To campaign effectively, and reach people through the background noise, it is important to develop our message carefully.

How a campaign works. You’re much more vulnerable in the early days when you’re alone.

How a campaign works. You’re much more vulnerable in the early days when you’re alone.

As activists, we want to reach people with our message, win their support, and encourage them to work with us to change things for the better.

To campaign effectively, and reach people through the background noise, it is important to develop our message carefully.

There are three important steps to designing a campaign:

–          Choosing a target

Who are you campaigning against? It needs to be specific and focused, and it needs to be the right target. Identify the person or company most responsible for the wrong you want righted. Decide what you want to happen – vague appeals to the authorities along the lines of “someone should do something” are not enough: You need to have a clear idea of what should happen.

Make sure that you choose a realistic target. Assess your strength: how many supporters can you count on, what is your budget, what other resources do you have? Taking on a campaign on your own that is too big can be incredibly demoralising. Rather choose something you know you could win, and use that as a starting point to build more ambitious campaigns.

–          Finding leverage or pressure points

How do you influence your target? Chances are they are a big company or public figure with far more resources than you. Think about where you can bring pressure and influence them. For a company like Nestle it might be public opinion. For Walmart, it might be consumer groups, plus the unions organising Walmart workers around the world. For G4S, it might be government tenders. Use as many pressure points as you can find.

–          Building networks

Don’t try to do it alone! Find people trying to achieve similar aims and work with them.

The funnel of engagement

The funnel of engagement is the term used to describe how you engage with people – to turn strangers who know nothing about what you do into engaged and committed activists. It starts by making them aware of your presence, and then drawing them into deeper engagement. Of course not all your users will follow this process, but here is an overview of what it looks like:

1. Getting people to read your content

2. Getting people to share your content

3. Getting them to take a simple action: sign a petition, or send and email or tweet

4. Getting them to commit to something bigger: donating money, attending a meeting

5. Getting them to ‘join’ your cause, become an activist and take ownership

Writing for the internet

Whenever you write something for a campaign, there are certain things you should bear in mind: you should write as clearly as possible, not use jargon, and develop a clear narrative.

There are additional rules for writing for the internet:

1.      Be succinct.  The internet is full of information, and you are competing with hundreds of thousands of articles and images that are published every day. You have only a few seconds at most to capture a reader’s attention and encourage them to read further.

2.      Use images. Always try to illustrate a story. Pictures communicate more quickly than words, and in the attention-deficit world of the internet, a strong image will encourage people to read on and find out more.

3.      Use strong headlines. A provocative or captivating headline will encourage readers to click a link to find out more. Be positive, though – using controversy as “clickbait” will just annoy people.

4.      Use a standfirst. A standfirst is a short description of an article that sums up what it is about, and why it is important. It comes just under the headline. Its purpose is to further engage the reader.

5.      Write informally. Generally, writing conventions online are less formal than in print. If appropriate, adopt a friendly, engaging style to tell you story.

And our own rule:

Stay positive! There is plenty of bad news out there to discourage activists. As much as possible, focus on positive stories of solidarity, of people standing up for themselves, and each other, and fighting back.

– This is an extract from the USi Social Media course.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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