Using Social Media to Get People to Do Stuff

When you think about it, all we are really trying to do with our animal rescue is save lives. At the end of the day, that’s what it all boils down to. But to achieve this goal, we must somehow cause a series of things to happen. We need to get people to “do stuff”: to volunteer, to donate, to spay/neuter, to adopt vs. buy their pets, to be educated, to support humane legislation and education, etc. etc. etc.

So it seems like it would be a lot easier to get people to do the stuff we want them to do if a) we KNOW what we want them to do, and b) we keep that goal in mind as we consider HOW we are going to best use the resources available to us to get them to do it.

Social media is such an attractive tool for this manipulation (it’s an ugly word, but really, that’s what we’re doing!), because it’s free, readily available, pretty easy and pervasive.

So I’d like to give you a case study in progress, if you will, to show you how I’ve used social media to get people to take action on something specific.

Right now a bill (SB 1712, known as the “Black Market Breeder Bill“) is moving through the Oklahoma state legislature. This bill would enact steps to make it a bit more difficult for puppy millers to operate in the state of Oklahoma (my home state) where, unfortunately, puppy mills are a big business. The Central Oklahoma Humane Society, for whom I manage all social media, is very interested in seeing this bill become law. We knew we would need to enlist the support of regular citizens all across the state to educate them about the bill and get them to take action.

A bigger problem is that we knew we wouldn’t have very much time. Sometimes we would only find out one day (or even a few hours) before a bill would be heard. So the situation was pretty urgent. The first thing we knew was that the bill was being presented by its author (a state Senator) to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would need to make it out of this committee; that was our first hurdle.

So we knew that we needed to contact people who were residents of the districts of senators on the Appropriations Committee. But we didn’t have any idea who those people were, among our supporters, fans and friends.

Luckily, we have a well-established fan base and network of supporters on social media–Facebook, Twitter, MyspaceYoutube and the OK Humane blog. We had made the ongoing effort, throughout the months and years preceding this bill, to establish a relationship with those people. So when we needed them to ACT, they were ready and available.

If someone saw our blog post and didn’t live in a district represented by someone on that committee, maybe they knew someone who did–and they sent them a message. They posted on their Facebook page. They tweeted and retweeted. They used our “Support SB 1712” graphic on their blogs and profile pages. They were fired up and ready to help, even if they couldn’t–at this point–call their own senator.

So that was our first hurdle, and the bill made it out of the committee (with only one dissenting vote!). The two things we did next are really important.

We kept everyone informed. We told them about the successful vote as soon as we heard the news. Our fans and supporters were now invested in this bill and its outcome, because they had helped in some way. They were waiting to hear the news. If we hadn’t bothered to share the results, it would be like saying we needed their help, but didn’t care enough to thank them for it. It would have been a slap in the face.

So we kept them informed with what information we had, as we got it. We also asked them to THANK the Senators on the committee who had supported the bill, and we listed contact information for all those Senators.  (And we asked them not to send hateful emails to the Senator who had voted against it, too!). Another key point: we made it easy for them to do as we asked.

Just as it is important for all of us to thank our volunteers and supporters, we felt it was very critical to thank these Senators for their support. After all, now that the bill had passed committee, it would be going to the full senate for a vote. They would get the chance to vote again!

Now it was really time to gear up. EVERYONE in the state of Oklahoma could take action now, because everyone has a Senator and every Senator would be voting on this bill.

Luckily, since the bill had been on the table for this session of congress, we had been talking about it. A big part of getting peoples’ support in this case was education. Hardly anybody wants to read the full text of a bill (they sure don’t make them easy to understand) but we didn’t want people to just take our word for it on what the bill would do if enacted. So we blogged about it, we answered lots of questions, we spoke to media whenever possible.

We found that even the opponents of this bill were coming to our blog to get information, because it was the most up-to-date, comprehensive source of information about it.

We didn’t have long to wait before the bill was heard in the full Senate. This was good, because we had momentum; if a few months had passed, people might have forgotten about it. So now we enlisted everyone’s help, asking people to call or email their senators. Again, we made it very easy to find out who your senator is (lots of people don’t know; I didn’t!), and how to easily contact him or her. I even created a button that would allow people to email all senators at once!

We made sure that people knew what they were talking about when they wrote or called. The last thing we wanted is a bunch of “crazy animal people” emailing congressmen about animal cruelty or roadkill or their neighbor’s obnoxious barking dogs…when that wasn’t what this bill was about at all. We provided basic, sample letters, but encouraged people to write and talk in their own words.

What we found had happened the last time we supported a bill (last spring, HB 1332) is that people would tweet or retweet, or they’d post it on Facebook, but they wouldn’t actually call or write their representative. This was not good. Congressmen don’t care what you write on your Facebook wall, they care if they get a letter from you, their constituent. So this time we really pushed that message. Don’t just retweet–actually make that phone call!

I’ll be honest, it was hard, even for me. I’m a total technology freak, so it’s SO much easier for me to tweet than pick up the phone. I even kind of have a phone phobia! But for this, I did it, and it turns out, so did other people. Lots of people.

Once everyone knew SB 1712 was being heard in the full Senate, people really got into gear. We got emails from people in other states asking what they could do to help. We had a plan in place and suggestions to give, and people turned their energy into action.

We gave them talking points. We encouraged them to create phone trees to get people to call their Senators (phone calls have the most effect with legislators). We gave everyone a task. Everyone made a difference.

Again, when the bill was heard by the full Senate, we had someone there, reporting back on the action. We kept people informed via our social media sites so they could follow along, even while they were sitting at work or on their lunch breaks.

People got involved because they felt invested.

And that is where the story ends…for now. The bill passed out of the full Senate last week with only 8 “no” votes. Again, we published the vote record and encouraged people to thank the Senators who supported the bill. We are keeping people informed of what the next steps are (it will go to the equivalent House of Representatives Committee) and what they can do now in the meantime (contact their Representative if he or she is on that committee). It should be a few weeks before the bill is heard in the house, so we have to maintain momentum until that happens. People have very short attention spans for news on the web!

Even if your organization does not participate in legislative advocacy, this is a message that applies to ANYTHING you want to ask people to do. If you need anything, from foster homes to Saturday dog walkers to paper towels to copy paper, if you have an established relationship with people on social media, they will provide it for you. And the more people you “know” on social networks, the bigger your circle will grow.

At our humane society, if we need anything, we can ask on social media and generally we will get it. We needed three digital cameras, and we asked. Within 2 weeks we had four new cameras donated. The odds are pretty good that with three or four thousand followers and fans on social media, someone is going to have whatever you need.

So have conversations. Build relationships. Spend the time–invest the time–in social media. Then, when you have a need, you can call on those established relationships. If you wait until you have a desperate need to make the call, you can’t be surprised if there’s nobody there to answer.

Some people have told me that “fans” is not a good word to use to describe your organizations friends/followers on social media. But I think that what I want for my humane society more than anything else is fans! Superfans, in fact!

Do you remember the band you were crazy about in junior high? Didn’t you spend all your time thinking about them and telling people about how great they were? Wouldn’t you have done ANYTHING if they had asked you?

Yep. I want superfans for my humane society. Those are the people who will be there when we need them.

Get in Touch!

I'm available via most social media, so drop me a line! I'll answer your questions and I really look forward to hearing from you and helping if I can!

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