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A STUDY OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND POLITICAL ADVOCACY: How Social Media is Changing Grassroots Organizing Among U.S. Political Advocacy Groups


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Title: A STUDY OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND POLITICAL ADVOCACY: How Social Media is Changing Grassroots Organizing Among U.S. Political Advocacy Groups

How Social Media is Changing Grassroots
Organizing Among U.S. Political Advocacy Groups
Social Media and Political Advocacy
During recent election cycles, social media has
become a powerful channel for political outreach
and coalition building. Many key political
advocacy groups are now active players in social
media and using various platforms to connect with
stakeholders. Social media provides political
advocacy groups with a platform that widens their
reach and can immediately mobilize grassroots
support. This study examines how U.S. Political
Advocacy Groups are leveraging social media
  • Burson-Marsteller selected 34 U.S.-based
    political advocacy groups to evaluate how these
    groups utilize social media to communicate,
    specifically Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
  • The sample breaks down as follows
  • 14 conservative advocacy groups
  • 15 liberal advocacy groups
  • 5 neutral advocacy groups
  • At the outset of our research process, we could
    not identify a definitive index or compilation of
    political advocacy groups. Therefore, for the
    purposes of this study, we selected 34
    politically-influential groups that represent a
    range of political viewpoints.
  • Data was collected in May-June 2010 based on the
    34 advocacy groups communications from March 15
    to April 30, 2010 (6 weeks).
  • Data was gathered from the advocacy groups
    social media accounts.
  • Data was collected by Burson-Marstellers Global
    Research Team.

Note Because of the small sample size, results
for the 5 neutral groups is included in the
overall results, but this data is not broken out
in the detailed analysis.)
Selected Advocacy Groups
  • Conservative
  • American Conservative Union
  • American Family Association (AFA)
  • Americans for Tax Reform
  • Business Roundtable
  • Christian Coalition of America
  • Family Research Council
  • Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)
  • Focus on the Family
  • Freedom Works
  • National Federation of Independent Business
  • National Rifle Association (NRA)
  • National Right to Life
  • National Taxpayers Union
  • US Chamber of Commerce
  • Neutral
  • AARP
  • American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
  • Liberal
  • American Association of People with Disabilities
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • MoveOn
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America (National Abortion and
    Reproductive Rights Action League)
  • National Association for the Advancement of
    Colored People (NAACP)
  • National Committee For An Effective Congress
  • National Committee to Preserve Social Security
    and Medicare (NCPSSM)
  • National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
  • National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • National Urban League (NUL)
  • People for the American Way

Overwhelming Majority Use At Least One Social
Media Platform
Thirty-three out of the 34 political advocacy
groups examined use at least one social media
platform, including either a Facebook page,
Twitter account or YouTube channel.
Almost all Groups Are Using Multiple Platforms
Ninety-one percent of the political advocacy
groups that use social media use Twitter,
Facebook and YouTube as a means of outreach.
No group used only 1 out of 3 platforms.
Interest Groups Use Social Media to Voice
Opinions on Legislation
  • All of the political advocacy groups with
    Facebook pages and Twitter accounts use these
    social media platforms to share their views and
    news about specific federal legislation or
  • Advocacy groups use Twitter more than Facebook to
    relay legislative and regulation messages.
  • Conservative advocacy groups were more active in
    discussing legislation and regulation on Twitter
    and Facebook than Liberal groups in the six weeks
    studied (from March 15-April 30).

Examples of Tweets/Posts Concerning Legislation
Groups Encourage Direct Outreach to Politicians
  • Sixty-one percent of political advocacy groups on
    Twitter and 56 percent on Facebook use social
    media to encourage stakeholders to reach out to
    Congress and other politicians.
  • Ninety-five percent of direct outreach posts on
    Twitter and 89 percent on Facebook provided phone
    numbers, instructions or easy to fill out forms
    to contact politicians.
  • Liberal advocacy groups were more active than
    Conservative groups in encouraging followers to
    reach out to Congress or politicians.

Examples of Tweets/Posts Reaching Out to
Easy instruction forms like the one to the
right make it easy for the public to reach out
in this example, the letter is already written,
they just have to fill out their information and
YouTube Channels Also Keep People Informed
  • The average number of videos per YouTube channel
    was 107. In total, these political advocacy
    groups have uploaded 3,432 videos to YouTube.
  • Many of the YouTube channels had videos about
    specific legislation.

Data for YouTube is cumulative over the lifetime
of the channel and is not restricted to the March
15- April 30, 2010 timeframe.
Stakeholders Are Seeking Out and Connecting With
  • The average number of followers, fans, and
    subscribers on Twitter (4,880 followers),
    Facebook (32,588 fans) and YouTube (777
    subscribers) suggests there is significant public
    interest in connecting with advocacy groups.
  • The number of Facebook fans is overwhelmingly
    higher than the number of Twitter followers and
    YouTube subscribers for all groups. The groups
    with the most fans were the National Rifle
    Association, Freedom Works, The Human Rights
    Campaign and MoveOn.

The Two-Way Street Relationship Building on
  • Political advocacy groups on Twitter are not just
    using social media as a platform for lobbying
  • The average account follows over 2,000 other
    Twitter users. Conservative groups follow the
    highest number with an average number of accounts
    following of 3,354 versus 1,585 for liberal

The Two-Way Street Interacting With Stakeholders
on Twitter
  • Seventy-six percent of advocacy groups are
    retweeting content from other users.

The Two-Way Street Interacting With Stakeholders
on Twitter
  • On Twitter, 73 percent of political advocacy
    groups mentioned or directly responded to others
    (by using the _at_account convention).
  • Liberal advocacy groups were more likely to
    mention or respond to others (93 percent) than
    conservative groups (50 percent).

The Two-Way Street Interacting With Stakeholders
on Twitter
  • Stakeholders were defined as individuals who
    have an interest in the actions of the
    organization and can be affected by them.
    Influencers where defined as individuals such
    as journalists, organizations or politicians who
    have the ability to influence public opinion.
  • The percentages of advocacy groups that responded
    to stakeholders versus influencers were
    consistent across the board, showing that
    advocacy groups care equally about deepening
    their relationships with their stakeholders as
    well as influencers.

Examples of Groups Mentioning/Responding to Others
The Two-Way Street Receiving Feedback from
  • Sixty-nine percent of political advocacy groups
    with Facebook pages allow their fans to post on
    their page.
  • Liberal groups were the more likely to allow
    posts (92 percent) than conservative groups.

Fundraising is Not a Primary Purpose for Using
Social Media
  • Less than a third of the political advocacy
    groups surveyed (21 percent on Twitter and 18
    percent on Facebook) use Twitter and Facebook to
    ask for fundraising support.

Observations About Social Media Content
  • Overall, the study saw a variety of content
    published from political advocacy groups. While
    this study focused on looking at legislative,
    outreach and fundraising content other messages
  • Coalition building
  • Articles of interest
  • News or blog posts about the organization
  • Protests/ Gatherings
  • Hot button litigation
  • Candidate endorsements

Key Insights
  • Many Advocacy Groups Are Using Social Media to
    Generate a Dialogue
  • Overall 73 of advocacy groups (including 93 of
    liberal advocacy groups) responded to or
    mentioned others in their Twitter posts.
  • U.S. businesses are less engaged than advocacy
    groups, as only 43 of U.S. companies in the
    Fortune Global 100 are responding to others via
  • Advocacy groups who do are not generating a
    dialogue use Social Media Platforms as a
    glorified RSS feed or newsletter. These groups
    lose the enormous benefit of community engagement
    and stakeholder participation that comes with
    direct interaction.
  • Social Media Allows for Communication/Mobilzation
    In (Near) Real Time
  • Whether during a lengthy legislative debate on
    the congressional floor (such as Healthcare
    Reform) or a public protest, advocacy groups are
    often using social media to communicate and even
    mobilize their supporters in real-time.

Key Insights (continued)
  • Facebook is Heavily Used to Rally Base Supporters
    and Build Community
  • Facebook pages tend to become a destination for
    an organizations most devoted followers. The
    material and conversation posted to these pages
    is usually highly supportive of the organization.
    The Facebook page often becomes a virtual meeting
    place where supporters can cheerlead an
    organizations efforts and disparage its
  • Twitter is Used for Disseminating Messages and
    Positions on Issues to Influencers and Other
  • Twitter appears to be used to broadcast an
    organization's positions and news. Some groups
    have engaged with influencers (such as media and
    politicians) directly on Twitter.
  • Both Facebook and Twitter are Leveraged to
    Encourage Outreach
  • Beyond building community and disseminating
    information well over one-half of Advocacy Groups
    particularly liberal groups - provide phone and
    email contact information to inspire
    calls-to-action by their followers.

Dallas Lawrence Managing Director for Digital
Issue Advocacy Public Affairs 202.530.4615
Dallas.Lawrence_at_proofic.com www.twitter.com/dall
aslawrence Ashley Welde Director of Strategy
Development 212.614.4924 Ashley.Welde_at_bm.com
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