It’s easy to overuse words like phenomenal and astounding, but not when it comes to the growth of e-campaigning over the last five years.
Much like with the early years of the co-operative movement, the right people came together in the right place at the right time. Use of the internet for campaigning had been bubbling for years, but in 2007 Avaaz built a model that took things to another level.
In a little over six years they have grown to almost 25 million members, and are still growing at a rate of a million a month. They have taken on the world's worst and beat or hurt them – everyone from the Syrian and Chinese regimes to Rupert Murdoch, Big Oil and organised crime. Last year, they were subject to a well-resourced organised take-down. This not only failed, but it inspired members to cough up cash to upgrade Avaaz’s internet security protocols.
Others have followed where Avaaz led. Most significant in the UK has been 38 Degrees, which is now a million strong and fighting hard against corporate tax avoidance and for the NHS.
There are even for-profit providers out there, such as change.org, which claims 40 million users! This is the platform on which independent bookshop owners Frances and Keith Smith mobilised people against Amazon earlier this year; and which was used by community groups to successfully fight the closure of Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (and others in Bradford and York).
Previously it has been hard for progressive co-operatives to engage with the big players, although there have been isolated notable successes. The Co-operative Group was a big influencer in the early days of Avaaz’s anti-neonic pesticide campaign — which went on to monumental success this year with the temporary ban of the worst of these bee-killing pesticides.
Midcounties and Co-operative Energy have been big beneficiaries of 38 Degrees and the Which? Big Switch campaign, which saw 30,000 customers shift their business from ‘Big Six’ energy companies last year. And Co-operative Energy continues to benefit from 38 Degrees’ latest campaign which encourages people to switch from Npower owing to their alleged tax avoidance.
Crucially, some of these platforms now have the ability for people (including co-operatives) to initiate their own campaigns. It’s not hard: in Germany schoolchildren got together to successfully stop the deportation of a classmate. Initially the onus is on the campaign starter to get people to sign up, but if things take off then sometimes a platform will adopt the campaign and promote it more widely.
The most suitable campaigns identify an easily understood problem and have immediacy to them. In many ways, e-campaigns have changed the rules of the game. Petitions with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of supporters are much more commonplace than in pre-internet days. This requires campaigners to embrace the e-option or stay away from these type of devices all together.
There is an art to crafting the right campaign ask and so the best way to get started is to utilise an e-campaign tool as a supplement to an existing call to action. Get in there and mix it up — it’s not often you will get a gold plated invitation from a 25 million member organisation to come out to play.