How I got 28,000 signatures

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how to use petitions

Public seem to love their public spaces to be kept public. Who knew?

Late last year I angrily sat down and did something I’ve never done before – launch a petition. It aims to combat Apple’s Victorian government-approved plan to knock down a fair swathe of Federation Square to build a corporate megastore.

Frankly I always thought petitions were somewhat naff and not a tool I recommended to clients. That was 85,000 signatures ago.

My petition (the second largest) has secured 28,000+ signatures, two others have landed 67,000 or so more. Yes, I’m sure there’s some overlap but that’s a hell of a lot of people.

Here’s how I landed such a huge response:

action: my petition and the largest petition both launched on the day of the Apple announcement. That was when public anger was hottest and people were literally taking to social media asking: “Is there a petition?”

outrage: two years of secret negotiations between government and Apple followed by a junior Minister announcing a done deal (still secret) just before Christmas that handed over public space to a tax-shy behemoth didn’t go down well. The petition took advantage of the outrage.

copy: I find a lot of the tone on petitions to be strident in the extreme, poorly argued or very parochial. Hopefully mine was not.

promotion: the bigger one’s network – and the more willing one is to use it – the better.

spend: I spent $200 promoting the petition in Facebook. The results were good – 34c a click through – though I expected even better. Maybe I should have targeted audiences more cunningly. I also spent money with to promote the petition on their site but the reports are so bad it’s hard to judge if that money was well spent.

communicate: I’ve signed 19 petitions over the years and I’ve received few if any updates on their fate. I have sent signatories seven updates so far, full of milestones, media coverage and thankyous. These messages are always accompanied with requests to share the petition. These have all been short and sweet and they have worked.

When signing up, people have the option to leave a comment explaining why they support the petition. I have sent hundreds of these people messages and liked hundreds of their comments. I wanted them to feel that this petition was alive and kicking. petition advice

More dammit. I want more!

It was exciting watching the tally climb. On TV, life is full of moments when well-intentioned but under-resourced folk gather around some computer monitor in hope. They watch the votes / sales / responses come in – slowly at first but building in momentum. Maybe – just maybe – this thing is going to work after all! Eventually expectations are smashed, high-fives occur and triumphant music plays. I guess it was kind of like that. Launched at 1.30am or so. 100 signatures by breakfast, then 1000 then 10,000 and so on. Lots of screen refreshing and self-congratulations.

Minor grumble: the platform is pretty clunky, lacks some obvious bells and whistles and the local office ignored several tweets for help.

The big takeway for marketers

Well things have being going gangbusters on the Federation Square front. More on that in a week or so but meanwhile it’s got me thinking. The right petition, with the right support can rapidly gather more supporters than any comparable option I can think of. Between myself and my fellow two petitioners we have 80,000 people to contact about the next stage in our upcoming campaign.

80,000 from scratch in a few weeks for a Melbourne-specific issue. What other option could do so much for so little cost and effort? Not a start-up website or social media campaign.

What topical, anger-inducing issue can you build a petition for? And how will you then carry those people over to your campaign email, social media and website? Think about that.

BTW: Sign-up to my petition to help fight the good fight.

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