Much attention during the 2008 presidential election focused on how President Barack Obama leveraged the Web and online organizing during his campaign.
In the year since his inauguration, online grassroots has become a key element to successful integrated public affairs programs and can be used to address any issue.
"A grassroots movement need not be big to be effective," says Bill McIntyre, SVP at Edelman. "There's no industry excluded from real true grassroots public-community-engagement campaigns or programs."
By tapping into online tools like Facebook and Twitter, or building issue-specific microsites, organizations can create an authentic, emotional movement that may reach a broader audience in ways that TV advertising, earned media, and direct mail may not.Everyone has a voice
"I don't think there's anything more impactful than policymakers hearing from their constituents," says Jason Miner, MD of the public affairs group at Glover Park Group. "And online is one of the newer and more critical tools in how we organize those voices."
The Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit founded by Al Gore, launched an integrated campaign in late October that aims to demonstrate why Americans want to see action on climate change and clean energy issues.
Glover Park helped the Alliance for Climate Protection develop the "Repower America" wall, a microsite which gathers stories from ordinary citizens, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders.
"It's partially why we have integrated campaigns," says Giselle Barry, director of communications. "We know there are new tools that folks use to make their voices heard and connect to other people who share the same interests. For some folks it's on the ground, for others it's online, and for some people it's on TV."
Within three weeks of launch, Miner says the site, which started with 3,000 videos, gathered nearly 25,000.
"Part of that is an understanding of what those tools are best used for," he adds. "Part of it is understanding that, particularly with grassroots organizing campaigns, substance really matters."
What makes online grassroots so appealing to organizations is that tools, like online videos, allow the face of supporters to tell their stories to policymakers, as opposed to the less emotional value of a letter or petition.
"If they see someone from the district who's making a passionate argument on an online video, then it is actually someone real as opposed to a stat," says Jeff Mascott, MD at Adfero Group.
In a 2009 campaign, the Virginia Department of Social Services used a microsite and online survey to generate online conversations among colleges, faith-based groups and churches, and nonprofits about reducing poverty.
"We didn't want to limit this to the same standard thinkers who have the same conversations about eliminating poverty," says Marianne McGhee, director of public affairs at the state agency. "We wanted to bring in ideas and new voices."
The campaign also acted as a benchmark to gather ideas about what solutions Virginians support, like increasing aid for food stamps or issues relating to housing.Traditional tactics
While usage of online grassroots programs is growing, many communicators say it is most successful when rooted in an integrated program that includes traditional grassroots efforts, such as letter-writing or events.
"Having a Web-centric program exclusively is insufficient," says McIntyre. "Ultimately, no one will ignore TV, radio, field programs, or direct mail. Integrated programs will, in general, deliver the best results."
Organizations get Web boost:
Leveraged its supporters during the heat of the healthcare-reform debate by asking its members to share personal experiences on its Web site
Created in 2009, it began a campaign to generate support about coal to the public and policymakers, using a microsite, Facebook, and YouTube