This post is a guide for people who want to get involved with campaigning or start their own campaign, with a focus on utilising social media. Cyclenation have a guide to help people run a local group which focusses on more old-school campaigning and is worth a read - the best campaigns do both effectively. Also, the CTC are offering campaigner training and general campaigning advice can be found at campaigncentral.org.uk.
Why social media?
With social media it's possible for anyone to campaign, from re-tweeting messages to organising a protest. It enables people to make a difference even if they just have an hour or two a week. Small groups of dedicated people are able to run effective and successful campaigns which can reach decision makers & the media, raise public awareness and make a difference.
If you don't have much time to spend you can help by spreading the word about campaigns, respond to consultations & join/support an established group. If you have more time you might want to help run an existing group or start your own. Many older groups don't use social media effectively, if you use social media regularly, running that aspect for an existing campaign can really boost their support & effectiveness.
Social media has two different main uses: discussion & coordination between members of the group and communicating with people outside the group. Different platforms (Facebook pages/groups, Twitter etc.) sit on different parts of the spectrum between internal conversations & engaging with the public.
Social media 1: Building a group
To build a group & work together you will need a place to have your internal discussions. Traditionally this has been monthly meetings, but using social media the platforms best for this are:
Social media 2: Spreading the message
The best platforms for engaging with people & reaching new supporters are:
- Twitter - the most democratic platform.
- Facebook - via a Facebook page or from your personal profile.
- Blogs (and websites) are a great way to present detailed information about your cause & can serve as a resource for campaigners as well as a showcase for your campaign. Most also enable visitors to leave comments and sign up for updates.
- Google+ - everyone with a Google account has access however except for via YouTube and Blogger not many people use Google+.
How to: Build a campaign on social media
With so many platforms it can be difficult to know where to start - you certainly don't need to be on all of them (at least in the beginning). If you or your supporters are already using platforms regularly it's best to start with what you know. A good way to cover the bases & spread the work is to find supporters to take charge of each channel - typically Facebook, Twitter and blog/website leads.
Setting up a campaign might involve the following:
- Create a platform on which to build the group (see above) - the choice of which will be driven by what your supporters are using already or prefer.
- Create a website in the form of a blog. For those starting out I would suggest creating a simple blog on Blogger (like this one). If you know what you're doing Wordpress is versatile & can look extremely professional (but for beginners can be problematic, time consuming & look poor).
- Create either a Facebook page, a twitter account or preferably both!
- Use twitterfeed.com to link your blog to your facebook/twitter so when you publish a new post it is automatically shared across your platforms. In this way you can use the blog as the centre of your campaign and reach all your followers.
- Put links to your twitter or facebook on your blog.
- Fill out all the profile information, come up with a common profile picture etc.
- Get everyone to share the new accounts & website with their contacts so you get some followers.
In order to build engagement try to share as much as you can. The downside of having an email group is that no one will see the conversation you're having and want to get involved - where you can try to get your supporters to comment on the blog or on facebook instead. It will also make your page look more popular & relevant to people who visit.
Effective campaigns are about supporters, press coverage, engaging decision makers, but mostly getting results. There isn't a magic bullet, you will probably need to use several different approaches, perseverance is key and don't worry if one thing doesn't work.
Here are some ideas:
- You will need to keep in the loop with related & nearby campaigns. A good start is to search Twitter, Facebook and the internet for groups, email lists, campaigns and potential supporters.
- Write letters/emails to decision makers, answer consultations and attend meetings with politicians - many of them don't get much lobbying so this can be effective.
- Put up posters or give out flyers in places potential supporters are likely to be found - for instance local bike shops.
- Stage an event or protest (maybe a cycle ride). This can also be a good way to gather supporters and publicise your group. If you're on Facebook create an event for people to sign up to.
- Start a petition, for instance with 38degrees (or others)! It's not just about collecting signatures you also need deliver the petition to the decision maker & check they follow through.
- Contact the local press with details and a photo opportunity from your protest/petition and you can often get in the paper.
- Don't give up! It can take a long time to get a campaign moving but you'll be picking up contacts supporters and knowledge all the time. You never know when a contact or speculative enquiry will come good, sometimes months after you contacted them.
Links to check out:
- spaceforcycling.org/uk/ has links to campaigns around the UK.
- London Cycling Campaign local groups - some of these have few active members so anyone wanting to get involved can make a real difference. LCC local groups are crucial for putting pressure on the borough councils.
- Stop Killing Cyclists is a campaign group started in London with a nationwide stopthekilling.org.uk campaign to reform our roads.
- The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain promotes best practice from the Netherlands & Denmark.
- Cyclenation supports local campaign groups across the country.
Note: This post is based on my experience with stopkillingcyclists.org a group which was started, and mainly operates, via social media. This approach won't work for all groups but I hope you've found some useful suggestions & ideas.