Youth vote

The New Frontier in Online Advocacy: Thunderclap

January 5, 2018

Part of our SparkNotes blog series on social media.

Social ignition explores the new, innovative ways that people are using social media to make a difference.  So, I geeked out completely when I stumbled upon Thunderclap.

Thunderclap is a platform with Facebook and Twitter to help users be heard by sending out one synchronized message about a cause to “bomb” social media platforms with a mass-produced call to action.

It works like this:

  1. Pick a cause—it can be a bill that is coming out that you want to affect the vote on, a child who needs sponsoring, a petition—anything that you think needs action.
  2. Organize and collect supporters—you likely have friends who share your views, and they likely have a Facebook and/or Twitter account.
  3. The collective supporters queue up your message on Thunderclap’s platform.
  4. At a predetermined date and time, Thunderclap will simultaneously, automatically send all the queued-up posts and tweets on behalf of the supporters.

The one catch—a mechanism to rally support used on popular fundraising sites like Kickstarter—is that Thunderclap will only send out the simultaneous message if the number of supporters on Thunderclap reach full capacity—the goal that the campaign starters set to help accrue the amount of support they believe to make a real difference.  So how do you reach your goal?

Sites like Kickstarter, Thunderclap among them, see many successful campaigns because many people are already surrounded by people who are passionate about issues.  “Everyone who supports a Thunderclap is part of a self-selection community who are passionate about similar issues,” says Thunderclap co-founder and CEO David Caprisco. “There is probably some degree of affinity between people who follow them and their connection to their cause.  So organically, it sends a message out to those who cares about it. But the great part is you also get your message out to a new audience.

"Say on Facebook, 5 percent of my friends really care about fracking, for example,” says Caprisco. “That other 95 percent of my friends might not know what it is, but through my message and those from mutual friends we may share, they get exposed and might ask ‘what’s that?’ or want to learn more.”

Ahead of the Curve

Thunderclap, aptly named after “something, sharp, loud, sudden,” capitalizes on a widespread dependence on social media to communicate—especially among the younger generations—and uses it for good.

As the communications industry has been turned upside down with the internet and social media, directly using social media as a means to help something go viral is pretty genius. In fact, I think the guys at Thunderclap are a little ahead of the times.

“What’s great about social media is it’s immediate, it’s visual and especially with Twitter, it’s public. Being able to push a message on multiple platforms means you can reach the bulk of the populations on both platforms—not just on one.”

Cascino explained that the activism campaigns that went viral mostly thanks to social media were his inspiration for creating Thunderclap.  “We saw a lot of mobilizing on social media with the Occupy Wall Street and the SOPA campaigns. People were changing their Facebook photos at the same time,” he says. “These group efforts on social media really fascinate me.

If you can get people behind your idea and everyone pushes the same message at the same time, it’s much harder to ignore.”

Thunderclap was designed to be as generic as possible to be conducive for individuals, brands, and nonprofits alike to use to heighten a cause.  So far it’s attracted all three, advocating for causes, politics, and charity.  They've worked campaigns from the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week to the White House and Lady Gaga.

“We wanted to design Thunderclap so anyone can use it, whether you’re the largest corporation in the world or someone sitting in their garage in who knows where who wants to make a difference.”

Thunderclap is the first of its kind—a “crowdspeaking” platform that is still in its experimental phases (it was launched in March of 2012). Right now they see about 1,000 page visits a day for general campaigns.

With so much going on in the social media space right now, it’s hard to determine what will stick. But if we only stick to the same old, we’ll never know what our options are.  One thing to know for sure, however, is that is growing—and fast. 

“I have idea what’s coming next—we can just take stabs at it and see what sticks.”

Will campaigns born and raised in social media be the only way to make a difference in a few years? Who knows. But in the meantime, Cascino and his team have a lot to look forward to, and high hopes for the crowdspeaking model of Thunderclap.

“I would love to see Thunderclap used in a way that creates a tangible outcome in the real world—to make a measurable impact on a bill being passed or not, or to be part of a big movement. I want people to be able to say ‘we rallied on Thunderclap and we achieved a goal outside the computer world that we all live in. I was a part of something big.’”

Youth Proof

As we ponder over ways we can engage today’s youth in civics and social responsibility, we often come back to social media as the best way to reach them.

Thunderclap is a great way to get young people engaged in issues by catering to their knowledge of (and, let’s face it, obsession with) social media. Crowdspeaking through social media could be the next frontier in civics for the digital generation.

“It’s empowering to know that you have an impact,” said Cascino. Thunderclap is defining the means to impact, and we’re on board.

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Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Associate at SparkAction.

Note: This resource was published in 2013 and updated in February 2018.