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DIGITAL ADVOCACY TRENDS

Recently we had the pleasure to participate in a webinar organised by our friends at the Public Affairs Council where we were invited to talk about what we see as current trends in digital advocacy in 2021.

There are many things that we think are important, but let’s try to compile them into a list. Some things are easily identifiable since we are all experiencing them together, some are things we think you should observe as they unravel in days to come. First things first:

Current digital advocacy trends

Virtual events

Ok, we are all aware of this one. But don’t think it’s going away as a passing trend. Most technologies we use today had to get through that difficult first step – achieving a critical mass of users in order to be usable at all. Who did you call from your first cell phone? Mostly landlines. We had to wait for years, for enough users to go mobile, to be able to step into this world of smartphones we know today. So don’t consider this past year as a temporary change of landscape. Think of it as an acceleration of what was coming anyway. Doesn’t matter if it’s a huge online conference or a one on one session. Your webcam is here to stay.

This does work in your benefit, and will always be useful for any digital advocacy campaign. Business partners, policymakers, possible future parts of your team – they are all more likely to hop on a call if you set up a virtual room, then they would have been willing or able to clear hours or days in their schedule in order to facilitate a meeting with you. We were all suddenly given a gift of time, and let’s not forget how valuable it is.

Social & Google Ads

If social is not exactly on your radar, you are not alone. We all know how important it is, but let’s admit it, outside of personal use, we can consider a lot of businesses and institutions late adopters here. All the possibilities of using Google Ads or Facebook Ads in the field of public affairs are heavily underused. Twitter is an extremely powerful tool, and LinkedIn keeps growing as a platform. You have the tools at your disposal for reaching exactly those you want to target while saving money in the process. Maybe you have attended one of our Learning Sessions, when we talked about using Twitter like a pro. You can always widen your pool of digital advocacy media.

Comparing this to your past experiences for clarity: remember what was your ROI when placing a banner on Politico, or similar publications? That same investment could get you 50 times more impressions if you were to put it into work with Google Ads (in Brussels). That’s not an estimate, that’s speaking from experience, and quoting our own analysis. Also, and this is the important bit, using social and precisely targeting and retargeting will help design and build your funnel. You can carefully guide your audience and keep track of their behaviour every step of the journey. That is immensely more powerful as a strategy than simply buying ad space ever was.

SEO

A lot goes into a good SEO strategy, but let’s try and cover the basics. The fastest way to get Google to penalize you and keep your website hidden from the public eye is to simply churn out technical papers and press releases, dump them somewhere, and also use exact copies of the text to publish on social media. Search engines favour originality, good writing, generous linking and cross-linking. Honestly, so do people who read those texts, so it’s a double win.

We are also seeing a lot of improvement when it comes to presenting facts and figures across the board. More creativity, more engaging narratives and concepts. Anything that captivates the user and holds his attention for a few seconds more is great signalling towards Google and will help with your position. SEO is important in your box of digital advocacy tools, although often not given much consideration.

Email comeback

We were always big advocates of newsletters and email campaigns, even when they were almost out of style at one moment. There are a few reasons why, but we can start with this one: in this global landscape of ever changing social networks, search engine algorithms and bot followers, an email list is the only thing you really own. Everything else, you could lose overnight. Having it sophisticatedly segmented, well organised and cleverly using personalisation with your stack of data, is priceless. Email as a channel still feels somewhat intimate and will transfer a monologue into a two-way conversation with ease.

This is an underrated goldmine, and don’t shy away from it. Building your email list will always, with any new communication trend that emerges, prove to be valuable.

Upcoming trends

Artificial intelligence

It is difficult to cover everything AI is doing for us at this moment, and even more difficult to try to predict what else will be added to this list. Neural networks are growing, machine learning is, well, learning and there is no telling where will this wave of automation take our digital advocacy strategies. Yes, it might be coming for our jobs as well. It might be a huge jump between simply automating tasks and being able to mimic human creativity and decision making, but more and more things will be done by computers instead of regular people. That’s a mixed bag of good and bad feelings about the future right there.

At this moment, we are just grateful for the smart piece of code that is checking this text while it’s being typed, here in the magical land of autocorrect.

Virtual and augmented reality

VR and AR are not just for fun. They are extremely powerful educational tools, and since we have seen some amazing examples from the European Commission (like the recent gamification – Pollinator Park) we are hoping more and more people would let us guide them in exploration along this path. That is a great way to do digital advocacy, and can be used in very creative ways.

Imagine advocating for a cause that is difficult and dangerous, but you are having difficulties explaining all the nuances of the situation to different policy and decision-makers. With just a set of goggles, you can transport them straight into the eye of the storm. Help them see and hear for themselves. These are extremely versatile tools that allow us to experiment with a great level of creativity and hopefully, an even greater level of impact.

Voice search & audio communications

It might be that this oversaturation with video is steering us towards the simplicity of audio. It’s not just audio content, we are also starting to use Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri more frequently. Voice search is maybe a bit challenging because it provides just a singular result, but with some optimization, it might just be doable. Your smartphone’s audio capacity is getting better and better. Talking out loud without having to sit down and look at one of your numerous screens is a great option for all of us who are collectively suffering from Zoom fatigue. Amazon’s Audible, a platform for audiobooks is growing by the minute, but will this actually end up taking over that little free time we have left? If you don’t have to be at your desk to write an email, conduct a simple search, finish an article, will you just keep on working while you are jogging, gardening, preparing a meal for your family? It might be important to consider the ethics in our digital advocacy practices. We live in a society that glorifies the idea of “busy”, audio looks like an easy tool to move that into our time of leisure as well.