Advocacy 101: Who’s telling your district’s story?

Sharing your positive stories has never been more important. Here's a brief introduction to finding the right cheerleaders for your district.

You already know you should be sharing your district’s amazing stories, blasting them out all over social media. But here’s the problem: according to a study from Nielsen, 92% of people trust the recommendations of loved ones above all other forms of marketing. In other words, what you say about yourself matters much less than what others say about you. Storytelling is the best way to change the decisions your community makes, but the stories you share yourself aren’t nearly as effective as those told by members of your community.

If you want to change how your community responds to your district, you need to change the conversation surrounding your schools. You’re looking for stories that reinforce your values, grab your community’s attention, and move people to action. Then you need a mechanism for spreading those positive stories to your stakeholders’ friends and families so as many people as possible know what your district is all about. You need advocacy marketing.

What advocates are (and why you need them).

The members of your community fall into one of three segments: detractors, neutrals, or advocates. Your detractors, with or without good reason, advertise their dissatisfaction with your schools. They complain during board meetings, make nasty posts about your district on Facebook, and criticize your schools to their friends and neighbors. The problem with detractors isn’t just that they’re unhappy; it’s that they’re very vocal about it. They’re the ones driving the negative rhetoric surrounding your schools.

In the middle, you have neutrals, people who aren’t contributing much to the district conversation either way. Of course, hardly anyone is truly neutral; most people are leaning either slightly negative or slightly positive when it comes to your district. At best, they feel very positive about your schools—but they aren’t actually voicing that goodwill. Neutrals aren’t necessarily part of the negativity surrounding your schools, but they’re also not helping you address it.

That leaves your district’s advocates: people who tell positive stories about your schools. While these may be the folks regularly volunteering on campus or attending PTA meetings, they could just as easily be random community members sharing stories about your schools over coffee or in line at the post office.

Focus on your neutrals and advocates.

Because people trust their friends and family more than marketing messages, both your detractors and your advocates have significantly more power over the conversation around your schools than you do. This means that both positivity and negativity are contagious—and those people in the middle, your neutrals, are being influenced in one direction or the other. Your detractors are infecting their neutral friends and family with negative ideas about your schools. But, luckily, your advocates are sharing positive stories about your district with their neighbors.

You might be tempted to throw all your energy toward your detractors, trying to convince them to quit tugging the conversation toward negativity. That’s certainly a common strategy in the private sector. In researching their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath discovered that, in general, private sector companies spend 80% of their resources trying to neutralize negative voices. But more likely than not, a converted detractor will become, at best, a neutral—not the impassioned advocate that you need. By turning a detractor into a neutral, you’re merely silencing the negative voice, not adding a positive one. That’s why, counterintuitive as it may seem, research shows that it’s nine times more valuable to spend time turning your neutrals into advocates instead.

Since they’re so vocal about their positivity, advocates actually have the power to pull other people—the friends and family who trust their opinions—to their side. Or rather, your side. So you don’t need to rid your schools of all negativity; you just need enough advocates to pull the conversation toward positivity.

By being aware of these three types of people—detractors, neutrals, and advocates—you can now start to shift the conversation surrounding your district by focusing directly on the source. Don’t waste time trying to sway detractors to your side. Instead, devote that energy to drowning out their negativity and turning your neutral voices into the advocates your schools need.


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