20 Jul / Tools of the Trade: Online Advocacy Platforms

Online Advocacy Pic for t4d blogWhat makes a good online advocacy platform? The world of online advocacy has changed much since the early days in the mid-1990’s. We’ve evolved from the first custom build-outs from CTSG. That was quickly followed by the first off-the-shelf platform for online advocacy, Capwiz; launched in 1996 by Capitol Advantage. Since then, we’ve seen greater power in targeting emails to activists, customizing messages to Members of Congress based on their behavior (votes, sponsorships, committee assignments, etc.) and some social media integration.

The fact that social media integration has been limited is of concern. We know that social media is how an increasing number of people find their news. We also know that essentially all Members of Congress are on Facebook and Twitter, significant numbers of state and local lawmakers use social media, as well as many policy experts and members of the press. We know that when people learn about politics from their friends, there is a good chance that friend got their information via social media. And we know that lawmakers are paying attention to social media to better understand their constituents’ needs and desires.

And yet, when it comes to software platforms for advocacy campaigns, most simply incorporate the ability for activists to share the campaign with their social networks. But there is so much more that needs to be done when it comes to integrating social media into advocacy software.

We are seeing a few platforms building out Facebook action centers, where organizations can drop their campaign action pages into a tab on their Facebook pages. And even if it is not built into the advocacy platform, these action centers can often be dropped into a Facebook page with iframes.

But the real integration that is sorely lacking is the ability to send messages to Congress via social media. It is standard for advocacy platforms to match citizens’ ZIP codes and/or addresses to their elected officials and allow them to send an email to those lawmakers. The systems also typically allow citizens to print a letter to be mail by post. Some even facilitate citizens calling their Members. But what is missing from almost all of the platforms – and is long overdue – is giving citizens the ability to tweet at their lawmaker or directly post on their Member’s Facebook page.

The sad part of this omission is that it is pretty easy to set up Several years ago, Jim Gilliam of NationBuilder and Wayne Moses Burke developed, which matched people’s ZIP code to their elected officials via Twitter. Even the Obama White House developed and used a Tweet Congress tool to help pass the President’s job proposals.

Yet, at this point, the only advocacy platforms that have this feature are CQ Engage and BIPAC’s P2. It is possible to hack the Engaging Networks platform to add it and they are planning to build it into the platform in the next year, or so. And the new EveryAction platform also plans to add it to its platform next year. As far as we have been able to determine, that is it.

Why is this so important? It is important because we know that leveraging multiple channels to mobilize citizens and multiple channels to message policymakers increases the chances of success. In psychology, the concept is called additive summation. In advertising it manifests itself as source amnesia. Essentially, the combined effect of multiple channel message delivery outperforms the expectations of all the channels used added together. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Further, social advocacy—delivering activist messages to policymakers via social media—adds immense power to any advocacy campaign by creating public pressure and accountability on policymakers that emails, letters and phone calls cannot. Those methods of communication with policymakers are private (one-to-one). But like bird-dogging a lawmaker at a townhall, tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook page is on display to the public (including the press). That makes it significantly harder for lawmakers to claim they are unaware of people holding the campaign’s position.

My favorite example happened during the legislative battle to pass the Affordable Care Act. Then Minority Leader John Boehner claimed in a press conference that he had never met an American who favored the “public option.” After an AFSCME campaign to get thousands of people to tweet at Boehner saying they supported the public option, Boehner had to walk back his earlier comments at a press conference. It was a small victory, but it clearly shows that the model works.

Now we move on to our survey of the tools of the trade. The table below features a catalogue of online advocacy platforms with information about each. We have worked to fill out the fields for several weeks, but we know there is still more information on these out there. So, if you work for one of these companies or use one of these products, we invite you to help us fill out the table even more. That said, this should give you quite a start on your own research about what online advocacy tool to use.

And check back here regularly. In addition to turner4D’s other fascinating blog posts, we will be doing more of these Tools of the Trade posts on other types of tools for advocacy, social media and communications campaigns.

Platform Price Social Media Sharing Social Media Delivery Segment Emails to Activists? Segment Messages to Lawmakers? Customized Campaign Pages CRM/CMS Integration Other Features
Salsa (Cosm) $3,500 set-up fee; $10,000/yr for 50,000 email addresses Yes No Yes.By activity level, actions taken, geolocation, Congressional district and other CRM fields Yes.Target by votes taken, bill sponsorship Yes CRM all-in house, cloud-based.  Salsa also provides a list of over 200 partners to connect other functionalities Multi-affiliate support (Chapter management); Fundraising; Petitions; Analytics reporting; Event management
CQ Engage On Request Yes Yes.Tweet your legislator Yes.By actions taken, activity level, bio info, district, email interactions, custom tags and more Yes.Target by votes taken, bill sponsorship, committee Yes SalesForce, Avectra, Imis, NimbleAMS and Personify. CQRC Engage team will integrate with your CRM, even if it’s not listed Full licensing rights to 3,800 news sources; Comprehensive legislative information; Full bios on every legislator; Call your legislator; Fundraising; Petitions; Email signups; Story bank; Analytic reporting
Engaging Networks $23,000 for 2 years, all-inclusive for the integrated advocacy, email & fundraising platform and up to 49,999 email records (no set-up fee) Yes No.But it can be hacked in and they plan to add the feature Yes.Can segment using any data you’ve collected about your activists. Yes. Yes Salesforce, Raiser’s Edge, ROI Solutions and via Open API Surveys; Events; Petitions; 1-click petition signing; Fundraising; embed in Facebook; Analytics reporting; Social analytics; Mobile Analytics; integrates w/ Communicating with Congress API; works in US, Australia, UK, Germany, Canada; and European Union; Drupal CMS integration; one-click to create mobile version
The Action Network Free for individuals & small groups Yes No Automatically tags activists who sign petitions for easy email targeting later With uploaded target lists Page branding Can merge w/ your CRM Petitions; Multi-affiliate support (allies & partners); Embed actions anywhere (website, YouTube video, widgets, etc.); Fundraising; Event management; Forms for collecting stories, surveys, etc.; Target state and local legislators; Analytics reporting; Online file storage w/ links
Blackbaud Luminate Advocacy $400/month base cost, does not include Luminate CRM; additional charges based on number of emails sent Yes No Yes.With Luminate CRM Based on Members’ vote record. Yes Via Open API Integrated Congressional voting data; Letter to the Editor tool; Multi-affiliate support; Open API; Full CRM capabilities; Fundraising; Analytics reporting
Every Action Starting at $49/month and goes up based on the number of emails records ($265/10,000 emails; $365/20.000 emails; $565/50,000 emails, etc.) Yes No.Delivery via Twitter is planned for next year Yes Yes, but you have to add the data for the targeting (vote, sponsorship, committee data not provided) Yes Full CRM capabilities; Analytics reporting; Fundraising; Social fundraising; Gamification; One-click actions; Open source Drupal-based CMS w/ form builder
Blue State Digital $550/month for Basic Plan: Up to 50,000 email addresses Yes No Yes Segment lists based on geography, demographics, and past actions, then personalize your message Yes Can be integrated with your CMS or you can add Expression Engine to the platform Fundraising; Analytics reporting; API access to data; peer-to-peer fundraising
BIPAC’s P2 $9,500/yr for Leadership Level; $25,000/yr for Founder Level (Note: Levels refer to BIPAC membership) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Bill tracking

Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner4D.   Lauryn Gutierrez, Junior Associate at turner4D, assisted with the research for this post.


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