By Craig Dwyer, founder of ForaChange, a free online resource for NGOs, campaigners and activists on designing and implementing effective digital strategies for progressive social change.
How we make change is changing. Much of the future of that change-making will be shaped by the millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000. The Millennial Impact Project which references surveys conducted between 2011 and 2016 suggests that millennials learn about and donate to causes digitally, that their peers are a critical influence on their decision to take action, and that they are motivated by opportunities to use and develop their skills.
Whilst Millennials have been a key driver in bringing the digital agenda to the attention of nonprofits, the reality now is that the reach of digital goes far beyond that.
Those interested in creating change must now rise to the challenge and embrace new opportunities to enable and empower supporters to take action. Here’s a list of 7 steps that your campaign or organisation can take to ensure that you’re using digital and social media effectively, making the most of today’s digital opportunities.
1. What are your aims and objectives?
Before you share your first post, step back and look at the bigger picture. What are the tangible aims and objectives of your digital campaign? You may wish to organise and mobilise supporters, engage new audiences, fundraise, or recruit new volunteers – or maybe all of the above.
Whatever your aims and objectives might be, it is important to concretely identify and prioritise them. Being clear and concise on what you are trying to achieve will inform your digital strategy and the resources you’ll need to execute it.
2. Who are your target audiences?
Engaging different groups online will require different messages on different platforms. Mapping your stakeholders can help you understand how people currently think about your issue and what they value and care about. This will help shape your campaign’s frame and messages.
Target audiences, or “stakeholders”, can include individuals, groups, organisations or institutions that you wish to engage with your campaign. They may be directly affected by the issue, they may support your cause, or they may be in a position to influence your campaign. Stakeholders can also include active opponents of the change being proposed.
3. What are you going to say?
How you frame your issue can determine a person’s decision to engage with your cause or take action on behalf of it. You can have different messages for different target audiences, but they should all sit within an overarching frame and narrative. An effective frame will: 1) Articulate the issue in a compelling and authentic way, 2) appeal to people’s values, 3) show how things can improve and 4) outline what a person can do to help achieve that.
To bring about real change, we must communicate with people in a way that creates understanding and emotional resonance and inspires them to take action.
4. Which platforms will you use?
Social media plays a crucial role in shaping public thought about campaigns and causes. You must, therefore, consider carefully what platforms will be most effective for engaging with and informing your stakeholder groups. Ask questions such as: Which social media platforms are your target audiences most active on? What content do they consume there? This will help you decide which platforms to focus your efforts on.
There are many options for you to explore in order to find what works best for your campaign or organisation.
5. What is your content strategy?
Engaging, informative, and shareable content that promotes key campaign messages will inspire people to take action. When you create content for your audiences, you are setting the tone of the debate. This will give you a head start in any conversation.
Campaigns must also create a space which encourages and helps supporters to tell their own stories and to describe, in their own words, what motivates them to support your cause. Authentic messages from supporters to their networks can have a much greater impact and create more meaningful connections.
6. How will you engage your audiences?
There are many ways to engage with audiences online. Remember that people are willing to support your cause. To build momentum online, campaigns must make it as easy as possible for people to participate and show their support.
Be specific in your ask. Including calls to action such as “Click here to learn more”, “Show your support”, “Sign up here” and relevant web links will prompt audiences and clearly show your objectives. All your campaign content should state clearly what action you want people to take. Ensure that calls to action are realistic and achievable.
7. What does success look like?
One of the benefits of social media is the ability to accurately track performance and demonstrate how people are taking action online. But first, you must establish what success looks like.
It is important to know what counts as meaningful engagement for you. For example, if you create a video for your digital-storytelling strategy, and your target audience is new supporters, then a measure of success would be a large number of “shares”, which would translate into increased reach and impressions.
Digital and social media has made it easier to reach and engage more people in a cost-efficient and timely manner, but it requires planning and a considered approach. As the saying goes, “You only get out what you put in.” If you can recognise the benefits of using digital and social media, and allocate resources accordingly, you will realise its full potential.
Guest Author: Craig Dwyer is the founder of ForaChange, a free online resource for NGOs, campaigners and activists. He was the Social Media Director for Yes Equality during the marriage equality referendum in Ireland and travelled to Australia in 2017 to work on their marriage equality campaign.