National vs. local focus
Making a specific request to a decision maker who can act on it is central to the “theory of change” of effective advocacy campaigns. Local governments can often make more immediate changes, and may be more receptive to campaign demands than at the national level. Small offices may not be used to getting dozens of calls or emails in a day, and a sudden increase in constituent engagement can be “enough to derail an entire [city] council session.”
When designing campaigns that include outreach to public officials, make sure people are contacting their own elected officials so their input is taken seriously as a constituent. Many tools can match callers by zip code to their state legislative or congressional district, or allow custom targeting for city council or other local boundaries. While some national groups encourage everyone to call Congressional leadership or committee chairs, I have heard from staff members that these calls may be discarded if they are not verified as coming from a voter in their representative’s district.
Short-term burst vs. long-term impact
It is also easy to overwhelm targets, particularly if an issue is timely and the audience is engaged. Many government office systems are not designed for high call volumes, and voicemail boxes can fill up or give callers busy signals. If possible, spread calls out to multiple offices or across several days so users have a good experience calling and the campaign’s impact is long-lasting. By segmenting a large contact list into smaller groups and making specific requests of each one, organizers can distribute the load and keep the pressure up over time. If you are trying to reach Congress, connecting with district offices may be more responsive than those in Washington, DC.
Templates vs. original messages
It is vitally important campaign actions are authentic, and not seen as spam or faked. This is one reason I prefer calls that are synchronous, requiring some time and effort to complete, and convey a person’s own voice. Some tools provide a suggested script, but in general an individual story is more impactful than a set of pre-written talking points. Recorded advice from an organizer can encourage activists to speak in their own words, while still remaining on topic and respectful. Most call tools provide a dial-in number local to the issue, and Twilio-connected dialers will ensure the caller ID that appears at the office is from each individual activist, not the central campaign.
Low barrier to participate vs. Driving long-term engagement
It is also worth weighing the need to capture data on each action against ease of entry. Some advocacy tools require a user to join a list with their email address, with the possibility of continued contact later on, and others do not.
Some of the most viral campaigns today do not have a signup requirement, which means they can grow quickly and users may be more likely to act without feeling like they are signing up for yet another email list. Examples like defund12.org and justiceforbigfloyd.com ask users to take action immediately, without joining first. However, organizers may not have a way to engage these users again in the future without gathering contact information or metrics to prove that their efforts made an impact. Consider the campaign’s theory of change and impact metrics when designing user experiences and deciding between short and long term strategies.