Charities need to rethink their digital campaign tactics because the existing approaches are ineffective, damage trust and drown out beneficiary voices, a new report has said.
The Social Change Agency consultancy interviewed charities, beneficiaries, MPs and digital technology providers to produce the report Lost Voices: Digital Campaigning and the Voices of Lived Experience, published this week.
The report argues that, although digital campaigning has enabled charities to mobilise large numbers of people, "many digital campaign metrics of success are geared towards scalability rather than impact".
It says that many MPs disregard mass template emails and such campaigns are more effective in terms of allowing charities to demonstrate to supporters that they are doing something than in influencing policy-makers.
"The feedback from our research clearly indicated that mass emailing was an outdated and damaging tactic," the report says.
According to the report, the MPs who were interviewed said they were most likely to pay attention to individual messages from people with lived experience of the issues at the heart of a campaign, such as beneficiaries.
But it adds that many of these people find themselves marginalised by such campaigns and are used as case studies, rather than being allowed to drive them.
"This focus on numbers is not helpful," the report says. "Mass action has its place and undoubtedly can be useful. But it is clear from our interviews with decision-makers that they are often impressed more by a smaller number of tailored, specific communications from constituents or others whose views matter to them than they are by mass emails or claimed petition numbers.
"The sheer volume of emails or tweets to decision-makers can leave them too overwhelmed to deal with each one. Some have even refused to interact at all with these types of campaign. The result has a negative impact on the public and those with lived experience, who feel let down by a promise that they could create change through this tactic."
To resolve the issue, the report concludes, digital campaigns need to be easy for charities to put together, inclusive and accessible for people taking part, and should allow participants to connect with each other as well as the cause.
It also recommends that charities should work towards putting the voices of people with lived experience at the heart of their digital campaigning through support, ambassadorship and work opportunities, and by allowing them to connect directly with decision-makers.
Rather than relying on sheer volume of emails, the report says, charities should consider allowing users to add personalised video messages or persuade MPs to hold virtual question-and-answer sessions on Twitter or virtual surgeries.