A great way to grow your online activist program is to run a high-profile online advocacy campaign around a specific issue or event. Promote it like crazy using the same promotions and strategies as you would for your regular website, fundraiser or end-of-year campaign. The most effective advocacy campaigns have a viral component, i.e., people are compelled to forward emails about the campaign to their friends who forward it to their friends, and so on.
When you develop a high-profile campaign, you can either drive the traffic through your own home page or create a special page or mini-site with its own relevant and memorable domain name, ideally the same as the name of the campaign itself, such as 24hoursforDarfur.org.
Designing your site.
When designing the site for your online advocacy campaign, make sure the action is clear and simple. Don't overwhelm people with too much to do. Get them to the site and get them to take the action. You should acquire their email addresses and you can also ask them to make a donation, but be patient. Even if you don't receive a large number of donations, you will have a larger email list of people who can be converted to donors. Keep in mind that the majority of the site's visitors will only view the first page -- be sure to include any important information and calls to action on this page.
In addition to asking visitors to take action and make a donation, encourage them to email their friends about the campaign. "Word of mouth" marketing is just as effective online as it is offline, and it's easy to incorporate a "tell-a-friend" function into your site. Again, make it easy - let visitors input the email addresses of up to 5 friends and provide a prewritten message that they can edit if they want.
You may want to offer an incentive for people to take the desired action, such as being entered in a drawing for a free DVD, tickets to a show, or airfare to your annual conference. Incentives like these may be effective at drawing in new names, but the long-term value of those names may not be as high, especially with a free product offer. They may not be as committed to your cause, and therefore not as likely to take another action or make a donation without further incentive.
Measuring your success.
The success of your campaign will be measured by the number of people who came to your site and the number of people who took action. This will include the people who sent a communication to your target as well as the number of people who forwarded a message to their friend, signed up to receive your e-news, or made a donation while on the site. You can measure the success of your promotional efforts by tracking where the traffic on your site came from.
How effective is online advocacy?
Online activism is extremely effective for engaging constituents and drawing attention to an issue. If it gains some viral headway, it is likely to be reported in the media and stimulate further debate. Additionally, a simple request such as entering your name and email address to sign a petition is easy to do and will encourage support from people who otherwise wouldn't take the time to do anything.