Using Social Media for Advocacy

Harnessing the Power of Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool, and like any good tool, it can do infinitely more good the better you understand how to use it. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are all great ways to communicate ideas, announce and advertise events, and connect with potential supporters from across the globe. 

Think of social media as a bullhorn: when used correctly it can amplify your message and help you reach distant current or potential supporters, but when used incorrectly it can become a source of irritation and frustration. Social media can help you connect with groups doing similar work in your community or across the country, which can help increase awareness of your issue and bring a spotlight to the work of all groups involved. Public and government officials also use social media to get their messages and ideas out, making it a great way to connect with them as well.

Social Media Advocacy 101

There are some tips that apply across the board when using social media for advocacy as an individual or organization, regardless of the social media platform!

  • Focus: Keep it sweet, short and to the point – be clear and articulate about the issue and what you think needs to be done about it. 
    • If you have more information that you’d like to share you can link to a full article or to a blog post. 
  • Grab attention: Stand out among the abundance of media messages with a memorable ask – and consider including a photo, video or graphic to  attract more people and get more views, likes, and shares. 
  • Amplify: Make sure your ask is heard by engaging your supporters and key partner groups and asking them to help spread the word. Hashtags (see below) can be a big help for this too.
  • Post often: If you want your account to look alive, it is important to update it regularly, this will keep viewers engaged and keep your account relevant. Be careful not to “spam” your followers (i.e., posting so often it overwhelms or annoys folks). Try to post at least once daily, or if that’s too often, determine a timetable that works well for your organization.

Facebook 101

Facebook is meant primarily as a content sharing platform, and most organizations use it to post and share articles, announcements, or important action alerts. 

Every Facebook page has a “wall,” that is the body of your profile page where you can view everything that you post, and things that people share on your page. The wall is where you engage in conversation on Facebook, other users can comment on things that you post, and you can respond to them.

When you post something to Facebook you can “tag” other users by inserting their Facebook handle after the @ symbol; a user’s Facebook handle can be found on their main Facebook page, below their profile picture. If you aren’t sure of a user’s page or name, try typing their organization name into the search bar and select the right one from the suggested list.

Facebook Tips:

  • Keep posts short and to the point.
    • If you have more information that you’d like folks to see, consider linking to a full article or blog in your post.
  • Use media with your posts.
    • A photo, video or graphic will often get more views, likes, shares, etc.
  • Share content
    • Sharing information from other groups doing similar work will help advance your cause or issue, and will also facilitate collaboration.

Twitter 101

If you’re new to Twitter but familiar with Facebook, you can think of this platform as a place specifically for “status updates.” Twitter can be used to send short (280 characters) messages or “tweets” out to your followers, or to anyone not following you that is also a Twitter user. Twitter is similar to Facebook in that you can use it to share links and images, alert people to events, and express thoughts and ideas.

Twitter is also handy for sharing or receiving live, up to the minute, information – this is known as “live tweeting,” which is the process of providing regular Twitter updates throughout an event (like a speech or a conference). 

Interactions on Twitter include: posting, retweeting (re-posting others’ content), liking (similar to Facebook), replying (directly and publicly), and direct (private) messaging. In order to alert someone to the fact that you’re trying to tweet at them, you must use their @ handle.

  • Handles 
    • Handles are Twitter usernames. They always start with an @ sign. When creating your handle, choose a well-known acronym or abbreviation for your organization. Example: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition chose @sustainableag
  • Hashtags: These are important! Hashtags are how people connect and follow conversations on Twitter. Always check to see if a certain event, bill, topic, or issue has relevant hashtags currently in use. If not, don’t be afraid to start and promote your own
    • A hashtag is just a word or phrase with the (#) before it (i.e., #localfood or #CSAday)
    • Hashtags are links, you can click on them to see what other users are saying about an issue or event. Twitter collects all of the tweets in one place for you to scan and updates them in real time.
    • Example: Use a hashtag to collect great content from an event! Check out how MOSES used #MOSES2016 to unite everyone around their annual conference
  • Retweet
    • Retweeting is essentially sharing a tweet from someone else with your followers. Retweeting spreads a message so that a broader audience sees it.
  • Mention/Reply
    • If you want to mention someone in a tweet, all you need to do is insert their handle anywhere in the message. To reply to a tweet, click the Reply button. This will generate a tweet that automatically attaches itself to the original message thread; this reply is public. To generate a “direct” message (a message that is semi-private, others can see it if they follow the conversation thread, but the reply will not be posted on your timeline), start a tweet with @username. This will send the message directly to the user without posting it on your timeline. If you want to start a tweet with @username, but also want it to be public, put a period (.@username) in front of the handle.

Twitter Tips

  • Share content – retweet, mention and reply to other users 
    • Sharing information from other groups doing similar work will help you, your followers and your movement to grow stronger and facilitate collaboration.
  • Be creative! 
    • Come up with clever hashtags and use them – just don’t overdo it, nobody likes to read a message full of # symbols!
  • Links
    • Twitter will automatically shorten your links to 23 characters.
    • You can also use free onlines tools like to shorten links, and track clicks. If you have an especially long or unwieldy link it’s a great idea to use ‘bitly’ to make them more catchy and accessible. 
  • It’s a fake! 
    • There are a lot of bogus Twitter handles out there, as well as similar handles that may easily be confused with the people and/or organizations you want to reach. Always double check the profile page to make sure that the account is real, especially if the handle is for a public figure.

Instagram 101

Instagram is a newer service than Facebook or Twitter, but is rapidly increasing in popularity, especially with younger audiences Instagram, as its name suggests, relies on photos to relay a message as opposed to text.

Similar to Facebook and Twitter, on Instagram you can tag people in your posts, like and comment on content, and send direct messages to users (though some users have private accounts or may require permission before they allow you to direct message them). You also have the option to add photos you want to save to a “collection”. Instagram’s Collection feature is useful if you are gathering or tracking posts on certain issues or containing particular content. You can also use hashtags to find or track posts. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is meant to be used on a mobile device. While there is a web page interface for Instagram, the best way to use this service is through a cell phone-based app.

  • Hashtags 
    • Hashtags are used most widely on Instagram as compared to the other major social media services. In general, on Instagram there is a higher tolerance for a large number of hashtags per post, but still try not to overdo it. Tag your posts with special hashtags created for your organization (ex., #myorganization), or general tags that might help people find your content (ex., #sustainable, #farmtotable, #greatoutdoors).
  • Instagram Stories 
    • Instagram Stories allows you to share posts and videos with a longer narrative arc. For example, you can post an entire day’s worth of photos or videos in sequence so that you can showcase a conference or special event. Stories is a good way to tell a longer, more cohesive story on Instagram. Note: Instagram stories are temporary! These posts will only last for 24 hours and can be viewed by clicking on a user’s icon at the top of the Instagram screen.

Instagram Tips

  • Avoid posting text heavy graphics. 
    • Instagram is not a text-based app and these types of posts will often cause you to lose followers.
  • Keep your captions short, catchy, and interesting.
  • Tag your location if you want people to see where you’re posting from. 
    • This can be useful for tracking photos or for letting other people find your posts; if you click on a geotag on Instagram it will immediately pull up all the photos that people have tagged from that location.