Civil society organizations and the media have been called upon to improve their knowledge of various social media platforms in order to take advantage of them to improve their advocacy activities.
Ms Foluke Adegbite, Programme Officer at Media Rights Agenda (MRA), issued the call on September 23 while making a presentation on the topic: “Using Social Media for Legislative Advocacy” at a three-day Media Advocacy Workshop for Increased Citizen’s and Legislative Actions held in Lagos. The workshop, held from September 23 to 25, 2013, was organized by Justice for All (J4A), a programme of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
Ms Adegbite told the participants, made up of media professionals and civil society activists, that “We now have infinitely more tools than ever before for the production and dissemination of information, either to specific target audiences or to general populations.”
She urged them to examine each of the social media tools to understand the opportunities and possibilities they present and take advantage of them, adding that “With resourcefulness, creativity, and persistence we can conduct efficient and effective advocacy far more easily than in the past.”
Ms Adegbite defined social media as “forms of interactions among people in which they create, share and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.”
She noted that social media sites have become tremendously popular around the world, including in Nigeria, remarking that “Internet users tend to spend more time on social media sites than any other type of site.”
She explained some of the features of Social Media, saying they are more decentralized; comparatively inexpensive and cost-effective; user-friendly and easily accessible; capable of reaching global audiences and ensuring virtually instantaneous responses; effective tools for effecting change; can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing; among other characteristics.
Ms Adegbite observed that using social media for legislative advocacy can yield significant result if carefully planned and utilized.
According to her, “There are today dozens of social media sites with millions of users incorporating them into their lives. These sites promote a wide a range of interests, connecting people based on shared interests.”
She identified the most common examples of social media platforms as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, DailyMotion, Metacafe, Hi5, Netlog, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, among others, and explained the historical origins, features, reach and how to use of each of the platforms.
Ms Adegbite also noted that “the advent of GSM telephony and smart phones have created wider access and additional features, such as SMS text messaging, with capacity to transmit images and video, among others.”
However, she pointed out, using the telephone feature of the tool requires a great deal of time commitment and can also result in high costs.
She explained the vast potential of the SMS text messaging feature of mobile phones, saying “coordinated and sustained text messaging can be very effective in engaging policy makers and providing information to the public.”
Ms Adegbite said since the mobile phone provides direct access to policy-makers or people in authority, text message are usually very effective in pressuring them to act on issues, with its added possibilities for reaching a large number of people directly with very succinct and straight to the point information.
She said: “According to the latest monthly telecommunications subscriber data from the Nigerian Communications Commission, as at June 2013, the number of active telecommunications lines in Nigeria were for mobile (GSM), 117,412,363; mobile (CDMA), 2,567,177; and fixed wireless and wired, 382,678; making a total of 120,362,218.”
Observing that the number continues to increase, Ms Adegbite argued that “with the emergence of bulk SMS possibility and services, it presents a relatively cost-effective means, in theory, for potentially reaching nearly 120 million mobile lines in Nigeria directly.”
Explaining its other advantages, she said for citizens involved in lobbying and policy advocacy, it gives the possibility for a large number of citizens to engage easily and directly with decision-makers at very little cost while also having “the advantage of helping to overcome issues of high cost and other challenges inherent in other modes of engagement, such as face-to-face meetings.”
She gave some tips for using SMS text messaging effectively, including having the capacity to produce condensed information that nonetheless transmits the required message; the ability to sustain a campaign using SMS over a fairly long period; the ability to send different messages around a consistent objective or set of objectives.