Five Ideas...for campaigning effectively online (38 Degrees)

Tuesday 03-02-2015 - 11:56

This is a guest blog by Rebecca Falcon, Campaigner at 38 Degrees, one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities.

38 Degrees and NUS are united by a set of shared values; to defend fairness, protect rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy. We want to make sure our voices are heard all of the time, not just once every five years at the ballot box. 

Anyone can start a campaign on an issue they feel strongly about. If you want to get your campaign off the ground, here are five ideas to chew over that have worked for 38 Degrees members across the country.

1. Put people at the heart of your campaign and pick an achievable ask

Online campaigns allow everyone to get involved in politics. It’s possible to build huge people-powered movements that challenge the government, or rich lobbyists, and hold them to account. Together, our power is in numbers. So when planning your campaign, pick an issue that you know lots of people care about.

Think carefully about the strategy you set out in your emails or social media posts. Your supporters must be able to imagine the chain of events between them taking action and the outcome which we all want to see. It needs to feel plausible, and every link in the chain needs to be set out.

Pick actions that demonstrate the number of people backing the campaign. 38 Degrees members use lots of different tactics to bring about change. Things like signing petitions, emailing or phoning our MPs and chipping in to fund newspaper ads about our campaigns. We also get together to get our voices heard face-to-face, for instance by meeting up locally to hand petitions to our local MPs.

Pick an issue that lots of people care about and choose a strategy that is easy to take part in. That way you’ll build a strong base of supporters and together you can be a loud knock on the doors of power.   

2. Use clear, straightforward language

The language you use has a big impact on the number of people who get involved. Avoid using over-the-top rhetoric or clichéd expressions. These can make your campaign appear dishonest or tired. Say what you want to say in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to put people off because you’ve used an exclusive tone or parliamentary jargon that most people have never heard of.

You are asking for people’s time to engage in the campaign, so respect that. Don’t harp, nag, or guilt trip your audience. A common pitfall for cause-related emails is to come off sounding a bit shrill. Your emails should never be a chore to read.

People read emails on small screens, on their phone on the bus, or in busy offices during busy days. Get to the point quickly and don’t assume everyone will close-read each word. Use simple language, short sentences and paragraphs, and use bolding to highlight the key points.

3. Make it inspiring: campaigning should draw on core values

The internet is saturated with stories and news. You need to set out clearly why people should sit up and pay attention to your campaign. Why does it stand out as an important and pressing issue?

We campaign to make a better world, so don’t be afraid of stating what that better world looks like. Describe why it’s so important that we bring about change. Paint a vivid picture about what you’re against, but remember to also offer a shared vision of what you’re for. That’s how movements are built.

It can feel cheesy or ‘un-British’ to talk about things like fairness, equality, peace, democracy or community. But these are the fundamental reasons why people take part. Just look at the popularity of inspirational quotes on Instagram, or the passion that people put into defending an article that has moved them on Facebook.

It’s great if you can include quotes from your supporters, that boil down the reasons they care about the campaign. At 38 Degrees we use polls to make decisions as we’re led by members and we also find out what members think on Facebook comment threads.

The moving stories members tell here - from nurses working on the frontline of our NHS to anti-fracking campaigners defending the environment - can be enough to convince thousands more people to act.

Consider asking open questions on your own campaign Facebook page and using some of the most powerful language as inspiration for your communications.

It’s important to start your campaign in the right direction and attract people who share your values. That way you’ll all be on the same page about what you’re trying to achieve, and you’ll be a stronger group to go on and take further action.

4. Make it urgent and timely

The more urgent your issue, the more people who’ll take part. Energy flows with the news cycle and the opportunity to make a difference. People will take part when they think their actions will make the most difference.  

Sometimes the news cycle compels people to act because they’re aware and it is the issue of the day. Sometimes people will seize upon an issue that they feel is being underreported in order to bring it to light. You need to make the case for why today is the day they need to take action, why it shouldn’t even be put in their later folder or deleted.

Luckily, online campaigning is nimble. You can quickly set up a petition, email MPs or post on social media about an event happening soon.

5. Technology is the tool

The technology you use should be clear, simple to use and effective, rather than a hindrance. Campaigning is about reaching the biggest number of people, where they are - not bamboozling people with fancy tools that they don’t understand.

Think about who your audience are, then use the technology they use; like email, Facebook, and Twitter. Why build a website when you can send an email? Are there prominent blogs or forums that your supporters use where you can post? If you’re organising an event and your audience are all on Facebook, use Facebook events.

Our online habits change, so keep up! If you’re trying to reach a younger audience, consider using Instagram, Whatsapp or even Snapchat to communicate.

The technology that 38 Degrees members have used to run 38 Degrees’ national campaigns has now been opened up for everyone to create change with, for free. It's been designed by campaigners to be incredibly simple to use and there are in-build tools to maximise shares on Facebook and Twitter so campaigns can grow rapidly.

Just last month a 38 Degrees member started a petition telling the government to scrap its plans to reduce overtime pay for NHS workers. The petition went viral on Facebook and within days over 100,000 people had signed the petition.

For more information on 38 Degrees and their work, please visit



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