A good example is a campaign launched by Californian Sean Chapin asking the San Francisco Giants baseball team to produce a video for the It Gets Better campaign aimed at supporting young homosexuals and other bullied teens. Shortly after it gained attention, new Change.org petitions spread across the U.S., with sports fans calling for their local teams to follow suit. In another example, Target employee Anthony Hardwick of Utah calledfor his company to close its stores on Thanksgiving Day so that workers wouldn't have to take off time from their families to prepare for the mad rush of Black Friday. Soon, employees at other retailers produced their own petitions, and though none was successful, the effort brought attention to the workers' rights issues that often get overlooked during Black Friday news coverage.
This clustering effect has been noticed and capitalized on by activist organizations. Occupy Homes Minnesota now incorporates Change.org petitions into nearly all of its projects. Its first major win was on behalf of Minneapolis homeowner Monique White, who faced foreclosure on her home by U.S. Bank. After seven months and 6,784 signers, the bank agreed to restructure her loan.
"[Change.org] has been a great tool to engage with a broad audience and get their stories out there," says Nick Espinosa, a member of Occupy Homes Minnesota. "The petitions send a strong message to the banks that not just this one neighborhood is watching but there are people all over the country following the case."
Occupy Homes Minnesota engages in a multi-pronged approach to fighting foreclosures. It first publishes a petition to Change.org (often with an accompanying video documentary) and then blasts it out to its growing list of email, Twitter, and Facebook followers, sparking a groundswell of support that quickly gains momentum. For many of these campaigns, Change.org staffers reached out to Espinosa to help refine the strategy, and as a result of those conversations Occupy requires that all the homeowners write all their own petitions to increase the emotional impact.
Over the past few years, Change.org has developed an increasingly sophisticated E-mail marketing system to promote its petitions. As the site has grown in scope and power, it's seen an opportunity to perfect its algorithms in an attempt to E-mail only those who would be most likely to sign a particular petition, just as Amazon and Netflix have heavily invested in their own suggestion features to push sales and video views.
Jenna Lowenstein works on the campaign innovation team that's in charge of experimenting in this realm. It is this team that constantly mulls over how to automate the email targeting so that the company can promote more petitions at a quicker pace. After all, having individual staffers work with petitioners is extremely labor intensive and prevents the company from keeping up with the sheer magnitude of petitions submitted to the site each month. "The tool we're working on is a user-generated E-mail tool that takes out the staff voice from that E-mail process altogether," says Lowenstein. "And this is our attempt to send a whole lot more E-mail to a whole lot more people about our campaigns."
Each petition is targeted based on a number of factors, including geography and the subject matter. So, for instance, if a person launches a petition to save an art museum in Portland, Ore., Change.org might target users who had previously signed art-related petitions who also hailed from a Portland-area ZIP code. The granularity of this kind of targeting becomes all the more honed as the site amasses more users with a wide diversity of petitions.