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How to Network Action Alerts, So That Others Can Help

May 18, 2004

Political action alerts are becoming a matter of life and death in the U.S., as governments here move toward letting their own citizens die rather than finding the money and political will to provide access to standard-of-care medical treatment. And globally, when AIDS now kills more people age 15 to 59 than any other cause, political will in the U.S. and other countries is more critical than ever to saving millions of lives over the next few years from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other preventable or treatable conditions. So how well we organize politically is critical. Telling your elected representatives what you want is as important as voting -- and usually occurs in response to some form of action alert from an organization or individual you trust.

AIDS Treatment News receives many action alerts we want to tell our readers about but cannot, because the alert is a long email or attached file that has not been placed on the Web. Usually we cannot publish long alerts -- and neither can thousands of other publications, or hundreds of thousands of "blogs" (Web logs). The problem is not only lack of space but also the information overload on our readers. We and other publishers are far more likely to publish short alerts, perhaps a paragraph or two that we can rewrite as necessary for our audience. But these must link to a Web page with the necessary background, details, and endorsements. (The email alert can be any length, and can still contain all the information -- as long as it's clear to editors how to extract a short, focused version with a link to the background information on the Web.)


Using Blogs

Organizations usually fail to put alerts on the Web, because in the past that meant coordinating with their technical staff to get the text online, and to make any changes needed later. Often in an emergency (such as a vote in Congress in a day or two) there isn't time. But today there is an easy way that does not need a technician's help. Anybody can start a free "blog" (Web log) in a few minutes, on sites like www.blogger.com -- and put the full alert online themselves. A blog is a Web site designed to be very easy to update, so that people can casually write their stories for the world; they just cut and paste text from their favorite word processor into a Web form provided. Of course it is a good idea to practice first, before an emergency arises.

Always send the alert to your regular email lists as well -- since just putting it onto an unknown blog will usually not get any readers. The advantage of the blog is that other publishers can now pick up your alert and re-write it as needed for their readers, focusing on the key issues important to them. (You may want to include much or all of the full text in the email, after a short, focused summary, for those who read their email offline. Other editors can use your summary to echo your work farther than it could go otherwise.)

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A blog also has the major advantage or disadvantage of potentially being very public; a Web site recognized as a blog can easily be found by other bloggers, and might come to widespread attention. An issue like AIDS advocacy has many more friends than enemies, so this helps; a well-designed alert could travel through social networks and reach supporters its author never knew. The blog as well as the email should include the short summary at the beginning, for those readers who arrive through the blog world and have never seen the email; in fact, the blog and email texts may be identical. Also include a contact such as your organization's Web site, or a special email address or reply form (do not put your regular email address on the Web, because of spam).

Use blogs for issues that have wide appeal, when you can talk to everybody, not only to an in-group. And do not use a blog if you don't want opponents to see the action alert. But in AIDS, where we are usually fighting apathy and neglect, a public alert on the Web can be helpful. A blog is a useful way to put the alert there, because it allows people with no special training to publish on the Web, and change the information immediately if necessary without waiting for expert help.

The future will move toward networked action alerts, where friends and allies you never knew existed can step forward to help -- instead of alerts sent mainly to fixed lists you possess, as in pre-Internet days when the mailing list largely defined an organization. Success will still require social organizing -- for example, talking early with key people and getting their buy-in, listing important endorsements with the alert, and eventually promoting your work in the "blogosphere." That is beyond the scope of this article, which looks at basic technical requirements for making shared, networked alerts possible.


Technical Note: Web Addresses in Email

Web addresses sent in an email should preferably be on a line by themselves. If not, at least make sure that they do not end with a period or other punctuation mark, which will erroneously be included with the link by some but not all email software and Web browsers. In that case the link will not work.

If you receive an email with a link that fails (you get a "not found" or similar error message), check the address your browser is trying to reach. If it ends with a period because the Web address was at the end of a sentence in the email, delete the period and press the Return key to try the address again. Most of the time you can get to the information this way. But if you are sending the email, do not assume that your recipients know this trick.


Note: Unique Mementos to Encourage Action

We are researching an article on getting people to respond to major action alerts by offering a unique memento, such as a pin or button to wear, or a numbered copy of a drawing or signed proclamation that could be framed. It would be designed to be saved permanently, and worn or displayed when desired.

This creates an incentive to respond to the action alert on time, and tell the sponsoring organization that you did so, since otherwise you could never get the memento for that alert, the badge of membership in that particular club. We think this time-limited "keeper" that connects with a community over time could swing the balance in getting people to respond to an alert, instead of not getting around to it.

We would like to hear about examples of this strategy being used.


ISSN # 1052-4207

Copyright 2004 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.




  
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This article was provided by AIDS Treatment News. It is a part of the publication AIDS Treatment News.
 

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