The basics of internet advocacy

The Digital Age has changed advocacy for ever. Communication has never been so instant and prolific. There are countless way to utilise the internet for your advocacy campaigns, and these days you'll be left behind if you are not using them.

Wikis, blogs, websites, emails, bulletin boards, and more - all mean that we have huge amounts of information to consume.

In this help sheet we explore the basics of internet advocacy to help you manage the outward flow of information in a useful manner.

Webpage - the basics

The importance of the internet in Australia has grown enormously over the last few years. Chances are you already have a website or at least a webpage - most organisations do.

If you don't, why not? There are plenty of free services available that require little technical knowledge. Getting a webpage hosted is also increasingly cost-effective, so you might like to talk to your Internet Service Provider to see what services they provide.

Now that you have your web page, what do you put on it? What tactics do you employ?

The first thing you will need to consider is your layout. Keep it simple - easy navigation is essential to an effective webpage. It shouldn't be too hard to find anything. Using frames (a bar on the top or on the side that is consistent throughout the webpage, often containing key navigational links) is an effective way of ensuring that it's easy to find information wherever you are in the website.

So what is it important to include in your webpage? Firstly, your webpage must get your message across loudly and clearly. You need to have a clear statement of your intentions, including any significant limitations or considerations regarding your standpoint. That way people looking to get involved in the issue you're addressing will be able to tell almost straight away if your organisation is one they'd like to be involved in. It is also a good idea to have a few slogans or catchphrases that people will remember.

Education is also central to presenting your message. For those who read your brief statement and want to know more, an extended version is also a good idea. As we all know, it's important to have a good grasp of the facts and the arguments behind your campaign, so be sure to include all the vital information and illustrative facts and figures. Don't make outrageous statements - you will come across as irrational and unreliable; be factual and succinct. Try not to alienate your reader, try to make your information as accessible to as many people as possible. Don't use jargon or emotive language that leaves the reader feeling stupid or guilty. Most of all, present your information in a way that will ensure people will remember it.

Next it's vital to have contact details. People need to know how to get in contact with you if they want to take their interest further (and you almost surely want them to do that). A webpage is often the first place people will look for you (grassroots advocacy groups often aren't listed in the phone book). If you can't be found, you won't be included in the debate.

People need to be told how they can get involved and what they can do to make a difference. Are you looking for volunteers? Are you holding a protest? Are you holding regular meetings? Give people an opportunity to be part of the campaign.

Closely tied to this is your need to advertise events. If you're holding a rally and it isn't on your webpage, people will assume that it isn't on. Details of locations, including maps, times, speakers and so on need to be readily available to the casual browser. And they need to be updated quickly if anything changes.

The "News" section of your webpage is probably the most dynamic part of your site - at least it should be. If you haven't put a new news item up for a while it looks as if your organisation isn't active any more. Campaigns can be very slow-moving, but it's important to maintain enthusiasm. After a demonstration, for example, you might like to add items on such things as how the protest went, pictures, transcripts of speeches, newspaper articles, press releases, attendance numbers, and a brief overview by someone within the organisation. Have there been any new developments in the campaign? Are there any new events coming up?

You should also include on your webpage information on how to donate and how to sign up to an email list. Our Community provides a free online donation service, GiveNow, which allows for pain-free donation and donor management.

Remember, it's important to look professional. Try not to use fonts like Times New Roman in a large font size - it looks like you've put no effort into it. Often a simple minimalist approach is the neatest way to present your web page.

Email Advocacy

The great thing about email is that it costs the same amount to send one email as it does to send 500. This is a very effective tool in whatever battle you're fighting.

General day-to-day emails should provide the basic information about your organisation. This is usually as simple as having a signature block at the bottom of the email. This signature should contain your postal address, your phone and fax numbers, your hours of operation, your web address, and how people can donate. Include a quote or a slogan or an advertsiement for your next event as well. Don't miss this opportunity to convey your message.

Email is probably the most effective way of mobilising people on a mass scale very quickly. If you have a petition to sign or are organising a rally, use your email list to reach a large number of people instantly.

The other great feature of email is that the people you inspire can forward your message on to other people they think will be interested. This sort of word-of-mouth recommendation is invaluable.

Your use of email does, however, need to be carefully regulated. Try not to email people too often - once a week at the absolute maximum. The quickest way to bore people with your campaign is to bombard them with emails - you'll only annoy them. Be realistic about how much people will want to read about your one issue (keep it short), and how often.

Many groups opt for irregular emails to alert people to various actions. This can be an effective way to run an email campaign as people know they will only hear from you if something important is happening.

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