Social media can be a tremendous advocacy tool if used properly. Here are some general tips on how to use social media for advocacy work:
- Use visuals for boost engagement. Posts with photos and videos perform significantly better than text-only posts. They catch people’s attention and result in more likes, comments, and shares, ultimately reaching more people. Images that include people or animals perform best. For instance, if you plan to share a photo of a trail or park, choose one with people who are enjoying the open space.
- Make it personal. Make the connection between policy and people. When discussing issues, focus on the impacts on people and communities, rather than more abstract implications. For example, if you are posting about the environmental benefits of preserved farmland, make sure you highlight the role farms play in the region’s heritage and the jobs they create in rural communities.
- But not too personal. It’s the internet, after all. Even if you alter the privacy settings of your accounts, your social media actions leave digital footprints. Assume that anything you post could be seen by anyone.
- Tag accounts. When posting about issues, news, or events, tag the accounts of people and organizations involved using the “@” symbol. Using an @ notifies the account holder of your post and makes it more likely they will engage with it. Note: If there are no characters before the @ symbol on Twitter, the tweet goes directly to the tagged account rather than showing up as a public post. The common practice is to use a period before the @ when you want your post to be public. Example: .@NPS creates a new national park in Pennsylvania.
- Shorter is better. Posts are limited to 280 characters on Twitter, but the ideal tweet length is around 120-140 characters (including no more than two hashtags — phrases signified by the # symbol). Even though Facebook allows longer posts, you should aim to make them succinct — ideal posts, also called status updates, are usually around 40 characters long.
- Multiple platforms. Posting on multiple social media channels creates a potentially wider audience and allows you to interact with different groups of people. Facebook and Twitter are the most effective platforms for advocacy, though there are several others, including YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google+. Share a post across all your social media accounts, but make sure to tailor it to the specific platform. For instance, you might use abbreviations to make a Facebook post suitable for Twitter or rely on specific hashtags to take advantage of a topic trending on Twitter.
- Follow other accounts. Make sure to “follow” or “like” the accounts of people, organizations, and media outlets related to the issues you care about. It is the best way to stay connected to the topics, events, and discussions related to your interests and cause. You can find other accounts by searching their name, following links from their websites, or looking through Facebook groups. Over time, similar accounts will appear as suggestions on your profile.
Facebook (best for longer posts and bringing people together in real life)
- Post information about a topic to raise awareness, share information, or promote an issue. You can do this by posting a link to media, such as a relevant newspaper article, video, or the text of a piece of legislation that will help people understand the issue. When posting a link, the image or video associated with that webpage should appear alongside the post.
- Offer opportunities to take action. You can use Facebook to encourage people to make a tangible political action, particularly for actions that individuals can complete online. For example, you can share the link to an online petition, instructions for contacting local representatives, or voter registration information.
- Engage directly with elected officials. Tag an elected official’s account in your post so they will receive a notification about your post. They may or may not respond directly, depending on the official and their social media practices. You can make a specific ask on an issue or thank them after an in-person meeting or event. If posting a photo of yourself or your group with the official, first make sure the office is okay with you sharing it publicly.
- Create an event to bring like-minded people together. Facebook allows users to create events and invite their friends — a handy tool for organizing protests, demonstrations, meetings, and other events. Use the “Create an Event” feature to make a page with details about the event, then follow the instructions to invite your friends. You can encourage other people and organizations to promote the event by sharing the event page on their profiles.
Twitter (best for direct communication and real-time news)
- Post information about a topic to raise awareness, share information, or promote an issue. Make sure to use hashtags associated with the issue so that your tweet appears with all the others related to that issue. Tag the accounts of relevant people or groups to get more likes and retweets, making your message reach more people. You can create an original post with your text, photo, video, or link to another media source; you can also retweet another account’s post and add your commentary.
- Stay informed. Follow the accounts of legislators, reporters, organizations, media outlets, and other Twitter accounts involved with a particular issue to stay informed. Also, stay tuned to the hashtags associated with the issue. By clicking on the hashtags, and using them in your posts, you can see the entire thread of tweets that revolve around or refer to that issue. Twitter is the media platform where you are more likely to first find out about breaking news, votes, rulings, and other events.
- Tweet at an elected official. Twitter is the best way to engage directly with elected officials and other stakeholders. In some cases, they operate their own Twitter profile; in other cases, a staff member handles their profile. Either way, Twitter is the platform that removes traditional barriers between decision-makers and citizens. Actions can include thanking them for a vote or meeting or making a specific ask on an issue. Be respectful and positively frame the tweet. For example: “Thanks @SenatorX for opposing the dangerous #cashforparks bill.” Or: “My kids love our local park. I hope @SenatorY will vote NO on the #cashforparks bill,” including a photo of kids playing in the park. Thank-you’s after in-person meetings or events are great, especially with photos. For instance: “Had a great discussion about PA state parks with @SenatorY today!” Just make sure ahead of time that the office is okay with you sharing the photo.
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