Social Media and Advocacy

The explosion in popularity of social media as a platform for corporate communications and marketing is only beginning.  It seems as though new applications and experiments are under way hourly – following the Twitter feed on marketing and corporate communications alone can drive you to distraction.  But how will Twitter fare with advocacy?  Or, rather, how will advocates fare with Twitter? 

I have been a volunteer advocate for gifted education for more than 6 years.  It is my passion.  (A short disclaimer here – I am not now nor have I ever been compensated for any advocacy work I have done on behalf of gifted children).    So when I speak about gifted education issues I am speaking from the heart.

It just so happens that an important gifted education issue has arisen in the past couple of months concurrent with my interest in and use of social media.  What would happen if I used social media to broadcast the issues at stake in order to help create national support for gifted education funding?  

Gifted education is a national cause which is very complex and difficult to summarize into a 140 character conversation.  It is typically misunderstood on many levels and even educators are unaware of its best practices unless they have specifically studied them.  Complex, many layered, rife with politics and controversial, too – what better topic for a social media experiment in advocacy?

So far my efforts have been greatly rewarding – I have been able to connect with a good number of Twitter fans who are interested in following gifted education issues.  I have added a #gifted tag to my gifted ed tweets.  And I have created links to original content, existing documentation and relevant articles.  When I see something of interest to gifted ed I re-tweet it.  When I find someone who is interested in it – on either side of the topic – I follow them.  

But I have to wonder how I would react to a constant Twitter Stream of people asking me to take a stand on something, or to care about an issue I normally wouldn’t be concerned with.  So I have created some intuitive ground rules along the way:

  1. Speak with an authentic voice.  I would think that incessant advocacy Tweets on multiple issues from the same source would lose creditability immediately.  If you are going to advocate for gifted education then you can’t also be an effective voice for landfill controls.

  2. Be transparent.  Leading the audience slowly through a progression of an argument for or against something without taking a stand is about as genuine as talk radio.  As with most effective communications efforts – being upfront and honest usually wins the race.  

  3. Show your passion.  If you have a cause you believe in, understand well and can support you can let your knowledge flow to help influence change for the greater good.

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