Image source: Sean MacEntee on Flickr
We caught up with Nate Byer, Advocacy Strategist for Blue State Digital, a leading firm that’s worked on tons of large-scale digital advocacy programs for Sierra Club, Rockefeller Foundation, Freedom to Marry, Google and more. Here are some of their rules for the road.
Ad Council: What do you mean by a “people-first” digital strategy?
Nate Byer: People-first means holding ourselves accountable for designing an experience within the supporter’s context, not just our own. That can be tough, since internal teams and priorities can sometimes supersede supporters’. It’s our job to convey through data points and insights how supporters will most likely engage with us. And that’s why I love being a strategy director; I get to put myself in someone else’s shoes, think about their lives, online and off, and uncover what motivates them to take an action.
AC: When trying to engage online supporters, what are some common pitfalls nonprofits should avoid?
NB: Number 1, please don’t treat your supporters like an ATM. Digital can absolutely help you raise money from supporters (or drive advocacy action, of course), but I joined your community because I believe in your work and want to help. Tell me a story and ask me to share it, ask my opinion, show me why I matter. That’ll pay dividends down the line, especially at critical fundraising points or major advocacy moments.
Number 2, don’t do a damn thing online if it doesn’t contribute to your organization’s mission directly. The most successful nonprofits and advocacy organizations know exactly how digital contributes to their institutional goals. They don’t send emails or post on social without knowing the expected strategic value of that action. That perspective comes through to supports because, ya know, supporters are real people who want to know what they’re doing matters!
AC: What do you mean when BSD talks about designing digital “touchpoints” to mobilize supporters?
NB: One email or one Facebook post isn’t going to cut it. We’ve got to create a full experience for our target audiences, and to do that, we need to identify all the interesting ways we can engage our supporters. Email, Facebook, Twitter, video, banner and search ads, and with website content. These are all avenues we can walk down, and have to, if we want to
Image source: Elijah van der Giessen on Flickr
AC: How can nonprofits avoid “slacktivism” and ensure their online engagement is translating to action?
NB: Slacktivism is a myth! When people engage with you online, they are much more likely to take high-barrier actions in the future. If they don’t, it’s because the campaign needs improvement. Create compelling content that clearly communicates your perspective, focus on how your organization can add value to your supporters’ lives, and always use data to inform and guide your decisions. You have to trust that your supporters are smart, genuine people, but also appreciate that they’re busy and you’re not the most important relationship in their world. If your community is slacking, it means you have to think about how to better present your argument for why they should give you more of their time (i.e. refresh your value proposition and go back to the drawing board on a creative campaign).
AC: What’s a recent digital advocacy program you’ve seen that you thought was really smart and said “Gee, I wish we had done that?”
NB: I really like how The Guardian has approached data visualization around the issue of gun violence. The Counted is a visually arresting and uniquely structured website that engages interested parties with all the information they could want and is relatively easy to keep up-to-date. There is an inherent dignity to the design and the user experience: it doesn’t over-explain, but you immediately know what you’re looking at, and why it is important.