6. Where Will You Say It?Identifying the Best Platform
There are dozens of ways of communicating with people, and all have their own pros and cons. Print media reaches a large audience, but the message cannot be tailored to specific audiences. It also tends to skew toward an older and literate audience. Radio is a great option for reaching people with low literacy, but the audience must fall within broadcasting range. Broadcast media (TV) reaches large audiences, but it may be difficult to get coverage, advertisements may be expensive, or the gatekeepers might be hostile to your cause. Social media allows for one-on-one interactions and wider discussions, but skews younger and for those with internet access or smartphones. Door-to-door contact can be individually targeted and highly persuasive, but it is time consuming and may be viewed with suspicion in some neighborhoods or contexts.
Depending on your goals and audiences, some tools and platforms are better than others, and their strengths and weaknesses are important to take into account when planning how you’ll deliver your messages. Whatever you choose, be sure it will reach your target audiences with maximum impact.
Your organizational website is the place that interested people will come looking for information about your mission, work, activities, and how they can get involved to support your cause. Your website is often the way you present your organization to the digital world, and it should be designed and maintained with that in mind.
People arriving at your website should have an immediate sense of both the work of the organization and its “personality.” Is the organization tech-focused? Focused on people? Serious or humorous? Experts or novices? All of these answers will be reflected in both the design and content of the site.
If you’re organization does not currently have a website, the following are initial steps and ideas to consider:
- What do you need your website to convey and to whom? Most people will spend less than 10 seconds on your website – what do you want them to learn or do in that 10 seconds? Make the most important or most requested information easy to find and access. For example, if you are trying to boost your credibility or make your expertise clear, how will you present yourself as professionals and experts in both the design and content you choose to present?
- Look at websites of similar groups – in your country or abroad. What do you like and dislike about those sites? What does the design and content say about their values, work, and mission? How can you tell that they are credible experts? What content do they prioritize and what do they make hard to find?
- Look at other popular websites from fields unrelated to yours. Civil society organizations can learn a lot by studying the ways that business or media sites are set up – groups with more resources that spend a lot of time and effort examining usage analytics and honing their websites in response. Ask yourself those same questions about the other sites – what do you like and dislike? How do the design and content work together to convey values, work, and mission? How do they lay out their information so it’s easy to access and draws in the audience so they spend more time on the site?
- Design your website based on what you know about your target audiences and what you learned from researching other websites. Websites can range from the very simple to the very complex. There is no single best practice for websites; instead the complexity, look, feel, and function should all be decided based on who you are trying to reach and what you want to say to them. If you decide that you need a simple landing page without much more than a mission statement and a mechanism to collect emails, you can likely design that yourself using any number of free or cheap tools. If you need a very complex site with lots of information, multimedia integration, and complex logic, you may need to hire an experienced web developer.
- Consider the security and sustainability of your website. Consult with technical professionals to ensure you are making website design and development decisions that will allow your organization to maintain the availability and integrity of its site. A website that is hacked, taken down, or poorly maintained can have a negative impact on your organization and its reputation. Even if you are working with an external web developer for the initial build of your website, it is important to ensure that it is designed in a way that your organization can maintain over time and that you have an in-house technical expert(s) who can be responsible for updating the website after it is completed. Your organization should ensure that any decisions taken about the level of complexity, programming language and/or platform to use for web development is one that these in-house experts will be able to easily utilize to make any needed modifications or updates after the site is delivered.
If your organization already has a website, you should still review if its design and content meets your goals. This includes:
- Evaluate it critically. Does the homepage immediately convey the most important information? Do the design elements reflect your current branding and convey the tone and personality of your organization? Is the site’s messaging aligned with your frame and topline message? Is it easy to find the information most critical to your audiences? Has the website been updated with the most recent statements, photos, and content? How does your site look when accessed in the ways your audience is most likely to access it (i.e. mobile or desktop, internet speed, etc.)? Do all the links work? Are other design elements wonky or broken? Is it accessible to those with visual or hearing impairments?
- Protect your website from trolls, viruses, hackers, or other harmful actors. Make sure your site has a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to encrypt any data sent and received by users to your site (such as personal details submitted via contact forms or credit card information, if you accept payments to your site). If you are concerned about adversaries taking down your website via a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS), consider setting up advanced protection through products such as Cloudflare or Google’s Project Shield.
- Look at your Google Analytics. (See next section if you have not yet set up Google Analytics on your website). How are people traveling through the site? What pages are most popular and does that match with the content you want to prioritize? What pages are people exiting the site from most often? How long are people staying on the site? What kind of devices or internet browsers are they using to access your site?
- Make adjustments as needed. After examining all the data and answering the questions posed above, you may find that you only need to make just a few minor changes to your site to ensure it is accomplishing your goals. Or, you may need to make substantial changes or redesign it altogether. That can feel daunting, but if your website does not reflect your mission and isn’t set up to help you achieve your goals, it is worth the time and effort to correct it.
Ensure that your website adheres to the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and any other such international requirements that are in effect.
As you’re designing or redesigning your website, keep in mind that you’ll need to keep it up-to-date and have a realistic plan for who will conduct maintenance and how they’ll do it. If you have limited staff time and resources, do not include a feature that needs to be updated daily. If your staff has a low technical expertise, do not choose a web platform that requires a lot of technical expertise to maintain.
Once you have a website that you are proud of and that conveys exactly what you want it to convey, you have to get people to visit it. Just building it and putting it live does not mean people will find it or go to it. Think about how you will drive traffic to your website. Some ideas include:
- Tell people. Email your list and tell them to visit your website. Post the link to social media. Include it on your printed materials. If you are being interviewed in the media, always include your web address for how people can learn more about you.
- Update your site frequently with relevant information. Having new content that is relevant to your work will help your search rankings and help people find your site when they search for it.
- Pay for advertising. Google Ads will place your website at the top of the list for relevant searches of keywords you choose. This is a great way to find new audiences that are interested in your work and content at exactly the time they are most interested in it. If you cannot afford Google Ads, you may be able to qualify for a Google grant depending on the mission and work of your organization. You can also consider ad networks or social media ads, where you can advertise your website to audiences based on demographics or interests or even specific email addresses, which can be useful when you are trying to expose your work to specific target audiences.
Often, the best emails are short and eye-catching. If you are doing outreach to a small group of influentials or to an individual, be sure to personalize your emails and keep them short to ensure they’re read. Be clear if you are asking for a response or action and how your recipients can carry that out. Put the ask as close to the top of your email as you can so people skimming through quickly see what you’re asking of them.
If you have the design capability to include graphics or gifs in your email, do it (unless it takes away from your message). Whenever possible do not include an attached document - summarize the findings of the document in the body of the email and then post a link to the full report as posted on your website. This avoids your email from being labeled as spam and you will also get data on who clicked through the email, how much time they spent on the landing page, and other important metrics.
Unlike the content you post to social media, email is not regulated by an algorithm. Everyone that you send an email to will receive it and have the opportunity to open and engage with it. This lack of gatekeeping is powerful, and organizations often rely on email if social media algorithms are keeping important content from their audiences. However, this strategy does rely on a strong email list. Think through how you plan to build your list, where those addresses will come from, how much money or time you can devote to paid list growth (if any), and how you will replenish your (inevitable) unsubscribers. When building your list, be intentional that those people on your list are from your target audiences and that your email strategy is in service to meeting your communications goals.
There are a number of free or cheap mass email systems you can use that also give good data on open rates, click through rates, and unsubscribe rates, so you can learn from your email blasts and continue to improve your content and tone. Those mass email platforms will also allow you to personalize blast emails – an effective tactic for higher open and engagement rates. By adding the person’s first name into the email text, or other custom fields like polling place, local legislator, or electoral district number, your email recipients will feel a personal connection to your organization and receive necessary information without extra steps.
Develop and update an email security plan. Be sure you are using an email provider that offers two-factor authentication to prevent hacking of your organization’s email accounts. Require staff to use strong, complex passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Passwords should be changed periodically. Emails that contain sensitive information about your work or contain personally identifiable information (PII) may require additional security considerations.
Closed Messaging Services
Even those who don’t have reliable internet access or don’t use social media will likely be able to send and receive SMS messages. This can be a powerful platform for communicating with people who are otherwise hard to reach. As with email, the strength of your SMS program relies on the strength of your list. How will you collect and securely store phone numbers and have people opt-in to receiving SMS messages?
You can ask people to give their mobile numbers when they sign in at events, press conferences, and donor meetings, when they sign up on your website, or as an action in an email or social media post. You can also create opt-in, public groups or channels on WhatsApp or Telegram where people can find you and request updates by SMS message. Ensure that any PII is stored securely and in accordance with local data protection laws. If possible, use an encrypted cloud-based service such as GSuite or Microsoft365, rather than a local server, to securely store data.
SMS is immediate and intimate in a way that other forms of communication are not. It can be a useful tool for fast and frequent updates such as on election day. It is also good for rapid responses – if you need people to turn out to an event that day or push back against disinformation quickly, you’ll be glad you took the time to build a robust SMS program. Platforms like Hustle also allow you to send out personalized mass SMS messages. Much like with emails, your audience is more likely to respond positively to customized messaging and responses.
If the contents of your communications are sensitive, though, keep in mind that SMS is not a secure communication tool. For sensitive communications, opt instead for an end-to-end encrypted messaging service like WhatsApp or Signal. Keep in mind that WhatsApp has a limit on the number of participants in each group. These kinds of private messaging applications facilitate peer-to-peer messaging and organized message groups to help you expand your reach and create a more engaged community. For example, if your organization is not well known or has not yet built up trust with your audience, but you have recruited a dedicated group of supporters or volunteers, you can set them up with the tools and messages to reach out to their own contacts and networks to engage and activate others. This is a powerful way to increase your reach and engagement because the messenger is already trusted and has influence over their peer group, so you don’t have to start by building that trust and influence yourself.
Contact Management for Email and Mobile Numbers
You’ll need to keep track of your contacts. The way you manage contacts will depend on the size and details of your list. If your list is very small, you can probably maintain it on a spreadsheet that contains relevant information like names, organizational affiliation, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and notes. Keep in mind some users may have multiple phone numbers. Be sure to limit access to this data to only necessary users, and store it on a secure, password-protected platform.
If your lists contain more than 200 contacts, you’ll want to use a contact management database that allows you to easily email or text your members, and track, search, and segment by any relevant activities, key words, types of organizations, addresses, and more.
Common contact management platforms (sometimes called a CRM for customer relationship manager) include but are not limited to CiviCRM, Constant Contact, MailChimp, NationBuilder, Action Network, and others. Such platforms vary in price based on how many contacts you plan to store, whether you plan to contact people by email and/or SMS, whether you need to integrate sign up forms into your website, what data you hope to track, and other factors. As you decide on what CRM to use, be sure to plan ahead for growth of your communications program and ask about capacity and features that you may need a year or two from now, not just your immediate needs. Also be sure to consider the security of the platform, and protect any CRM accounts with long, complex passwords and two factor authentication.
Social media’s biggest distinguishing factor is its ability for two-way communication. You aren’t just pushing things out in one direction as you are with broadcast media or a website, but people have the ability to engage with you and your content. This can be both an advantage and disadvantage, and you should weigh the risks of people responding to your content negatively against the benefits of positive reach, engagement, sharing, and collaboration.
Because of the growing use and reach of social media among many audiences, you will likely find it worth it to have a presence on at least one platform. However, you should have a plan in place to combat trolls or bad actors who find and engage negatively with your content on social media. (See Chapter 9 on crisis communications for more information about planning for bad actors.) You should also take steps to secure all social media accounts to prevent hacking from potential adversaries. This includes requiring the use of two-factor authentication, enforcing use of strong passwords, limiting the number of account users with administrative privileges, and establishing a system for quickly removing account access for those who leave the organization.
Depending on what region of the world you are working in, Facebook is the most likely place you’ll want to spend your time, based on its widespread use globally. Facebook has both pages and groups, and you can use either based on what you are trying to accomplish.
Groups can be open or closed, moderated or not. Think through what you’ll use the group for and what the privacy settings should be before you start a group. Do you trust people to post content without a moderator? Can group members invite new members themselves? Should the group’s content be visible to the public or only to group members? Each answer will have an impact on content, reach, engagement, and safety of group members, and those decisions should be made based on both your strategy and the external environment you are operating within. Facebook groups tend to feel more informal and intimate, and are often much more interactive. Group members can post or submit their own content to share, and Facebook will prioritize group content in members’ feeds and alerts.
If you decide to create a Facebook page for your organization instead of or in addition to a group, you will be the sole publisher of that content. Facebook shows your content to a fraction of your followers based on its ever-changing algorithm, and it can be hard to deduce exactly what will have wide reach or strong engagement. For that reason, it’s important to be nimble and creative with your Facebook content, and responsive to what the data and analytics tell you (see next section). The kind of content that succeeds on Facebook might not be what you’d expect or even what you would prefer. But keep trying n new ways of presenting your information until you find what works. Remember to stay on message even as you experiment with content – if your content has wide reach and engagement but is off message, you haven’t actually helped your cause or your progress toward your goals.
Facebook accommodates text, links, images, and video. It excels in particular at visual content – pictures and photo albums, graphics and infographics, produced or live video. When planning your Facebook strategy be sure to include lots of visual content. If your group operates in a closing or closed political environment, however, make sure to use caution when posting videos and/or photos of people and whether it might expose them to security risks, such as intimidation, harassment, or retribution.
Pay attention to the types and messages of the content that gets the most engagement (likes, comments, and shares). Track it over time to see what content your audience responds to.
You can also try posting several versions or presentations of the same data. Because only a fraction of your followers will see a given post, you don’t risk them seeing the same thing many times, but you gain valuable insights about which graphic or type of presentation gets the most engagement and understanding from your audience, and you can model future content on what you learn.
Facebook tends to prioritize content that spurs comments and dialogue, showing it to more people in their newsfeeds. To encourage people to comment and engage, reply to questions or engage with commenters – when they are commenting in good faith. If you get the sense that commenters are fake, bots, or repeating talking points designed to harm your credibility, you may want to hide or block those accounts. Otherwise, if people come to your page with honest questions or misunderstandings, take the time to reply and engage them in dialogue. This will not only help to educate people about your work and mission, but people like to be heard and know that there is a real person behind the organizational presence.
There are many other social media platforms you may want to consider in your communications planning, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Reddit, and Tumblr. Each highlight a certain kind of content or interaction, but also have specific and limited audiences and penetration within each country or region. For instance, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram are particularly effective in curating photo and video content, and can be used for collecting evidence of electoral manipulation from everyday citizens (crowdsourcing), trained observers or citizen journalists. For tips on producing compelling video content, please refer to Chapter 5.
Be mindful that each additional platform you add to your communications plan means more time and resources spent creating content for that platform, and more accounts that must be protected from potential hacking by adversaries. If you have limited staff capacity, you should focus on the platform or platforms that most directly speak to your target audiences and help you achieve your goals. Do not waste time or resources creating content for a platform that doesn’t help you achieve your goals or reach your targeted audiences, especially at the expense of spending more time on a platform that does.
No matter what platform(s) you decide to invest time in, be strategic about what content you can re-post or repurpose for those platforms. While each social network does have its own unique community, norms, and strengths, there will be some content that is appropriate for multiple platforms.
While content and communities may vary from network to network, all social media is social. Don’t just post and walk away. Like with Facebook, monitor comments and reactions and interact with people who are genuine in their questions or dialogue. Follow relevant accounts, share or repost interesting content from followers or influencers, and demonstrate the ‘personality’ of the organization and that it is run by real people who are ready to engage with followers.
Planning and Scheduling Social Content
As mentioned, the more platforms you add to your communications plan, the more time it will take to create, publish, and monitor content. This process can be made easier and more efficient by implementing editorial calendars and using some free or paid services to schedule content to publish.
An editorial calendar enables organizations to schedule and track content production and publishing. It will include internal deadlines for drafting and finalizing different content, a publishing schedule, and any themes or narrative arcs you want to reinforce over time. Depending on how much content you’re producing and how complicated the production and approval process, you might use a paper calendar, an Excel or Google spreadsheet, or more sophisticated project management software to create an editorial calendar.
Start building your editorial calendar by looking at the duration of your campaign (or, if your campaign is ongoing with no clear end, three months into the future). Are there any natural milestones or events that you want to build communications around? Is there a voter registration deadline, candidate debate, organizational event, election day, etc. for which you will want to create promotional, day-of, and post-facto content? By anchoring your communications calendar to clear events or dates, you’ll start to see what you need to create and publish, and when.
With the time in between major events, you can make some choices about what types or themes of content you want to post. If your goal is to raise awareness of what a PVT is and your audiences don’t have much sense of how it works or why it should be trusted, you may want to dedicate two weeks when not much else is happening to creating and posting content entirely about the different aspects of a PVT. Graphics with facts about the principles of a PVT, an infographic on the process, three short explanatory videos, photos of election observers from past PVTs, and a Facebook Live Q&A where people can ask questions and get easy answers are some examples of content you might want to schedule and prepare for those two weeks.
When mapping out your upcoming content on your editorial calendar, plan out the frequency of content you’ll post based on norms of the platforms you’re targeting. Maybe you’ll plan to send two blast emails a week, three blast text messages a week, and post to Facebook twice a day. That will help you create and/or assign the content in advance.
Once you know in advance what content and products you’ll be creating and posting, you can start working on them right away. Sometimes you may need to leave some parts blank until right before the content is scheduled to run so that it can include timely data, but you can still work on the layouts, templates, and outlines of much of your content in advance. When it’s ready, you can also load and schedule content to publish in advance on most platforms. Facebook allows you to schedule page and group posts, and you can also schedule tweets to publish through apps like TweetDeck or HootSuite. You can also schedule blast emails to send at a specified time through most CRM or blast email programs. Scheduling content to post can also be useful if your analytics show that your audiences tend to be online at times when you are not – late at night or on weekends, for example.
Be sure to build in some flexibility in case there is breaking news to which you need to respond. While an editorial calendar is a useful tool for planning ahead, it can be reworked if circumstances change. If the election gets moved up or your organization is under attack, you’ll need to change your editorial calendar – not continue as though nothing has changed. Be careful with scheduled content. If you have a lot of content pre-loaded to publish, you can risk looking out of touch if circumstances change and your content auto-publishes anyway.
Earned Media and Press Conferences
Earned media is any media coverage you get because of something you’ve done that is newsworthy. (The opposite of earned media is paid media.) One big benefit of earned media is that it’s free. The downside is you can’t control the content.
You should pursue an earned media strategy only if you think you can receive fair or friendly coverage. For example, focusing on an earned media strategy may be futile or counterproductive for those working in closed spaces where the national media is controlled or tightly restricted by the state. In these contexts, you may not want to pursue earned media, or your focus on earned media may be very narrow and targeted to a few, more independent outlets. In addition, you may seek to develop strong relationships with international press covering your country, who may be more open to fair coverage and more likely to cover your work and issues. Regardless of whether you focus on earned media, you should have a crisis communications plan in place for how you’ll deal with unfriendly or negative press coverage (see Crisis Communications section).
If you do decide to pursue earned media, you can’t just hold a press conference and hope that people come and cover your event or findings favorably. Earned media depends in large part on relationship building with reporters, and that takes time.
Reporters need to see you as a trusted and reliable source with relevant expertise. To get to that point, you’ll need to do targeted and personalized outreach to reporters. Start by researching which outlets you want to prioritize. Again, this will depend on your goals and audiences – what outlets do they trust? Which do they turn to? Which outlets have the audiences you hope to reach? Which ones do you trust to cover your organization and work fairly? Once you have that list, do some research on which reporters within the outlets specifically cover your issue. Email them and introduce yourself and your organization. Explain how you can be helpful to them and their work. Offer to meet with them to answer their questions or provide background on issues on which you have a unique perspective or specific expertise. Over time, email them interesting leads and scoops or offer to be quoted or interviewed for stories as they emerge.
The goal is to build a relationship of respect and trust, so that the reporter knows that you can help them better perform their job. Nurturing those relationships will help you get quoted and interviewed more often. Then, when you have a genuinely newsworthy event (like a PVT, campaign, or other effort), those journalists will be more likely to cover it.
These same strategies can also be applied to members of nontraditional media. Your goals may require that you include bloggers, podcast hosts, YouTube stars, comedians, and/or social media influencers into your earned media strategy. Engaging such actors may also require sustained, trusted, one-on-one outreach. Members of the nontraditional media still want to provide popular, interesting, and relevant content to their audiences, and if they trust you to help them achieve their goals, they will amplify your message, content, and information accordingly.
Contact Management for Media
As you begin your research into relevant outlets, reporters, producers, and nontraditional media, you’ll want to put a contact management system in place tracking to whom you want to reach out and what interactions you have with them when you do. This can be a simple spreadsheet you keep updated, or it can be integrated into your CRM, depending on your needs and which CRM you choose.
During your research, keep track of which reporters might be interested in your work, what outlet they work for or if they freelance, keep links to other stories they’ve written to get a sense of their coverage and angle, and keep notes on anything you learn about how they like to be contacted or their particular interests. Be sure to include international reporters and outlets in your research and database, especially if you are working in a country where the national media is unlikely to give you fair coverage or any coverage.
You’ll need to update your media contact lists frequently, especially around election times when international reporters will be in the country for only a week or two to cover the election. Have a plan in place for how you’ll update your press lists during these busy times and how you’ll reach out to people covering the election if you don’t have a lot of time to form relationships with them.
Putting on a Great Press Conference
There may be key moments in your campaign when you need to hold a press conference. You should consider a press conference if you are going to release a newsworthy statement, are prepared to answer questions about it, and need to reach a broad cross section of the media and stakeholders at once. Don’t forget to also promote the press conference through your own social media platforms using photos, video and quotes as appropriate.
The key to a good press conference is that it should be interesting and newsworthy. The best press conferences are short and the participants are prepared to relay information in quotable soundbites that can be used in print or broadcast coverage. This can be hard if you have a lot of leaders, spokespeople, and/or partners who each want to speak at length. In order to avoid this common pitfall, spend time preparing speakers on their remarks before the conference. Keep remarks short and quotable. Do not ask spokespeople to state and then re-state the same things over and over again or have them read straight from a longer statement. Emphasize the need to stick to the planned remarks, and take time to make sure they fully understand what they are planning to say.
Think about who will be speaking at the press conference and if they are the best messengers for the different audiences you want to address. Are they trusted by those audiences? Do the speakers reflect a necessary diversity of ages, genders, ethnicities, languages, religions, or other characteristics that should be included to ensure credibility and trust? For example, a panel of exclusively older men are probably not going to persuade a target audience of young women.
Keep in mind what was covered earlier about narrative. Listing percentages and statistics that are already in the report or press release is not as compelling as speaking from personal experience and using stories to connect with the audience. If your group found a high percentage of polling stations in which voters were intimidated or harassed by security forces, in addition to providing the percentage of polling stations where this happened, you could invite a voter to briefly share a story about the intimidation they faced, if they are comfortable doing so publicly. Similarly if your group found in the pre-election period that a high percentage of voter registration offices were not open in certain areas, you could have a voter speak about the challenges they faced when trying to register to vote. Of course, you also want to make sure that the stories you tell help emphasize the overall findings and messages you want to convey. If, for example, your group found that 97 percent of polling stations opened on time, then you would not want to highlight a story about a voter who was not able to vote due to late opening of a polling station.
The leaders/spokespeople of your press conference should be well-rehearsed with your topline message and should understand how to tie their stories and remarks back to the overall messages you are trying to convey. This is not the time for them to go off message. In addition to rehearsing their remarks, prepare a list of likely tough questions, and prepare them to answer those questions. Practice using the answers to reiterate your overall messages.
You should also give some thought to the venue and visual look of your press conference. Television and photojournalists will be looking for good visuals, and a well-staged press conference can add to its newsworthiness. For example, if your group found that registered voters were not permitted to vote in a high percentage of polling stations – assuming that it would be safe and journalists would travel – you could hold the press conference outside a venue where many voters were denied their right to vote rather than in a hotel conference room. Could several of the people who were unable to vote stand behind the speakers while they talk, perhaps holding signs? Are there other visuals you could set up or project to add to the visual interest of the press conference even if at a standard location, such as projecting slides with relevant infographics, charts, and/or photos while the spokesperson(s) is/are speaking? Would a photo of your press conference show the image of your organization that you want to project and/or tell the story you want to convey?
Candidly, a good press conference can be hard to achieve if a lot of egos are involved. If your leaders/spokespeople insist on making long speeches, focusing on their own personal opinions rather than the organization’s findings and talking points, or repeating what the others have said without adding anything new or interesting, you may want to consider other strategies to pursue earned media, like one-on-one interviews with leaders or sending small scoops to different, friendly reporters. If your press conference isn’t interesting enough to earn press coverage, then it is a waste of your time and the reporters’ time. Even worse, if your press conference presents differing viewpoints or goes off message, it can harm your cause and your credibility.
Depending on your resources, you may want to buy print, radio, television, web, or social media ads. While paying for ads costs money, the content has the benefit of being exactly how you want it, and it can be very persuasive when done well. Refer back to your target audiences and remind yourself of where they get most of their trusted information. Those will be the programs or platforms on which you want to spend your advertising budget.
When deciding on the content of your ads, you want to promote your key message(s) through the most persuasive content matched to the specific media’s format and audience. Go to the data on what is performing best on social media, email, or your website (see next chapter for details on data and analytics). Look at what content, messaging, narratives, and messengers are the most popular, most engaging, and most persuasive with your audiences. That will help to form the basis for your paid advertising.
If you’re promoting posts on social media, you might want to simply boost a post that is performing well so that it reaches a wider audience. You can also create more specific and targeted ads with a narrower message and show them to a specific audience, or even advertise your page itself (instead of a particular post) to a new and wider audience. Facebook in particular (and, by extension, Instagram as they are the same company) allows you create very narrow and specific custom audiences.
There are a few ways to create custom audiences for Facebook promotions. These can be very powerful:
- Upload a list of email addresses. These people will be targeted based on the email addresses you upload (note: if you upload someone’s work email and they use their personal email for their Facebook credentials, you will not be able to reach them this way). This can be slightly more expensive because often the audience is very narrow, but it can be very powerful. For example, you can advertise your work to a very narrow audience of potential international donors to promote support for your organization or enlist them in advocacy, or you can promote a reminder for an event to all of the people who have already RSVPed with an email address.
- Create a lookalike audience. If you have a strong base of supporters that already follow your Facebook page or group, or you have built a strong email list of supporters, you can create a “lookalike” audience on Facebook. Facebook will identify a subset of people that are similar to your existing supporters but that aren’t your supporters – yet. This can be a great way to expand your base of support, because you’re advertising to people who are demographically and behaviorally inclined to support your work as modeled by your existing supporters. If you are advertising to build your email list, sign a petition, or attend an event or protest, this can be a useful approach.
- Target based on demographics or self-identified interests. The upside to Facebook collecting vast stores of our most personal data is that it is easy to find your target audiences based on geographic location, age, gender, and their self-identified interests. For example, if you want to target young men aged 16-26 in a particular province who support a particular opposition party or leader, this is the tool you would use.
However you choose to advertise, the fundamentals of good messaging and storytelling still apply. If you keep your ads on-message and use compelling personal stories and visuals, people will find them persuasive.
If these tools and platforms won’t reach the people with whom you’re trying to connect, such as rural communities where social media, internet, or other media are not easily accessible, think creatively about other ways to reach them.
- You may need to pair your online communications with offline organizing techniques. If important audiences are offline, how can you recruit and train your online supporters to reach them? Do you need to recruit or hire organizers from within a community to host forums or events or go door-to-door?
- Who is already speaking to the people with whom you want to speak? Can you meet with influencers of those audiences and work with them to disseminate your message?
- Can you organize non-traditional events that will attract your key audiences like educational forums, concerts, art shows, film screenings, sports events, contests, raffles, etc.? Be sure to think about how you will convert attendance into action or support.
- Some audiences might respond well to meetings with your organization’s leaders in the context of a high-level briefing or to share what they perceive to be inside information. This can work well with key volunteers, journalists, community leaders, and international donors. Making people feel like they are part of something bigger or that they are special or unique in some way may motivate them to engage more deeply with you and your message.
- If you are operating in a more restrictive context, your organization may not be able to organize the more high-profile events mentioned above. However, you should think creatively about ways you can safely yet effectively engage your main audiences offline.
YOUR TURN: Identifying the Best Platform
Brainstorm a list of the various communications tools and platforms available to you. They might be some or all of what we listed above, or they might be unique tools and platforms to where you are, your resources, and your circumstances.
Here are some questions to get you started:
Now start matching up the different communications channels to your target audiences. Rely on your audience research here, if possible, rather than guessing.
Continuing our example, your communications plan might start to look like this:
|Goal||Topline Message||Target Audience||Target Message||Communication Tool|
|Raise awareness of what a PVT is by having 10,000 people visit our website and having an average reach of 100,000 people across our social media channels in the three weeks before the election.||A PVT independently verifies whether official election results are accurate, because every vote should be counted and every voice should be heard.||Journalists who write about elections.||A PVT is a statistically rigorous and internationally accepted standard of gauging the accuracy or fraudulence of an election. The results of the PVT will help tell the story of the upcoming election by providing another data set against which to check election results.||- Email press releases & press conferences
- Materials on website
- One-on-one phone interviews & quarterly conference calls
- Whatsapp group
|Members of the party in power||A PVT verifies fair and accurate election results. Win or lose, great leaders respect the will of the people, when every vote is counted and every voice is heard.||- One-on-one outreach to party leadership
- Ads & op-eds in the The Daily Journal, The Weekly Magazine, and The Radio Newshour
- Facebook ads
|Members of the opposition party||A PVT verifies that true results are known and dissuades fraud, because every vote should be counted and every voice should heard.||- Facebook ads
- One-on-one outreach to the party leadership
- Ads in the Opposition Weekly
- Blast emails
Go To People Where They Are
Remember to try to go to people where they already are. If your target audience is mostly on Facebook, don’t try to contact them via email. If your target audience gets most of their news in the daily paper, don’t play radio ads for them. If your target audience gets most of their news at the barber shop, you need to consider a barber outreach program.
Since you may not belong to the demographics you’re reaching out to, you may not be fluent in the ways people are communicating with each other on these different channels.
In this case, spend as much time as you can researching and exploring the different online and offline channels before diving in. If your audience is on Facebook and you are not a member, join. See how people interact with each other and like different pages. Assess what kinds of content spark the most conversation or comments, the tone with which people speak to each other, what slang or abbreviations might be popular on the site, how often people post, and so on. Try to get familiar with how to use the platform before you increase your organization’s use of it.
If your audience listens to a certain radio program during which you want to buy advertising, listen to that program for a couple of weeks and take note of the advertising. What type and tone of advertising is already there? What does the radio program’s content say about the likes and interests of your audience? If you are targeting a specific blogger, read that person’s blog, post comments to the blog, and strike up a relationship with the blogger to the extent possible through available channels.
Do not try to lure people away from the networks they’re already a part of just because you are uncomfortable or unaware of those networks. If you have an active and interesting Twitter feed but all of your potential supporters are on Facebook, you are wasting your time.