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Digital Advocacy and the Need for Speed

Cole Hogan

A good digital advocacy campaign uses social media platforms to create awareness, persuade online users of a particular argument, then motivates those users to take an online action. There’s a lot that businesses and other organizations can learn about creating conversion by looking at the political context.

If you want to get in front of your target audience, chances are the organic reach (the number of online users you can access without paid advertising) of your existing Facebook page is not going to advance your organization’s advocacy goals.

Organic reach is dead. The current average organic reach is an estimated 2.2 per cent. If you’ve only got 500 followers, you’re reaching 11 online users. It’s a road to nowhere.

In order to grow your organization’s following and achieve your advocacy goals, you will need an advertising budget. In order to use that advertising budget properly you’ll need to identify and then strategically target the online audiences that are most likely to respond to your campaign’s messaging.

Got that nailed down? Here’s the biggest challenge: getting your audience’s attention – and fast.

The average attention span of a user on a desktop computer user is 2.5 seconds, no matter what the online content may be. For mobile users, it’s 1.7 seconds.

81 per cent of Facebook’s 2.3 billion monthly users access Facebook only through a mobile phone.

Your advertising content needs to immediately explain your campaign’s message, but it also needs to be designed for the platform it’s displayed on.

In 2018, I was creating the digital campaign that helped propel Doug Ford to become Premier of Ontario. Our strategy included using video footage where a large, enthusiastic crowd of supporters chanted his name repeatedly.

This video footage was edited down to speedy, five-second clips with the name ‘Doug’ flashing on the screen in unison with the chant. The footage was scaled to fit the vertical aspect ratio of a mobile phone, 9×16 instead of 16×9, the default widescreen aspect ratio for television screens. The ‘Doug’ text animated vertically on the screen, instead of left to right. By scaling the footage to a vertical aspect ratio and animating the text vertically, we created content that would perform best on the device where it was being watched and matched the flow of a user’s mobile phone scrolling, helping to break through that 1.7 second attention span barrier. Simple, but effective.

The platform-specific ads got our message across for the 2018 Ontario election: Doug Ford is for the people. Because these ads immediately communicated Ford’s message and were custom built for the platform, they delivered great results and were seen by millions of Ontarians.

The Democratic Party in the U.S. is taking a similar approach when it comes to online fundraising. While their current Facebook ads may not be digestible within 1.7 to 2.5 seconds, they have an interesting, familiar visual prompt.

As part of an ongoing effort to fundraise for the 2022 midterm elections, the Democratic National Committee created slick ads that mimic the AirDrop message prompt on an iPhone. The post text of each ad offers a free sticker for new monthly donors and mentions what activities are funded by existing monthly donors. The text of the image within the AirDrop message prompt features a gradient font, which is becoming increasingly popular in political design. These ads will convert online users into monthly donors.

The Republican Party is taking an entirely different approach to fundraising for the 2022 midterm elections. While the Democrats are using colourful, interesting design and familiar visual prompts, the GOP content is wrapped in the American flag, red, white, less blue, and mostly features Donald Trump. This is likely due to the fact that Trump’s political action committee, Save America, has raised $124 million since November 2020.

What’s the theme? Ads that are built for their audience. American political strategist, Brett Feinstein, puts it bluntly, “You’re not designing for yourself and you’re not even designing to please the clients. You’re designing for an audience that has a high barrier to cut through.”

Whatever the goal of your advocacy campaign is, whether it’s generating letters to an elected official, creating awareness around an issue, persuading the general public of your organization’s message, shifting public opinion or fundraising, the right content on the right platforms for the right audience will ensure you meet your goals.