10 top tips for young campaigners

Last year, I was honoured to work with Envision to share my top tips for campaigning at their ‘freshers’ fair for young people embarking on social action projects focused on encouraging their peers to lead healthier lives.

If you’ve logged on or tuned in to pretty much anything over the last few weeks, you will probably agree that us more seasoned campaigners can learn a lot from our younger counterparts (I’m thinking particularly about the movement set in motion by schoolgirl Greta Thunberg)! But just in case the younger generation of changemakers need a little bit of advice, here are my 10 top tips for young (or new) campaigners!

1. Plan!
As the saying goes, “Fail to plan and plan to fail.” Campaign plans don’t have to be huge detailed documents, but the more time and effort you can put into planning, the more likely your campaign is to achieve its goals. Your plan should be based on the time, resources and budget that you have, and should cover at least the following areas: Goals, target audience, activities and evaluation. Activities might include: Key message development, resource production, website build/updates, social media, PR, partnership development and research.

2. Get to know your audience
Think about who you need to reach to make your goals a reality. It is helpful to be as specific as possible – in campaigning, there is no such thing as ‘the general public’. You will probably have more than one audience depending on your goals. If your campaign is focused on young people, then your other audiences might include parents, teachers, the media and others that have an influence on their lives.

3. Decide what you want to achieve
Setting goals that are specific, achievable and time-bound will help you focus your activity and measure your success. For example, if your campaign is about promoting healthy eating amongst 16-18-year olds, one of your goals might be to set up a Facebook support group and recruit 100 members. Another might be to get 500 signatures on a petition to ban fast food restaurants within half a mile of your school.

4. Choose the right channels
Once you know who you want to reach, you will need to do a bit of research to find out about their habits. What social networks do they use? Where do they go for news? Who do they listen to? Remember that channels can be offline as well – leaflets and posters can still be powerful campaigning tools. The number of channels you focus on should be decided depending on the time you have – it’s better to do two or three well than do 10 badly.

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5. Involve the right people
Some say that there is no such thing as a new idea. That might be debatable, but it is likely that there are other people and organisations working towards similar goals to yours. Find out who they are and approach those you think are most relevant with ideas about how you can further each others’ cause. For example, if your local NHS is campaigning on a similar issue, ask if one of their experts could be an official spokesperson for your campaign (giving your campaign extra kudos and their expert some extra airtime). Interview them and use the soundbites on social media, or in posters and press releases.

6. Use imagery
A picture really does paint a thousand words – we are far more likely to remember images than oral or written information and images can also help communicate more abstract issues. Original images are the best, but make sure you have permission from the people in the photographs to use them for your campaign. If your issue is sensitive, it is sometimes best to use stock photography and video – there are plenty of free sites out there, including http://www.freeimages.com, if you don’t have budget to use providers like iStock.

7. Develop key messages
Once you have decided what you want to change, it is a good idea to develop two or three key messages that clearly state your goals. Good key messages state the problem, the proposed solution and the action you want the audience to take. For example, for a campaign with a goal of getting teenagers to be active for at least 60 minutes a day a key message might be: ‘Today’s teenagers are more obese than any previous generation. We believe that changing the school PE uniform will make students more comfortable about taking part. That’s why we’re calling on all students to sign our petition to the head teacher to ask them to agree to work with us to make these changes.’

8. Set achievable calls to action
The aim is to create calls to action that motivate people to take action and will make substantial progress towards your goal. Calls to action should be clear and specific, and people need to see how the action they are taking will make a difference. For example, if your campaign goal is to support overweight teenagers to slim down, a call to action to ‘Support the teenagers in your life to eat healthily’ is too vague. A call to action that states something like ‘Please donate to our crowdfunder to provide school children age 13+ with portion control containers to help them pack sensible lunches’ would show your audience exactly how they can help.

9. Find out who your audience listens to
People listen to other people who are like them – people they admire and who share their own beliefs. That’s why an effective way of reaching your audience – and have them listen – is to get other people to do the talking. Find out who your audience listens to and ask them to get involved in your campaign. If you are running a campaign to stop teenagers taking up smoking, tap into their interests and explore who would be best placed to deliver the message. For example, for those interested in sport, this might be a local athlete who can talk about how smoking can affect performance.

10. Learn as you go along
Your campaign plan should include a section on evaluation to show how you will measure the effectiveness of the campaign at the end of its first cycle. But it is also useful to evaluate as you go along so you can learn what is working and make changes to improve your messages, activities etc, and to ultimately make your campaign more effective. For example, if you are using Facebook to inspire action, at the end of each week see which posts are performing the best and which ones are performing the worst. It is likely that the successful ones will have something in common – discover what this is and use them as a guide for future posts.

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