A ‘cut out and keep’ guide to online campaign movements

It’s been a huge week of online campaign movements.

But with all these campaign movements doing amazing things, it’s easy to get confused about each of their USPs. So here is my handy ‘cut out and keep’ guide.


Avaaz – www.avaaz.org

Announced today that it has over 13 million members, who’ve taken over 68 million actions since its formation in 2007.

Has a global remit and a very broad focus, but increasing seems to be looking at issues around human rights and democratic space in countries like Syria, Tibet and Burma as well as building campaigning movement in emerging economies like India and Brazil.

Doing amazing work to make the most of the metrics to ensure their actions have the biggest impact, and also fundraising significant sums from its community for its work but also to respond to humanitarian situations.

The Economist called it ‘“a town crier in the global village, a cross-border fraternity that strives to be seen, heard and heeded.”

38 Degrees – www.38degrees.org (see also Move On in the US and Get Up in Australia).

UK-based, in the last year it’s focused on a range of issues from tax dodging to the NHS Bill, energy prices to saving our forests.

Has over 800,000 members who have taken 4 millions actions since its launch in 2009

Makes great use of  legal opinion and press adverts to support its online campaign.

Has started to build a grassroots movement, but is often criticised by MPs for causing deluges of emails.

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Sum of Us – sumofus.org

Launched just a few weeks ago, but already generated an impressive 80,000 actions towards Apple and boast 200,000 members.

Sole focus on corporates, and sees itself as a ‘movement of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking with one voice to counterbalance the growing power of large corporations’

Trying to increase its impact by demonstrating those taking action are also consumers by asking people to indicate for example that they are ‘a iPhone user’ on their Apple ethical phone petition.

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All Out – allout.org

A global movement to advance the interests and rights of LGBT people, its grown to be community of more than 800,000 people in 190 countries.

Significant focus of its mobilisation is on countries where being LGBT is still a crime, mobilised over half a million around the world to stop the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda in summer 2011.

 

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350.org

Global movement on climate change. Name is linked to the need to reduce carbon emissions by under 350 parts per million to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Founded by Bill McKibben, a veteran environmental campaigner in 2007, committed to grassroots organizing as well as mass online action.

In October of 2009 they coordinated 5200 simultaneous rallies and demonstrations in 181 countries, which CNN called the ‘most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history’

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Change.org

A site for individuals to take action on whatever issues they choose, as well as providing a platform for organisations.

Over 5 millions people have taken action across 25,000 petitions. Rapidly growing worldwide.

Is able to provide advice to those individuals who set up online actions with dedicated support from a team of organisers to help with media, outreach and political engagement.

Structured as a for-profit but with the social mission of a nonprofit, expects to make $5 million in revenue in 2011.

I’d welcome suggestions of other movements that need to be added to the guide.

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The beginners guide to getting your email updates read

While I’m certainly not an expert in e-campaigning, occasionally in my role I get asked to share (or offer to share!) some thoughts about what makes an effective campaign email.

I did this last week while in Geneva with Micah Challenge campaigners from across Europe, or before Christmas with some inspiring campaigners involved in this campaign in Brazil work to stop the sexual exploitation of children during the 2014 World Cup. In both cases, the campaigns didn’t have huge budget or capacity, so they were looking for some simple and actionable ideas.

From working alongside some fantastic e-campaigners over the years I’ve picked up a few tops tips, so here are my top 5 thoughts about what makes a good campaign email. I’d welcome comments or links to other useful resources.

1 – Send your message at the right time – There is a whole bank of evidence about when emails are open and action and while I’m sure this is likely to differ a little from country to country and issue to issue, this research from Mail Chimp is a good place to start. They looked at the open rates for millions of emails and found that more messages were opened between 2-5pm and that midweek lead to the highest open rates, with the weekend, perhaps predictably the worse time.

2 – Opened emails are read emails – The reality is that if your email remains unopened in someones inbox its not going to lead to the action that you’d like to see. As such it’s key to think about the subject line that you use and the ‘from’ field.

Go for a subject line that intrigues the reader into open in but also let’s them know what to expect, and make your ‘from’ field from a real person not an organisation, even if you end up going for ‘Joe Bloggs (Make Poverty History)’ it making an effort toward greater personalisation.

3 – Be clear about what you want your email to achieve. To many email updates sent don’t have a clear objective to them, before you write it be clear what one thing you want to achieve from the message. There is a reason why organisations like Avaaz and 38 Degrees only ask you to do one thing in their email message, because they’ve found it’s likely to lead to a better response rate.

While making lots of different asks might make it sound like your campaign has got alot going on,  in reality the more choices you give people the more likely they’ll choose not to do any of them. They become paralysed by choice and overwhelmed by the options, so choose to do none.

4 – People scan read emails. Just like webpages, people interact with emails in very different ways to letters or printed documents, so big blocks of dense text aren’t likely to work. In general, people scan a message, so using short paragraphs, bold and underline is key to help people navigate around the email and understand what you’re asking them to do. (For more have a look at this evidence drawn from research into using eye-tracking software into how people read emails)

Try to make the ‘ask’ more than once in your message, and don’t forget that for some strange reason the ‘PS’ is one of the most read lines in any email, so make use of it!

5 – The metrics matter – The best way of knowing if people are actually reading or responding to your emails is to use a website like MailChimp or CharityeMailto send out your messages. They’ll  provide you with a user-friendly ‘dashboard’ of what people are actually doing with your messages by measuring open and click-through rates. Over time you’ll be able to build up a better picture of what your audience responds to and what they don’t.

An example of the MailChimp dashboard

If you’ve got the time invest in testing different subjects, from fields, etc. Sites like MailChimp make this easy to do, as well as taking the hard work out of managing your e-lists as they manage the subscribe/unsubscribe function.

I’m aware that I’m just skimming the surface of a vast bank of evidence, and haven’t even written about how to compose the content of a good action email (have a look at this for a good summary).

I know that a few e-campaigning gurus read this blog so I’d especially encourage them to comment or share other useful links.

(not) Five for Friday – Campaigns we’ve loved

A different ‘Five for Friday’ this week for two reasons – it’s got 10 links and they’re all from the same source!

A few weeks back during #ECF11 in Vienna, Weldon Kennedy (@weldonwk) from change.org featured 10 ‘campaigns we’ve loved’ on his twitter feed drawn from the discussions at the forum.

Here is the list in full, which is packed with some great example of creative and unexpected campaign, some are linked to changing policy, others aren’t, but they’ll all make you think, and many where suggested by campaigners working across Europe so you might not have come across them before.

1 – 1Goal’s 2 girls 2 lives

2 – Triodas takes over ticker tapes

3 – Google Chrome donate a word to UNICEF

4 – Tip-Ex Bear

5 – Slavery Footprint

6 Help de Oma

7 – Hivos subtitle a dictator

8 – The Uniform Project

9 – United Breaks Guitars

10 – Pink Ponies

With thanks to Weldon for letting me reproduce his list here.  What would you add to the list?

Lobbying the Lords….

A review of two excellent campaign tools focused on influencing members of the House of Lords.

Unlike their counterparts in the House of Commons, members of the House of Lords can be notoriously hard to campaign towards. There are over 800 of them, with some as regular attenders, while others who rarely turn up. Some are independent spirits, while others are still loyal to the parties that bestowed the peerage on the them.

But with the Health and Social Care Bill coming before the House of Lords later in the week, it’s been interesting to see how campaign organisations have been trying to target them. A couple of excellent tools have been launched to target Lords.

38 Degrees new 'Contact a Lord' tool

38 Degrees have developed a‘Contact a Lord’ tool with donations from members. It’s a tool that provides you, on production of your postcode and email address, with the contact details of a Lord to send a message to. I think it’s based on a similar function on the writetothem website and it’s a simple and user-friendly way of taking action, and I’m certain it’s providing a fuller inbox for Lords who aren’t traditionally used to receiving bulging postbags!

For me a couple of improvements could enhance its effectiveness in the future;

1. Be more specific and target those Lords who are likely to be wavering about how they might vote. I’ve used the system twice and ended up with former Chairmen of the Conservative Party, Lord Patten, who I’d imagine is unlikely not to vote the way that he’s being asked to. With greater political intelligence you could build a database to target the 50 or so most likely to be wavering and target them.
2. Make use of the Lords geographical loyalties. Although Lords don’t represent a geographical area, because of our ancient political system they’re all enobled to be ‘Lord of this place of that’. Often this is linked to a place that they have some link to, a former area they represented in Parliament, a place of birth, etc. It could be interesting if one production of your postcode you’d get the opportunity to message a Lord linked to where you live.

Some of the groups behind the #BlocktheBridge protests yesterday have also launched ‘Peer Pressure’ website. It provides a list of all Crossbench and Lib Dem MPs and their contact details. You’re encouraged to get in touch with them, although no tool do to this is provided, and then report back on if they’re likely to oppose the bill, using a ranking system.

Some excellent new tools have been launched to campaign towards the House of Lords

The site is trying to provide a more detailed picture of which Lords are likely to block the bill but the site doesn’t have much information yet, just 19 Lords (out of over 270) have been reported on, so it’s perhaps not reached enough people as yet. Perhaps a tie up with 38 Degrees would help with this?

Overall, both organisations are to be congratulated for developing such innovative tools to address a tricky campaigning problem. With the Lords becoming a popular target to modify bills coming from the Tory-led Coalition, I’m expecting that we’ll see more campaign tools like this in the coming year, and organisations would do well to learn from these examples.

What other campaigning towards the House of Lords has impressed you?

Astroturfing, 38 Degrees and MPs views of e-actions

Should we be concerned about Stephen Phillips MP writing to constituents in response to 38 Degrees last campaign to say that he will;

‘in the future not respond to campaigns run by what purports to be a, but what to is most evidently not, a non-political organisation’

Perhaps not, unless you work for 38 Degrees and even then I suspect that you’d think it’s good publicity. Although this tweet suggests that it’s not simply Philips who take this approach to 38 Degrees at the moment.

But Philips isn’t the first to complain, last summer we had another Conservative MP, Dominic Raab say;

‘there are hundreds of campaign groups like yours, and flooding MPs inboxes with pro-forma emails creates an undue administrative burden. I welcome anyone who feels strongly about AV writing to me in person – rather than copying an automated template’

While a few weeks ago Labour backbench, Steve Pound MP wrote in Tribune;

‘On any given day there will be between three and five campaigning bodies, trades unions or special interest groups encouraging their members and supporters to e-mail their MP – and woe betide the miserable Member who fails to reply by return’

Astroturfing - actions designed to give the appearance of a "grassroots" movement

It is of course easy to dismiss these MPs as a few grumpy MPs who simply need to get control of their inboxes, but are these the views of a growing majority?

If so, then I do think we need to worry as it could mean that e-actions to MP could rapidly become a blunt and ineffective campaign tool.

I’m not aware of any empirical evidence that exists about the views of MPs about e-actions, but anecdotally the MPs I’ve heard will tell you that they see e-actions as being less ‘influential’ as a handwritten letter, which itself is less ‘influential’ than a visit to a surgery (or similar).

I don’t think that this response of Philips means we should stop running e-actions to MPs, but I do wonder if as campaigners we need to work with the Speakers office and others within Parliament to help to identify a way of ensuring that those who take e-actions as a legitimate way of engaging in the democratic process aren’t ignored by MPs who simply think that these actions are a ‘nuisance’.

But it also highlights the importance of using other tools in our campaigning to demonstrate grassroots support, perhaps more interestingly is the description that Guido Fawkes used to describe 38 Degrees in his blog as a ‘left-wing astroturfing operation’.

Astroturfing being a term used in the US for a number of years to describe as ‘advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement’.

It’s of course unfair and unfounded to because one of the other tactics that 38 Degrees selected to use to campaign on the NHS Bill was to encourage the public in Lib Dem constituencies to phone their MPs, and they’ve also spent months building local groups to get behind the campaign.

But the impression that some see many of the e-actions we’re generating as a sector are coming from organisations that don’t have any ‘grassroots’ support behind them is a concern, especially if the majority of MPs start to view them in this way.

Perhaps if there is a lesson to take from all of this, it’s that tending to and building a ‘grassroots’ is as important as building a big mailing list to generate e-actions.

Do you agree? How much longer do you think e-actions to MP will remain effective?

Thoughts on the first week of epetitions.direct.gov.uk

It’s a week since the Government launched its e-petition website, so what have we learnt from the first 7 days?

Update 12/8 – 1,806 petitions have been added in the sites first week, of those 152 have gained only 1 signature and only 28 have gained more the 1,000. 

1 – The site can’t cope with surges in traffic.
It was perhaps to be expected that the site would go down on the first day, indeed it’s almost a tradition for new government sites which have all failed to anticipate the number of people visiting. But it’s also been down for much of today (Wednesday) as people have surged to sign a petition to remove benefits from those convicted of rioting in London which has gained over 79,000 signatures very quickly. I’d be concerned that the site wouldn’t be able to cope if an organisation with big mailing list asked its supporters to take action by signing a petition.

The e-petition site has struggled to cope with surges in traffic to it

2 – The social media integration isn’t that bad…
Each petition page has buttons that allow you to broadcast the petition via twitter, Facebook and Linkedin which is good to see, but as Pete Taylor points out that site could have gone much further suggesting designed shouldbuild out the e-petition system as an API – an ‘API’ allows other pieces of software to access a system….organisations could feature the petitions on their websites and recruit activists to their own email and supporter databases at the same time’

3 – But finding a petition could be much easier
One of the most disappointing aspect of the site is the homepage, which list the petitions by most recent one put up as a default option and provides two other options which allow you to sort by title and number of signatures. The search function is satisfactory, and they’re also listed by department but it would have been nice to see other ways of finding petitions, and perhaps details of the latest, most signed and most signed in the last 24 hours detailed on the home page.

4 – It’s social media that’s driving traffic to the site.
Last Thursday was a great case study for this. The petition to bring back capital punishment, which had been championed by blogger Guido Fawkes was heavily trailed in the newspaper and TV but by the end of the day it’d only got 3,000 signatures.

Contrast that to a counter petition to retain the ban on capital punishment which was promoted almost exclusively on twitter until Newsnight covered it which got 6,000 in the first day. A week later it’s still well ahead of the supposedly ‘higher profile’ petition. Similarly, it looks like much of the traffic to the London rioting petition has come from Facebook/Twitter as the media hasn’t been interested in covering it, bit.ly suggests that its been shared over 65,000 times on Facebook.

5 – Those behind it are more agile than expected.
I wrote last week that one of my concerns was that it’d take 7 days for petitions to be approved, which would make it hard for petitions to capitalise on what’s happening in the media. Given that the first report of recent events in London came through on Saturday night, the London rioting petition shows that it’s possible for those working on it to turn around petitions quicker than that.

6 – I’m already a little bored of it.
As I write the top petitions are on very similar subjects to those that were around on the No10 petition site, it’s almost predictable and as yet it doesn’t seem to have generated any interesting new ideas for Parliament to debate.

This is perhaps in part down to the format that requires any petition to get over the 100,000 signature threshold, which means many campaigns will feel that they can’t make target but also the lack of flexibility in the system. I’m expecting some media coverage of the first petition that makes it over the 100,000 line and the first to be debated, but after that I’m not sure how much interest its going to generate.

What are your thoughts or reflections from the first week of the e-petition site? 

Should we get excited about the e-petition site?

Thursday will see the first petitions go live on the Governments new e-petition website (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/index.html) which is designed to replace the No10 Petition site that was closed after the last election. On the new site any petition that gets over 100,000 names on it ‘could’ be debated in Parliament. I’ve written a separate post here about how to set up a petition.

Undoubtedly it’ll get some coverage in the coming days as the first few petitions go live and reach the target, blogger Guido Fawkes has already launched a campaign for a vote on reintroducing capital punishment and I’m sure he’ll be the first to get over 100,000 names.

Overall the 100,000 target seems appropriate, although only 8 petition on the old No10 site achieved this. My work on campaign totals suggest that no campaigns in the last 12 months managed to achieve that target, but the numbers that campaign groups like 38 Degrees have been mobilising recently shows that its possible for any organisation that put effort into achieving it.

After over a year of waiting for the new e-petition it appears that we’ve lost a certain amount of transparency.

The old system allowed you to view a list of those who’d signed up and also saw that most petitions that generated a significant number of actions got a response from the relevant department, something that at present it doesn’t look like this will happen with the new site.

The main gain is the opportunity to have the issue debated in Parliament if you reach the 100,000 target, but for me that seems to be about it.

Time will tell how it’ll work out. I’ve written before about why I was pleased to see the closure of the old site, but here are a few early thoughts on the approach that’s being taken;

1. Too Long – Campaigning is increasingly about agility so indicating that petitions will take 7 days to be approved by government departments is going to slow things down and make it hard for organisations to capitalise on public concern about an issue that is in the media.

2. Engaging citizens – It’s a shame that the overhaul of the system hasn’t allowed for more thought to be put in about different ways that individuals could sign the petition. The European Union announced a similar (albeit more bureaucratic) process earlier this year, which allowed citizens to submit their names in a number of different formats rather than requiring everyone to get to a computer (and have an email address).

3. Preventing abuse – The eDemocracy blog suggests that it’s not been possible to provide a system to verify that those signing are from the UK or avoid people add multiple signatures. I accept that this would add another layer of complexity (and cost) but if this is a serious attempt to open up the political debate should more thought been put into this?

4. Control – I’m concerned about the fact that you can opt-in to get a response to the government, but not provision is being made to those who set up the petition to contact those who have signed. I’m not clear what most campaigning organisations have to gain from using a system like this.

5. Scale – While 100,000 is probably the right number for a nationwide petition, it seems a shame an option hasn’t been made for petitions on local issues or concern where getting the current target might be impossible. For example, it’d be nice to have seen the option for 25,000 signatures from a county/constituency on a local issue to lead to debate.

6. Outcome – Say you’ve done all the hard work and got 100,000 people to sign the petition, what do you get from it? A debate in Parliament, it’s not clear if the debate will lead to a vote, or simply a debate similar to the format of a Westminster Hall debate, where a minister is required to respond.

If it’s the latter then is a strategy of engaging interested MPs more effective, while those organisations looking to introduce new legislation would do as well to engage MPs who do well in the Private Members Bill ballot.

As one backbench Conservative MP noted“This scheme is a gimmick. It is vacuous and meaningless. The Government already ignores debates and motions in Parliament that are inspired by backbench MPs. So what notice are they going to take of debates forced by petitions? “

Will you be making use of the e-petition site? Is it a helpful contribution to campaigning?