In this opening chapter, we set the stage for unpacking the prevalence, mechanisms, and ramifications of a new attention-based model of nonprofit advocacy in a social media age. We first provided a primer to nonprofit advocacy. We went on to identify and discuss two fundamental challenges faced by nonprofit advocacy organizations; namely, the resource challenge and the relevance challenge. Then, after a brief review of the existing literature on social media advocacy, we introduced the concept of attention and highlighted its key role in nonprofit advocacy in a social media age. Finally, we presented a conceptual framework for understanding how nonprofit advocacy organizations seek and sustain attention on social media and how they transform this attention into tangible and strategic organizational outcomes.
In this chapter, we provide a conceptually-based understanding of the social media context. We discuss the evolution of social media, the main types, and their prevalence among nonprofit advocacy organizations. We provide a framework for understanding the central tools available to advocacy organizations for building attention on social media. Regardless which social media platforms they choose, organizations usually have two main tools at their disposal: making connections and sending messages. Connecting tools are designed to make, build, foster, or maintain ties to a specific stakeholder (a particular individual or organization) within an organization's network. Messaging tools are designed to provide value-added content to an organization's audience; over time, the repeat use of message-based connecting also serves to develop ties with new users or strengthen ties with existing users.
In this chapter, we present and test an expanded explanatory model for understanding why some advocacy organizations get attention on social media while others do not. The amount of attention an organization receives is modeled as a function of two factors: network characteristics and communication strategy. In colloquial terms, we argue that the extent to which an organization is "being heard" (i.e., the attention it receives) depends on the size of the audience, how much and how it speaks, and what it says. Most significantly, in terms of textual content, we find that the inclusion of values-based language has a positive effect on attention. This finding suggests that value framing is a useful strategy for organizations to generate public attention.
In this chapter, we extend the organizational-level model presented in Chapter 3 in two important ways: we bring the model down to the message level and we expand the number of variables. We seek to do so in a new way – a way that incorporates machine learning and data analytic methods into the social scientific enterprise. In so doing, we provide a template for scholars similarly interested in using data science methods to expand existing models. More importantly, we use this method to bring insights to bear on what drives attention to individual organizational messages. Because a number of complex machine learning procedures are used in this chapter as part of a novel, data science-based approach to theory-building, we provide a methodological appendix at the end of the book to share additional details, background, and supporting tables related to these procedures.
This chapter is concerned with the following question: does the attention gained by the organization lead to any tangible or intangible organizational outcome? It considers whether and to what extent this social media attention can create a "real" impact for the organization. In this chapter, we discuss three possible pathways by which organizations can turn attention into impact: accelerate attention through boundary spanning and coalition building; transform attention by generating social media capital; and leverage attention by creating online-offline synergy in their advocacy work. With a focus on the third pathway, we take a deeper dive into three established organizations. Our Twitter and interview data reveal how social media advocacy work is organized and managed in brick-and-mortar organizations, and the extent to which the use of social media has added value to and transformed how policy advocacy is done.
This concluding chapter summarizes the preceding chapters while further discussing the theoretical, methodological, and practical implications of the research presented in this book. A key takeaway for the book is to highlight "attention" as a key intermediate goal and an important springboard for advocacy organizations. Yet we also acknowledge that attention is not the end game: in order to effectively promote their causes, not only must these organizations obtain and sustain public attention on social media, but they also must be able to turn that attention into action and impact. With an eye on the big picture, this chapter summarizes the preceding chapters while giving a broader overview of the theoretical, methodological, and practical challenges and opportunities implied by the research presented in this book.