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Learn about the different forms of social media and their audiences, and how to use different social media platforms to help achieve your organizational goals.


Image of diverse young adults socializing with laptops while leaning against a wall.


Social media helps amplify advocacy efforts by potentially reaching more people, in more places, faster than ever before. To use social media effectively, you should have a clear plan in mind of who your audience is, which social media platforms are most suited to that audience, and what results you hope to gain from your efforts.

The modern digital era means that social media will no longer be stand-alone aspect of your advocacy plan, but rather something that should be integrated at the most basic level. According to Mike Kujawski, an international social media strategy consultant, “Apps and websites that were once considered ‘social technology’ are just a natural evolution of the modern internet.”

What is using social media for digital advocacy?

Digital advocacy is the use of digital technology to contact, inform, and mobilize a group of concerned people around an issue or cause. The purpose of digital advocacy is to galvanize supporters to take action.

Digital tools have become a central component of almost any movement. Some of the most-used digital advocacy tools include websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, email, and texts. Literally hundreds of social media applications exist that could be used for digital advocacy, but to get started, spend your time and resources where your supporters are most likely to be (Facebook and Twitter are good bets). Then integrate your efforts for better overall results.

Why use social media for digital advocacy?

The advantages of using social media include: low (or no) hard costs for set-up; potentially wide reach; quick/instantaneous sharing of messages; and new opportunities to listen, engage, and monitor your progress.

When might you use social media?

Any time you are working to engage people that utilize some form of social media, you may want a social media presence to amplify your ability to reach supporters quickly. Social media is not a fad, it is a powerful trend that represents new methods for advocating.

To use social media as part of a direct action campaign, it is helpful, but not necessary, to have set up the social media tools and gathered supporters in advance of making a specific request. No matter where you are in the process, you can use social media to help support your cause.

You can join and participate in social networks at any time, 24/7. However, timing is important to consider when carrying out specific tasks. Email is typically better read on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for example. So think about and research when your potential supporters are most likely to receive and give thought to your messages.

Before beginning to use social media, carefully consider your goals. For example, are you hoping to: recruit volunteers; brand your organization as experts; disseminate information about an issue; promote an event; solicit donations; get people to take particular action; and/ or tell stories about your work? 

Who should use social media?

Almost every advocacy campaign can benefit from some form of social media. The perception is that social media reaches young people primarily, but its growth is explosive and far-reaching. People of all ages around the world are increasingly using social media.

Specialized tools exist to help organize volunteerism, donate, fundraise, bring people together for rallies and meetings, to boycott or support businesses, participate, discuss, and subscribe to updates.

Four Skills Needed to use Social Media to Drive Social Change:

  • Focus – hatch a goal that will make an impact
  • Grab Attention – stick out in an overcrowded, over-messaged, noisy world
  • Engage – make people connect with your goal
  • Take Action – empower others, enable them, and cultivate a movement

- From The Dragonfly Effect, by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith

How do you use social media for digital advocacy?

Conduct a brief strategic review

Clarify your main goals and your social media objectives. In the cluttered world of social media, the most important thing to remember is to stay focused on your advocacy objectives – what are the actions and outcomes you want to achieve? Don’t get caught up in pursuing every “shiny new tool” or participating in ways that don’t support your goals (directly or indirectly).

Research and evaluate where your supporters are most likely to be online. With digital advocacy, you’ll want to identify who is most likely to support your cause, and go to them wherever they are—use the social media tools they use.

Evaluate what time and resources are available to you and your team.

Be realistic about your ability to engage on any specific platform. Determine which platforms your target market is using most, and focus on those. Choose a central channel for online advocacy efforts, and use additional social efforts to point people toward your main channel. Determine how you will measure success at the start of the project. Begin by envisioning “the big picture” outcomes of how you’d like your social media efforts to turn out, then develop specific success metrics that will help you evaluate each platform you plan to use. Be sure to develop SMART goals -- specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based. Fortunately, it is easy to track data through many free analytic tools for websites and social marketing tools, which are often built into the tool itself. (Once you have decided upon which social media tools you will use, you may want to explore what built-in analytics they offer, and whether you will need additional analytics or monitoring capabilities. For example, some of these monitoring sites may be of use: Google Analytics, Google Alerts, Technorati, Twazzup, Social SearcherHootSuiteWeb2express Monitoring).

Social media lessons from the Obama campaign: Start early Build to scale Innovate where necessary; do everything else incrementally better Make it easy to find, forward and act Pick where you want to play Channel online enthusiasm into specific, targeted activities that further the campaign’s goals Integrate online advocacy into every element of the campaign - “The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Toolkit,” Edelman Digital Public Affairs, January 2009

Sign up for social media accounts

Select one central social media platform. This will likely be your website or blog site or your Facebook cause page. If you don’t already have something like this, create it. It will be the hub of all your online advocacy work, at least initially.

Then, choose the combination of social media tools that will be most likely to help you communicate with and engage supporters and potential supporters. Use the information from your research in step 1 to decide what you can pursue with the resources you have now.

List of  Tools / Instrutions for Set-Up
Your overall strategy—based upon your knowledge and expertise of your cause and your supporters—will determine how you use digital tools and what follow-up steps you will take to spur needed action. Following is a list of easy tools you can use and links to instructions for set-up.

These sites can help you create “drag and drop” or “point and click” websites with no technical skills. (You can create a blog space within each of these.)


Learn how to set up a Facebook page for a cause.

Learn how to set up a Twitter account.
As you set up your twitter account, you’ll want to research best practices for creating user names, using hash tags, and cultivating your list of followers and people and organizations you’ll follow.
Integrating Twitter and Facebook. Learn how to integrate your twitter and Facebook pages.

Using Social Media

There are many social media platforms that you can use to engage the public and build your client base, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Almost all social media sites will allow users to join for free, although some advanced features might be available with a paid account.

While some people might use multiple social media platforms, each of these platforms draws a slightly different audience. When considering what platform to use, you may want to consider the audience that you want to reach.

Analytics. Many social media platforms will offer some type of analytic services. Analytics may include things like the number of people who viewed your posts, “liked” or clicked on your posts, or shared your posts. Analytics can be useful for determining what types of posts tend to get the most attention.

Managing Multiple Accounts. It can be daunting to maintain several social media accounts. If you have multiple accounts, there are several things you can do to make the workload a bit easier:

  • Consider using a platform such as Hootsuite to streamline your social media posts. A platform like Hootsuite will allow you to simultaneously post on multiple social media platforms.
  • You can also schedule posts in advance. For instance, if you have a fundraising drive coming up, you can schedule several posts in advance leading up to and on the day of the drive.
  • Some social media platforms allow you to add multiple people to the account as “Editors” or similar administrative roles, to assist with managing content.

If you are struggling with identifying regular content (e.g., relevant news items) to post, consider signing up for a Google alert. You can have headlines with pre-identified content sent to your email, which will cut down on the need to seek out relevant news to share.

Become familiar with the tools

As you are creating accounts, familiarize yourself with the typical behavior of users – know the “dos and don’ts” and customs of the platform. (Twitter uses hashtags and hat tips, Pinterest users pin from the original source and keep comments positive, etc.)

Resist the urge to solely promote your cause. Instead, listen and monitor the activity of other users, just as you would do if you were walking into a room and speaking to people in person. Once you have a good sense of the ongoing conversation or interaction, begin to engage. Likewise, as you begin to interact with others, develop a tone of voice that is authentically your own – you don’t want to come across as promotional, corporate, or bureaucratic. Share your point of view in a way that is open, positive, and enthusiastic. Be sure to credit others when repeating information.

When you are ready to ask something of the community, do so in a clear and direct manner.

Develop content and systems for managing your digital advocacy efforts

Building Followers and Engagement. Building followers (the number of people who follow or “like” your social media page) and engagement (the number of people who interact with your social media content) is easy, with a bit of effort. While various social media platforms work differently, here are some general tips for building followers and engagement:

  • Post compelling, interesting, and engaging content.
  • Post frequently. Social media platform analytics can be useful in determining how the time of day impacts engagement with your posts. Generally, evening and weekend posts tend to have high engagement, as that is a time when many people are naturally on social media.
  • “Like” or “follow” the pages and accounts of related organizations, as well as relevant county, city, and federal government offices. For instance, if your organization works with LGBTQ people, you may want to follow similar organizations, such as PFLAG Chapters in your area, the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, and the Trevor Project. Re-post, share, or re-tweet their posts, when possible. When an organization that does similar work follows your page, be sure to follow theirs back.
  • When you see someone “like” your social media post, invite them to follow your page, if the platform you are using allows you to do so (Facebook has this feature).

Engage with comments and promptly respond to questions. Make sure to moderate discussions to the extent that you can.

To stay on top of your social media objectives, develop a single content plan or editorial calendar of topics to post, which will include the timing of advocacy requests and key dates for desired outcomes. This can be a "skeleton" framework -- you can always add to it as time goes on. Allow enough flexibility to react to current events and topics the social community cares about. Your ratio of non-self-interested material to self-interested material should be roughly three to one.

Integrate and streamline social media efforts, while retaining an authentic presence on each platform. Meaning, don’t “spam” your users with the exact same content, but do consider opportunities to share key information across platforms easily. For example, you might post an article to your blog and automatically tweet that new content is there.

You’ll also want to integrate any online efforts with your offline efforts (printed materials, public relations, media outreach) to maximize success. Make sure you include social media reference points on printed materials, and promote content from printed materials online.

Monitor your efforts and tweak as needed. Remember to use the tools you have set up to monitor your traffic. Use Google Alerts, Facebook stats, and RSS feeds to stay informed and be responsive.

In Summary

Keep in mind that like all technology, social media is constantly changing and growing, and you will need to keep evaluating your social media plan to make sure that you are maximizing your reach and meaningfully engaging your audience.


This section was contributed by Heather Bowen Ray, a social change marketing consultant and technical advisor serving a variety of organizations and agencies. Visit her website The Habits Whisperer for more information. Additional text was supplied by Michele Schlehofer, Chair of the Psychology Department at Salisbury University, in Cumberland, MD.

Online Resources

10 free social media monitoring sites you should try - An overview of ten analytics sites you can use to track your blog or website's traffic.

50 (More) Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits - This session provides 50 beginner-level to intermediate-level tactics to better engage supporters, communicate your mission, and inspire action using the social web.

A YouTube video from the Connecticut Network: Advocacy & the Media - The power of print & broadcast; “do’s & don’ts” for social media advocacy, and some final advice. (5 min.)

Agile Advocacy is an article published by Michael Connery.  A variety of panelists familiar with social media advocacy were asked to respond to a variety of questions that collectively give guidance for the best practices in running a social media campaign. 

Beth’s Blog is a blog written by Beth Kanter, social media for nonprofits expert and author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change.

Blogging tips for media advocates, from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, shows how blogs can help establish your online identity, build credibility on an issue, share expertise, discover new allies, bring new viewers to your website, and, ultimately, advance your social change goals

Building Your Online Community & Social Media Presence is a helpful PDF booklet from SCRA, covering case studies, targeting, branding, backchannel, and advocacy. More information, including webinars and training, can be found here as well.

Cause Collaborative: Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits - Utilizing your brand within social media to increase awareness. Focusing on 30% of your posts to promote your own organization while keeping the rest of your content focused on your community, partners, and relevant news within your field.

Cause Collaborative: Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits - Determining what is social media worthy; creating an infrastructure that determines what content is appropriate and where it should be published. Featuring Cause Collaborative guest panelists (L to R): Jason Moore, Principal & Creative, Fulcrum Creatives; Lourdes Barroso De Padilla, Executive Director, City Year; Jami Goldstein GCAC, Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Events; Chris Hurtubise, Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications, COSI.

Choosing the Right Tools - A brief overview from e.politics about how to maintain a successful online presence.

Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Nonprofit - In this presentation creating a social media policy for your organization is discussed, including examples from real world policies from nonprofits large and small. They also discuss critical elements you need in your own policy and share with you several resources that can help you on your path to developing a common sense social media policy for your organization.

Facebook for Nonprofits contains tools and tips to help your cause and build your community.

How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media was an article published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on February 20, 2011 by Maureen West.

Nonprofit Tech For Good is a social and mobile media blog for nonprofits that includes webinar on use of social and mobile technology for the purpose of training nonprofit staff. 

How Nonprofits Use Social Media to Engage with their Communities is an article published on March 13, 2014 in Nonprofit Quarterly that reviews the success of social media usage and discusses practical social media applications for nonprofits. 

How a Small Nonprofit Effectively Used Facebook Ads - This article explores how placing ads on Facebook helps provide a targeted advertising strategy because Facebook knows the demographics and interests of its millions of users.

HOW TO: Curate Nonprofit Videos on YouTube, from Nonprofit Tech for Good, offers steps to create a YouTube Channel, then select and organize videos relevant to your nonprofit’s mission and programs.

Introduction to Social Media for Nonprofits: Select a social media platform - As part of the 2010 Day of Giving on PittsburghGives, The Pittsburgh Foundation has hosted workshops on the basics of social media to assist nonprofit organizations. For those that have been unable to attend, they have created a series of webinars. This is the introductory video to social media.

The Future of Social Activism: How Young Adults Are Supporting Causes, and Why You Should Care from TBWA/Worldwide and Take Part.

Promotion of Advocacy Campaigns Through Social Media is a YouTube video by Janette Toral that was streamed live on September 25, 2013 and answers several important questions regarding use of social media for advocacy.

RadioActive - The Magic Sauce of Social Media, Activism and Social Change is a streaming audio feed from Natalie Kivell.

Search Engine Journal has interesting infographics on the growth of social media worldwidesocial media demographics, and basics on social media security.

5 Social Fundraising Alternatives to Facebook Causes - An overview of 5 alternatives to Facebook Causes to help kickstart your fundraising.

A sociologist's adventures in social media land. On her blog, sociologist Deborah Lupton describes how she has used a wide variety of social media platforms to enrich her research, as well as her ability to interact with and receive feedback from readers. The blog post also links to Digital Sociology: An Introduction, a collection of several articles she has written on the subject.

e-Nonprofit Benchmarks Study is an infographic that shows top trends in online messaging, social media, and mobile programs for 2011.

Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project - From the Pew Research Center, this website produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.

The Power of Social Media: Connecting for Good - The Case Foundation highlights the ways nonprofits and foundations can use social media and technology to make an impact on our world for good -- online and offline.

Social Media is a site provided by the National Council for Nonprofits, and it offers 30+ resources for various aspects of social media including use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  

Social Media For Nonprofits is an organization website dedicated to including up-to-date information regarding use of social technology for social media.

Social Media Monitoring -- 5 Tips To Make It Easier (video).

Social Media Strategy for Beginners: Principles of Social Content & To-Dos - From CanadaHelps and So you've dipped your toes into social media: you've got a Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel and CEO blog set up. So now what?

Ten Tips for Non-Profits on Facebook - Provides ten simple but effective tips to strengthen your organization's Facebook presence.

The Ultimate TweetDeck Tutorial (video)

Top 5 social media mistakes we see nonprofits making - from Fenton Studios, a social change communications agency.

Top 10 Social Media Mistakes [2009-12-02] - This webinar will discuss some common social media mistakes that others have made so you don't have to.

Twitter for Nonprofits 2012 - As part of the Pittsburgh Foundations' PittsburghGives workshop seires, they present information and ideas on how to use social media effectively. Twitter for Nonprofits is a how-to guide to get started using Twitter as well as creative ideas that will help you use it better.

Using Social Media as a Tool to Complement Advocacy Efforts - This article presents findings from an extensive literature review to serve as a resource for community practitioners on ways to enhance advocacy efforts with social media.

Using Social Networking for Advocacy - From the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this article describes how you can use social media platforms to reach a large audience of existing and potential supporters, inspire public dialogue, and influence key decision makers.

The Whys and Hows of Twitter - Provides tips on how to become better informed and more efficient in your communications, and gain an understanding of how and why information moves in this new media paradigm.

Worksheet: Crafting your media advocacy plan, from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, can help you identify key moments in the political process or opportunities — such as holidays, anniversaries or other key dates — far enough in advance that you can prepare and act effectively.

Mike Kujawski’s Writing a social media strategic engagement plan.

Print Resources

Aaker J. & Smith A. The Dragonfly Effect.

Kanter, B., Fine, A., & Zuckerberg, R. (2010). The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change. Jossey-Bass. This book shows nonprofits a new way of operating under a network approach enabled by social technologies.

Kapin, A., & Ward, A. (2013). Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money, and Engage Your Community. Jossey-Bass. This book is written for nonprofit staff as a guide to social media, email communication, and mobile use.

Mansfield, H. (2011). Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits. McGraw-Hill. This book includes 100 practices for Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0 nonprofit communications and fundraising.

Mathos, M., Norman, C., & Kanter, B. (2012). 101 Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits: A Field Guide. Wiley. This guide is broken into five key areas, and it provides 101 actionable social media tactics for nonprofit organizations, most of which are free.

The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Toolkit, Edelman Digital; Public Affairs, January 2009.