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Twitter on Advocacy

Crossposted on Mediafuturenow.com.

Twitter is not a broadcasting medium.  Much has been written about Twitter as the first “true” realization of the power of real-time social media.  Twitter is an advocacy medium.  Just ask Shaun Dakin.

Dakin is a former FedEx executive and, among other things, a big Twitter advocate.  He’s done something kind of amazing.  Dakin is CEO and founder of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, a campaign to restrict “robo” calling and other less automated telephone calls for political and advocacy campaigns.

Perhaps not a particularly glamorous grassroots campaign, the Registry is exactly the kind of political “process” campaign that seeks to better participatory democracy in this country.  It’s the nuts and bolts of the workings of elections and advocacy campaigns, and it is worth both the attention of political professionals and (for our purposes) good study by the media and technology communities.  It is effective.

Two things particularly interested me about this story.  First, and slightly less new, is the broadcasting aspect of using twitter for advocacy.  Broadcasting is, after all, the most immediately obvious value of Twitter, to a wide audience of followers of a particular tweeter.  But again, Twitter is best understood as much more than a broadcasting medium.

So, second, Twitter’s power is the power of networks.

The Franklin, Massachusetts police department is one of many US police departments to use Twitter for public safety communications.  Go to the Frankin PD Twitter page and see past tweets about traffic problems, city ordinances, business registrations.  Sign up and receive emails, instant messages, and text messages for various alerts.  Nifty.

Although this shows that you probably want to limit things to stuff that’s important.  So much for the restatement of the obvious.

Lindy Dreyer blogs about marketing for associations and wrote in July on the utility of Twitter for associations.  “Twitter is an ideal vehicle for sharing URLs.  As an association pro, you have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your industry.  Share not only association links, but links to industry thought-leaders and breaking news.”

Shaun Dakin’s National Political Do Not Contact Registry does this well.  We all like to email our friends with “thought you might enjoy this” links to funny stories from the Onion like “Members of Twisted Sister Now Willing To Take It”, but who knows who really wants to get this stuff from me?  Twitter, on the other hand, is a terrific opt-in social network for the long tail of advocacy.  Dakin links to robo-call resources on both the Obama and McCain campaigns.  More broadly, he will usefully share links to “process” stories from elections and advocacy campaigns, basic and useful stuff for this self-selected audience of the campaign’s followers.

Twitter is also two-way, or more accurately, multi-way.  And in its best use, Twitter is a social network, not a broadcasting medium for outbound communications.

The Twitter community is a chatter community of interested followers of a person, a cause, a band, or a campaign.  Shaun Dakin’s Twitter community connects to him and across the community itself, often without Shaun’s orchestration.

For advocacy, this is manna, virally building the network on an issue.  Obviously, it includes the devotees, but by creating its own buzz the cause is dispersed exponentially.

At yesterday’s Mobile Future lunch, How Mobile Technologies are Changing Elections, Katie Harbath spoke about members of the Republican caucus tweeting from the House floor in protest to an unpopular recent leadership decision.  The members’ networks then resent the messages out to their own networks that such and such is happening.  And they told two friends, and so on.

The result is the making of a viable cause out of a single advocate’s active and proactive persistence.  All without major media, without a major online “campaign”, without the usual concerted Washington grassroots advocacy.  Just takes someone with some ingenuity, some creativity, lots of persistence, and of course, a decent cause to advocate.

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