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Communicate Like an Advocate

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communicate like an advocate

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Connect with Your Legislators

Because many important decisions made about the Substance Use Disorder field are political decisions (licensure, parity, funding), it is critical that you establish ongoing relationships with your state legislators. Not only is this one of the most effective ways to participate in the political process, but also, as a constituent, you help legislators determine the importance of legislation. Legislators review hundreds of bills each legislative session, most of which never get any further than being introduced. However, if lawmakers have relationships with constituents who support/oppose certain bills, those get much more of their attention. The following are steps you should take to establish relationships:

Find out which legislative district you live and/or work in to determine which state representative and state senator represent your district.

Find your Senator

Find you Representatives

Find Local Elected Officials

All state legislatures have websites and most of them allow you to determine your district and state representative and state senator by entering your zip code. As a constituent, you should also receive newsletters periodically that identify your representative and senator and the significant issues that they support. It is important to become familiar with your state legislators before the initial contacts are made. In addition, let your State Alliance know that you will be communicating with state legislators on issues that are critical to your profession.

Establish initial contacts with your state representative and state senator. There are three primary ways that initial contacts can be made – by letters, phone calls, or emails. The initial contacts should do the following:

  • Establish yourself as a constituent who will be periodically making contact with your state representative/senator (be sure to include your return address on letters and emails).
  • Provide introductory information about SUD Professionals and important issues (no more than three).
  • Recognize legislators’ positions on any relevant committees.
  • If appropriate, acknowledge legislators for their leadership and support of issues.

Scheduling a meeting with your Representative or Senator in your home district is ideal. It conveys the importance of your role in the community as a trusted public health leader. You will want to call the closest district office to you and ask for the person who handles the issue you want to address (health, insurance, etc.). During your meeting, be sure to invite your Member of Congress to visit your treatment facility.

Example Script for Congressional Contact

Meeting Etiquette

Do

  • Check their social media! This will help you know your audience and find a personal connection point.
  • Be cognizant of their schedule! Legislators and staffers are busy, so be aware and considerate of their time. Arrive on time, come prepared, and wrap up your meeting in a timely manner.

Don’t

  • Be rude or threatening.
  • Promise something you cannot deliver.
  • Take out your frustrations on the member and/or their staff.
  • Be self-righteous or overbearing.
  • Show up unprepared or with a vague understanding of the issue – present facts that can politely support or refute the member’s position or responses.
  • Forget to thank the member for past assistance or support.

What Your Elected Official Needs From You

  • Timely and accurate information on pending or proposed legislation
  • Strong and concise communication
  • Patience – policy creation and revision take time
  • Resources – facts and research on the important issues
  • Understanding of issues through exposure to constituents and their experiences

Continue the Conversation: Maintaining Ongoing Relationships

  • Invite your elected officials and their staff to events and a tour of your center. Outreach is an important component of an elected official maintaining a pulse on the community.
  • Don’t go dark after meeting with elected officials. Send a thank-you note, always maintain follow up, and keep them in the loop with any updates of your support!
  • Attend town halls and events.
  • Schedule follow up meetings after the legislative session is over.

Beyond Direct Communication: Promoting Your Message Online

In addition to engaging in advocacy through virtual/in-person meetings and attending events, you should also consider using blogs and social media to spread your message to a wider audience. Bear in mind that your message will need to be tailored to the platforms you choose. For example, adapting your message to a blog post will be very different than conveying your message through a visual platform like Pinterest, Snapchat, and Instagram. The most widely shared content today is highly visual because visuals rapidly create an emotional response and convey ideas. The types of visual assets you can create include images, videos, and infographics, and there are many tools available to help you create appealing images without any design skill.

Utilizing multiple platforms to convey your message is also effective because people are more likely to believe and understand a message heard from more than one source. Promote your key message(s) through social media and encourage people to spread it through their social networks too. Research shows that 69% of people share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world, and 84% share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about. By making it easy to share your content, you increase the likelihood that they will. Make sure your social media sharing buttons are clearly visible on your site. This is the most obvious (though sometimes overlooked) way to encourage readers to share your content.

Including social media in your advocacy and outreach efforts can help you establish friendly yet professional relationships with your audience and amplify your message to levels not possible with traditional marketing techniques alone.

In summary, remember that raising awareness and starting a dialogue is only one step on the path to change. Change won’t happen right away; it will require patience and persistence.  If success feels slow in coming, don’t lose heart. The analogy that policy advocacy guru, Sherri Layton, uses is, “like baseball, advocacy is a slow game. Seeing success and progress in advocacy takes time and perseverance. Even the best batters don’t hit a home run every time they come up to bat; sometimes a single will drive in a winning run.”

Each social media platform has strengths and weaknesses, and some work better for advocacy than others. Here is a general guide to help you:

Twitter

Twitter lets you have real-time conversations and allows your content to be read by both followers and non-followers with the use of hashtags so you can reach a broader audience.

Q: Who uses it? 
A: Members of Congress, Congressional staffers, state and local policymakers, professional organizations, clients and consumers.

Q: What advocacy information should I share? 
A: Twitter is an online news and networking platform best used for blog posts, resources, infographics, advocacy campaign information, and updates.

Q: How often should I share information? 
A: Post daily or multiple times each day to reach the greatest number of people.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn lets you easily network with others, helps build your credibility and establish you as an expert in the field, and can help elevate important news items you share.

Q: Who uses it? 
A: Colleagues, businesses and organizations, clients and consumers.

Q: What advocacy information should I share? 
A: LinkedIn is a professional networking platform best used to share articles/blogs, research and current events or announcements.

Q: How often should I share information? 
A: A few times a week if you wish to successfully establish your name/brand and reach the greatest number of followers.

Facebook

Facebook lets you easily share pictures and graphics, allows others to share your content to boost your reach, and is the most widely used social media platform.

Q: Who uses it? 
A: Politicians and political affiliates, businesses and organizations, clients and consumers.

Q: What advocacy information should I share? 
A: Facebook is a social networking site best used for blog posts, pictures and graphics, links to resources and items that require someone to take an action.

Q: How often should I share information? 
A: Facebook is designed for regular posting once every day or two if you wish to stay relevant and connected with followers.

In summary, remember that raising awareness and starting a dialogue is only one step on the path to change. Change won’t happen right away; it will require patience and persistence.  If success feels slow in coming, don’t lose heart. The analogy that policy advocacy guru, Sherri Layton, uses is, “like baseball, advocacy is a slow game. Seeing success and progress in advocacy takes time and perseverance. Even the best batters don’t hit a homerun every time they come up to bat; sometimes a single will drive in a winning run.”

Here are some additional resources to develop your communication skills as an advocate:

Presentation Tips for Advocates: Developing Effective Speaking Skills
How is Social Media Being Used in Advocacy

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