This post is a part of SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week Blog Tour. See the complete list of participating blogs on SENG’s site.
Growing up, advocating for anything on a large scale meant marching down to the front steps of a big building with signs and megaphones or writing letter campaigns and hoping to be heard.
“If I could just have a minute of your time, Senator.”
I can’t imagine the time and wrangling that it took to coordinate such an effort. So many variables and so many constraints.
While I admit that sometimes there is nothing like a face-to-face with a leader, politician, or policy maker, for an introvert like me, I have to also admit that I am so thankful to be living in the technology age, when advocating via social media and emails are just a click away.
I am new to the advocating thing, gifted or otherwise. In fact, in many ways, I’m struggling with feelings of inadequacy on this topic. But I do know a thing or two about using the internet and I believe it can be a parent’s best friend when it comes to advocating on a larger level, whether local, state or federal.
Many politicians and policy makers are accessible via various social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and most are well monitored by the politician him/herself, and/or a staff person.
Social media is a fantastic advocacy tool. But there are certain things to keep in mind, when taking this advocacy route.
Keep in mind:
1) Be respectful. Despite what internet trolls would have you believe, the internet does not give you carte blanche to be rude and disrespectful. Be firm. Write well. Don’t be ugly. You will engage them better that way. No one wants to feel attacked, whether face-to-face, or online. Just because you can say it, doesn’t mean you should.
2) Don’t let it become emotionally charged. This goes along with ‘be respectful’, but I can’t stress enough, how important it is to keep your cool. When it goes to that level, you will often lose your credibility.
3) Write out your thoughts beforehand. The internet allows us to correspond and do things at a much quicker pace, but don’t just get on your computer, type out your complaint or request and hit ‘enter’. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Gather your thoughts, think on it for a bit and revisit your ideas. Edit as needed. Read it again. Edit again. Rinse and repeat.
4) You only have 140 characters on Twitter. Make them count. Sometimes, it is best to break your thoughts into several separate tweets, rather than risk losing the message in a bunch of shorthand. (Writing on your school board’s Facebook wall or your state Senator’s LinkedIn page? Have at it – there are no word/character limits.)
5) Don’t use social media as a bullying tool. I’ve been turned off by some efforts for some great causes, simply because what they were doing seemed more in the realm of bullying. We don’t tolerate it in schools. We shouldn’t tolerate it online. (see #1 and #2)
6) Understand that it is difficult to measure its effectiveness. Unlike seeing someone face-to-face and getting a handshake, you will not know for certain whether the policy maker you are trying to engage has read or seen what you write. In social media, sometimes the power comes from getting the word out to others, and combining your voices, rather than your individual update or tweet.
7) Be sure to thank them for their work, time and effort. Don’t just bombard with stats and requests. Thank them for the job they are doing, thank them when they do listen, or they ask questions. Even the worst policy maker does something right, once in awhile, right? Dig deep, and compliment him on the lovely tie he had on at the last board meeting.
Earlier this year, our state was deciding whether or not to add a line in the budget for gifted education. Gifted education is required, but had not been funded in recent years.
Our governor is on Twitter, and so, along with blogging about it, emailing and sending a group to visit state lawmakers at the capital, several of us took to Twitter and Facebook. We politely, yet firmly, requested that he approve the line in the budget and we also tweeted stats and articles to him (using the ‘#gifted” hashtag, of course). Others who follow us on Twitter became aware of the issue and also joined in. Collectively, we respectfully made our voice heard.
When the line was approved, we also thanked him on Twitter and wrote blog posts about it.
How much those tweets swayed him, as opposed to if we had not tweeted, I will never know.
On my own, my voice may be easy to ignore. But it becomes much harder when the public takes to the new town square (social media) and starts talking into the megaphone.