Don’t be seduced by the dark side of social media audience metrics. Don’t fixate on the number of followers and page likes you have—the vanity statistics. If you want a social media audience that helps you more effectively advocate for your cause, focus on building an audience of the key influencers that matter most to you.
Advocacy is most effective when it employs multiple tactics for exerting policy influence: raising public awareness, mobilizing grassroots action, earned media, grasstops (influencer) mobilization and direct influence of policymakers. Each of these tactics involves connecting with a different audience:
Depending on your organization’s mission, you need to build the right audience. For grassroots organizations, your audience (ultimately) needs to comprise the general public with a heavy dose of citizen activists. If your business model is to influence the influencers, however, then building an audience of press, grasstops and policymakers is necessary. That said, it is also essential for grassroots groups to build an audience of influencers. Not only will this allow you to directly communicate with them, but creating deeper relationships with influencers will yield a larger general audience for you as they share your message with their audiences.
Influencing policymakers is more effective when you use multiple channels to reach them. This generally takes the form of using social media for grassroots lobbying in conjunction with email, phone calls, constituent lobby days and “bird-dogging” at town halls. These are tactics for delivering constituent messages to policymakers via multiple channels. These grassroots efforts are complemented by other channels for reaching lawmakers: direct lobbying, earned media placement and advertising (online and offline) that target lawmakers.
But a well-constructed social media audience allows you to do almost all of these things via social media (though I am not suggesting that you ONLY use social media to do these things). If your social media audience includes citizen activists, you can use social media to mobilize them to contact their Senators and Representatives via social media, email, phone or in person. If your social media audience includes members of the press, you can enhance your earned media efforts by tweeting directly at journalists. If you cultivate those relations well, many journalists might even monitor you regardless of whether you mention them, or not. If you have online organizers among your audience, social media can help you get them to use your policy proposals and research in their campaigns… or at least get them to share your campaigns with their audiences. And if you have policymakers in your audience, your social media posts are delivered directly to the decision-makers.
Not only can we target all of our key target audiences using a mix of media channels, but we can target them all with our social media channels. Layering our social media audience with all of our target audiences allows us to use one type of media channel—social media—to enhance all the work we are doing via other channels. Social media works simultaneously as a grassroots mobilizer channel and an influence the influencer channel.
What does this mean for your social media strategy? It means you have to optimize your social media audience to include the right type of people. It’s not about the size of your audience; it is about the quality of your audience. And the proper audience mix for you depends on what type of organization or campaign you are, who cares about your issue(s) and which policymakers you need to influence.