Study: Still waiting on that online advocacy revolution

A new study released by a troika of new media firms (2ndSix, TribeEffect, and Chris Lisi Communications) charts some surprising trends in online advocacy – more accurately, the lack thereof.

The study evaluates 102 top trade associations, membership organizations, and other groups with political advocacy goals and charts their use of a number of online tools – everything from collecting email sign ups to Twitter to blog badges to Facebook and everything in between.  Most of the tools considered were either free or low-cost; yet the study found a surprising lack of use:

Overall, there is a lag in the implementation of the new media tools.  Many of the organizations reviewed in this report have not yet embraced or employed many of the readily accessible online communication and social media tools… 76% of the most commonly used social media tools are not being utilized to communicate with members, voters and other constituencies.

On the heels of the Obama Campaign, Washington D.C. was abuzz with the possibilities of online campaigns.  So what gives?

There are three things to consider when wondering why the digital wave hasn’t crashed the banks of the Potomac.  First, online and social media are new, and some of the key decision-makers in these groups may not understand them fully.  Being fully committed to online activity means surrendering some message control and directly engaging people who have negative comments.  That may resonate with the front line folks, but senior management will usually have to deeply consider what amounts to a change of strategy.

The second item to consider – which draws a bit from the first – is that social media activity can be difficult to quantify to important stakeholders.  Anyone can build a Facebook page with 5,000 fans given the resources; but translating that to action can be difficult.  In other words: if you work for a health insurance trade group, and you recruit 5,000 Facebook fans or Twitter followers from all over the country, how many are going to be able to call Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office to tell her she shouldn’t bow down to the Democrats’ health care overhaul?

There’s a third and final item to keep in mind.  The study itself admits that it doesn’t evaluate the effectiveness of the various tactics employed by each organization – in other words, the study simply charts charted whether a group has a presence on Facebook, but not whether that presence helped further their policy goals.  Just like a real-world toolbox, and online toolbox has  implements for a variety of uses.  But just as you wouldn’t use a screw driver to pound nails into a plank of wood, you might look at your online goals and decide that Twitter or LinkedIn just isn’t right for you.

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