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Petitions on the world wide web is a tool that has been used in quite a few successful campaigns, from politics, to religion and sports issues.
Web-based petitions are said to be an early-stage political strategy that can assist in building a more robust campaign and serve many purposes, including:

  • Sending a signal of public opinion to decision makers
  • Telling the media there is adequate public attention to report on it
  • Building a following who are interested in an issue
  • Creating additional action and raising cash

Online petitions are very similar to their paper predecessors of years past, when folks with clipboards collected signatures and passed them along to lawmakers and legislators. Those petitions were often a good first step, although they did not singularly achieve change.

What’s different about e-petitions is they allow people to gather more signatures more quickly through email, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The ease of creating a petition and spreading it to the masses have led to more of them – good and bad.

Petitions need a clear and tangible focus

Wise organizations launch online petitions that are credible and can act as a solid base for enacting changing. After all, singing a petition to solve climate change is basically pointless.

A solid campaign strategy requires much more than a long-term, wide-arching goal: It must be directed at a clear target — think person, government or company — and a decisive action it wants the target to take.

No single act will solve any big issue.  However, a well-timed, well thought-out petition that attracts supports and engages people will have much more potential to succeed.

While collecting a list of interested people is only a start, it must be coupled with seeking a defined focus of change.

What to think about before signing

Thinking about signing an online petition? It’s rather important to vet who is sponsoring it and decide whether or not it is legit. In short, it’s good to be suspicious.

There are many things to keep in mind:

  1. Do you trust the organization sponsoring the petition?
  2. Is there a clear target?
  3. Do you think change is possible? Has the organization broken the issue down into winnable steps?
  4. You may be asked for cash
  5. You may be asked to do more
  6. You may be asked to help spread the campaign on Facebook.
  7. You may even be asked to become a leader in your community.

What that all means is your job is not complete after you sign. Whether you’re fighting to end nuclear war or for the rights of a union of drywall contractors in Erie, Pennsylvania, you will be prompted to continue to support the cause.

Different kinds of petitions

There are petitions that don’t stand a chance at changing the world. Yet, it still feels right and good to sign them.

They won’t enact change, but there is quite a bit of awesomeness behind them. Such a petition may be inviting people to wish a celebrity a happy birthday. That probably won’t change the celebrity’s day, but folks will fell happy to share their love and admiration for that person.

On other type of petition that feels great to support works more like a collective thumbs up (or down).

A fan of a football team that is on a long losing streak will likely be happy to sign a petition calling for a firing of the coach. It may help you vent some frustration, but coaches probably shouldn’t fired nor policy changed based on a tiny window of input from people who are upset in the moment.

What does signing mean?

Your signature means quite a bit to an advocacy organization. When you add your name and contact information to a petition online, that organization considers you a member.

In yesteryear, if you supported a cause, you wrote a small check to the construction company, or organization, which then sent you mail during the year and kept you up to date on the cause. At the conclusion of the year, it would ask for more money.

Nowadays, right after you sign a petition you are added to a member list and easy to reach by email. Campaigns aggressively send signers petitions from similar campaigns and ask them to get involved.

It is the organization’s responsibility to build a relationship with those people, connect with them in a meaningful way, and encourage them to get involved in future causes.

In closing

The strongest social change organizations tend to launch the most viable and potentially viral petitions, strengthening language, providing tactical advice and connecting petitioners with members of the media. This goes to benefit both the host organization and its causes.

Remember, online petitions are just the start of any campaign. A solid petition helps ignite a fight that needs actual leadership, strategy, organization, funding and continued efforts from those who are impassioned enough to enter the fight after they sign their name and hit “enter” on their mobile device or keyboard.