Social media and cycling advocacy

Yesterday, we learned how Barb Chamberlain became director of Washington Bikes, the cycling advocacy group for the state of Washington.

Barb Chamberlain Washington Bikes

I first met Barb online; both of us actively use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus to interact with other cyclists and advocates. I asked her how she and Washington Bikes use online media for cycling advocacy.

Social media provides a critical engagement tool for us; we make sure that every email and publication promotes our social accounts. Our members and might not be willing to email everyone on their personal contact list, but they’ll share something on Facebook or Twitter because it feels less intrusive.

One of the great things it provides is the ability to put a face on bicycling with the use of images. A very popular Facebook post for us showed a picture of a little girl from Kirkland whose mom testified to the legislature for us about the importance of funding Safe Routes to School projects. An article full of statistics doesn’t have nearly the power of a cute little girl riding a bike with a flowered front basket.

Currently the second most shared update on Facebook is a petition we’re circulating on behalf of Spokane bike advocates concerned about the city’s elimination of the bike/pedestrian coordinator position. That post is currently the top item viewed on our site as well, with 850 views so far. That’s a lot of people paying attention to an issue.

Social media also helps us add to the resources we maintain as the central clearinghouse of bike information for Washington. We have lists of bike blogs, maps, clubs, and other resources and periodically ask people to help us populate those lists. Our list of Washington bike laws is one of the most frequently shared items on the site.

I was a relatively early adopter of Twitter (2008) and found a really big community of bicyclists there, possibly in part because Lance Armstrong was an early adopter as well. (I don’t race but my husband does, and lots of professionals have Twitter accounts.) I found other women like me, who were bicycling in regular clothing and lamenting the lack of products and marketing aimed at our needs. And of course I found @cyclelicious!

One great example of connection is #bikeschool, a Twitter chat held every Thursday night. Various people act as “professor” for the night and throw out questions people respond to, finding other bicyclists in the process and sharing tips, resources, and inside jokes about tacos.

served as a #bikeschool guest prof the week after Election Day and asked how many people took action to #bikethevote, which then had some asking what I meant by that. Apparently just riding a bicycle doesn’t automatically turn everyone into an advocate, so here was a chance to say (in 140 characters) why people who bike need to take action to get the elected officials and thus the policies we want.

Another great use of Twitter for us has been providing a live feed from key events, such as a series of listening sessions the Senate Transportation Committee held around the state fall 2013, and various legislative hearings on bills we’d introduced and on transportation funding debates. By virtue of being on the spot and capturing a lot of quotable bits, we create real-time coverage that gets passed along—not just by other advocates, but also by transportation and political reporters. As bike advocates we’re listening with different ears than others, so our tweets help round out the voices and viewpoints that others might capture.

Larry Ehl of @Transpo_Issues provides a lot of great coverage via Twitter; with him, we agreed on the #WAtranspo hashtag that you’ll see in hundreds of tweets on the hearings and related issues. It had been used just a half-dozen times before his first use and our two accounts were the ones that really gave it legs. Being part of a significant hashtag stream this way makes us part of the record of what happened, and at one point #WAtranspo was a trending topic in the Seattle region.

One of our more interesting uses has been to reach out through social media when we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2013 to fund a bike travel guide for Washington. That perhaps doesn’t feel like advocacy, but as an organization we’re talking a lot about the economic value of bicycle tourism as a message that state legislators and local elected officials can relate to.

Having the book project gave us a reason to ping a lot of accounts and ask them to spread the word, in the process boosting our followers and visibility and building awareness of the value of bike tourism and the great bicycling in Washington. We also bundled a membership with various levels for the backers, picking up 93 new members who found us because of the project. After direct traffic (people who came straight to the project, probably due to our emails and blog posts with the link), the next two top sources of backers were Facebook and Twitter, followed by the Seattle Bike Blog.

Speaking of which, blogs aren’t always thought of as social media but the community that emerges around a blog with an active comment section is very real, and great posts are shareable content. One of the things I did over time was to compile the list at womenbikeblogs.com and create the associated @womenbikeblogs Twitter account. That community became a resource for things like publicizing the National Women’s Bicycling Forum held in conjunction with the National Bike Summit each March and the National Women’s Bicycling Summit held at Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place in 2012. Based on the response I saw to that list, we created a similar list of Washington bike blogs to help people connect with their community’s bicycling voices.

Tomorrow: Why should women involve themselves in cycling advocacy?