Third-order Engagement: Friends don’t let friends advocate alone

While I admit that I’m slow to getting around to try out all of the really exciting tools that I learn about on Beth Kanter’s blog, it’s a very fertile place for new ideas about revolutionizing nonprofits, and it’s the first blog I make a point to check in on when I want to be challenged and reconnected to the field.

Often, posts about technology in nonprofit organizations lead me to think, also, about offline applications of the same concepts, which is exactly the case with this post from this archived post about “third-order engagement.”

The idea, after all, isn’t very high-tech: People are more likely to get excited about something that their friends are excited about. And they’re more likely to be receptive to messages that are conveyed by those with whom they already have a strong relationship.

As the blog post describes, this makes sense for for-profit companies that are learning to facilitate consumers sharing information about products with friends who might want to buy them, too, as well as for nonprofit organizations that can see big dividends when they make it easy for donors and others to find out how their friends are engaged with the same organization, too.

And, of course, it has important advocacy implications.

Are our advocacy efforts set up to make it easy for people to “invite” friends to take a stand with them (with talking points that someone new to the effort can relate to, and engaging actions that people will find enjoyable, and explicit assistance to help people approach friends about the cause)?

Are we investing heavily in our strongest advocates’ potential to bring in new activists, rather than pushing out all of the asks ourselves? Are we moving people from engagement to leadership, and encouraging them to bring their friends along with them? Are we recognizing advocates’ successes in enlarging the pool of the committed, as a “win” in itself? Do we actively solicit new contacts from our current cadre, and do we use technology (databases, social networks) that allow advocates to find other friends and to connect relationally with other activists?

Do we spend at least as much time cultivating a grassroots base as we do trying to mobilize that base towards specific targets?

And, as advocates ourselves, do we make sure that our friends understand why we’re engaged in specific causes, and what that work means for their own lives, and how they can play a part in the effort with us? Do they know that they are welcome, and needed, and valued?

The explosion of social media, and their expansion into every aspect of life, illustrates the fundamental truth that we are relational beings.

That’s true in our social change work, too.

No one should be advocating alone, especially not in this connected age, when so many messages and issues are competing for attention.

After all, when we take a stand, wouldn’t we rather not stand alone?

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