Why building a ladder of engagement is foundational to progressive digital campaigning

As a progressive movement or charity organization, you are in the business of building engagement. Engagement can take many forms; people may:

  • apply for a membership
  • become a recurring donor
  • volunteer their time
  • share their knowledge and experience

Since the emergence of the web, nonprofits were faced with the challenge of creating models of engagement that are compatible with the way people communicate and form relationships online. They need to build a ladder of engagement – and if you are looking to construct one for your progressive organization, this article may help you on your way.

How the web changed how we build relationships

Before the web, things were a bit more simple. If only because maintaining long-term relationships required hosting events and/or sending direct mail – which both are expensive – the lowest rung on the ladder of engagement typically required getting constituents to pay a recurring fee.

Paying a monthly amount for your affiliation with an organization is typically called a membership – although some subscriptions services as well as recurring donations fall into the same category.

This brings us to a simplified model of degrees of engagement, as it relates to digital communications & campaigning:

A ladder of engagement
A ladder of engagement
  • Observers: users who come in contact with your messaging, but who do not (yet) form a relationship.
  • Followers: users who form a free, low-committal, unidirectional relationship. What they offer you is their consent to receive communications, as well as their time, attention and in some respects, access to their network. Meanwhile, you are building trust. This engagement level may be differentiated further in order to distinguish social media followers from email subscribers.
  • Members: These are users who typically pay a monthly or yearly fee as a member, recurring donor or subscriber.
  • Contributers: users who provide your organization with other types of value than the monetary kind. They may pay with their knowledge, network, time, presence or reputation. They are activists, volunteers, ambassadors, committee members, and so on. There are countless of ways in which people can participate, with many intermediary levels that may be distinguished.
  • Leaders: Contributors that become more active may be rewarded with additional responsibilities, eventually obtaining positions associated with leadership.
“This engagement level simply did not exist before”

Here, it becomes apparent in what respects the emergence of the web has been transformational to the fabric of society: it introduced weak ties – relationships that may be unidirectional and lower-value, but still lasting, possibly long-term relationships that do not require the exchange of money. We know them as fans, followers and email subscribers.

As this engagement level did simply not exist before, it still presents nonprofits with a formidable challenge to incorporate this into their engagement infrastructure.

Why list building trumps social media

Having services in place that facilitate a multitude of levels of engagement is one thing, allowing users to climb your engagement level is another.

Therefore, every digital campaigning tool must do two things really well:

  1. Maintain relationships at the current engagement level
  2. Convert users to a higher engagement level

This is why list building is still one of the most important challenges for nonprofits. Social media services offer easy ways for people to follow you, but getting someone to follow you is hardly a guarantee for continued access to a user's attention.

Especially on Facebook, where amassing an audience of 'fans' boils down to you earning the right to pay Facebook money in order to be able to reach your own fans with sponsored posts

Not only are social media platforms not the best place to organize engagement (if only because you do not own the relationship), they are also not very useful for converting users to higher engagement levels.

That is why every digital marketer worth their salt will tell you to focus on getting people's consent to communicate with them directly. There are multiple ways of doing this:

  • Having people sign up for an email newsletter
  • Getting people to create a a user account on your website
  • Getting people's mobile phone number, so you can send them instant messages

Build a ladder of engagement with Wings

If you want to build a digital campaign that excels at offering ladders of engagement, you might want to consider using Wings. Wings lets you tell inspiring stories and offers great tools to turn visitors into subscribers, fans and donors, offering integrations with many services like The Action Network, Nationbuilder, Mailchimp and others that allow you to build the other rungs of your engagement ladder.

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