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Even though some commentators wrote off the national political conventions as choreographed infomercials, they still managed to attract a huge crowd on social media platforms, especially Twitter. Instead of the traditional one-way speechifying, with party elites conveying their official platform, social media enabled the conventions to influence national dialogue if one measures success in tweets and trending hashtags. By those metrics, the Democratic Party emerged as the clear winner, with over 9 million tweets during its convention (compared to 4 Million for the RNC), and a new Twitter record for a political speech of 52,000 tweets per minute during Obama’s acceptance.

The conventions were a good reminder of the difficulty in controlling messaging on social media as evidenced by Clint Eastwood’s Republican Convention speech talking to an empty chair intended to represent President Obama. Responding to the Eastwood’s speech, An anonymous Twitter user created an account, Invisible Obama, and within minutes gathered several thousand followers and now has almost 70,000 followers.

In contrast, President Obama’s response (“This seat’s taken.”) to the “Eastwooding meme” was a messaging success: It drew 54,000 retweets and a very prominent place in press coverage of the RNC’s final night, diminishing in part the “convention bump” the GOP leadership was expecting following Romney’s speech.
President Obama, whose recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit, the “frontpage of the Internet”, drew significant praise from the media, appears to demonstrate that his campaign understands the emerging social media landscape. For Romney, his campaign has had some misfires, notably their recent sponsorship of the hashtag #AreYouBetterOff on Twitter, meant as a platform to criticize the inefficacy of Obama’s policies over the past four years. However the strategy backfired: several thousand people answered “yes” while only a small number of people replied with “no”.
While the political sector (and much of the corporate sector) is still figuring out how to leverage social media, the non-profit sector is way ahead using new platforms effectively to engage and broaden their constituencies around the world. Here are some notable examples of how non-profit organizations are effectively using social media to advance their mission.

The Nature Conservancy

Complementing a website loaded with tools needed to engage supporters, The Nature Conservancy has established a robust  presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest. They employ a motivating tone, fostering online dialogue among their constituents. They employ beautiful, inspiring pictures of nature and wildlife, combined with calls-to-action (“Donate”, “Protect Nature”, “Support Our Work“), demonstrating a highly coordinated approach to social media.

Charity:Water


This young organization has already built an impressive track record on social media. The organization’s Photo of the Day initiative enjoys a lot of (virtual) support and the (mostly) positive pictures emphasize and reinforce Charity:Water’s approach of highlighting opportunities rather than problems. On MyCharityWater.org supporters can set up their own fundraising page; it empowers people and communities to help solve the water crisis from the bottom up.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is considered a veteran in organizing people and leading successful campaigns worldwide. Recently the organization has developed new and effective online tools to enhance their human rights advocacy, such as the candle, a potent symbol fro Amnesty’s work, which can now be downloaded as an iPhone app.

These organizations have utilized the new media tools to remain on the cutting edge of activism and advocacy, to continually freshen the way they engage their existing constituents and attract new followers. To play the social media game it is important to:

  • Stay authentic
  • Create a positive voice
  • Listen to your community
  • Make it easy for your followers to take action
  • Be careful with attacks
  • Be prepared for counterattacks

The next post in this series will cover corporations and some of the challenges they face when engaging with stakeholders through social media.

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