Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all advocacy and stakeholder engagement has been digital. The Public Affairs Council’s 2020 Digital Media and Advocacy Summit, a conference bringing together communications and digital advocacy professionals in the government affairs industry, not only confirmed this reality but cemented the fact that “digital” will be the primary driver for advocacy in the foreseeable future.
There are several things government affairs professionals can do to remain successful in this new environment: (1) Organizations must prioritize building a robust social media presence on multiple platforms. (2) The best way to be prepared for a communications crisis is to have a proactive and sustained digital communications plan.
(3) Communicate with the intent of transforming your audience into well-informed virtual champions for your cause (it may take some training).
Most importantly: since early March, policymakers and their staff have been overwhelmed with constituent and lobbyist engagement. If you run a digital campaign targeting lawmakers, do so with great care.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually all advocacy and stakeholder engagement has been digital. The Public Affairs Council’s (PAC) recent 2020 Digital Media and Advocacy Summit not only confirmed this reality but cemented the fact that “digital” will be the primary driver for advocacy in the foreseeable future. Here are some ways government affairs pros can be successful in an overwhelmingly digital environment.
Grow and Leverage Your Social Media Networks
Organizations must prioritize building a robust social media presence on multiple platforms, not only to grow their advocacy network, but also to strengthen relationships with their audience. While there are a wide range of digital platforms to engage audiences these days, a few require a heightened level of attention. Facebook continues to be the primary social media driver for advocate recruitment and engagement. Twitter is important to focus on because it's where influencers and policymakers communicate on a regular basis. LinkedIn has witnessed a significant boost in activity during the pandemic and is ripe for advocacy, as well.
For all the platforms you engage on, consider who will be the most persuasive in sharing your message (your “advocates”). You may need to teach your existing advocates how to be successful in this new digital space (they may be more familiar and comfortable with in-person advocacy).
Have a Proactive Digital Communications Plan
A crisis is like a wave, you can’t stop it, but you can keep ahead of it. However, if you are not prepared, you will be underwater and overwhelmed quickly. Going forward, digital communications strategies should be designed with this in mind.
The best way to be prepared for the next crisis is to have a proactive and sustained digital communications plan. Create a steady stream of engaging and timely content that will boost your brand. Get creative — platforms and consumers themselves are prioritizing video and graphics, so you should find a way to incorporate these in a creative and authentic way. To avoid being repetitive and stale, you can showcase key industry highlights, share valuable resources, and leverage allies and influencers to expand overall reach.
Additionally, preparing digital toolkits for advocates with readymade content such as suggested social media posts and other collateral takes it one step further and makes it easy for issue champions to amplify your message in a time of heightened digital activity. Then, in the event of a digital communications crisis, you’ll already have goodwill built up with your target audience — and this can go a long way.
Keep in Touch with Your Audience
Communicate with your audience frequently, but strategically. Your goal is to transform them into well-informed champions for your cause, which won’t happen overnight. Email updates or frequent newsletter communications can provide a great opportunity to keep your issues and initiatives front and center with your network. When you contact your advocates, ask questions to find out more about them and their interests. Surveys are very useful to identify which of your issues matter most to them. Then be sure to use this information going forward. It can be used for tailored interactions with specific people who will then be more likely to take action.
Before you begin any strategic communications plan, you need to think about what “success” looks like for your organization. Be mindful of industry standards and key metrics for advocacy emails and social media engagement so that you are maximizing your efforts and measuring your effectiveness. However, be flexible. Challenge your team to hit metrics that make sense for your unique situation.
Consider the Lawmakers, Too
Since early March, policymakers and their staff have been overwhelmed with constituent and lobbyist engagement. If you run a digital campaign targeting lawmakers, do so with great care. Correspondence from constituents on urgent matters are the priority for elected officials and staff right now. While there is admittedly greater exposure and interaction opportunities thanks to video meetings and virtual town halls, it is much easier to get lost in the mix due to the large volume of these types of engagements over the past five months.
Looking ahead, the 2021 legislative season will undoubtedly see record volumes of digital advocacy campaigns in response to proposals addressing the fiscal fallout from coronavirus. Organizations must take these realities into account and find ways to cut through the clutter.
Digital is Here to Stay
It’s clear that digital advocacy isn’t going away anytime soon. Associations, companies, and nonprofit organizations need to take stock of this and their digital communications planning should reflect this reality going forward.