Recently I was interviewed by reputation.com about GoPetition and the art of petitioning. That interview can be read at http://www.reputation.com/reputationwatch/blog/expert-interview-john-pope and below I repeat the results of that interview with some modifications.
In the information age, it's rare for any social movement to be successful without some sort of presence on the Web and social media.
People anxious to share their opinion or show their support for a cause readily swap their avatars for icons representing different movements like the green avatars that showed support for the Iranian revolution in 2009. With passions running so high in the petitioning and online protest world, it's no wonder that the team at GoPetition.com decided to capitalize on the trend of people gravitating to the Web for social change.
The GoPetition site was launched in Sydney Australia in 2000 by five friends from Macquarie University who were talking about viral business ideas one night at a pub. The group came up with the idea of a petitioning site after seeing poker machines and excessive gambling in the pub. The site now has millions of members and has hosted more than 60,000 petitions in more than 100 countries.
Current managing director and co-founder John Pope outlines why online petitioning can help enact social change.
Do you think online petitions are an effective way to enact change?
Online petitions are a tool to affect change. They provide focus and amplification. Good campaigns may involve an online petition, a paper petition drive, media events, social media outreach via Twitter and Facebook, and group gatherings in public for protesting or communication. So a multi-pronged harmonic approach is the best way to instigate change. Online petitions can be an important prong.
Do you have some examples of success stories?
This petition is the best thing I could have done to accomplish my mission. Thank you so much GoPetition. Your site is the best! I also want to thank each and every person who signed. This Town animal shelter now has a volunteer program, a foster program, outdoor runs, a full time vet on site and a wonderful full time trainer Beth on the petition "Allow Volunteers in the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter"
"Success! Our Post Office has been saved. I'm very glad I found GoPetition. I feel that the petition made everyone who was concerned about our post office empowered to voice their thoughts and support. My rating for your service is 10/10! Thanks once again" Tina on the petition "Don't close the Forks of Salmon Post Office".
"Success. WE WON! Edson Cosmas has been given refugee status. Thank you to everyone who signed, demonstrated, blogged and spread the word.“ Karen on the petition "Free Edson Cosmas".
What are the most popular types of petitions on you see on your site?
It seems animal welfare petitions and political and civil rights petitions are very popular. But we also have a wide variety of entertainment (TV, film, video gaming) petitions that are very popular.
What types of petitions are trending in the U.S. right now?
(Pope referred us to a recent blog post, "Petitions and the current social mood of the USA")
"The flow of petitions through a site like GoPetition, while airing complaints of a wide variety, is also a measure of the flow of social mood. In the United States, for example, recent social mood has been unusually depressed. Petitions protesting mass shootings and debating gun control can be juxtaposed against widespread economic problems and political frustration", Pope writes in the post.
Some of the more extreme petitions circulating on GoPetition out of the U.S. include several calling for secession (residents of Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina have expressed frustration with the government on the site) and another calling for the abolishment of the Federal Reserve. Another petition wants reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac asking for FHFA director Ed DeMarco to be replaced and demanding affordable loan modification and refinancing.
Finally, the gun debate has found a voice on GoPetition, as well, with many petitions circulating calling for gun control, while others want to protect constitutional rights and say the solution to end violence is arming teachers.
Who should use GoPetition?
Individuals and groups with a cause (anyone really). Our clients range from individuals, small groups, NGOs, businesses (small to large), local governments (especially in the UK), and even the Taiwanese government at one stage.
What sort of research should you do before launching a petition?
(Pope referred us to the page, "How to Write a Petition")
Identifying your Target. Popular targets include governments, parliaments and politicians (at local, state and federal levels); political parties, presidents, prime ministers, senators and ambassadors; educational institutions; sports organizations; media organizations; entertainment producers (TV stations, film and TV producers and studios); neighborhood organizations like homeowners associations.
Read examples: Once you've identified your target, you'll want to find out if they recognize online petitions as a valid complaint. Even if the organization doesn't, remember that the petition will probably still have a "persuasive effect" regardless of jurisdiction. The "How to write a petition page" included several links to sample petitions directed to a variety of targets. Read these to help you write your own.
Proper research: Every petition starts with a request backed up by well-researched reasons for that request. Provide facts and documentation that support this reasoning and that prove that the request is feasible.
Logical structure and concise communication: The petition should have three main parts - a preamble that contains the appropriate background information, the "core petition text" that tells people what is needed and why, and finally a concise and logical call to action which states the requests you're asking the signers to support.
What are the best ways to let people know about your petition?
Our Facebook network is very large and we recommend Facebook networks e.g. https://www.facebook.com/GoPetition. We also suggest Twitter and Google+ as social media priorities (see https://twitter.com/GoPetition and https://plus.google.com/+gopetitioncom/posts). So we encourage the link of our clients' social presence with ours. Our social networks and theirs are a combined distribution platform and process.
How long should a petition campaign last?
Some campaigns are appropriate for a few days, some for several years. The average campaign length is probably two to three months.
How do you guard against fake signatures?
We have software filters to sort duplicates and also IP-blocking software to block bad spammers.
Any final pieces of advice? Words of wisdom?
Well, petitioning is like faith. Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). So it is with petitions. A small voice amplified can change the world.