How is Digital Organizing Different from More Traditional (I.E., Not Online) Methods?

There is no core difference. Both serve the same purpose: They help you build your base and turn your active members into leaders. However, one approach might be more successful in some situations than the other. Figuring out what components from each type of organizing works for your group will probably involve some trial and error.

What Traditional Methods of Organizing Might Not Work?

Phone banking is one example. Phone banking involves calling people in your organization to notify them of an upcoming event, meeting, or action and confirming whether they are able to attend. The call list might include people who are already active in your organization as well as new folks you just met during your organizing efforts. The idea is that through consistent phone banking, your organization can confirm a solid turnout for your event, meeting, or action.

The problem with phone banking is that these days, not everyone answers the phone. It can be frustrating reaching out to people who you know are very interested in your organizing efforts only to have the call go to voicemail, or to find that the number is incorrect, no longer in service, or unable to take calls.

How Can I Engage Constituents Through Digital Organizing?

Try just sliding into their DMs! Through your organization’s social media account(s), send the constituent a message and start the conversation as you would have over the phone.

Before you send any messages, though, you need to create a spreadsheet or other document to keep track of the people you’re trying to reach (using Excel or Google sheets, for example). An ideal spreadsheet might look something like this:

Each column serves a vital purpose in ensuring effective outreach. These are the key components to include:

First/Last Name

Pronouns: Make sure you are addressing your constituents using their correct pronouns.

Age: Sometimes a key constituency falls within certain age ranges. For example, if your constituency is focused on youth, it would be best to reach out to people who are 24 or younger, as they fall into that age range. If the contacts are 25 or older, then it communicates that these are allies vital to our organizing efforts, but are not the main people we are organizing.

Active Member: Someone who has attended at least one of your organization’s actions, events, and/or meetings throughout the year is considered an active member. Identifying active members helps you keep track of the people in your organization who could develop into leaders.

[Year] Meetings/Events Attended: This is a record of what activities constituents participated in with your organization. This information can be extremely helpful when doing outreach as you can refresh people’s memory of your organization by saying something like “You might remember meeting us at the event we had in the dining hall on campus back in October,” and then continuing the conversation from there.

Particular Interests: Within the larger structural issues your group addresses, individual constituents might be focused on specific problems. Essentially, this section sorts priority contacts for people who are conducting outreach. For example, if your organization addresses the prison-industrial complex and you have an upcoming event that will raise funds to bail out incarcerated mothers, you would first want to contact people whose interests align most closely with the event (such as abolishing bail, incarcerated women, or families and incarceration). They are the most likely to attend, and they would be able to grow in leadership positions that address the particular issues that matter to them.

Mobile: It is always good to have a person’s direct phone number.

Social Media: Associates the name with the handle.

Best Way to Contact: A time-saving column that helps you reach out to people using the method through which they are most likely to respond to you.

Typical Availability: Another column that filters priority contacts. If you plan an event, meeting, or action for a particular day and time, first get in touch with the people who are typically free then.

Y/N: Yes and No. Indicate if this person will attend the upcoming event, meeting, or action. Best to use when the document is printed out and can be filled in with a pen/pencil.

Call Status: If phone banking still works for your group, use this section. LM means left message, NA means number is unable to take calls, NIS means number is not in service, and W# means wrong number. Best to use when the document is printed out and status can be circled with a pen/pencil.

At the start, you won’t have information in every column for each constituent. That’s where the DMs come in! Outreach through DM-ing is not just a matter of notifying someone of an upcoming event, meeting, or action and asking if they can make it:

“Hey it’s [NAME] from [ORGANIZATION] wanting to let you know about [EVENT, MEETING, ACTION] on [DATE], can you make it?”

It’s also about filling in all of these columns so you can ensure meaningful engagement with your constituents:

“Can’t make it? No worries, but just so we can keep it in mind for the future, are there certain days of the week and times that work best for you in general? We want to make sure we can plan on having you make it next time! Also, are there any particular interests of yours that you would like to support with us?”

…and so on. That’s how you can make DMs evolve from a simple invitation to an ongoing discussion that keeps your constituents engaged with your organization.

Use Snapcodes and Instagram.

Snapcodes are very eye-catching and make perfect cards to distribute online. Also, handing out Snapcodes in person can be vital when constituents are short on time and can’t stick around to chat. You can also link them to anything you choose. For example, someone can scan a Snapcode and instantly follow a link to a petition for which your organization is collecting signatures.

Alternatively, you can use standard QR codes; make one yourself by Googling “qr code generators” and going on any of the free websites.

Instagram has its own QR code as well. Although its code can’t link to any website you want, it can link to your organization’s Instagram page. So it may be useful to make cards that have a Snapcode linking to an important petition, sign-up sheet, article, etc., on one side and an Instagram QR code linking directly to your organization’s Instagram account on the other, so that your constituents can immediately follow you. Here’s how to create your own custom Instagram QR code:

  • Open Instagram.
  • Go to your Instagram profile.
  • Press on the icon on the top right corner of your screen (it looks like three stacked lines).
  • Press the “QR Code” option on the drop-down menu.
  • You will see your own Instagram QR code that you can edit and share!