Ten ways to win your online petition-driven campaign (at Change.org)

9:10 am - August 28th 2013

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by Katherine Sladden

Since launching in the UK in May 2012, Change.org – the world’s largest petition site – has seen its UK user base grow to almost 3 million people, starting, joining and winning campaigns on issues they care about.

What makes some petitions fly and why do some not catch the imagination? Here are my ten top tips for using the site to win your campaign.

1. Tell your story
When Nic Hughes died of cancer and his life insurance company refused his family’s claim, his best friend Kester wanted to fight for justice. Kester didn’t bother explaining the in-and -outs of the insurance claim, he simply told the story of his incredible friend and the family he left behind. It was enough to get 60,000 backers who helped secure a pay-out for the Hughes family. Not everyone loves causes – but we all love a story. Tell yours.

2. Don’t be so formal
“We the undersigned” is the least engaging first sentence ever. The best petitions on Change.org read like a news story not a policy briefing. Be engaging and use simple language – it won’t just be your supporters that understand the issue better, it will probably be more convincing to the decision makers to.

3. It’s not a petition, it’s a community
Everyone that signs your petition is someone saying ‘I agree with you and I want to help’. Get them to help you. You can email the people that sign your petition through Change.org so think about what you can ask them to do. Kester got his supporters to call up the insurance company, Caroline got women to dress up as historical figures and turn up outside the Bank of England. You’ll often be surprised by the enthusiasm of your supporters.

4. Don’t get hung up on numbers
Thanks to the government’s e-petition site, 100,000 signers has become a defacto figure for petition success. The parliamentary debate idea is a myth (lots of petitions lower than 100k have been discussed; while lots at 100k haven’t). It’s not the numbers on your petition that matter, it’s the campaign that goes with it. The vast majority of winning campaigns on Change.org have far less than 100k supporters.

5. It’s not all about Twitter
Forget Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed (as lovely as he is) building movements online is about storytelling, Facebook and email. If you really want to get your campaign trending on Twitter or get a bunch of new signers – send an email. Twitter is where you can speak to media and celebs but Facebook and email are better for new signers and engagement. Use them all.

6. Find the little big thing
When the Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would no longer be on a five pound note Caroline Criado Perez thought it said something profound about how women’s’ achievements are celebrated. She won her now infamous campaign and by doing so inspired a huge media debate about sexism. Big issues are important, but can be tough to make sound urgent. Think about the little thing that makes the big thing come to life.

7. React fast
When Jo, a sexual abuse survivor, heard that a lawyer and judge had referred to an abuse victim as “predatory” she started a petition. It was up and running before the press have even picked up the story. By that afternoon she had thousands of supporters, the next day she was telling her story to the media and soon charities and the Prime Minister spoke out in support. Less than 48 hours later she had won her campaign.

8. Put yourself in the target’s shoes to change their mind
Take some time to think about who is the most important decision maker you are trying to reach and what motivates them – their brand, customers, voters. Then break down your campaign to target each of those elements.

9. Celebrate every win
What motivates supporters is winning. If you get a result, even if it is small, tell them and celebrate it. Releasing the power you have to make change is addictive and gets people coming back for more.

10. Victory comes in lots of forms: be agile
IDS doesn’t live on £53 per week. Lucy hasn’t won her campaign to get topless images off Page 3 – but both campaigns have had impact in different ways. For one week in April the debate on welfare shifted – while for twelve months media sexsim has been highlighted through Lucy’s campaign. Embrace progress, report it back to supporters and keep campaigning.

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Reader comments

1. Dom Aversano

I think there is some very good advice in there.

One thing I might add is when it comes to actually writing the petition use as few words as possible.

I wrote the IDS petition in about 5 minutes, and tried to make it emotionally neutral.

There are many petitions that I do not sign – despite believing in – because they are too opinionated or verbose.

People on the internet have 1/10th the attention span they have when reading a paper book. I doubt 5% of people read every word of the petition I wrote, many probably only read the title or looked at the picture.

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