Bridging the Advocacy Gap with Social Media, Part 2

What capabilities would an advocacy platform need to provide to make effective advocate storytelling a reality?

Last week on the blog, I began focusing on the concept of the advocacy gap. Research, compiled in a report titled “The Advocacy Gap: Research for Better Advocacy,” notes that for the better part of the past 20 years, Capitol Hill offices have faced an ever-increasing crush of online constituent communication.

The world of social media has followed much the same path. And, as social media has continued to evolve, some clear trends have developed on how to cut through the communications clutter:

Visuals in Volume

Social media’s evolution in 2012 underscored the continued (and expanding) popularity of visual communication. This trend was on display across platforms: the heighted prominence of images in the Facebook newsfeed and the engagement they generate (a significant factor in Facebook’s purchase of Instagram for nearly $1 billion), the continued growth of Pinterest, Tumblr’s ever-increasing user base and, of course, our never-ending appetite for YouTube.

Consistency is King

Just as important as the need for quality content is the need for quality content on a consistent basis. Google rewards consistency in its search algorithms. Klout is also said to be keen on regular updates. From a practical standpoint, a person’s social media accounts (just like a legislator’s email inbox) are overrun with information. The lifespan of the average Facebook post is just three hours. The average lifespan of a tweet is even shorter. Consistency is crucial to the clutter-busting effort.

A quick trip through the Facebook pages of organizations that are successful at relationship building shows a mastery of consistent, visual communication. On the advocacy side, you can look at the Humane Society of the United States and Greenpeace. On the brand side, you can look at Ford or Red Bull.

The Social Solution

So here’s the most ironic part of this advocacy gap discussion to me:

In the world of social media, advocacy groups and brands have reacted to the ever-increasing volume of communications by using high-quality visuals on a regular basis to drive engagement and build relationships. Yet, in our communications with legislators we have responded with the exact opposite: written communications that are sent only when an issue is up for a vote.

To be sure, it’s not just the ease of use of petitions and emails that prove responsible for this dichotomy. There are logistical and technical reasons. As the report points out:

• Legislators don’t really have the staff to monitor, process and respond to social media posts across platforms.
• In many cases, legislators can’t even determine if the person communicating via social media is a constituent.

So, if you’re an organization or an advocate looking to make sure your communications reach the intended audience, you have some reason to default to an email or a petition.

Bridging the Advocacy Gap

Bridging the advocacy gap needs to start with advocacy technology providers incorporating the lessons so clearly taught by today’s social media experience. Tech providers will need to invest in making it easy for organizations and their advocates to engage and build relationships with legislators in the same way the most effective communicators do it every day via social media—through consistent, visual communications.

Tech providers could approach this challenge from several angles:

• By building their own proprietary functionality to support this process.
• By making it easier to collect and display visual communications housed on existing social media platforms.
• By creating brand-new social platforms that bring advocates, organizations and legislators together in one place, a la POPVOX.

Regardless of how we approach the technology solution, only when creating a visual story is just as easy, or nearly as easy, as signing a petition or sending a text-filled email will this advocacy gap finally be bridged.

How do you think we should we go about bridging the advocacy gap? Let me know in the comments below.