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No Silver Bullet? Find the Silver BBs for Legislative Success!

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No Silver Bullet? Find the Silver BBs for Legislative Success!
6 Tips for Building Effective Grasstops Campaigns

Delaware’s U.S. Senator Tom Carper frequently comments that there is no silver bullet for legislative success, but there are “a lot of silver BBs.”

This holds as true for those of us involved in advocating public policy as it does for those setting it. Rarely can one campaign tactic guarantee results on Capitol Hill, but the right combination of strategies and voices increases the likelihood of securing a bill’s passage.

That’s where a well built, well run grasstops advocacy program comes in.

Grasstops programs mobilize influential constituents who “have a legislator’s ear.” Each performing as a metaphorical silver BB, they relate key points about an issue to targeted officials. Taken together, their input can help heighten an issue’s priority level, provide 3rd party validation of traditional lobbying communications, and supply the support necessary to garner a favorable vote.

Unlike a “scattershot” approach, however, grasstops advocacy delivers finely honed messages from precisely the audiences a particular legislator heeds most. Advocates may include formal and informal advisors, close friends, campaign donors, government and party officials, business and community leaders, and others with access to the target. Their messages can be delivered directly to the official and senior staff members, as well as through local earned media.

Just as valuable as their impact is the intelligence these well placed advocates gather during their interactions with legislators in the home environment. This information, which often differs from legislators’ statements in Washington, can help refine strategy and messaging across a comprehensive issue campaign.

Grasstops advocacy is clearly a powerful force. But programs must be designed and managed professionally or an organization risks hindering, rather than advancing, its policy objectives. Following are some tips for getting the most out of grasstops on your key issues:

#1 Think outside the Beltway.

Grasstops operates in the legislator’s home arena. First, determine if it’s an appropriate component to incorporate. Are the legislators you’re trying to reach open to hearing from local constituents, or are they too entrenched on the issue or too attentive to national considerations to take heed? Will your message resonate back home and compel advocates to get involved?

Answering these questions on a target-by-target basis is essential in selecting districts and states in which to operate and synchronizing the campaign with the local environment.

#2 Strategize globally, but tailor locally.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to grasstops organizing. It’s normal and expected to develop template campaign plans and umbrella messaging at the national level, and local efforts should certainly dovetail with any Washington-based lobbying or other activities. But grasstops approaches designed from 30,000 feet must then be tailored to the legislator, the district’s political environment, available allies, and a myriad of other factors on the ground.

Any successful grasstops campaign will be built on research and more research—all conducted in the community by reliable, well connected field operatives. In many ways, these programs revolve around access—to party leaders, major donors, business executives, community voices, etc.—so vet potential field representatives carefully.

#3 Get ahead of the opposition.

The majority of grasstops efforts are implemented in the 11th hour. Not only is it difficult to mobilize supporters in time for a vote only a few weeks away, such quick turnaround efforts are generally thrown together inefficiently, and thus are much more expensive than higher impact programs benefitting from a longer lead time.

A stand-out campaign, therefore, can be had simply by starting early. Allocating time to build a foundation means field teams can conduct advance planning, educate key influential advocates in depth, build a drumbeat of support for your organization’s stance, and generate local media coverage to capture attention—all while the other side is still sleeping. When the vote looms, a final crescendo of activity can reinforce this support and win the day.

In many cases, issue priorities are visible months or years in advance—even if the precise legislative vehicle is still TBD. Whenever possible, organizations should take advantage of these opportunities to build a grasstops base and involve advocates while legislation is being crafted. You may even find that many individuals share your organization’s perspective across a range of issues and can become reliable allies, ready for reactivation when the last minute is all you’ve got.

#4 Make the right connections.

As nice as it would be to say that one major donor, two business leaders, and a handful of community organizations always adds up to success, there is no single grasstops recipe to follow. Each legislator lives in a different political reality and surrounds him/herself with a different cadre of advisors and influencers.

As a result, the most effective grasstops efforts rely on highly experienced on-the-ground consultants who know the local players personally, understand the various pressures on the legislator, and can determine how best to martial available forces to achieve success.

#5 Be flexible.

Each campaign has its own ebb and flow. For example, prominent media coverage can suddenly spotlight an issue and provide an opportunity. By the same token, a crisis on a different front can sideline even the most important topic. Similarly, legislators’ stances will evolve in their own time.

The best grasstops programs are specifically designed to respond to such developments, switching up strategy, messaging, and communications tactics to continuously maximize effectiveness and impact.

#6 Dot the “i” in compliance.

Before embarking on a grasstops program, educate yourself about all applicable federal and/or state lobbying laws. For example, some areas demand registration and budget disclosures before engaging in advocacy efforts. Overlook such requirements at your peril.

But protection from blowback requires more than legal fine-tuning. Ensure your grasstops partner(s) employs the highest standards for integrity and quality. Prospective advocates should be fully informed on the issue and only genuine, articulate supporters—those capable of delivering the most effective messages—should be involved.

Politics being what it is, no advocacy campaign can guarantee a win. But if you follow these recommendations and deploy your silver BBs effectively, you’ll have a good shot at grasstops and legislative success.

How Can Our New HubSpot Certification Help You

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When I talk to people about what I do and what tools AGI uses to help our clients run successful campaigns, I often get the response, “What is HubSpot? I’ve never heard of that.” Well friends, don’t tell my boss I’m giving away a few of our trade secrets, but I’m here to answer that for you today.

HubSpot is an inbound marketing software platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers. Now your next question may be, “What does that have to do about advocacy?” Answer: Everything.

Effective campaigns must be founded on successful advocacy networks. AGI harnesses the power of HubSpot by turning your website into a magnet. By creating informative content, optimizing it for search engines, and sharing it on social media you capture the right audience – whether they’re buying your product or taking action on your behalf.

We’re excited to announce that the whole AGI Digital Team has recently been certified in both the best practices of Inbound Marketing and development on the COS (customer optimization system; unique to HubSpot). This means when advocacy firms start to talk about using HubSpot, there’s only one place they should go for development.

HubSpot isn’t right for all our clients. If you’re interested in learning more about how the system might help you achieve your advocacy goals, give us a call.

How are you using Twitter in 2014?

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The setting was The Hamilton in Washington, DC. The attendees came from all over the city with a variety of backgrounds and interests, but there was one common strand that brought us together: our love for Twitter. This was #TwitterDC 2014!

Still unsure of what this word “Twitter” is or means? Peter Greenberger, Washington’s Director of Sales at Twitter, referred to it as “the global town square” and couldn’t have summarized it better. This rapidly growing social platform has now over 230 million active users that are “tweeting” one billion times every two days. I think the best thing about Twitter is that it is an open conversation that you take part of instantly ranging from broad or niche topics. According to the Global Strategy Group & Twitter Beltway Elites Research Project, 2013, 83 percent of young elites find Twitter to be useful, with 46 percent stating the platform is very useful, for sharing information with a large number of people. As a matter of fact, Twitter is now considered the #1 source for breaking news.

I’m sure you are thinking, “That’s great. But why should I care; how does this pertain to me?” Because if you aren’t integrating Twitter into you campaign or brand marketing strategy, you are doing it wrong. And let me tell you why:

  • 100 percent of the U.S. Senate and 97 percent of the House of Representatives are active on Twitter.
  • During President Obama’s acceptance speech at #DNC2012 52,752 tweets were sent per minute.
  • 76 percent of users access Twitter from their mobile devices.
  • Seven in ten elite users say Twitter is the best way to stay informed about breaking political news and developments.

Now that I have your attention, let me break down how you can make Twitter a critical component to “win the moment [or campaign].”

  • Establish your voice with compelling and relevant content. Well-produced, engaging, and original content reigns supreme. The more relatable the better. In the era of social networks, we have found that people want to be a part of an authentic and relevant conversation. That’s where the platform of Twitter thrives, creating conversations with your advocates in a social space to raise awareness or convert them into taking action.
  • Use of rich media is key. The key to delivering great content is through the use of rich media. Social media is meant to be entertaining, informative, and spontaneous. Being able to leverage your advocates’ likes, opinions and interactions to promote a larger issue or picture is what makes a campaign successful. Due to the popularity of YouTube, Instagram, and the newly popular Buzzfeed, social media users are now digesting more information in less time through photographs, infographics, GIFs, and videos. This has allowed for brands and associations to take advantage of this in creating shareable and concise content.
  • Harness the unknown to your advantage. Current events rule the ‘Twitter school yard” due the rapidness and influx of information on the platform. As I stated earlier, Twitter is now considered the #1 source for breaking news. Use this to your advantage and be flexible when creating content or developing responses. Recently AARP made light of Jeff Daniel’s Emmy acceptance speech, who joked that his only previous win was a Barcalounger for AARP’s “Movies for Grownups” award, with the following tweet. Allow Twitter to be your platform to respond to breaking news using keyword targeting in timelines and hashtags. Consider creating a Twitter ad campaign to support an idea or fact-check a contrasting opinion right as the conversation starts to emerge.
  • Activate supporters with direct calls to action. With Lead generation cards, once a user expands your tweet, you can give them the option to respond to a call-to-action by submitting their email address immediately.

As Twitter begins to develop more as place for advocacy-focused campaigns, be sure you are ahead of the learning curve. Have the knowledge that you are both able to create a conversation or take part in larger one.

At AGI, we create compelling social media campaigns every day. If you would like to sit down and talk social media campaign strategy, I will happily do so. Reach out at ehoffman [at] advocacygroupinc [dot] com.

Go forth, and tweet.

Speaking to American University’s Master’s of Digital Marketing Class

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In early December I was asked by my friend Danny Allen to speak to his American University master’s degree students about digital marketing, specifically social media marketing. I was of course flattered, but also overwhelmed: the impact social media has had on the marketing industry cannot be overstated. And the range of topics to cover, from viral marketing to big data personalization to inbound, could have easily comprised a course of its own.

Rather than an academic approach, I decided the easiest way to convey these topics was to find my favorite examples of each type, then talk about why it is/was effective for that given campaign. Many of these received an outsized amount of traditional media after going viral online, and are therefore are well known (Human Rights Campaign, Oreo Super Bowl). Others remained online and are therefore lesser known outside the social space (Frito-Lay, Unicef). But they all serve as terrific examples of social media marketing done right.

Below you’ll find the presentation in its entirety, as well as some notes to accompany each slide written after the fact.

Do you have a favorite use of social media marketing? Share it with me at

Slide 1: Introduction
Slides 2-4: Human Rights Campaign Facebook profile variations; rate of profile picture changes over time
Slides 5-7: Oreo Super Bowl ad traditional spot vs. earned online reach; analysis of Super Bowl social tie-ins
Slide 8: Innovative Frito-Lay video explaining how they chose their newest flavor
Slide 9: Unicef’s very unconventional campaign
Slide 10: A famous example of what not to do in social media marketing
Slide 11: Keys to success—things to remember when devising your online campaign
Slide 12: A step-by-step outline for getting your marketing plan accepted in your organization
Slide 13: TVE’s favorite uses of social media marketing

Happy New Year from AGI

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Here at AGI, we know your inbox becomes slammed before the holidays. Last-minute client requests, party invites, and of course a deluge of impersonal blast email greetings from companies you haven’t heard from in years… who needs another one of those?

That’s why we decided to create a post-holiday post instead. And we included a video to boot—just something that shows we are getting back into the regular swing of things, post-food coma and sugar cookie high.

If you’re reading this, you’re part of a small group we like to call “Friends of AGI”: current and past clients, specialized vendors, or just people we find interesting. Please let us know if you’d ever like to discuss what we do, or how we can help you build the perfect campaign in the new year. Just like Legos, we know how to make all the pieces fit.

We hope you enjoy our New Years greeting, which we send with our best wishes for your continued success in 2014.

-The AGI Team

Mike, Christy, Wes, Todd, and Emily

Social Advocacy & Politics: Why Facebook Hashtags Matter for Political Campaigns

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Facebook has always sucked for advocacy and politics. Sure, we use it, but it is because we have to. Face it, 240-plus million Americans are on Facebook and good campaign organizers go to the people. But Facebook has never made it easy for us. Until now; until Facebook hashtags.

ImageFacebook has been a challenge for campaigns because, aside from its far too frequently changing user interface, it is built around the act of people connecting with people they know. For example, if you try to friend people you don’t know and they complain, Facebook will suspend your ability to friend anyone. And pages can’t reach out and friend new fans. Only personal profiles can do that.

Twitter, on the other hand is about connecting with people AND connecting with conversations about topics. That’s what hashtags are all about. In fact, hashtags were organically created by Twitter users to tag conversation topics (or issues, in the parlance of campaigns) with hashtagged keywords. Twitter noticed that we were doing this and turned our hashtags into hyperlinks to launch search queries of that keyword.

Being able to follow topics, or issues, regardless of whether we follow the people discussing them, is why Twitter is much better for expanding a campaign’s outreach opportunities. Sure, Facebook is great to organize people online and offline AFTER you make a connection, but Twitter has always been better at reaching new people.

With the new Facebook hashtag, though, that can all change. Assuming Facebook users embrace the new hashtag by clicking through to check out the conversations they link to, Facebook outreach can now be expansive, like Twitter (but to more people).

And unlike Twitter, where hashtags consume precious characters, Facebook allows for much longer posts. Instead of distracting your audience with a string of tags at the end of your tweet, on a Facebook wall post you can skip a few lines and list the hashtags footnote style. This makes your posts more likely to be found by interested strangers.

If you have a high-profile keyword in your post, you can make it a hashtag, spurring readers to click through to your broader issue conversation. With hashtags, Facebook becomes a vast, fluid network; where your extended, adjacent and far-off networks are now reachable.

So don’t let people denigrate hashtags. Sure they can be annoyingly used, but so can Gatoraid if you’re a winning football coach. But when used intellegently, hashtags, like Gatoraid, can bring your game to a whole new level.

To reduce this to an all too familiar meme, “Facebook can haz hashtagz.”

It’s about time.


Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.

Source: Social Media Today

3 Steps to Improve Outbound Communication

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Throughout the last decade, communications professionals have had to adapt and evolve to ever-changing tech practices. With so many new ways to analyze and target your audience, there are a few easy steps you can take to modernize your company. It can be difficult to modernize efficiently, without wasting time and money, so we came up with three tips to help guide your modernization process.

  • Optimize your audience: Get the most out of your (free) data

Improving outbound communications doesn’t have to be expensive if you utilize the resources you have at your disposal. Today we are bombarded with advertisements across every medium. The constant barrage of advertisements has caused a sharp level of user fatigue. How many times do we actually click on those banner ads or listen to the commercial before a YouTube video? Instead of blanketing ads to an audience using bought and sold data, use what you already know about your audience to reach them more effectively. Third party data lives in the realm of the assumed. Each year people are becoming less and less likely to interact with online advertisements. So, why waste money advertising to an audience that isn’t receptive?

Instead of buying third-party data that makes assumptions about users’ online behavior, take advantage of the opportunities to collect data on your own digital properties. In laymen’s terms, let people show interest in your content before advertising to them. Let us say Jane visits a shopping site and finds a dress that catches her eye. By interacting with that dress, Jane has shown interest in one of the company’s products, so she is now a target audience member. A savvy retail company will retarget ads of that same dress on the different websites Jane visits —and she will likely pay attention to the ads given her prior engagement with their site. Using this method, you can target audiences based on learned knowledge, not just assumptions and generalities.

  • Show and tell

Humans are drawn to visuals. We start with reading picture books as toddlers and go on to show and tell in elementary school, and now our brains are trained to be attracted to visual elements. If you want your audience to better comprehend information, it’s much more effective to include an infographic, a chart, a graph, a video or another visual component. Not many people will stop and read a content-heavy article, but people will read and comprehend the information if it’s presented in a unique and creative way.

For instance, research shows that a Facebook post that includes a picture receives 104% more comments, 53% more likes and 84% more clicks than a post without an accompanying photo. Think about what you are drawn to when you’re reading on the Internet—chances are, a compelling visual will come to mind.

  • Get ahead of the news cycles

If there’s a message that you want to share with the public, get it out there before the news cycle. A decade ago, communication professionals usually had at least a week to confront an issue; new media has decreased that window to one or two days. Rapid response is imperative if you want to succeed in properly disseminating your content. Social media and blogs encourage engagement more than ever before, which means false information and criticism can spread rapidly if you don’t get ahead of the news cycle. It’s much easier to be proactive with your messaging than reactive.

Americans are increasingly engaging with political issues on social media — leading some to become civic activists offline, a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found.

According to Pew’s “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” study, a full 39% of American adults “took part in some sort of political activity” on a social network during the 2012 elections, whether that meant liking a candidate’s Facebook page, posting a political news story, encouraging another user to vote or several other actions. That percentage is up from 26% during the 2008 contest.

Pew’s study also sheds light on the often-asked question of whether political involvement in the online world translates into offline action: 43% of social media users told Pew they decided to learn more about an issue they first discovered on social media, while 18% took offline action on a political or social issue after reading about it on social media.

“Many discussions about the impact of the internet on political and civic life assume that the people who take part in political activities on social networking sites are separate and distinct from those who take part in political activities outside social networking sites,” said Aaron Smith, Senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and author of the report, in a statement referring to the concept of “slacktivism.”

“In fact, the typical American who is politically active engages with political content across a range of venues—online, offline, and in social networking spaces,” continued Smith. “Social networking sites offer a space for individuals who are passionate about issues to share that passion with others, and their engagement with those issues often bleeds over into other aspects of their lives.”

Pew’s tale of digital engagement begetting offline action comes with an important caveat: people from high-income households and those with undergraduate degrees or higher are more likely to engage with politics than poorer and less educated citizens. That effect is slightly less pronounced in political engagement on social media, though Pew notes “socio-economic distinctions related to education still play a prominent role in these spaces.”

“Despite hopes that the internet could change the fundamental nature of political participation, it is still the case that the well-educated and relatively well-off are more likely to take part in civic life both online and offline,” said Smith.

Pew also found that “despite the increased prominence of online platforms when it comes to Americans’ political activity,” Americans are still on average three times as likely to talk politics offline than they are online. The majority of political financial donors — 60% — also still donate through offline methods, but the percentage of Americans who donate only through online methods is at 23%, a figure perhaps accelerated by new rules that allowpolitical donations via text message

Pew’s Civic Engagement in the Digital Age study is based on a phone survey of 2,253 American adults aged 18 and older and carried out between July 16 and August 7, 2012. Interviews were done in English and Spanish and via landline and cellphone. The margin of error is ± 2.4 percentage points.

 Alex Fitzpatrick, Mashable


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