Measuring Impact of Online Advocacy: Best Practices from BBCon2013

BBCon 2013

It’s fabulous to gain insights and get tips from others in your field– especially from those who are doing something particularly well. At Blackbaud’s annual user conference, BBCon 2013, held in National Harbor, MD earlier this week there were several opportunities to do just that.

In front of a room full of nonprofit professionals– with a variety of reasons for needing to get a handle on how to engage and measure a group’s advocacy strategy–Emily Goodstein ran an enlightening and, well, engaging session that featured two expert takes on  how to measure an online advocacy program.  And she took it a step further by getting the audience to work together in pairs, then as a group.

The featured examples came from Sara Thomas, Senior Manager- Digital Marketing of Ocean Conservancy, and Brett Weisel, Director of Advocacy for Feeding America.

A Model Home

Weisel heads up the Feeding America online advocacy strategy and the group boasts roughly 130,000 Twitter followers and 470,000 likes on Facebook.  He clearly has a large number of advocates to keep engaged and he has a plan to make the most of that good will.  His model looks like a house with a peaked roof.

At the bottom, is a solid foundation built of the group’s advocates.  This broad base stretches the length and width of the structure and everything the group does is built upon this. The foundation needs to be solid and the messaging needs to strengthen this support.

The main floor is split evenly between what he calls Feed and Lead advocates.  These are participants who  play an active role in furthering the group’s mission, either by donating funds, goods, time, expertise. It’s a large group with two different ways to be involved, and the organization needs to be sure to maintain each group through appropriate messaging.

The roof is the commitment of the group to one goal.  In a large group, like  Feeding America, there will likely be several different goals, each tied to a particular outcome. It’s important to make sure that everything within that house helps to support that particular common goal.

Some sage advice from Weisel, “it’s ok to have advocates for the sake of having advocates; recognizing that advocacy is important and they might never turn into donors…” There’s a value to the individual advocate’s ability to reach and influence others and it’s important to remember that.

Announce Goals

Ocean Conservancy has approximately 42,000 Twitter followers and 85,000 Likes on Facebook; another large group which is often broken into different factions with different needs and reasons for advocacy:  at times it may be crisis related, at others it may be targeting Congress.

Some advice?  Thomas suggests setting a goal publicly:  “We are asking for 5,000 people to sign this petition to send to Congress.” It’s important to communicate when you’ve hit that goal and achieve that success.  But it’s “…even more important to convey when you don’t get to your goal.” It’s an opportunity to convey what can be done and how to get there to your advocates and keep them engaged and active as stakeholders.

Other helpful tips from the experts:

According to Weisel, the online advocacy challenge calls for a strategy that he breaks down as “Find multiple ways to engage: Broaden your ways to engage, Find new advocates and Create Micro-Campaigns (tied to a particular initiative).  Always be building your base”.

Both agreed that it’s important to consider the advocates as your group’s life line.  There are those who will be donors today, there are those who may become donors down the road, but only if they are continually engaged and social media offers a tremendous capacity to do that.

Yes, it can be a lot of work, but well worth the effort.  Thomas said that in some cases feedback to an advocate via Facebook, for example, “…may help push them up the ladder” to donor.  In her group, every Facebook comment gets a reply–so, yes, it takes work.

Here are some other useful tips:

  • Facebook Ads provide results for advocacy efforts and they provide a lot of insights to help measure
  • Facebook posts with an image that includes action perform better than others
  • Twitter, generally, has a high conversion rate
  • Vanity URLs are very useful: reassures recipient of where they’ll be taken and can be easily segmented for specific campaign
  • Advocacy tools in Luminate can be very helpful in streamlining efforts