Which tool do I need?
December 9, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a social media tool that allows visitors to our website to sign & send a pre-written email (and to possibly add their own comments or edits as well, but that's not 100% necessary) to a group of local politicians. I've seen things like this many many times on social and political campaign websites, but have no idea if there's an out-of-the-box solution or if we need to hire someone to write it.

Our group, SactoMoFo (Sacramento Mobile Food) is trying to push for a change to local regulations that effectively restrict food trucks from operating inside the city limits; after a 3,500 signature petition and a few events (one of which brought in the entire city council and 10,000 attendees), the city promised to revisit the current regulations, but after one particular local restaurateur lobbied the city heavily against changes, they've now dropped the issue. We want to get it in front of them again, and this will be one of many tools we use to do it.
posted by luriete to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two thoughts: (1) I don't know if there is an out-of-the-box solution, but it sounds like a relatively straightforward programming project, and (2) have you tried contacting the sites where you've seen this tool in use and asking them how they do it?

For thought (2) I'd focus on sites whose interests align with yours; they'd be predisposed to giving you tips to help you in your aims.
posted by dfriedman at 10:32 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I will try that - I emailed MoveOn and a few political campaigns that do this, but will talk to others ... maybe something food-related if I can find it. Thanks!
posted by luriete at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2011

Are you running a WordPress site? Because this petition plugin is great and very configurable - it will do exactly what you want and email with every signature as it's added - ie it isn't just a petition plugin. Social sharing is built right in.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2011

How about taking an ad out in the Bee, calling out the city council and the restauranteur by name? Also, maybe start picketing that restaurant.
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: @rhizome, thank you ... but we have zero budget. Maybe we can get some of the trucks to pay for a Bee ad, though.

We don't want to be too confrontational with that restaurant, so we try not to name the owner, even though he's been trying very hard to turn other, previously pro-food-truck restaurant operators against the trucks by telling them that the trucks don't pay taxes (incorrect) and that they will park immediately in front of restaurants (hopefully incorrect). We feel confident that he will see, eventually, that the trucks add plenty of consumer choice without making life any harder for restaurant owners than, for example, other restaurants would.

@DarlingBri we do not yet run a WP site but are exploring that - ever since Yes media bought out Typepad, the platform is going downhill very quickly, and we are just about ready to move the www.sactomofo.com site (and a dozen other domains that I run) away from it and to a multi-install Wordpress host. I will file your suggestion for future action ... hopefully near-future. Thanks.
posted by luriete at 11:59 AM on December 9, 2011

This is politics in a capitol city, there's nothing wrong with taking this issue to the streets; it's not playing dirty. You might also look into the relationships the restauranteur has with the government and the details of the "lobbying," as well as inspection records for his restaurants.

Online petitions are going to be ineffectual.
posted by rhizome at 1:42 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

The standard out of the box solution for this is CapWiz, which is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. My nonprofit decided that paying our part time tech guy for extra hours to set this type of thing up the 3 or 4 times a year we need it was less of a hit to our budget than paying for this program, and we've been able to get by well so far. It looks rudimentary, but it works.

Good luck with your issue - we're dealing with something similar here in Chicago, so hopefully you guys will make headway where we have yet to.
posted by deliciae at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2011

My org uses a service called Change.org which collects petitions that you can then send to decision makers. I believe this one is either free or low cost but don't offer all the features you say you want.

The services that do exactly what you wish for are pricey from my experience. I have used both Cap Wiz and one called GetActive which I think is owned by Convio now, both pricey. Most of my colleagues' organizations use either Cap Wiz or Convio.

See if you can find a partner organization that has Cap Wiz or Convio and see if you can get them to send out a message in support of your issue. You can forward the call to action to your lists once they've generated it and you can send them sample text that would be good for an alert.

If you can't afford a call to action system, then maybe e-mail out a call to action that gives people the link to the decision makers' contact info, web forms, etc and a sample message.
posted by dottiechang at 11:38 PM on December 9, 2011

If you have no other way of doing this, use a site like Care 2 Petitions. There are dozens of petition sites online; several of them will send email right away, others are more traditional and collect the signatures.

And if you really run out of options, you can do this with a Google form, a small amount of lateral thinking, and a temporary email address setup to CC all of your targets.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:51 PM on December 9, 2011

Response by poster: @DarlingBri I have used google forms a lot, including for surveys, and I thought about using it for this but can't figure out how to have it email, or how to make the letter into a form field.
posted by luriete at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2011

Response by poster: @DarlingBri OK - I think a gdoc/form will work, but I can't figure out the mail merge functions ... anyone have any experience with this?
posted by luriete at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2011

What are you mail merging? I'm utterly confused; this is not how an email campaign works. Please outline the steps you think this form is going to go through on it's way to politicians.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: @DarlingBri - thanks for any help!!

A) I make form

B) I put form up online

C) User enters their data in fields on form, which includes letter itself as a pre-set field

D) in google docs, I read that you must then use a mail merge script to populate the finished form as an email ... but I don't want the user to have to email it, I just want them to click "submit" and have it emailed to a group of addresses, appearing as if it came from the submitter, even though I assume it will be google docs handling the emailing.
posted by luriete at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2011

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