Facebooking Your Way to Advocacy Success

By Stephanie Vance

Want to advocate for reduced taxes? Pro-business trade policies? Regulatory reform? How about doing something about gas prices?   Whatever issue you want to express an opinion on, from the incredibly controversial (like immigration) to the not-so-much (health care for children anyone?), one of your first stops should be Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or another social network.

On Facebook alone, you can join one of over 500 groups advocating vigorously for (or against) each of the positions noted above. MySpace has well over 30,000 groups dedicated to politics and the government. On LinkedIn, you can connect with many policymakers (and, more important, their staff) from around the country and around the world. Associations and special interest groups are starting to make their presence known on these sites as well with their own groups dedicated to providing citizen advocates with the resources they need to be effective in creating policy change.

No longer simply venues for the youngish crowd to text others of the youngish crowd in their incomprehensible language, social networks (or “socnets” as they’re called) have clearly moved into the main stream. Isn’t it time you ventured into these brave new waters?

If the answer is “yes, but I don’t want to drown,” have no fear!  Just follow these five simple steps and you’ll be “friending” along with the best of them in no time. More important, you’ll be on your way to creating the real, lasting policy change of your choice – all from the safety of your desk.

Sign Up!:  Setting up a profile on any of the “big name” sites like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn is usually a simple three or four step process. In posting your profile, remember that other advocates, prospective employers and your professional colleagues might be taking a look. In fact, it’s standard practice now to check these sites before entering into any business transactions. So, this probably isn’t the place for your “look how much tequila I can drink” photos from college.

Explore what’s out there:  In addition to finding your friends, colleagues and neighbors online, search for individuals and groups with an interest in your cause. Start by looking at the MySpace Government and Politics groups’ page or by searching by keyword on the Facebook groups’ page (just click on the “groups icon.”) While some of the groups out there are quite frankly, a little vitriolic, you’ll find many serious groups as well.

Once you’ve ascertained which groups are on the “up-and-up” (a quick look at the profiles of some of the members and the website of the sponsoring organization will help you figure that out), considering joining one or two that seem to share your perspective. Keep a watchful eye out for any groups associated with an “offline” association or organization to which you already belong – they’re the perfect venue for learning both about the issues as well as the ins-and-outs of online advocacy.

Start your own group or network:  Even with all the groups out there, you may not find one that addresses your advocacy issue in the same way, with the same message or from the same perspective as you. The solution is simple:  start your own group!  For most of the sites, it’s as easy as setting up a new “group” profile.

Another option is to create your own network through a resource like Ning.com. Here you can construct your own mini website with an address like “lowertaxesnow.ning.com” (not a real address). You can choose to include whatever tools you want (photo sharing, text boxes, forums, etc.) and then invite others to join the network. Once on board, they can participate in forums, post materials and download whatever resources you make available at the site.

Promote, promote, promote:  “If you build it they will come” works only for Kevin Costner (and only in the movies). You’ll need to let others know about your group or niche network and its purpose. Fortunately, social networks make this easy. Some approaches to consider include:

  • Use the “find a friend” feature to make a request to connect online with anyone who you think might be interested in your cause.  

  • Post comments on the walls, blogs and other public posting areas of existing groups and potential advocates. Be careful to post useful, substantive information that “entices” people back to your group (as opposed to promoting without providing value)

  • Include a link to your new socnet group as part of your e-mail signature to drive traffic

  • Post a question on your wall or blog that invites feedback from others

  • If you have a budget, consider purchasing “pay per click” ads. Most sites allow you to set a low budget threshold.

Care and Feeding:  Review, Refresh and Reinvigorate Regularly:  You don’t really have to reinvent the wheel in order to provide an ongoing flow of fresh information. If you already have a blog, be sure to include a link on your profile pages. Post any photos, videos and links to relevant materials that you feel will help group members make the case for your issue. One-pagers, frequently asked questions and other pieces you’ve developed can be posted as well. Perhaps most important, be sure to solicit member-generated content to keep the site fresh and interesting as well as to keep your members engaged and active.

See?  Social networks are not only fun, but a great way to get your advocacy message out there. By connecting with like-minded people online, you may just create that critical mass necessary to make a difference – for your community, for your country or for the world at large. Inspired? Then get online and get advocating!

Read other articles and learn more about Stephanie Vance.

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