Social media can be a tremendous advocacy tool if used properly. Here are some general tips:
- 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 and/or animals perform best. For example, instead of a photo of an empty trail or park, try for one that shows people enjoying themselves.
- Make it personal. Make the connection between policy and people. When discussing issues, focus on the impacts on people and/or communities, rather than more abstract implications. Rather than just explaining the environmental benefits of preserved farmland, highlight the role farms play in a 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 by using the “@” symbol. This notifies them of your post, and makes it more likely that they will engage with it. Note: on Twitter, if there are no characters before the @ symbol, the tweet goes directly to that account rather than showing up as a public post. Common practice is to use a period before the @ symbol when you want the post to be public. Example: .@NPS creates new national park in Pennsylvania.
- Shorter is better. On Twitter, posts are limited to 140 characters, but the ideal tweet length is around 120 characters (and no more than two hashtags). Just because Facebook allows longer posts doesn’t mean they are better—ideal posts (also called “status updates”) are around 40 characters.
- 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 a host of others, including Youtube, Instagram, and Google+. Share a post across all of your social media accounts, but make sure to tailor it to the specific platform. This might mean using abbreviations to make a Facebook post suitable for Twitter, or using a specific hashtag on Twitter to take advantage of a trending topic.
- Follow other accounts. Make sure to follow/ “like” the accounts of people, organizations, and media outlets related to the issues you care about. This is the best way to stay connected to the issues. You can find them by searching their name or by following links from their websites. 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. Alternatively, you can post your own opinions and photo without linking to another source.
- Create an event to bring like-minded people together. Facebook allows users to create events and invite their friends. This can be a great 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 own profiles.
- Offer opportunities to take action. You can use Facebook to encourage people to make a tangible political action. This works especially well for actions that can be done online. For example, you can share the link to an online petition, voter registration information, or instructions for contacting local representatives.
- Engage directly with elected officials. Tag the 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, just make sure ahead of time that the office is okay with you sharing it.
Twitter (Best For: direct communication and real-time news)
- Tweet at an elected official. Twitter is the best way to directly engage with elected officials and other stakeholders. In some cases they operate their own Twitter profile; in other cases, a staff member handles the 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 a meeting, or making a specific ask on an issue. Be respectful and frame the tweet in a positive way. 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.” (with photo of kids playing in park). Thank-you’s after in-person meetings or events are great, especially with photos. (Example: “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.
- Stay informed. Follow the accounts of legislators, reporters, organizations, media outlets, and other accounts involved with a particular issue to stay informed. Also, stay tuned to the hashtags (phrases signified by the # symbol) associated with the issue. By clicking on the hashtags, and using them in your own posts, you can see the entire thread of tweets about that issue. You’ll likely hear about breaking news, votes, rulings, and other events on Twitter before anywhere else.
- Post information about a topic to raise awareness, share information, or promote an issue. Make sure to use hashtags associated with the issue so your tweet appears with all the others about that issue. Tag the accounts of relevant people and groups to get more likes and retweets, thereby making your message reach more people. You can create an original post with your own text, photo, video, or link to another media source; you can also retweet someone else’s post and add your own commentary.