April 21, 2019

The #AtheistsENGAGE Campaign

hashtag in the sand

American Atheists has launched a new campaign, AtheistsENGAGE, with the goal of "standing up for atheists' free speech online." What does that mean? From the information provided on the campaign website, it sounds like they are focused on elected officials blocking atheists on their social media accounts (mostly Twitter) for expressing disagreement with them. They want atheists to engage their elected officials respectfully and then report if they are blocked for doing so. Evidently, they are prepared to take legal action, if necessary.

On the surface, none of this strikes me as a bad idea. I do worry that some atheists will attempt to provoke their elected officials into blocking them so they can file complaints with American Atheists, but I assume the group has anticipated this. There is language on the campaign website encouraging atheists to be respectful, but it is not as prominent as it should be. I suppose my main concern is that this seems to have quite a bit of overlap with the AtheistVoter campaign, which mostly seems to have been abandoned by American Atheists. Are they starting a new campaign because that one never caught on? If so, what are they going to do differently with this one?

Social media campaigns, especially those involving new hashtags, can be tricky. Some catch on, but most don't. An organization that wants to be successful in this space needs a clear vision, a marketing plan, technical assistance, outreach, and persistence. American Atheists did a decent job of launching the AtheistVoter campaign but did not appear to devote sufficient time and resources to maintain it. Instead of starting a new overlapping campaign, I think they might have been better off committing to that one. Still, maybe AtheistsENGAGE will be different. Maybe it will work.

Here are some quick thoughts on what I would try to do, at a bare minimum, if I was launching a new social media campaign and wanted it to be successful:

  • Put someone in charge of the campaign (i.e., a point person to oversee it).
  • Develop a clear set of objectives for the campaign.
  • Proactively contact stakeholders with news of the campaign (e.g., press releases).
  • Tweet at least once a day using the campaign hashtag and be prepared to do this for at least a month.
  • Follow others using the hashtag and retweet their tweets.
  • Obtain technical assistance to make sure the campaign website was as sharable as possible.
From what I have seen so far, it is not clear that American Atheists has done any of this. If they want the AtheistsENGAGE campaign to succeed, I think they probably should.