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Digital Media and Policy Engagement

By Taí Coates, NHT Media Campaign Organizer


It’s 2018 and digital and social media have become increasingly important as we approach the November elections. We’ve seen marches, walkouts and protests that have changed the way the country talks about issues like women’s rights, gun control, and immigration.

How can we create a spark that leads to millions of people taking up a cause such as affordable housing? It’s worth noting that many of these movements started with something as small as an email, Tweet and/or a Facebook event. While digital tactics do not stand alone to make a change, it has become more crucial than ever to include them in your communications plans when you want people to act. If you haven’t included digital tactics into your affordable housing engagement efforts, it’s not too late. Here are four easy digital tools to use when you want to reach a wider audience with your message and engage them to take action:

  1. Twitter. Twitter is quickly becoming ground zero for online political engagement. In 2017, Members of Congress tweeted 43 percent more than they did in 2016. This once dying platform has become more relevant for politicians and activists to communicate in the current political atmosphere. If you are an influencer or have a large following, take advantage of your audience and let them know when and how to act to make the change they want to see happen. Tweet links to breaking news and inform your audience why it is important. Retweet petitions or share scripts that people can use to call their legislators when an issue is being debated. News spreads like wildfire online, and sometimes the only spark you need is one tweet.
  2. Facebook. In addition to Twitter, legislative members are also using Facebook more frequently to communicate with their constituents and monitor feedback on legislation. More than 1.37 billion users use Facebook daily, and legislative staff members are monitoring social media pages for comments and feedback. Facebook is making it even easier for constituents to get in touch with their legislators. By activating the Townhall feature on Facebook, constituents can now follow their legislators and mark their profile with a constituent badge when they comment on their pages. Encourage followers within certain districts to comment and post to legislators’ pages about upcoming legislation.
  3. Email List Serves. Create a list serve that keeps subscribers up to date with new information, legislation and developments. Directly inform subscribers of news on which they can act. Give them the tools they need -- whether it’s a link to a petition or the number to their legislators’ offices and talking points on an issue.
  4. Petitions. For decades, people have used petitions as a tool to let legislators or organizations know that they widely support, or disapprove of, a pressing issue or decision. Today, there are websites that house a diverse database of petitions so users can browse and sign based on their topic of interest. Another perk that comes with this technology is the opportunity to grow a listserv where you can directly contact supporters with more information.

These are just four of the many new digital tools that affordable housing groups can use to grow our digital network. Now more than ever, it’s important to not only inform the general public about affordable housing issues, but to push them to act and engage with policymakers, friends, family and community members. The more people we reach, the louder our voices become and we create a pathway for cross-sector collaboration and partnerships between education groups, health groups and others.

For more information on digital engagement and advocacy tools, please contact NHT’s new Media Campaign Organizer, Taí Coates.