

What are the big developments to watch in online advocacy? That question is very much on my mind: Monday I’ll have the privilege of leading a digital strategy training for public affairs professionals, and I’ve been pulling slides together and getting ready to handle some smart questions. So here are three key trends that I’m following closely in 2014:

Data-Driven Targeting = Individually Targeted Media

More and more, political advocates are learning the power of TARGETED communications with their supporters, with potential advocacy partners and with the actual targets of their advocacy work. Once-exotic animals like cookie-targeted online ads now get their fair share of attention, but advocates can employ data to direct their outreach in other ways as well.

List segmentation by demographics, past behavior (actions taken, emails opened) and acquisition source is one example. Facebook targeting (via ads and “boosted” posts) is another, which can also be done demographically and by people’s indicated interests. And of course, direct mail is still with us! Plus, some groups are beginning to use data to identify potential grasstops supporters among their email and social media followers using tools like Attentively and RapIndex.

Why is this kind of targeting so important? As we’re all bombarded by more and more information in our daily lives (hundreds of brand impressions per day), advocates need to cut through the clutter with messages tailored to individual people’s interests and needs. General-interest asks risk getting left unopened in the inbox and ignored on social media!

While we’re not quite to the level of individually targeted media (“Get me a dozen ads targeted at John Smith and make it quick!”), we’re getting there fast — and it behooves advocacy organizations to use data to pay close attention to what motivates different segments of their followers. Big data? It’s really all about listening to people.

Mobile is Finally a Reality…And It’s Unspectacular

The mobile era has finally arrived! Having been the Next Big Thing for about the past decade, mobile internet access is finally starting to affect political advocates in significant ways. Advocacy/fundraising emails? Your supporters will now open, read and react to many of them on their cell phones. Facebook? Becoming a mobile medium fast — as I write this, roughly half of U.S. Facebook traffic is coming from mobile devices, either phones or tablets.

But note what we’re talking about here: basic online communications tasks, not some mobile-centric, sent-from-heaven application that creates fundamentally new communications opportunities. We’re opening emails! Mobile’s arrival means that people are essentially doing the same things we’ve been doing on desktops and laptops, but now on mobile phones.

Some applications (like Instagram) DO create mobile-centric outreach opportunities (particularly if you generate a lot of good pictures), but most of them — at least in the short term — require us to take simple steps: we need to go out of our way to make sure that our emails (and landing pages) display and function well on mobile browsers, and that our Facebook content is the kind of image-heavy materials that mobile users can see easily. The future is now! Unspectacular? That’s just fine.

Facebook, Why Must You Frustrate Us So?

Speaking of Facebook, our final trend is a perennial favorite in the communications world: how do we get value out of a Facebook following? Many advocacy and membership organizations have invested time and money (particularly in the form of Facebook ads) in building up a following, but those supporters are seeing less and less of our content by default unless we pay to promote it.

But abandoning Facebook is a stretch — Americans spend a prodigious amount of time on the the site these days, and our supporters (actual and potential) are likely among them. So experimentation is the name of the game: what content motivates our people? What do they share? What do they click on? What persuades them to take a more concrete action like signing a petition or calling a Congressional office? Content is king on Facebook, particularly visual content — and smart advocates keep careful watch over which posts perform well for our particular following.

Other tactics: paying to “boost” (promote) posts to reactivate supporters who haven’t engaged with our content for some time, or to expose our content to friends-of-friends and beyond. Many organizations are also turning to tools like ActionSprout that embed actions within Facebook posts, allowing people to join an email list or sign a petition without having to leave the social network. Some are using more-sophisticated tools like Facebook Custom Audiences (which allows you to target an email list with advertising) to reach their supporters — or people demographically/behaviorally similar to them — with action-oriented ads.

The ultimate goal: to build a following, sure, but also to get those supporters moving, either within Facebook (Sharing, Liking) or in the real world. And that’s the key point that connects all three of these trends. Advocates need to get results! Data-driven targeting, a user experience tailored to the mobile devices we’re all holding these days, or finding out how to get value out of the most popular social site on the planet? They’re all just means to an end: getting people to get off their butts and help to change the world, one way or another.


Written by
Colin Delany
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