We had a good experience this fall with a social media engagement tactic, and we thought it might be helpful to share some observations for those interested in similar efforts.

During the summer, we reached out to the Commission on Presidential Debates about the idea of hosting one of their DebateWatch series on Twitter. They encourage citizens all over the country to get together to watch the debates, then talk about the issues that matter most to them. But in 2012, there’s no reason that folks who care about kids’ issues have to be in the same room to share perspectives on the debates. The Commission agreed and signed us up as one of their 2012 Voter Education Partners.

Putting the events together was pretty straightforward. We reached out first to MomsRising, a great partner with amazing social media expertise and big networks on Twitter and Facebook. With them onboard, we agreed on a hashtag (#Kids2012), put together a brief, user-friendly overview and signup form on our website, and promoted the event on Twitter and Facebook. And as advocacy partners signed on, we shared a toolkit with sample promotional materials, including sample Facebook and Twitter posts, which partners quickly customized and improved upon to engage their own networks.

The results were very encouraging! At the end of the series, we’d engaged about a dozen kids’ advocacy organizations and dozens of individuals, bringing together ideas from New York to California and Texas to Massachusetts. In fact, the #Kids2012 hashtag we used went from about 175 tweets at the end of September to nearly 1,500 in just three weeks. And, as the momentum grew, we were fortunate to engage other national leaders – national advocates like Save the Children, Children’s Defense Fund, and Half in Ten, and voices from philanthropy like Casey Family Services, the Kellogg Foundation, and Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families.

We also learned some lessons and made a couple of important on-the-fly course corrections. For example, we’d originally intended to tweet the debates with a substantial focus on domestic policy, but when we realized the ‘foreign policy’ debate was spotlighting education and health care, we jumped on that one too. And we’d originally agreed with the Commission to hold our events after each debate, which makes sense when you’re actually talking to people in the same room. But on Twitter, folks can “talk” to each other while listening to the debate, so when we realized that’s what they were doing, we led from behind and moved to a live-tweet approach.

We’re excited to try this again! Whether it’s the State of the Union, the release of the president’s budget proposal, or some other opportunity, you’ll be hearing from us soon. And we’d encourage you to try a similar approach — and invite us to join the conversation — it’s more fun and more effective for all, if everyone jumps in the pool.