Your Way to
Want to advocate for reduced taxes? Pro-business trade
policies? Regulatory reform? How about doing something about gas
prices? Whatever issue you want to express an opinion on, from the
incredibly controversial (like immigration) to the not-so-much
(health care for children anyone?), one of your first stops should
be Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or another social network.
On Facebook alone, you can join one of over 500 groups
advocating vigorously for (or against) each of the positions noted
above. MySpace has well over 30,000 groups dedicated to politics
and the government. On LinkedIn, you can connect with many
policymakers (and, more important, their staff) from around the
country and around the world. Associations and special interest
groups are starting to make their presence known on these sites as
well with their own groups dedicated to providing citizen advocates
with the resources they need to be effective in creating policy
No longer simply venues for the youngish crowd to text others
of the youngish crowd in their incomprehensible language, social
networks (or “socnets” as they’re called) have clearly moved into
the main stream. Isn’t it time you ventured into these brave new
If the answer is “yes, but I don’t want to drown,” have no
fear! Just follow these five simple steps and you’ll be “friending”
along with the best of them in no time. More important, you’ll be
on your way to creating the real, lasting policy change of your
choice – all from the safety of your desk.
Setting up a profile on any of the “big name” sites like MySpace,
Facebook or LinkedIn is usually a simple three or four step
process. In posting your profile, remember that other advocates,
prospective employers and your professional colleagues might be
taking a look. In fact, it’s standard practice now to check these
sites before entering into any business transactions. So, this
probably isn’t the place for your “look how much tequila I can
drink” photos from college.
Explore what’s out
In addition to finding your friends, colleagues and neighbors
online, search for individuals and groups with an interest in your
cause. Start by looking at the MySpace Government and Politics
groups’ page or by searching by keyword on the Facebook groups’ page
(just click on the “groups icon.”) While some of the groups out
there are quite frankly, a little vitriolic, you’ll find many
serious groups as well.
Once you’ve ascertained which groups are on the “up-and-up”
(a quick look at the profiles of some of the members and the website
of the sponsoring organization will help you figure that out),
considering joining one or two that seem to share your perspective.
Keep a watchful eye out for any groups associated with an “offline”
association or organization to which you already belong – they’re
the perfect venue for learning both about the issues as well as the
ins-and-outs of online advocacy.
Start your own
group or network:
Even with all the groups out there, you may not find one that
addresses your advocacy issue in the same way, with the same message
or from the same perspective as you. The solution is simple: start
your own group! For most of the sites, it’s as easy as setting up a
new “group” profile.
Another option is to create your own network through a
resource like Ning.com. Here you can construct your own mini
website with an address like “lowertaxesnow.ning.com” (not a real
address). You can choose to include whatever tools you want (photo
sharing, text boxes, forums, etc.) and then invite others to join
the network. Once on board, they can participate in forums, post
materials and download whatever resources you make available at the
“If you build it they will come” works only for Kevin Costner (and
only in the movies). You’ll need to let others know about your
group or niche network and its purpose. Fortunately, social
networks make this easy. Some approaches to consider include:
Use the “find a
friend” feature to make a request to connect online with anyone
who you think might be interested in your cause.
on the walls, blogs and other public posting areas of existing
groups and potential advocates. Be careful to post useful,
substantive information that “entices” people back to your group
(as opposed to promoting without providing value)
Include a link
to your new socnet group as part of your e-mail signature to
Post a question
on your wall or blog that invites feedback from others
If you have a
budget, consider purchasing “pay per click” ads. Most sites
allow you to set a low budget threshold.
Care and Feeding:
Review, Refresh and Reinvigorate Regularly:
You don’t really have to reinvent the wheel in order to provide an
ongoing flow of fresh information. If you already have a blog, be
sure to include a link on your profile pages. Post any photos,
videos and links to relevant materials that you feel will help group
members make the case for your issue. One-pagers, frequently asked
questions and other pieces you’ve developed can be posted as well.
Perhaps most important, be sure to solicit member-generated content
to keep the site fresh and interesting as well as to keep your
members engaged and active.
See? Social networks are not only fun, but a great way to get your
advocacy message out there. By connecting with like-minded people
online, you may just create that critical mass necessary to make a
difference – for your community, for your country or for the world
at large. Inspired? Then get online and get advocating!
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