005: Methods of Modern Advocacy


Getting people to care about something has been around as long as there has been stuff to care about. But in the age of instantaneous communication and lives on public display, how is technology being used for advocacy?

Listen & subscribe to the podcast on Anchor | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Apple Podcasts


00:00 - Hello and welcome to another episode of the Sublation Studio podcast. Today we are going to be talking about methods of modern advocacy. And I might mess up that word a few times. It’s a tongue twister. Getting people to care about something has been around as long as there has been stuff to care about. But in the age of instantaneous communication and lives on public display, how is technology being used for advocacy?

00:22 - Let me just get out there a disclaimer. This is not an exhaustive review of advocacy - advocacy is complex and manifests differently for different people, cultures, religions, regions, etc. This is just to touch on the “new” ways that it’s happening. We're going to talk about traditional versus modern methods of advocacy, the role social media plays, the media's involvement and even the intent behind advocacy.

Advocacy doesn’t have to be marching

00:52 - Advocacy, to me, doesn’t have to be marching - it can be more personal and at a smaller scale. It can be calling out your loved ones when they say something harmful or act in a bias way, helping a stranger that is differently abled, or even signing a local petition addressing a diversity and inclusion issue in your area. It can be educating yourself on who you thought you were advocating for and seeing if that matches up. For example, disabledlist.org is a great resource. Disabled List is a curated list of creative disabled people who are available to consult. Their program called WITH, is a fellowship that partners disabled creatives with design studios and branding agencies. They want to shift the narrative about disability by collaborating and consulting with brands to help them understand who the disabled are and what they want. Ensuring that people design WITH the disabled and not FOR them. Another example would be a product designer who is perhaps developing an app. They think they are designing for those with color-blindness by making sure their colors are ADA compliant but take a step back and see if that’s really what they need. Perhaps they already have functionality on their phone that takes that into account and adjusts appropriately. That’s when you need to involve the people you are designing for - and not just the disabled, whoever your audience is - there are entire courses on user research. This is a broader topic but just something to keep in mind.

Traditional Methods of Advocacy

02:34 - “Traditional” methods of advocacy are tried and true. One of them is lobbying or direct communication and involves influencing through direct, private communications with decision-makers. Lobbying, particularly through personal meetings with decision-makers, can be a powerful and cost-effective advocacy tool.

03:00 - Another traditional method of advocacy is campaigning. It involves speaking publicly on an issue with a view to generating a response from the wider public and using a variety of techniques such as: e-mails, letters, opinion pieces and letters to the editor in newspapers, celebrity endorsements, media partnerships with newspapers or journalists or film-makers, public events, and/or large-scale advertising campaigns.

Digital Methods of Advocacy

03:33 - Digital advocacy is the use of digital technology to contact, inform, and mobilize a group of concerned people around an issue or cause. The purpose of digital advocacy is to get supporters to take action, just like traditional methods.

03:50 - Technology plays a big role. There are 4 big ways that I can think of, although I’m sure there are more.

The 4 ways technology plays into modern advocacy

  • Engagement with younger people

  • Access to decision-makers and officials

  • Connecting offline and online initiatives

  • A tracker for progress and/or impact

04:00 - Engagement with younger generations. They are able to sign an e-petition or text their local representatives. Some argue that this is just lazy but if it’s a method that resonates with a specific generation, why criticise it?  It encourages them to not only inform themselves but also to act. Kirk Franklin, an American gospel musician, is said to have brought the younger generation to the Christian church through his “modern” music - he was simply doing a style that already resonated with that audience yet maintained his message. He kept up to date in his methods, unlike the church. He was relatable.

04:40 - Technology also gives the masses access to decision makers and elected officials - think of how many politicians or advocacy groups are on social media channels. Often, those groups use those channels to ask their followers/audience what issues are most important to them, thus being able to not only speak with them and for them but continue to make the changes that “matter” - what the people really care about.

05:15 - A third way technology plays a big role is that it’s used to connect offline and online activities and initiatives. You can integrate these two worlds and create a larger impact. For example, you can use an app to get people to register for a volunteer-event or attend a discussion and once they are there, then you can make in-person connections. You can have face-to-face time to answer their questions and give a face for them to voice their opinions to.

05:50 - A fourth way that technology plays a big role in digital advocacy is that through technology and the internet, people can see the progress or impact of their actions. It becomes tangible and, to an extent, they aren’t just locked out of the whisper room where policies are made. They can view the issue-specific voting records of all of their elected officials at the state and local level. They can track proposed legislation as it moves through the super messy legislative process. They can even share information about candidates so they can collectively discuss or evaluate them. It’s a huge community builder. Speaking of community…..


Social Media As A Form of Digital Advocacy

06:40 - A specific form of digital advocacy is social media. The advantages of using social media include: low (or no) hard costs for set-up; potentially wide reach; quick/instantaneous sharing of messages; and creates new opportunities to listen, engage, and monitor a cause/campaign’s progress. It empowers others to take action and to speak up for themselves or others.

07:15 - Social media can be crucial for an advocacy campaign in 3 ways that fuel a cycle: by getting people involved, getting involved people together, and getting involved people noticed.

07:28 - How social media gets people involved is by providing a platform for people to have the global or regional discussions that were previously just in living rooms or at a local level. Twitter has its flaws, as do all social media platforms, but Twitter is instrumental in this - providing a sense of community as well as a vehicle for change.

07:53 - The second thing is getting those people that are involved to connect with each other. Social media helps amplify advocacy efforts by potentially reaching more people, in more places, faster than ever before. Grassroots, boots on the ground initiatives are great and I respect them but they can be hard to scale, and if they do, hard to manage simultaneously. Social media can help with the scaling and communication issues.

08:30 - Now it’s time to get those connected, involved people noticed. Social media is effective in using the power of numbers by using technology to gather in a larger scale than might have been possible without technology such as the marches that were jointly organized to happen in various cities on the same day all for the same cause. That had massive impact through news coverage and really shows the scale of support for that cause. Posters were posted online that people could print and use - creating a unified visual for the cause.

09:23 - Social media isn't the cure-all. It can be used to supplement, or integrate with, traditional forms of advocacy. But to use social media effectively, you still need a clear plan in mind of who your audience is, which social media platforms, if any, are best suited to that audience, and what results you hope to gain from your efforts. All the technology in the world won’t help if you don’t have a clear message, strategy, and ability to examine the effectiveness of your tactics.

The Media’s Role in Modern Advocacy

09:55 - Outside of social media, the media itself - news outlets - also has an effect on modern advocacy. There’s a documentary that is super super great called “On Her Shoulders” and it’s based on Nadia Murad’s memoir of escaping the life of forced sex slavery. And it ties into terrorist group ISIS… it’s it’s really in-depth and it’s intense and now she’s a Nobel Prize peace winner. She has become the voice for countless girls who haven’t made it out. The documentary is a subtle exposé of the media circus—and political theatrics—that clutter the terrain of modern-day advocacy work. Media exposure for a certain cause can be great but it can also make navigating modern day advocacy difficult. The media circus is made up of the theatrics of public figures, sensationalized media headlines, and politician sound bites. It overshadows the complex space of the individuals that fight to have their voice heard or stories told. It doesn't show the progress and setbacks, the optimism and skepticism, or the individuals that started the advocacy. It becomes a machine on its own. Sometimes a person becomes the voice of a cause without setting out to. I can't imagine what it would feel like to see your authentic message become empty words, a sound-bite or a campaign. Or to have to “sell” your pain or oppression in a marketable package just to persuade the leaders to listen and act.

Intent of Advocacy

12:22 - If you made it this far thank you! Before we wrap up I do have a little bit of bonus food for thought…. So please give me your opinion on this or anything else that you have heard in this podcast. Regardless of what tech is used, does the act of advocacy require a specific intent? It’s like the argument between giving and charity - some people say if you write a check to an organization without really supporting their cause, then you’re not truly giving however I think people are erroneously equating “giving” with “charity”. To me, there’s no required intent to give: you can give someone a high-five or you can give Planned Parenthood a million dollars. To “give” is a transaction. “Charity” on the other hand inherently has intent - you’re giving for those in need, knowing that the purpose of said giving is to help them. Of course the counter argument to that is some people can do charitable actions but with selfish intent. Giving a billion dollars to a cancer research hospital so you can have a lab named after you may be an example of that. I then say “is that action truly “charitable” then?” Perhaps my error is equating “charitable” with “philanthropic”, where in the latter there is the deliberate seeking to promote the welfare of others. It’s all messy!



12:22 - Even though the methods and tools change, the purpose of advocacy remains the same. Thank you for listening to this episode. If you’re out their advocating for a cause, let me know of some issues that you’ve run into -  maybe some methods that you may be using such as social media or a podcast perhaps. Anything else you might be using to get your message out, some challenges that you’ve faced and how you’ve solved them. As always a transcript for this episode will be available on sublationstudio.com/podcast. Thanks and see you on the next episode!