January 6, 2010

How Facebook is Friendly for Advocacy

Adriel Hampton made an astute observation about how Twitter is a friendlier space for elected officials and politicians than Facebook given the full  “control of one’s presence, without any overt need for filters.”  To boil it down, Adriel explains

If you’ve got a wide open Facebook page and somebody wants to spam you all day long, you need a strategy to deal with that. Left alone, it’s going to muck up your page.

To make an obvious extension of that thought, it’s worth noting that this is conversely a great benefit to nonprofits, other advocacy Comments Supporting the People First Campaign on Governor Deval Patrick's Fan PAgegroups, and angry constituents using Facebook.  Your campaign can get lots of added visibility and show a strong impact through the simple act of asking your membership to leave status updates on their fan page – and all of the comments left on an officials Facebook page will remain publicly visible unless the official deletes it, which would just add fuel to the fire.

Given the very tough financial position the Massachusetts government is in, human service providers, caregivers, clients, families, and the community came together to form the People First Campaign to remind Governor Patrick about the importance of protecting services for our most vulnerable citizens.  Supporters connected through emails, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook messages – and made their voices heard to the Governor through all of those channels as well.  In advocacy and organizing, be sure to consider all the ways to reach supporters, and for them to engage.

While I think 86 retweets of our act.ly petition on a statewide issue is pretty significant for a newly formed statewide advocacy campaign (I’d love to find out if @MassGovernor’s been tweeted by more constituents on a single issue), and proportionally reflect the community’s belief that these services need to be saved, Facebook did offer supporters some other benefits.  For one, there’s still a lot more people on Facebook than on Twitter, which means more people visiting the landing page or getting the emails about the campaign were able to participate on Facebook than Twitter.

Perhaps the most powerful (and obvious) difference between Facebook and Twitter is the character limit.  We spend so much time discussing the uniqueness of Twitter’s 140 character limit and how it can be used, it’s easy to forget how empowered supporters become with the ability to share their stories – and, perhaps, influence other people who read them, whether staff or other constituents.

It is important to note that many Fan Pages set their Wall to only display updates from their account, requiring readers to click the button to view Just Fans to see the messages left by visitors.  This is a handy thing for campaigns to consider when setting up their campaign, and a handy workaround for advocates seeking visual real estate on the default view: comment on the Fan Page updates.

I’m not sure why I was surprised that Governor Deval Patrick’s Facebook Fan Page was the only online presence he has controlled by his campaign and not the office of the Governor like so many other platforms, but it makes sense.  I’m glad smart guys like Adriel are thinking about Gov2.0 engagement on Facebook, but frankly besides putting specific questions out for public comment, it’s hard to see a constructive, beneficial, practical way for government agencies to interact on Facebook.  Is having the broadcast channel worth the comments you can’t control?  Perhaps it depends on the agency/official, but I support and respect those that are trying work in a medium with such little control.

Screenshots of Facebook Fan Page Comments Thanking Governor Patrick for Putting People FirstIt’s not all thankless risk for elected officials on Facebook.  In addition to broadcasting messages, receiving feedback (like it or not), and the campaign, Facebook’s can also offer the largest platform for people to show their appreciation when an elected does the right thing (like protecting important human service funding).

There’s a big difference between the logistics of government engagement on social media and that of candidates, and I think we’ll see campaigns continue to leverage Facebook.  Although Facebook has these benefits for advocacy organizations, campaigns also have the same benefits in sending  updates to rally supporters  – reaching the widest audience, sharing more than 140 characters at a time, permanence of updates, etc.  And, like advocacy organizations, can use all of the other robust features Facebook offers (like planning events and using other tools for setting up a winning Facebook Fan Page).  Just be sure whoever’s maintaining the page has thick skin.

While we made it through the last round of 9c cuts with fewer cuts than expected, Massachusetts continues to face tough decisions as we look ahead to the 2011 budget process, which is starting now.  We still need your voice to make sure Governor Patrick knows we’re still paying attention and expect him to continue to put people first as he looks at the budget.  Please take  a second to send him a reminder on Twitter, or by leaving a message on his Facebook Page.

It’s good to be back in WordPress, and I’m resolving to make sure I’m sharing at least two posts per month for 2010, so please let me know what’s on your mind – and what you think advocacy organizations are reaching out to government, elected official, and candidates in the world of social media.


  1. Awesome post! I think you really nailed many of the benefits of Facebook for citizens – something I highlight in trainings for less Web-savvy activists. Some of the best potential in Gov 2.0 is in democratic reforms through tech like Act.ly, NationBuilder and others, and I’m glad you highlighted the reverse to my thoughts about pols and social media.

    Comment by adrielhampton — January 6, 2010 @ 4:10 am

    • Thanks, Adriel, for stopping by to share your thoughts – and for the insightful post that got me thinking about how to articulate the way that the challenges for government officials on Facebook are benefits to the advocacy groups and citizens trying to influence them. I’m looking forward to seeing how government continues to expand the use of social media for democratic reforms and increased civic participation.

      Comment by kgilnack — January 6, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  2. Great post Kevin. I had seen Adriel’s post earlier and he summed it up so simply and well and yours added some nice context locally and took it a step further.

    To answer your question on the act.ly/Twitter petition, I do believe it generated the most tweets we’ve seen on a particular issue. So folks understand, and as we point out in our social media policy (www.mass.gov/governor/socialmedia), those tweets are all seen and they are recorded and combined with other forms of feedback (email, phone calls, letters and in-person visits) into a sort of ‘master’ list that helps us to understand public opinion on issues. Most of that is managed through the Governor’s Constituent Services office that is open from 9 to 5 every weekday and handles thousands of pieces of correspondence a week.

    What’s nice about Twitter, though, is that responses to things like this petition or tweets in general have a better of reaching others. If one of our Constituent Services Aides spends 15 minutes on the phone with someone answering a question or explaining the Governor’s position on something, others usually don’t benefit from that. With Twitter, others can. What’s also been nice is that people like you and others have followed up and sent “thank you’s” via twitter as the Governor has been “putting people first”.

    I should note here that the office hasn’t officially replied on the petition, itself. It’s not because the Governor and his office aren’t getting the message – but because it’s difficult to sum up the difficult budget situation and how much the Governor and the administration have been doing to support the most vulnerable of our population (which, again, you and many other citizens have noted and thanked him for). Stay tuned.

    Also, to clarify one other point in your post, the initial reason that we don’t have an official Facebook page maintained by the Office of the Governor is because the Governor’s Facebook page(s) were started by the political committee during the first campaign, so we legally/ethically cannot take them over in our official capacity. Nor could it go the other way, where we start one for official business and it gets handed over to the political side during an election or beyond.

    Thanks again for the insight and thoughtful analysis.

    Brad Blake
    Director of New Media and Online Strategy
    Massachusetts Office of the Governor

    Comment by Brad Blake — January 6, 2010 @ 9:16 am

    • Brad, thanks very much for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s really great to see how proactive you and the Patrick administration have been in embracing social media to keep the public informed and hear constituent concerns.

      I think it’s especially helpful for people to understand that their tweets are heard and counted along with the calls, emails, visits, and other outreach. It really goes to show advocacy groups the importance of using all the channels available for empowering supporters to contact their elected officials.

      The logistics of maintaining separate accounts and separate staff for campaigns and official purposes is an interesting one. Is it your interpretation that you cannot setup a new, official Fan Page if a campaign has already been involved in that space? If not, are there other reasons you have not started a separate Fan Page for the Governor’s Office?

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts – and for the hard work of everyone who has been trying to preserve services for vulnerable citizens.

      On that topic, here’s a way for anyone interested in supporting the People First campaign and thanking Governor Patrick for supporting human services thus far:

      Celebrate 9C Cut Reversal!
      Call to Action to Preserve Our TAFDC Safety Net for All Families in FY 2011!

      Governor Patrick reversed his 9C cut to the TAFDC program on January 6, 2010! Please join us at the State House to celebrate and thank the Governor and our Legislative allies for preserving subsistence benefits for the most vulnerable children and families in the state. The cut – which was scheduled to go into effect February 1st – would have eliminated or drastically reduced Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) benefits for children whose parents are too disabled to work.

      WE CANNOT REST ON THIS VICTORY! WE MUST CONTINUE THE FIGHT TO PROTECT TAFDC! Our CALL TO ACTION continues! We need to preserve our TAFDC safety net program for all families in FY 2011!

      Tuesday, January 12, 2010
      State House, Boston
      Grand Staircase, 2nd Floor

      TAFDC serves 50,000 families in Massachusetts, providing a subsistence benefit that averages less than $500 per family. TAFDC benefits have only been increased by 10% since 1988, despite inflation of more than 90% during that time. Parents are required to work unless they are too disabled or caring for young children or a disabled family member.

      Please thank Governor Patrick (617-725-4000) for reversing the TAFDC cut and your Legislators (617-722-2000) for urging the Governor to do so!

      Sponsors: Action for Boston Community Development, Boston Center for Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Boston, Catholic Charities of Springfield, Coalition Against Poverty, Coalition for Social Justice, Disability Policy Consortium, Greater Boston Legal Services, Homes for Families, Live Well Springfield, Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, Mass. Law Reform Institute, Mass. Welfare Rights Union, Metro-West Center for Independent Living, National Association of Social Workers/MA Chapter, Survivors, Inc., Providers’ Council.

      For more information, please contact: Elizabeth Toulan, GBLS (617-603-1626), Bill Henning, BCIL (617-338-6665) or Robyn Powell, DPC (617-542-3522). For accommodations requests, please contact: Bill Henning or Robyn Powell.

      Comment by kgilnack — January 7, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

  3. I especially appreciate the screen captures, to give an idea of how individuals are really using FB to tell their own stories for advocacy, and what that looks like for elected officials. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts in 2010!

    Comment by melindaklewis — January 11, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

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