The Nation is Watching - Now What? Six Steps to Winning Your Moment Online
By Alex Field, Executive Vice President, Digital Advocacy, BerlinRosen
As advocates on the frontlines of progressive movements, we know how a single push notification can change everything. That text, slack or breaking news alert that puts your organization and your issue in the national spotlight:
“Workers come forward with evidence of pregnancy discrimination after a fellow worker dies on the job.”
“The Trump Administration is still separating families.”
“Texas House of Representatives passes voter suppression bill, fight moves to the Senate.”
We live in these moments: when your executive director is forwarding you tweets, your policy team suddenly becomes email experts and your board is anxiously pressuring for a response. Our team partners with leading progressive organizations to prepare for and thrive during these moments, scaling quickly to harness the momentum and launch digital campaigns that drive widespread action—when the nation is watching.
Here are our six steps to winning your moment online, when the stakes are at their highest and your supporters are most motivated to act.
But first, take a breath.
While there is absolutely a need to move quickly to engage your motivated supporters, it’s equally important to approach digital as a campaign—not just a rapid response tactic. And just like any winning campaign, your digital strategy needs to be rooted in a thoughtful, strong advocacy goal—the big change you’re charging toward. More donations are not an advocacy goal, but you better believe your supporters will send you money when they see you fighting like hell for the issues they care about and the change they want to see.
Now, here’s our six-steps-to-victory checklist for winning when your moment strikes.
Step 1: Start with the WHO
The general public is not an audience. Who, specifically, does this issue affect? Who will care? Who will act?
With clear advocacy goals in hand, we force fast and tough conversations about who our campaign needs to reach at a deep demographic and values level. By not settling for big, basic audiences, we dig in and create detailed audience “personas” or profiles about who we’re trying to reach online. The process starts by identifying the values, interests, demographic traits, and online behaviors of those groups.
Here are some questions to help you get started:
Who holds the power in the situation and who influences the power?
What does your current base of support look like?
Are there common traits of demographics of this base group? (where do they live, where do they work, what do they spend time online, etc.)
Who do you need on your side to win?
What motivates these people to take action?
Where do these people spend their time online and offline? Where do they get their news and how do they consume information?
What actions can they take?
Don’t settle for easy answers. This is hard work, and it hurts your brain, but better knowing exactly who you’re trying to engage will make your campaign more effective and inform your content strategy and advertising strategy.
Step 2: Create one easy, powerful action
When your moment is in the spotlight, you’ll hear one question a lot: “how can I help?” Your answer—the primary, single-most-important thing folks can do—is critical to maximizing the power of your supporters to push for change.
From submitting a public comment or signing a petition to calling a legislator or attending a rally, your power in this moment comes from directing supporters to one, effective action that is easy to take and directly connected to your organizing efforts.
Once supporters take that action, you can absolutely follow up with secondary asks that connect to who they are—private facebook groups and zoom calls for vocal organizers, and social toolkits for partners and influencers, and donation asks for high net worth supporters who engage with the campaign.
Here are a few examples of how we put this into action:
Step 3: Authentic, charged content
So now that you’ve identified specific audiences to engage and a key action to prioritize, what’s next? It’s time to promote the campaign with authentic, charged content. The kind of posts that stop scrollers in their tracks, that stand out from the sea of polished promotional appeals, the stuff that makes people think, “oh, this matters to me.”
Strong visual content that has a perspective and voice to match the campaign—never feeling pre-packaged—doesn’t happen by accident. When developing an image, gif or video for social, ask yourself two questions:
- Who’s the most authentic speaker to tell this story? (Tip: it’s usually the audience most affected by the campaign or issue)
- How can this story be told in a medium-specific way that takes full advantage of the best features of platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
For example, Instagram stories are all about vertical photos with stickers and text. So when we wanted to help Poor People’s Campaign members tell their own first-person stories in a medium-specific way, we gave them fill-in-the-blank Instagram story photos that they could customize and share right from their phones.
Step 4: Engage your network
Now you have your audiences, action and content—what’s next? It’s time to amplify your messaging by activating your coalition partners and influencers, volunteers on your lists and the outspoken activists for your cause. The goal: make it as easy as possible for these folks to boost your messaging and contribute to this moment.
We approach this with three core tactics: toolkits, DMs and volunteer engagement.
Toolkits: Easy, quick toolkits help us efficiently share a library of graphics, animations and videos to leverage the reach and impact of our coalitions with consistent, powerful messaging and visuals. Because we are stronger when we stand together and speak with one voice.
DMs: Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. We regularly reach out to influencers (both celebrities and online influencers) with large audiences and high credibility and ask them to help participate in the campaign. Start by mapping the influencers your organization and your leaders and staff are connected to, confirm that they’re right for this particular campaign, and don’t be shy about sending DMs asking for help. You may be surprised at the positive response.
This is an example of Rev. William Barber DM’ing John Legend asking him to lend his voice to the Poor People’s Campaign.
Volunteer engagement: Finally, empower volunteers to expand your impact by asking them to share content online. Through trainings, you can get volunteers to use Hustle or provide tools, creative and messaging in a volunteer Facebook group, Signal or Whatsapp. We’ve also found success with on-the-ground volunteers through using a Signal thread between them, campaign staff, and our team to drive content and engagement in real-time as the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress was taking place.
The toolkit we mentioned earlier empowered volunteers to customize their own graphics in real-time.
This experience also reinforced our relationships with volunteers and supporters. The feedback we got was that it inspired folks and people felt like one team, moving towards one amazing, unifying goal.
Step 5: Fanning the flames
Advertising can be the gasoline you add to a simmering fire to take your moment to the next level. But trust us, smart advertising is more than just boosting posts.
Our strategy needs to be driven by the ultimate campaign goal. Keep it tied to your theory of change, so it is also directly related to the easy, powerful action you’ve already planned. Since you know who your key audiences are, you have a baseline of where to start with targeting. Demographics are important, but you can also target by interest and a plethora of other factors. It’s absolutely critical that you let your audience inform the platforms you run on. A common phrase in advertising, especially digital, is that we can meet people where they are. So choose platforms and devices that you know your audience is on. Building your audience personas and doing research early on will help with this.
Search ads, while seemingly simple, are highly effective and an absolute must for a rapid response campaign. This is the truest way of meeting people where they are. You’re elevating your organization at someone’s highest moment of interest or intent. Facebook is almost a default option at this point – for better or for worse. But we need to keep it real, there is no denying the massive reach that Facebook has. There are other options you can and should explore – including Twitter, YouTube, contextual display banners, and more. Again – you need to define your audience and figure out your targeting methods, and then choose the platforms that best meet those goals.
All of this leads to a budget, and we know perhaps you’re looking for the perfect formula, but the truth is: there is no magic number or amount that equates to success or ROI. You know your budget, you know what your organization can afford. If you really want to massively and quickly expand your reach on a moment, you may have to push beyond your comfort zone of what you’ve invested before. Your spending should match the significance of the moment. If you aren’t locked into a media plan or even a budget – you can and should scale as the moment allows, and as the results indicate.
Step 6: Responsive, adaptable results-driven
Now, you’ve built and launched a best-in-class digital campaign! Is it time to celebrate?
Not quite yet. Really, this is just the beginning.
The most impactful digital campaigns are constantly evolving, building on what’s working and responding to the latest developments of the moment. Don’t let ads drive supporters to a petition that no longer makes sense. That’s a waste of advertising money and undercuts your credibility as a leader on the issue. Just like your communications director is keeping track of the story developing to identify how to insert your organization in the press, digital campaigns should be evolving and figuring out how to continue to engage audiences on the issue.
Digital campaigns provide real-time data and instant feedback, which lets you know rather quickly what’s working (and what’s not.) It’s critical to listen to your audience. If a piece of creative isn’t earning engagement, turn off the ad.
We recommend collecting this data and turning it into a report back that can be shared with your policy team, executive director or even board to help shape future strategies and advocate for more investment in digital. Those that aren’t digital natives or familiar with digital advocacy are usually surprised by the metrics and ability to share how many people were reached with your message and took action.
While no crisis follows the same path, and no campaign is the same, you should take a breath and know that these moments of chaos provide opportunity—to engage your supporters, to push for action, and to drive your issue forward. With planning, this checklist, and an appetite for creative problem solving, the next push notification that echoes through your organization can be the chance to break through and become a more powerful, progressive force.
Get to know the author:
Alex Field is an Executive Vice President at BerlinRosen’s Digital Advocacy practice.
He leads a 20+ person full-service digital advocacy team that powers the digital organizing work behind the nation’s most urgent and ambitious progressive campaigns. Across immigration, workers’ rights, affordable health care, clean energy, voting rights and more, his team drives action with sharp digital strategy, advertising, social media and online organizing.
A veteran of the digital advocacy space, Alex has advised major foundations and changemakers, including the Gates Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute, and created the digital practice at Burness from scratch before coming to BerlinRosen in 2017.