Online campaigning: avoid the “accruing worthless mass” temptation

September 15, 2010

Eurotypes – myself included – have often cited Oneseat as an example of a successful online campaign. It was (is) in a sense: it drummed up support for a popular cause to the tune of 1.2 million people signing a petition to have the European Parliament’s seat in Brussels only. What’s next? Not sure.

That’s one issue with the web: it’s just too easy. Tick a box and send an email – hey presto – you’ve lent your support to a worthy cause and mobilised your peers. But as with so much else online, the question is: so what? In truth, not much (usually.)

For this reason, campaigners should avoid the worthless mass temptation when seeking to mobilise people online in order to help drive meaningful political change: what’s important is what the figures mean, not how many zeroes they contain.

In a presentation I recently saw by Clay Shirky, author of multiple bestsellers on the web (look him up on YouTube and Amazon: highly recommended), he rightly states that you need to make people DO something that actually requires some effort. Just ticking a box may provide people with a warm fuzzy sense of having done their good deed for the day, but the fact of the matter is, it’s too easy and won’t usually carry any clout. If you’re trying to institute meaningful change through the actions of many, they’ll need to do something more.

Like what? Not just “tick this box to send an automated email to your parliamentarian” but writing a heartfelt personalised email/letter including quotes, photos, videos. Not just following a stream of content but contributing to it. Not just connecting to people in an online community but organising offline meet-ups. And so forth.

Your job as a communicator/campaigner? Provide the means and the encouragement, but make your audience do most of the hard work.

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