Roles in digital activism

Online activism campaigns are often deployed by a team. Small or large, it’s members will have to solve many different communication and technology-related problems. This team has often people with many different skills that will assume different roles.

Each team member can assume one or more roles, and the same role can be performed by more than one team member. How the roles are distributed depends on the size and resources available.

Typically a large and functional team of specialists will be more effective that a small team of generalists, where the majority of it’s members have to perform many roles.

However, only some campaigns can have a team of specialists behind them, because the organization behind the campaign has to adapt the team to it’s limited resources, and to the scale of the campaign to it’s potential audience.

Bellow there’s is a list with the most common roles in a campaign that uses digital activism to promote political or social change. I’ve divided roles by levels. The first level is the most basic, found in small local organizations. The next levels are more common in campaigns that address national or international issues. Each new level includes the roles of the previous ones.

Level 1

Online content writer, journalist – A campaign starts with a narrative about a problem that needs to be solved. To have an impact, that narrative has to be easy to understand, accurate and passionate. A good content writer knows how to tell the story to it’s audience, and he/she is the basic foundation for any campaign.

Photographer – A good story needs good photos, and a campaign needs photographers that can tell a story with photos. It is not required to have a full time photographer, many campaigns hire freelances, or if they can’t afford it, good amateur photographers or photo students.

Level 2

Campaign coordinator – Usually the campaign coordinator is a public face for the campaign and tipically a campaign subject-matter expert. In a political campaign he/she should be one of the leaders to be elected.
Unless the campaign runs exclusively online, the campaign coordinator does not need to be an expert in digital campaigning. The campaign coordinator is often a lobbyist/negotiator.

Online and off-line fund-raiser – The person responsible for managing the campaign’s fundraising effort. He/she should create or develop tools to fund-raise and communicate with existing and potential donors. Many non-profit organizations and campaigns invest about one third of their income in initiatives and tools to generate more donations.

Level 3

Webmaster – The webmaster is a generalist role, common a few years ago in non-profits and digital campaigns of all sizes. Today the webmaster is being replaced by different roles, as the web becomes a complex medium. Large organizations have already replaced the webmaster by a team of specialists that includes programmers, IT system administrators, webdesigners and online marketing experts. Because smaller campaigns and organizations can not afford agencies fees, and can’t hire teams of specialists, the webmaster is still responsible to set up, maintain and update a website that works and doesn’t suck.

Legal advisor – As the campaign / organization grows and becomes more complex, legal risks of all kinds increase. The legal advisor is responsible to ensure that the campaign, it’s message, the organization and the fundraising efforts respects the law. Digital campaigns are subject to many laws: privacy and advertising laws may also apply to the campaign activity.

Member and donor supporter services – As the number of supporters increases and the campaign becomes more popular, the organization will have more inquires of all types. People that disagree with the campaign and wants answers, people that wants to volunteer, students that want materials for their classroom projects. Failing to answer public inquires promptly may upset supporters or even start strange rumours on social networks. Supporter services role is to reply.

Video producer – Online video is very common in campaigning websites. Some campaigns have short creative promotional videos, other’s just have simple documentaries explaining the campaign, the problems it tries to solve or the organization’s work. Video can be an awesome tool to fundraise, spread the message to a wider audience or to engage current supporters.

Level 4

Online marketing expert – An online marketing expert is responsible to implement best practices in e-mail marketing, web traffic analysis, search engine optimization, customer relationship management integration and usability improvements. He/she should advice campaigners, webmasters, writers, designers and other content producers about what is working or not online. This is a vital role in the definition/implementation of a content strategy, information architecture, design and promotion strategies.

Community manager – As social networks assume a lead role, many organizations create profiles and have a presence in social networks, even if they are just at level one. Once the organization has hundreds of thousands online connections in the social networks, it’s vital to develop a strategy and assign someone to lead it. The community manager mustn’t be the only person from the campaign with a public profile, but he/she is responsible for the main accounts and the coordination of the social network strategy.

Webdesigner, multimedia designer – Typically someone that improves design, creates info-graphics, interactive presentations and specific designs for landing pages. In some organization the web-designer assumes many of the tasks assigned to webmasters, but normally is not responsible to maintain servers or content management systems.


Beyond level 4, online advocacy organizations usually externalize services to advertising or PR agencies, software developing companies, web developing agencies, video production companies or others. It’s also good practice to hire consultants for example to improve information architecture, usability (UX) or search engine optimization.

Some non-profits have chosen to externalize roles I’ve classified as team roles. Usually it’s recommended to externalize all work that is not done on a regular basis or that require very specific skills or expensive equipment that will not be used often.

About Osvaldo

Digital activist, online producer and webmaster.
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