The accelerating penetration of mobile devices across demographics is a huge opportunity for civic engagement, as advocates now can use their phones to take social action to support a candidate or policy in just a few taps.
In July, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the findings of a study on mobile worldwide penetration. The study found that as of last December, the United States, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, and South Korea had greater than 100 percent wireless penetration. This means these countries have more iPhones, Androids, and tablets than people.
It probably comes as little surprise to most Americans. Last January, Pew Research reported that 90 percent of all Americans have a mobile phone (when you consider tablets and other wireless devices, it’s easy to see how quickly we surpass 100 percent). In another study, the group found that two thirds of these cellphone owners use their mobile phones to go online, with people of color—74 percent for African-Americans and 68 percent for Hispanics—leading the way.
There are several ways advocates and campaigns can take advantage of the increase mobile penetration. A few quick case studies from the past cycle:
During the 2014 legislative season, the Georgia Charter Schools Association provided the means for hundreds of constituents to engage with their officials to support a fast-moving legislative measure in education. The advocates not only took action to support the effort, but they also did it quickly, showing the state Legislature that they were ready to mobilize when needed.
A similar effort, Florida-based Voices for Choices organized parents to send hundreds of communications to their legislators to expand a scholarship program. While not all officials supported the program at the beginning of the legislative season on March 4, they felt the pressure from the hundreds of emails, calls, and tweets they received. This pressure translated to bipartisan approval of the expansion of the program, which passed before the session ended on May 2.
More recently, New York passed a bill that sets the stage for action by the Board of Regents to have all New York school children complete hands-only cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training.
The New York State Legislature has considered bills addressing this type of health education for over 15 years, only to vote them down or not advance them through the governor’s office. This year was different, however, as advocates, taking action in a campaign sponsored by the American Heart Association, employed new, effective means to advocate for the passage of the bill.
AHA met with small groups and showed them how they could advocate for the bill’s passage by texting “CPR” to 52886. They also provided digital tools that drove more than seven hours of patch-through calls to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on a Friday, then followed on “Twitter Tuesday” with a social media barrage that drove hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts to the Democrat’s official Facebook and Twitter account, publicly highlighting how important the cause was to hundreds of advocates throughout the state.
All these efforts used mobile advocacy tools, which supporters accessed by simply sending a text message, or by clicking a link in an email.
How can this help inform your campaign? Here are a few tips for making your social advocacy campaigns mobile-ready:
Ensure your website and communications are fully accessible on smartphones and tablets. Having beautiful, engaging content isn’t enough if it’s not accessible on mobile.
Use text messaging as part of your engagement strategy to ensure you reach your supporters. Not everyone has email, but almost everyone has a phone with text-message access.
Don’t stop with emailing your supporters. People today use their mobile devices for much more than emailing, so send your communications in every way possible: email, text messaging, and through social media. Triangulation is important. Make sure your civic engagement platform facilitates this.
Allow advocates to engage in as many ways as possible, not just via email. People have preferences and providing them with multiple options for taking action can boost engagement.
Use multiple strategies to push your message to elected officials. They’re not only checking emails and voicemails, but they’re often active on social media. So meet them “where they are” and be sure to keep your message simple and consistent across all channels.
Lastly, keep an eye on the trends. Mobile advocacy is just starting and every day we learn something new about the power of mobile for civic engagement.
RaShaun Holliman is a former charter school principal leading the statewide outreach efforts for the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Patrick Stoddart is co-founder and CTO of @Phone2Action.