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Advocacy Strategies: Media and online campaigning

Source: Africa Platform for Social Protection, 2017, Advocacy Tool Kit, “Be the Change You Want to See.”

Media advocacy and digital advocacy including online campaigning is the strategic use of mass media and digital technology to advance advocacy initiatives. They help to make issues public and to spread the word for the campaign. Such advocacy raises awareness and educates people about new topics and encourages them to participate in pushing for change. It also helps to highlight issues by bringing them to the government’s attention. Media, the plural form of “medium,” includes forms of communication—television and radio (electronic media), newspapers, magazines, and written materials (print media) and more often now, the Internet—used to spread or transmit information to the public. Free, objective, skilled media are an essential component of any democratic society. Media advocacy is the use of any form of media to help promote a cause. It involves creating captivating pictures or headlines to influence the public.

A new model of activism is winning remarkable victories around the world. Compared to traditional, single issue advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, these groups are reactive, nimble, multi-issue, and membership driven. They use the Internet and mobile technology to mobilize thousands, both online and on the streets, like other digitally empowered social movements like BlackLivesMatter and the Arab Spring. Online campaigning is where digital technology is used to contact, inform, and mobilize a group of concerned people around an issue or cause.

Making Issues Public

© Civil Society Academy

The media’s reach to many people offers a powerful tool to inform and build support around an issue or to make responsible, informed choices. Besides reaching out to large numbers of people they influence public attitudes and opinions on important public matters. Media help create a reliable consistent awareness of an issue and related activities. Several tools an be used to influence the media, including:

  • press releases, events, and press conference

  • letters to the editor

  • television interviews

  • newsletters and briefs

  • seminars, workshops, and debates

  • articles and news items, personal interest stories and success stories.

The messages need to have solid content, framed to draw media attention. Journalists are always looking for a fresh breakthrough such as the newest research.

Creating evidence through videos and audios

By connecting compelling visuals to a story, a good video can inspire, inform, agitate, or promote a cause. They can turn dry, technical information into compelling picture-making facts understandable to the public. This attracts and holds their attention and interest and can move them to act, if needed. Hence, they are a powerful way to share public information and to project consistent messages.

Videos can be shown in an assortment of settings such as public meetings, fairs, school, and workshops, among others.


Examples: Creating evidence through videos and audios

Power of visual representation through videos: Green Peace’s campaign film

In March 2010 Greenpeace produced a campaign film, Give the Orang-utan a Break part of its campaign linking Nestlé, makers of KitKat chocolate bars, to rainforest destruction by the Sinar Mas paper group. Down to Zero, Green Peace’s publication reported that the campaign launched with a provocative video in which an office worker bites into a KitKat containing a dead orangutan’s finger. Nestlé had the video removed from YouTube and threatened to delete all related comments on its Facebook page. This backfired spectacularly, as Greenpeace supporters rushed to re-upload the film and overwhelmed the company with emails and Facebook comments. The film was watched over 1.5 million times and eight weeks after its launch, Nestlé announced a zero-deforestation policy that eliminated deforestation from its supply chain.

Video Volunteers: empowering marginalized through community media in India

Video Volunteers is an NGO based in India which empowers marginalized people to tell their stories and create change campaigns, so that their issues are exposed and become important threads in India’s development narrative. Today only 2 of the content in mainstream media addresses the issues of rural areas where of population lives. Media does not yet show the real India.

Video Volunteers creates impact videos which are inspirational stories of bottom-up change that document how community media has led to concrete change. The correspondents not report but initiate local campaigns and in videos manages to solve underlying issues by providing information, rallying people to believe that collective action works, networking with other activists, fostering community level discussions through screenings and discussion clubs and acting as a bridge to the local administration which is often unaware of people’s problems. Click on the links below to see some of these impact stories.


Campaigning on social media and slacktivism/ hashtag activism

© Civil Society Academy

Social media helps amplify advocacy efforts by potentially reaching more people, in more places, faster than ever before with instant message sharing. This form of digital advocacy uses digital technology to contact, inform, and mobilize a group of concerned people around an issue or cause. It helps to galvanize supporters to act. Today, social networking sites have emerged as a key venue for political debates and discussion and at times a place to engage in civic activities.

Social media:

  • provide a common platform to share stories.

  • have a quicker turnaround time.

  • encourage solidarity and has a wide outreach. It can take the smallest campaign global and reach millions of people quickly. People of all ages around the world are increasingly using social media.

Today, digital tools have become a central component of almost any movement. Some of the most used digital advocacy tools include email, websites, blogs, podcasts, text messages, WhatsApp messages, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Hashtag activism is an act of showing support for a cause through a like, share, etc., on any social media platform, such as Facebook or Twitter. The purpose is to share certain issues with one’s friends or followers in the hope that they will also share the same information, thus leading to widespread discussion and allowing change to occur.

One of the most prominent recent examples is the role social media/hashtag activism has played in the emergence of the “MeToo” movement aimed at raising awareness around sexual harassment and assault. Another prominent one has been BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which brought attention to the cause using social media platforms.

These digital advocacy organizations have contributed to major successes on local, national, and international issues. One such organization is India-based Jhatkaa (For more information visit their website at: Their YouTube video “Kodaikanal”) featured a rapper who sang about the mercury pollution at a local Unilever thermometer factory, and its effects on the environment and workers. The video went viral (it currently has more than 3.7 million views), and was covered internationally by The New York Times, the UK Times, the Hindu, and Buzzfeed. The group also initiated a #WontBuyUnilever consumer awareness campaign, which, according to its campaign director, reached more than 500,000 individuals on Twitter. Chief Executive of Unilever, Paul Polman, responded to the campaign on Twitter and engaged in a back-and-forth with supporters, stating that Unilever was “determined to solve” the issue. On March 9, Unilever declared it would compensate poisoned workers in an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount thought to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Characteristics of online advocacy organizations [1]:

  • Collaborative: These groups do not work alone, rather they are part of bigger civil society movements, forming partnerships with existing expert organizations to push for change. Their digital mobilizing skills and reactive campaigning complement many traditional advocacy methods.

  • Multi-Issue: Traditional NGOs focus on one core area and push that issue into the political agenda, even when there is little mainstream interest (e.g., World Wildlife Fund for nature and environment. In contrast, these newer organizations mobilize their members over many issues simultaneously. For example, GetUp! Campaigns were run simultaneously on refugee rights, saving the Great Barrier Reef, renewable energy, and economic inequality.

  • Staying Power: These organizations are big and growing globally with membership in the millions. Avaaz, the international advocacy group started by activist Ricken Patel, has more than 50 million members.

  • Agile and Reactive: These organizations have all emerged in the digital age. Their core campaigning strength is in mobilizing people using online tools to rapidly respond to dominant issues. Within hours, they can set up a new campaign, contact members, build a new website, and start pressuring decision-makers. For instance, GetUp! has a rapid response campaign team whose goal is to routinely set up new campaigns on a five-hour timeline so that it can introduce the campaign on the day an issue breaks.


Examples of Online Advocacy Organizations

Jhatkaa, India

Jhatkaa focuses on key fundamental problems a) a feeling of disempowerment among citizens has led to apathy and b) lack of accountability among decision-makers. These are largely rooted in an inefficient and dysfunctional democracy.

The unique value that brings is the effective use of digital communication to engage and mobilize citizens at scale. Their focus is on movement building, using digital tools that make it easier for citizens to engage in democracy and hold decision-makers (both corporate and government) accountable to their vision. wins campaigns by deploying a range of tactics. This includes, but is not limited to petitions, public engagement, building volunteer movements, media engagement, mass phone calls and emails to public representatives, member-generated research and report issues. In the long term they want to empower progressive citizens to take an active part in democracy, and thus enable a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable India.

GetUp! Australia:

GetUp is an independent movement of more than a million people working to build a progressive Australia and bring participation back into democracy. This movement is powered by the values and hopes of everyday people. It was launched in August 2005 to encourage Internet activism in Australia, though it has increasingly engaged in.

Amandla.Mobi South Africa: is an independent, community advocacy organiation that seeks to build a more just and people powered Mzansi (an informal name for South Africa). Members from across the country come together at critical moments to take targeted, coordinated and strategic action to make real change. They connect people, so that their voice has more impact and power to hold political and corporate interests to account. Together they are turning every cell phone into a democracy building tool.

ActionStation-people powered change, New Zealand:

ActionStation is an independent, crowdfunded, community campaigning organization. Launched in July 2014, now grown to a community of over 150,000 New Zealanders. They have a proven model of member-driven, digitally facilitated, multi-issue, rapid response, grassroots campaigning with a focus on shifting public opinion and driving the media agenda in order to influence political decisions better for people and planet.

MoveOn, United States:

MoveOn members are a force for social justice and political progress. They come from all 50 states and all walks of life. Their rapid response organizing and campaigning, communications interventions, digital innovation, rigorous data science and testing, and culture of grassroots participation have repeatedly combined to produce real-world impact, changing outcomes and making the country better.


Use of Petitions

Another form of online campaigning and digital advocacy is signing petitions. A petition is a request for government representatives or legislators to do something to support the cause of an advocacy campaign. Signatures are collected from the supporters or from the people affected, strengthening their voice.


Online Petitions through is the world’s largest platform for social change, with over 329 million users globally (as of December 2019). Everyday millions of people use this platform to start, sign and support petitions on issues that matter to their lives and communities, creating powerful campaigns that drive real change. It is available in 12 languages and has local teams in 18 countries.

The goal of this platform is to create a virtuous cycle of civic participation: as more people start campaigns on the platform, an ever-larger network of people joins these campaigns increasing the pressure on decision-makers to respond to each campaign’s demand. The scale of mobilization incentivizes decision-makers to directly engage with the public and agree to the desired change. This real-world impact, in turn inspires even more people to start new campaigns, accelerating the virtuous circle. This is transformative making people more confident in the power of their own voice and more likely to participate in civic action and making decision-makers increasingly accountable to the public interest.


Signing a petition is a simple and quick way to show support. The more signatures, the greater the pressure on the government, as it shows that the community cares about the issue. In other words, the number of signatures shows how much backing you have for your campaign.

Petitions can be collected door-to-door with pen and paper, or they can be collected online. An online petition is signed online, usually through a form on a website. Visitors to the online petition sign the petition by adding their details such as name and email address. Typically, after there are enough signatures, the resulting letter is delivered to the subject of the petition, usually via e-mail. It is important to gather contact details of your supporters to keep them informed about the campaign’s progress at the same time.



[1] Nina Hall and Phil Ireland, “Transforming Activism: Digital Era Advocacy Organizations,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, July 6, 2016.



Christiano, Ann, and Annie Neimand. 2017. “Stop Raising Awareness Already,” Stanford Social Innovation Review,

Hall, Nina, and Phil Ireland. 2016. “Transforming Activism: Digital Era Advocacy Organizations,” Stanford Social Innovation Review,

The UN Migration Agency. 2020. Knowledge Uptake: Information Campaigns, International Organization for Migration (IOM).


About the Author:

Sohini Paul has more than two decades of experience in the development sector, during which time she has contributed and supported the work of numerous social change organizations, working on issues of local self-governance, the right to information and land rights. She has worked on capacity building of civil society organizations from grassroots community groups to large networks in many countries around the world. She is working as a facilitator and coach for the Civil Society Academy since 2015.


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