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For the last few years, I’ve been praising social media when it comes to advocacy — and rightfully so. I’ve worked to become more proficient in its power, more comfortable with its exponentiality and more confident with its application. Although I grew up in a different era and was at one point intimidated due to my lack of understanding, appreciation and respect of social media — I believe I’ve now made progress. But I have a long way to go.
Social media has changed the world, continues to evolve at warp speed, and provides the most powerful, effective and efficient method of advocacy communication this planet has ever known. You’re either going to recognize it, keep up with it and get good at it — or you’ll be in everyone’s rearview mirror. Facts have no feelings.
The sheer magnitude, speed and influence of social media is a winning tool in your advocacy arsenal. It combines emotion with academic positions and arguments. Mastering social media advocacy and creating optimal messaging is not a luxury and not to be taken lightly.
My father taught me that there is a difference between being clever and being wise. Mastery of social media advocacy is not merely a smart technical exercise. Social media advocacy is the new way of the world and a necessity. It is the only choice if you truly want to be competitive — and only if you find a way to measure its effectiveness for your industry.
This is, however, where a problem has begun. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times and perhaps it has become a way of life — but make no mistake, it’s a problem.
Plug-n-play is not the way
The far-reaching influence of social media has the boa-constricting effect of framing an issue and will win in the court of public opinion well before many even recognize there is an opportunity or threat. This is significant yet dangerous.
Here’s the danger as I’ve recently seen and experienced, and a true weakness of social media as it applies to advocacy. We are heading into a society that can very cleverly create social media advocacy campaigns — without thoughtful, wise experience and substance. It is a society where public policy experience is secondary to an artistic, creative IT professional with equally clever slogans.
What I have begun to see is laziness in advocacy. It enables those who are inexperienced, as well as experienced professionals who have found a way to treat advocacy as a checkbox or a to-do list, rather than creating quality advocacy (public policy) campaigns with built-in components to measure results.
I’m an old-world, traditional lobbyist. I believe there is nothing more critical in advocacy than thoughtfully building business relationships with lawmakers, regulators, the general public and the media. Communicating an industry’s story to those who need to be educated about an industry is vital for success. And the only way to convey your story and build winning advocacy campaigns is through those business relationships.
It takes time, it can be tedious and requires a high degree of patience.
What I’m seeing (to a degree) is that it’s easier to search the Internet and copy and paste information, rather than strategically create a well-thought-out advocacy game plan based on experience in public policy. The cleverness of social media advocacy has given into the absence of wisdom.
Advocacy (by some) is performed through clever ads, promotions and memes — without substance. Grassroots campaigns are creative and cute, yet thoughtless and absent in terms of building relationships. These are IT professionals performing “plug and play” advocacy.
I’ve been seeing some industry associations and groups rely on these clever memes to launch grassroots campaigns and provide positions on issues impacting an industry. While I do enjoy reading the memes and I’m impressed with their innovation, it frustrates me that the work seems to end there. It appears the exercise of copying and pasting signals that the work is done.
Recently, I experienced a situation on Capitol Hill where a Senate committee requested thoughtful industry input into an important industry issue and, instead, received from at least one national industry association copied-and-pasted information from another national industry association. Nothing insightful or helpful to the committee and the Senate staff made a note of the lack of help from that association.
When I worked on Capitol Hill and the members of Congress I worked for asked me to draft a speech on a particular topic or issue, I read a multitude of documents to understand the subject thoroughly. Then I blended in the congressman’s or congresswoman’s political views to craft a speech. It led to my understanding of the issue.
However, what I see today is that some on Capitol Hill can copy and paste from countless sources on the Internet without ever truly understanding the substance of the issue.
I believe what is currently happening in terms of social media advocacy is a bit of a backfire. The ease of social media has allowed public policy professionals to take their foot off the gas and create advocacy campaigns based on being clever, not being wise (as I get older, my father gets smarter).
Again, I’m an old-schooler. Advocacy is all about building trust, respect and education. There’s no magic or rocket science to it; it’s pretty simple and straightforward, and there is always a return on your investment. “It’s all about relationships,” is the gospel, and I continue to stand by it.
Social media advocacy is truly the way of the future. I hope it doesn’t become the way of the lazy and inexperienced.