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Activism online

Without the internet, the Wikileaks cables would still be stashed away in a secret filing cabinet and Barack Obama might not have been elected. Such is the power of 'clicktivism' bringing people together to campaign via the web. Follow our tips for your online activism onslaught.

Web skills are not just useful for activists, they're essential. The great thing about online technology is that it's cheap, even free, to use. And all the applications listed below are exactly the same as the ones big charities and campaigning organisations have at their disposal.

So, if you're starting a campaign, here are the online 'spaces' you should be occupying.

Social networking

Setting up a Facebook page and getting all your friends to share it on their profiles won't change the course of history, but it will help your cause. Social networking is vitally important to all campaigners. It gets your cause in front of people who care about it, wherever they are (rather than expecting them to somehow find your website). It's also an excellent tool for putting pressure on governments and companies.

At the moment, most social networking activity centres on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo (for video) and MySpace (for music). But networks come and go, so get ready to be an early adopter of whatever cyberspace throws at us next.

If computers make you feel like your brain might short circuit, dont fear.

  • Find out where your audience is - if they're not on Facebook, what social network are they using?
  • Remember to set your privacy settings correctly. These change all the time and your network won't always bother to tell you, so be proactive.
  • Keep your password safe and only give it out to trusted team members; your campaign could easily be derailed by someone typing the wrong thing.  
  • Engage with people. Anyone who shows interest could be a potential source of help for your campaign, so be nice and they'll come back.
  • Be genuine. Even if you're tweeting as a representative of a campaign/organisation, rather than yourself, aim for a warm, human tone of voice.
  • Be active. Set targets to update at least once a day and find and befriend at least two new useful people.
  • There may be some people who aren't regular social network users (can you imagine?!) so be aware that using online activism won't reach everybody.
  • Be brave, but not stupid. If you tweet at your local MP, they may well listen and respond. But only if you approach them in the right way.

Blogging

Blogs, though comparatively old-school, are still important. Blogging is a cheap way to keep people updated about your campaign. It's also great for getting deeper into an issue and showing off your expertise. And if you want media attention, your blog will give journalists an easy way to find you (so be careful what you write).  If computers make you feel like your brain might short circuit, don't fear. Most free blog software is now incredibly user friendly.

  • Choose a simple design; no crazy geometric patterns, weird stock photography or horrible fonts.
  • Spell properly. Bad grammar makes people nervous, especially if you're asking them for money.
  • Don't forget to network yourself - put huge 'Share' buttons right where your readers can see them.
  • Make yourself searchable online by 'tagging' each article with key words. This helps people using Google to find you.
  • You don't have to enable comments, as comment boxes can attract spam and take time to manage. Give people a way to contact you, though.

Wikis

Thanks to Julian Assange, the word wiki has developed a bit of a reputation. But a wiki is just a platform for people to collaborate online. It allows you to share and update documents in order to develop ideas. Wikis can be open (like Wikipedia) or private. They're great if you want to share information with fellow campaigners you can't meet face-to-face.  

Online petitions

Petitions can be effective if they go viral (meaning people pass them on). The secret to this is outrage. If it is an issue local to that person, or something that shocks them, people will be more bothered to sign and forward an online petition. Or the petition needs to be about a local issue which will affect them personally. To see how the professionals do it, check out online campaigners www.avaaz.org. As with blogging and wikis, there's a variety of free software you could try.

Is there an app for that?

As phone technology develops, phone applications (apps) will help campaigners connect with audiences. In fact they already are. Volunteering and mentoring centre the Depaul Trust developed ihobo to raise awareness about homelessness, while WaterAid UK has an app which helps users find public toilets (as well as encouraging people to visit its website and get more involved in the campaign). If you're a true geek, you could develop your own app. Otherwise, it's an expensive business, though - as with everything else online - this is likely to change quickly.

Updated: 28/02/2011


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