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The Engagement Opportunity for Online Advocacy Communities

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on April 15, 2015 at 9:35 AM

Our guest blogger Carole Mahoney is passionate about inbound and engagement and has 15 years of experience working with commercial and nonprofit organizations, to determine how their buyers and audiences want to engage online, execute a content strategy to attract the right people at the right time, and measure results against real business goals. She is currently writing her first book, "Ingagements," to share the real world stories of how small organizations can grow and scale using an inbound engagement approach.

When people talk about engagement as some type of metaphysical aspect of life that is intangible, I have to disagree. Just like the value of something is only determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, so is engagement. Engagement matters because it creates the results we want.

The 2014 M&R Benchmark Report showed the email engagement rate on advocacy issues is up to 625% higher than other activities, like fundraising or newsletters. That might be because advocacy issues directly impact how people live and work. But is email the only way to engage people in advocacy?

People are looking to organizations they trust and others like them to learn more about legislation that will impact their daily lives and businesses. They also want their voices to be heard more than just voting every few years.

And those organizations that monitor and track legislation because of its impact on how they, or their members, live and do business do so because at some point, they are going to need to engage their members, employees or constituents to take action.

Why are grassroots advocacy campaigns so difficult if both organizations and individuals want to take action, especially in today's connected world of social media and email? If advocacy success is all about engagement, and communities are all about engagement around common topics, mindsets and beliefs, why aren't there more online advocacy communities?

The Connection Between Online Communities and Grassroots Advocacy

It used to be that advocacy meant rallies, meetings with high-ranking officials, or letter campaigns. I'm not saying these things are not still important as part of an advocacy strategy. But I am saying that there is more to it today.

When we start talking about advocacy in the context of engagement, the importance of grassroots advocacy can be understood. If you educate and inspire people, they will educate and inspire others. When that happens, naturally they want to do something. Just educating clearly isn't enough. Organizations must make taking the next step obvious and easy for community members. Otherwise, they won't get the results they worked so hard to achieve.

The whole point of a community is to create a safe place for engagement. The purpose of engagement is to inspire action! Grassroots advocacy is the actions of individuals.

The Three Challenges of Online Advocacy Communities

First, before you can figure out how to increase member engagement and implement your advocacy strategy with an online advocacy community, you have to understand how the community falls in line with both your organization's and your members' objectives.

Next, some try creating an online community using public resources like LinkedIn or Facebook groups. But when it comes to talking about important and sometimes personal, sensitive issues, people might not want those who can't understand their perspectives to know what they think. Not everyone wants others to know who they voted for - that's why they still have curtains on voting booths. Privacy is important. Not only that, but the more clicks and pages it takes to engage, the less likely people will.

Finally, if you grew up in a small town as I did, you know privacy within that small town community is rare. Everyone knows everyone, and so if transparency isn't a part of your organizational goal, then don't create a community.

Learn more about how online advocacy communities can help you increase member engagement and impact legislation during Votility's webinar with Higher Logic on Tuesday, April 28: Member Engagement with Online Advocacy Communities.

Topics: Associations, Member Engagement, Customer Advocacy

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