Digital media has ushered in a whole new era of organizing—and activists are still learning which tools work best for different advocacy goals. The National Women’s Law Center’s Thao Nguyen is finding that success with online tools requires constant testing and understanding your target audience.

Nguyen is the leader of the team behind NWLC’s creative campaign This is Personal.  The campaign seeks to reach women between the ages of 18 and 35 who Nguyen describes as being “with us in principle,” but inactive when it comes to reproductive health issues.

Since launching in September 2012, the campaign has drawn attention to a range of reproductive health and justice issues. This includes mobilizing followers to call for the passage of the Violence Against Women Act and the Shaheen Amendment and recognizing the real-world significance of Roe v. Wade on its 40th anniversary.

The value of “likes” and “shares”

Arresting visual images are key to the campaign's success.

Arresting visual images are key to the campaign’s success.

“People don’t know where social media fits in the ‘activism ladder’ concept used by traditional organizers,” notes Nguyen, referring to the “ladder of engagement” concept long used by organizers to describe the stages of involvement people move through as they become more active on an issue.

Nguyen explains that the campaign team views “liking and sharing something”—as a user can do with Facebook posts—as a meaningful step on the engagement ladder.

“A lot of people say that’s so passive, but it’s a different world and a different generation and we are embracing the fact that activism looks different,” she says.

The campaign relies heavily on the use of “ambassadors” in social networks to bring their friends into the movement for reproductive health. On Facebook, for example, people are much more amenable to and interested in what their friends think. Nguyen and her colleagues believe that the impact they can have with a campaign message is greater if the viewer knows that one of her friends is a supporter of that work.

“They’re more likely to want to get involved and hang on to it,” says Nguyen.

The strategy appears to be working. In less than three weeks since it launched, the campaign had amassed over 100,000 Facebook fans. To date the campaign has over 280,000 Facebook fans and a reach of over 425,000 supporters.

Targeting, content, and testing

“We meticulously and obsessively test things,” says Nguyen, describing how, in the past, they have used methods like developing three different versions of a piece of Facebook content, testing it in different cities with similar demographics, and using the piece of content that was most popular for their entire audience of over 280,000 Facebook fans.


It took a couple of tries before the team got the image right for their birth control message.

The three pillars of the campaign’s strategy are:

  • targeting to get the right audience
  • generating appealing and informative content, and
  • testing the performance of that content and tactics to disseminate it

Facebook is such a visual medium – and now has new rules enshrining the dominance of images– that the campaign tries to pique followers’ interest with a few words in hopes they’ll click through. This has proven to be a challenge, admits Nguyen.

“We’re a wonky organization and we have a lot to say,” she says.

The importance of community management

Thao Nguyen is NWLC's Director of Outreach

Thao Nguyen

Nguyen credits their “robust” community management approach to the high levels of engagement they have with followers. Her team scans all the comments their Facebook posts receive, both to ensure that the comments are conforming to guidelines but also to check for questions. They strive to respond to every question.

Facebook is allowing the campaign to test a new feature where comments are visible in order of popularity rather than chronology. This provides the campaign with a gut reaction to how their community feels about issues. The campaign has also introduced new weekly pieces, like “Comment of the Week,” to draw more attention to their audience and their contributions.

As evidence that the campaign is moving people “up” the ladder of engagement, Nguyen reports that they receive messages and posts from individuals who have created their own petitions, written songs about the content, even planned related events.

“That’s really the activism that we’re trying to promote,” says Nguyen. “They’re going way above and beyond what we would normally do – and we want to highlight it, celebrate it.”

Looking ahead

Moving forward, the campaign will try to build a sense of urgency about what’s happening in the states.

“It’s getting to that end of session when they’re turning to social issues,” says Nguyen. “We are working on a narrative to create a better understanding of all the extreme legislation that is out there and we really believe using our social media community we can help make a difference.”