Notes from Webinar: ‘Big Listening’ and Social Media

In our October 15th webinar, we focused on how to use social media for listening, learning and increasing the impact of advocacy campaigns. On hand were guests Deidre Huntington from International Budget Partnership and Ben Simon from the Mobilisation Lab at Greenpeace, along with host and TABridge co-organiser Dirk Slater from FabRiders. You can also view an archive recording of the webinar or download the slide deck.

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram offer message-driven groups numerous opportunities to build supportive communities, but the “hype” around the tools can overshadow a numbr of challenges:

  • Advocates and activists work hard to build public awareness and social media can look like an easy path to connect with millions. But Retweets and Facebook Likes by themselves are not an indication of real engagement.
  • Most people use social media as a personal tool, to engage with friends or colleagues. So it is not necessarily the way those people will want to connect with your group or your issues.
  • Social media posts and messages are most often about what’s happening right now, in “real time.”

But the biggest thing to remember about social media is that the tools and platforms are a security quagmire. Whatever company is running your social network, remember as a user that you are handing control of your information to them, and that those corporations use social media as a mass data collection tool to improve their marketing, deliver paid advertising and encourage users to spend more money.

When our words and actions are used to sell products, in the end we are the product! And all too often the privacy settings that help us limit that exploitation are confusing and subject to constant revisions.

Despite these issues, social media does offer benefits and innovations. For advocates and activists, it is particularly useful because:

  • More and more people get their news via social media.
  • It’s an opportunity to engage individuals directly, outside the media “memes” of complacent and oversimplified politics.
  • It gives people and organisations a way to look beyond our own circle of allies, and to learn.
  • It provides us with a mechanism for developing effective messaging.
  • It can help with transparency as networks of influence can be revealed.

If you want to harness the power of social media for your campaigns, you should begin with some basic strategic questions (These apply to other digital campaigning tools too, to learn more about that, check out our TABridge Fundamentals Guide):

  • Know your goals and why social media can help you reach them.
  • Identify key stakeholders in your campaign and where to find them online.
  • Find the online discussions related to your issue.
  • Learn the terms and “vocabulary” already being used by others, so that you can make sure your messages will engage, rather than alienate.

What do we mean by “stakeholders?” Generally you can divide the people who do, or should, care about your issue into three categories:

  • Allies – people you want to mobilise and support
  • Neutral Parties – people you want to educate or persuade
  • Opponents – people whose points you want to counter or override

With allies, you should listen for opportunities to amplify their message in your own social media networks. How can you help them? What information will they find valuable? That kind of “reciprocation” is a key value on social media just as it is in “IRL” communities.

For neutral parties you’ll want to create messaging that can educate them and convert them to allies. You have to understand what issues are relevant to them, and what vocabulary they use.

As you try to discredit or disempower opponents, social media gives you an opportunity to learn more about their arguments and terminology.

If you have already identified the stakeholders for your campaign, you’ll need to do some detective work to find out where they are online. Do they have a Twitter feed? Are they Facebook users? What about LinkedIn? Do they use blogs or other online discussion forums?

It’s also helpful to think beyond your stakeholders to their “influencers,” the groups they trust, or follow online. Where do they get their news and information from? Who’s information are they sharing? What #hashtags are they using and responding to?

You should listen via social media to learn more about:

  • the organisation(s) involved in the issue
  • the key leader(s) of campaigns
  • Executive Directors and CEOs
  • the spokespeople working for or against your position
  • what other campaigns, propositions or programs to support
  • the events or protests that you’ve already been a part of
  • the progress of #hashtags you’ve created or used frequently in online dialogue about your cause

You can even work “old school” by researching the social media environment on your issue using search engines like Google or Duck Duck Go.


‘Big Listening’ innovators, Upwell, have developed this social media campaign lifecycle.

Guest Speakers

benBen Simon (@BenjaminSimon) is a campaigner and senior strategist with the Mobilisation Lab at Greenpeace, who are longtime members of the TABridge netwrok. Ben helps develop Greenpeace’s capacity for strategic response campaigning. He is an experienced digital strategist, specialising in metrics-driven online-to-offline mobilisation and online advocacy and fundraising.

Ben presented examples of social media listening including the methods used by Greenpeace to monitor media coverage during Russia’s detention of the Arctic 30, which gave them insights into how to present the group’s motivations and core purpose in their advocacy for the Arctic region.

He also talked about monitoring Greek social media to spot spikes in the public conversation and using ongoing listening in Brazil to understand the issues and messages that Brazilians feel are most relevant.

Ben said key elements in Greenpeace’s social media success have been the tools and techniques used in collaboration with Upwell. Learn more about that collaboration on the Mobilisation Lab blog.

deidreDeidre Huntington is a communications program officer at the International Budget Partnership (one of the TABridge organisers). She is responsible for developing, producing, and promoting the IBP’s online communications and website.

Deidre described IBP’s work supporting citizens, civil society groups and donors in improving governance of national budget processes. IBP is one of the most network-driven organizations in the transparency community and she said they see social media as a way to engage and develop that network.

She added, though, that social media is just one tool in a toolbox of tactics to build meaningful relationships with constituents and potential supporters. Don’t expect great results if you just blast posts out on social media without cultivating your network in other ways, or, as Deirdre put it, don’t just “spray and pray!”

For engaging a distributed network, good practices include:

  • Look for opportunities to influence the discussion.
  • Crowdsource information from social media.
  • Be proactive with your allies.
  • Ask allies to amplify your message.
  • Share ownership in your efforts and in your success.
  • Show appreciation.

Some final caveats about free social media tools online:

  • If you are not paying for the product, you are the product!
  • When you connect your social media accounts to these tools, pay attention to what permissions you are allowing
  • Tools change EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
  • This is a snapshot of what we know is working TODAY
  • Trust your own instincts: These tools provide insights but, automated filters and search results can’t replace human intuition.

Some useful tools and sites, to help you stay on top of what is happening across your social networks:

▪ –
▪   Hootsuite –
▪   Netvibes –
▪   Sprout –

For preserving and documenting social media status updates:

▪   Storify –

Twitter helpers:

▪ –
▪   Tweetdeck –


DirkDirk Slater (@fabrider) has two decades of experience working with grassroots activists and advocates to harness the power of information by gathering, packaging, distributing and protecting it. You can learn more about him and his work at FabRiders.

jessJessica Steimer (@JSteim) Jessica is the training and support manager at Aspiration, where she trains and supports community organisations around nonprofit technology best practices, specialising in business processes for nonprofit communications and technology sustainability.


You can also view an archive recording of the webinar or download the slide deck.

Comments are closed.