One-thousand one-hundred and thirty people “like” the Community Coalition of South LA’s (CoCo) Facebook page. This seems like a respectable number for a relatively small advocacy group based in a low-income community where not everyone is toting an iPhone and a MacBook.
But, how do you turn a Facebook fan into a fundraiser…a marcher…a volunteer? This is the question CoCo, an advocacy group that works to reduce poverty, crime and drug use in South Los Angeles, is grappling with.
“We hope to really refine how can we use online media, our website, our email, our Facebook, our Twitter, to move those online supporters to take action,” said Carla Guerrero, communications assistant at CoCo.
CoCo’s push to increase their online efforts comes at a time when a firestorm of criticism has erupted around so-called “digital activism.” In October 2010 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a hotly debated piece for the New Yorker, arguing that, “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” In Gladwell’s view digital activism “succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.”“I definitively do agree that giving people that instantaneous gratification of taking action does lower the threshold,” said Guerrero. “But I think that the pros outweigh the cons. Anyone who is interested in taking action, regardless of what it is, will do it. And it doesn’t hurt to try to reach as many people as possible.”
Guerrero joined CoCo a year and a half ago in a newly created position that was designed specifically to ramp up the organization’s social media presence.
Initially, Guerrero’s focus was on building a core base of online followers.
“Our goal was to really just grow our numbers,” she said. “And not just any people, people that we know have some kind of connection to our work.”
Now, CoCo is looking to take things to the next level. “Ok, they liked our post. What’s the next thing we need to have them do so that they can be more connected to us?” Guerrero said. “Is it coming to a meeting? Is it donating to one of our events? Is it having them come to a rally?”
CoCo has experimented with several different kinds of online campaigns in order to help shift their passive online audience into active participants.
Last year, CoCo endeavored to get First Lady Michelle Obama to attend their annual fundraising dinner. They enlisted the help of their online supporters asking them to send emails to Michelle Obama’s staff.
“We did that for about two months up until the Whitehouse called and said stop sending us stuff, she’s already booked,” Guerrero said. “But we knew we had an effect because they were getting annoyed.”
Two weeks ago CoCo launched an online campaign soliciting design ideas for a memorial commemorating members who have passed away.
“We opened up the process to our online audience, which for us is a very novel thing to do,” Guerrero said. “We thought, how do we start to develop a better relationship with our online audience? How do we have them take action for something that we think will get them interested and involved? So we put this question out there.”
Guerrero will be monitoring the response to the campaign over the next couple of weeks and is hopeful it will serve to deepen CoCo’s connection with their online audience.
Still, CoCo recognizes that majority of their online followers may never become very active in the organization. Guerrero pointed out the same is true with traditional organizing where, for example, in order to get 10 people to a community meeting CoCo activists might have to knock on 300 doors.
“If we reach a million people, maybe for the majority of those people the extent of their support will be just liking the page and occasionally just reading our posts,” Guerrero said. But, there is still that small group whose online support CoCo thinks it can turn into to offline support. “It is those people that we want to reach,” said Guerrero.