We live in strange times. One person with a little ingenuity and a Twitter account or a YouTube channel can have greater reach than their local paper, and greater influence than even some in the national media.
But for most of us, we log-on to social media to connect with our friends and family, to see what’s happening in the world and to share our opinions. We aren’t trying to build massive audiences—we just want to learn, to socialize and to share our opinions on the story of the day.
And so often today, that story is about politics.
We live in a social media age: never before have American politics moved so fast or felt so destructive. It feels like we are in an endless state of breaking news; CNN’s chyron writers can hardly keep up with the stories as they come rolling in.
So let’s say you want to go online and get involved in the conversation, but you aren’t sure where to start. Then these ten tips might be for you. This list could apply to professional politicos and full-time activists, but I didn’t write it for them. Rather it’s intended for people with jobs, families, social lives and a million other things going on, but who still have a passion to change their community, if not the world.
Tip 1 — If it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen
This is the first rule of any campaign I’ve ever worked on, and it needn't be limited to traditional political campaigns. If you go to an event, no matter how well attended, consider all of those who didn’t attend. Some didn’t know about it, some couldn’t get off work, some live in other places. Talking about the events and meetings you attend both bring in new audiences in real time, and give more people a reason to attend such events in the future.
Share your story via the social media platforms of your choice throughout the event. Quote speakers, share videos of exciting moments, talk about why you are there, what you are learning and how great a time you are having.
Or else, it never really happened 😉
Tip 2 — Your story is your best asseT
All the facts and statistics in the world can’t compete with a personal story from someone in your community. Hearing that 23 million people will lose healthcare is powerful; hearing that YOU or YOUR BROTHER won’t be able to keep their healthcare, far more so.
Your story doesn’t have to be tragic to be powerful. What got you active in the movement? Why do you care? What are the moments that shaped you? They are all part of your story.
You don’t have to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to put a personal spin on the story of the day.
Activists are, first and foremost, organizers. Sometimes, their goal is to use the internet as a tool to bring people together in real life. If that’s your goal, optimize your efforts.
Facebook events are extremely powerful, but ONLY if used correctly. Don’t build a Facebook Event two days before an event. At that point, you have missed your window. If you can’t build it at least 4-6 weeks prior, you are not really taking advantage of this awesome tool. (Bear in mind, this is NOT applicable for birthday parties, community concerts, etc., where you can pretty much do whatever you want. This is for public events that you want to promote to a public audience.)
Once your Event is built, invite people you think will want to attend and share it with your networks. Post about it on your wall, email it to your friends, tell people about it in real life and let them know they should join.
Once you have a group of people who have said they are “interested” or “going” to your event, now it’s time to engage them.
Every time you post an update in the event, everyone “interested” or “going” will get a notification. So it’s important not to annoy them (they can remove themselves from the event outright or simply from receiving notifications). My recommendation: post about once a week until the final two weeks prior to the actual event. Then ramp up as you get closer. But just about EVERY notification should not solicit, but rather excite.
Tip 3 — Online organizing starts offlinE
You will not sign up for a Twitter account today, and amass 100k followers over the next few weeks (if you do, contact me and let’s tell that story!). But connect with the people you already know in real life and let them know how to find you online. This can be at events and meetings, in your email signature, within Facebook Groups in which you are active, etc.
The people who already know (and love) you will be much more receptive to your message than a group of strangers. And if your goal is to make a difference, it helps to have a receptive audience.
Tip 4 — Support each otheR
If you see someone getting attacked for speaking out, it’s okay to step up for them, just like you would in real life.
If you aren’t comfortable getting involved publicly in an online debate (some can’t because of their jobs, others just aren’t comfortable with it), consider dropping a private note to the person under siege. Let them know you appreciate that they are fighting the good fight.
If we cede the conversation to the bullies, we lose. We can’t all be outspoken activists, but we must support each other so that those who are in a position to engage won’t get shut down and pushed out of the conversation altogether.
Tip 5 — Use Twitter lists as a listening tooL
I know a lot of people who don’t like Twitter because they find it too confusing. And I get that. At first glance, Twitter is chaos. But Twitter lists help bring order to the chaos.
Utilizing them is free and easy, and you don’t even have to build your own — you can subscribe to someone else’s.
Lists can be public or private:
Build lists of journalists, people who inspire you, friends, colleagues, etc.. And then get a free account with HootSuite or Tweetdeck and easily monitor them, on a timeframe that works for you.
Lists only show content shared by those in your list. So if it’s a list of journalists, whenever you login, you can see all of their tweets in a manageable stream, and nothing else. Literally: order out of the chaos.
This will help you stay informed and connected to many different groups of people in a way that won’t feel overwhelming.