Using Twitter to target key decision makers

By Andrew Stroehlein @AStroehlein, European Media Director, Human Rights Watch, @HRW

hrw-tweetAt Human Rights Watch, we usually see our work as having three parts – investigate, expose, change – and Twitter has become critical to all three.

When we are investigating human rights abuses around the world, we use Twitter to help us identify areas of concern and even gather evidence at times, followed, of course, by extensive efforts to confirm information through witness interviews, on-the-ground research and analysis of documentation including where appropriate satellite imagery.

Once we have confirmed abuses are taking place, we use Twitter to help expose them and point out those responsible. Sometimes we are even live-tweeting abuses from the field almost as they happen in real-time, such as our researchers have been doing on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. With nearly 3.5 million followers on our English-language account, plus another million or more on our accounts in other languages and on staff accounts, we have a commanding reach that brings instant interest.

Recently we’ve been making efforts to harness the power of this large following through digital campaigns. Twitter is integral to this effort because we’re able to use the platform to target key decision makers and the journalists who might help us influence them. Driving public pressure, media coverage, and political-diplomatic concern around an important issue, with Twitter as part of a multifaceted advocacy effort, helps us bring about that third and most important goal: positive change.

Of course, global attention does not mean immediate results. On rare occasions, we get a government to make a quick policy reversal, but more often it takes far longer –  sometimes years – to get the argument to sink and improve a situation on the ground. And we have to be careful not to confuse Twitter success with real success: Follower numbers, retweets and mentions are nice, but the ultimate aim is improving people’s lives in the real world.