Petitions Work Even When Congress Doesn’t

We’ve long been fans of using petitions to build your housefile, segment supporters by interest, and engage your housefile in a trending news topic.

But do petitions really work?

Here are some low-cost recent examples of effective petitions geared toward business rather than government … which seems to be the theme of petitions that work.

The #FBRape CampaignDove

The #FBRape campaign successfully prompted major advertisers to pull advertising from Facebook until Facebook agreed to remove content that glorifies violence against women. #FBRape campaign got 50,000 tweets of support in just one week triggering companies like Dove, Nissan UK, and Finnair to withdraw their advertisements on Facebook until the policy was changed. Here is the public statement issued by Facebook announcing the policy change. Facebook has a user base that qualifies it as the third most populated “country” on the planet. This is was a big, quick, win.

This campaign is the first media action campaign launched by the US-based Women, Action & The Media (WAM!) and the UK based Everyday Sexism Project. More information on the campaign can be found here.

Petition Results:

  • 50,000 tweets in one week
  • Major advertisers took notice and pulled advertising revenue
  • Facebook issued a policy commitment to remove content that glorifies violence against women by the time the second advertiser pulled advertising
  • Widespread media coverage of the campaign in media outlets including The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Globe and Huffington Post. Here’s a partial list of media coverage.

Seventeen Magazine, meet Julia Bluhm, age 14

It’s common practice for teen magazines to Photoshop their models to unattainable levels of perfection making adolescence even more agonizing than it already is. When 14-year-old Julia Bluhm petitioned Seventeen to stop doctoring photos of its models, she wasn’t taken seriously until she collected tens of thousands of signatures on her petition and delivered them at a mock photo shoot outside of Seventeen’s headquarters last July. Shortly after, Seventeen announced it would no longer Photoshop its models, making it the first mainstream teen magazine to take the “no Photoshop” pledge. Soon after, Cleo Magazine in Australia, facing its own petition, followed Seventeen’s lead.

Boy Scouts Losing Corporate Funders

The Boy Scouts have been under heavy scrutiny for the past couple of years for their exclusionary policy against gay scouts and leaders. They’ve most recently engaged in very public debate about their gay scout and leader policies that was triggered, in part, by some of their biggest corporate funders – AT&T, Ernst & Young, Intel, UPS and Verizon facing consumer backlash for supporting the Boy Scouts. After being publicly identified as a Boy Scout major donor, each corporation faced petition after petition signed by thousands of angry customers demanding they stop funding the Boy Scouts. Companies pulled funding rather than face consumer backlash. It seems that Verizon is the only hold out still funding the Boy Scouts and would only say that they, “expect all of its [Verizon’s] grant recipients to comply with all applicable laws.”

We’re Not Done With Verizon

When Cynthia Butterworth’s sister escaped from her abusive husband, she needed to cancel their shared cell phone contract so he couldn’t track her or her phone calls. But when she called Verizon, they said it would cost $500 to end her contract – money a women fleeing an abuser didn’t have. After a nearly 200,000 signatures on a petition, Cynthia got Verizon to change its policies so domestic abuse victims like Cynthia’s sister could easily cancel their contracts.

What’s not to love about petitions? Great results. Great press. You build your housefile, and you can report a short-term victory to your loyal supporters.

Five Tips for Effective Petitions:

1. Highlight a specific problem with a specific solution.  Rather than “stop fracking” how about “stop fracking in Adams County to keep our water clean.”

2. Tell a compelling story that people can relate to.  If people don’t see how the problem relates to them or could affect them, or family/friends, they won’t act, e.g. the example of mobile phone cancellation charges may not affect you personally, but most of us have known someone in a domestically violent situation and can relate for them.

3. Word economy is everything.  Think Twitter length of 140 characters when describing your petition. Why? Attention spans are short *and* you’ll be promoting your petition on Twitter anyway. Something like: “Stop fracking in Adams County to keep our water clean.”

4. Establish credibility by using third-party quotes, stats, and stories from mainstream media outlets or notable personalities.  Third party verification the problem is critical to your petition success. Quote them any chance you get.

5. Piggyback. Monitor social media chatter on Facebook, Twitter and Google Alerts for any news story or tweet that mentions the issue you’re petitioning. Run “#searches” and Google Alerts on your topic and be ready with comments and a link to your petition with, again, word economy, such as: “do your part to help stop polluting our water through fracking by signing this petition.”