(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

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.

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