You see it with almost every digital campaign – an action directed to government in which you are asked to “email your MP”.
These are usually campaigns initiated by political lobby groups, where many people are asked to write to one or more pollies about an issue. The letters may range from those actually composed by the writer, through to form letters and signed postcards.
Form letters and postcards use pre-generated content that in many instances you can edit, but generally you don’t.
The reason for this is it’s much quicker and easier to enter your details, click send and then be done. You can feel like you’ve taken part and made a stand, but for less time and effort – it’s the lazy-man’s activism.
These are low-barrier actions in every sense. It’s on par with signing an online petition, as far as usability is concerned. There is no additional work required and further engagement is not necessary.
Letters of this type are much less effective than spontaneous individual letters, as experienced pollies can usually tell when an orchestrated campaign is in progress.
Identical subject-lines and emails with identical, or very similar content, are the tell tale signs for pollies. These emails arrive in bulk and are either marked as spam or placed in a separate bin along with all the other campaign emails.
While form letters and postcards do have some value in demonstrating the level of community support or opposition to an issue, they don’t have the same impact as a well-crafted, passionate and personal letter.
Aside from pollies treating form letters and postcards with little to no interest, it can also become repetitive for supporters. Why does this happen? Because digital campaigns are over-saturated with “email your MP” actions. From Amnesty to Avaaz, and demonstrated by GetUp! continuously, these low-barrier MP actions are everywhere.
So – actions needs to be mixed up in order to keep up the interest.
Sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper is a good one. You feel more engaged when your efforts have a recognisable end game, which plays on your vanity – publication. Now sure not every letter to the editor will see the light of day, but there is the possibility.
The issue with this type of action is the barrier, and it’s a pretty high one too.
A letter to the editor requires you to write your own content that is propelled by your own opinion. On top of this there is more ownership than a form letter or postcard action. A letter to the editor is your creation and will often require further communication with the newspaper. This communication will happen on your own grounds and will be external from the campaign that pushed you to act.
Despite this barrier, for those who do choose to step up their involvement and think outside the “email your MP” box, a letter to the edit can have an extended reach.
Politicians and/or their staff generally monitor the letters pages of newspapers. As well, published letters can raise awareness of an issue among readers who would not otherwise be aware of it. Even if not published, your letter can be instrumental in drawing to the newspaper’s attention that the issue is of public concern and should be reported on.
Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper is a three-pronged attack. It has the range and potential to influence politicians, spur discussion among the general public and generate free media on the issue.
The media can have a powerful influence on politicians if it is skilfully manipulated. Such methods are usually the province of political parties or professional interest groups, although individuals can also use them affectively.
With solid guidance from the campaign you are acting through this is achievable. Well thought-out creative and messaging can inform you about an issue clearly and concisely. It can spur your own opinion and really get you thinking.
I first became aware of this potential when producing the ETU campaign web site Stop The Sell Off. Stop The Sell Off is a simple splash page campaign which clearing communicates its problem and solution – http://stoptheselloff.org.au
Upon visiting the web site immediately you know that there is a need to “Stop the privatisation of NSW’s electricity!” because privatisation will result in “Higher electricity prices, a less reliable network, reduced public safety, massive job losses and less money for community organisations”.
The campaign gives you three avenues to respond – signing the petition, emailing your MP and sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
It’s the later that spurred Chrissy from Bathurst to step up her involvement and write to her local newspaper…
I would like to thank those people in Bathurst who have signed the petition against the sale of the NSW power distribution businesses.
We are trying to get the message out to the local community that the sale will mean even higher electricity prices if big business gets hold of the remaining assets of the NSW taxpayers.
The electricity businesses have paid dividends to the NSW government coffers for many many years, it is this monies that goes into the general revenue to pay for our nurses, teachers, firemen and police among a few.
It is insanity to sell of an asset that does make money for the governments…. why do you think that big business is pushing for the sale?
There will be huge job losses in regional and country NSW should this sale go ahead, and no more sponsorship for those many local community events that the electricity industry currently supports.
The Premier hockey is sponsored by the electricity distributor, as will be the camping and caravanning expo being held by the local RSL.
Please sign the petitions around town, Paul Toole has not responded to any questions from local people, so can only assume that he supports the sale.
Not sure all the employees of the electricity distributors would be happy when they lose their positions.
Chrissy’s letter was published in The Western Advocate in September this year.
Digital Campaign Coordinator
Essential Media Communications
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