Eight tips for using social networking to win land use battles

Winning land use battles is all about political organizing. If you are not using the internet and social networking to organize supporters of your land use project, you are at a serious tactical and strategic disadvantage to your opponents. Having the best development proposal in the world doesn’t matter if your opponents out organize you and turn out 200 angry residents to a public hearing – your great project will almost certainly go down in defeat. Your opponents are already using the web to organize their opposition and disseminate information. It is now essential for developers to fight back by using social networking to help win land use battles.

Web tools (social networking, video sharing, blogs, web applications, etc) can be used to convert regular citizens into engaged supporters and advocates for your land use project. In order to win approval of your land use project, you must integrate all of the available tools into a cohesive strategy for identifying, engaging and mobilizing supporters of your project. We will focus on Facebook and Twitter because they are the most popular social networking tools. Here are Land Use Experts 8 Expert Tips for using social networking to help win land use battles.

1. Start with a quality website.
Everyone and everything has a website these days – your project needs one too. Think of the website as the hub of all your online activities – with the other online tools we discuss being spokes leading back to the hub. Your site should contain materials that supporters can use to generate their own content. This should include items such as how to guides ( how to write letters to the editor, how to contact and communicate with decision makers), features and benefits of your land use project, videos, photos, testimonials, news stories, a calendar of events, a blog, a support petition.

2. Create a Facebook page and a Twitter handle for your project.
You can use Facebook and Twitter to leverage participation from your supporters. They are also great places to reinforce the messages that you want your supporters to use when communicating with decision makers. You can direct supporters to updates and new material on your project website. Since you have a direct and unfiltered line to people that are following these pages, you can make very effective calls to action directing supporters to email/call decision makers, show up for weekend canvasses, public hearings or re-post information and calls to action on their pages.

3. Use social media to engage decision makers.
Do the decision makers have Facebook or Twitter pages? If so, ask your supporters to become their Facebook friend or follow them on Twitter– politicians don’t ignore constituents if they want to get re-elected. This is a direct and unfiltered line to decision makers. This will give your supporters another way to communicate their advocacy of your project directly to decision makers.

4. Don’t engage in Facebook and Twitter fights.
You believe in your project and your company, so it is always tempting to respond to all of your opponents Facebook or Twitter posts that criticize you and/or your project. Don’t engage in these fights! You will only be wasting your valuable time and emboldening your opponents to post more. Answer their arguments as part of your comprehensive campaign plan to win approval of your land use project.

5. Follow others and watch who is following you.
Your opponents are using Facebook and Twitter, along with other social media and web tools to organize their opposition. You should be their Facebook friends and following them on Twitter so you can keep tabs on their activities. If your opponents are smart, and they probably are, they will be doing the same – so think about what who will be reading what you publish.

6. Convert online enthusiasm into specific, targeted activities.
Don’t just collect Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Direct them to your updated blog and then ask them to act based on your post. If you just wrote a blog entry about how opponents to similar projects discovered that their concerns were unwarranted, use social networks and email lists to ask your supporters to act based on that blog entry. Ask them to send a personal communication to decision makers highlighting what is in your blog post.

7. Use the mobile web.
Mobile web traffic is skyrocketing and you can bet that a lot of your supporters are surfing the web on their phones. You can use the mobile web to elicit action from your supporters in real time during public hearings and events. Have someone responsible for live blogging, updating Facebook and Tweeting during events and hearings. Don’t just tell people what is going on at the public event – ask them to act right now! Don’t stop there – we are all addicted to text messaging – send a text message to supporters at the hearing asking them to speak in favor of your land use project.

8. Build lists and track supporters.
You should constantly be tracking the way that you and your supporters interact. You can use social networking to help identify “super supporters” of your project. If you find that there are supporters who have signed in at a public event, signed up for your email list, written a letter to a decision maker and follow you on Facebook or Twitter and interact with you on the web – these people are engaged! These are leaders who can organize others and be counted on to advocate for your project. Ask them to re-post on social networking site, create a website or blog about your project or contribute something personal to your existing content.

Keeping all of these various tools stocked with new and useful information will take significant time; however, the payoff will be huge. You will have identified, engaged and mobilized supporters who will exert political pressure on decision makers to approve your project. Citizen advocates are your most powerful political tool – identify them, engage them and mobilize them to win your land use battle.

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