Woman filming content with a ringlight

How advocacy organizations can engage new audiences using visual social media

In recent years, increasing shares of Instagram and TikTok users have reported regularly consuming news on these platforms. Younger audiences, in particular, have embraced TikTok, with roughly three in ten adults ages 18-29 getting their news there. Reaching and winning over these new and growing audiences is vital for advancing our issues. So how can we communicate successfully on these platforms?

With deliberate strategies and innovative tactics, ReThink Media’s partners Odeliya Matter of the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Kate Kohn of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) have driven impressive social media successes on behalf of their organizations. Odeliya’s December Instagram reel explaining Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 502B resolution on conditioning arms sales to Israel reached over 16,000 views, while Kate’s December reel creatively critiquing the President’s sole authority to launch nukes gathered 798,000 views and 322 comments. Rosie Berman and Frank Yuwen Chen of ReThink’s Peace and Security Collaborative spoke to Odeliya and Kate about what it takes to make engaging video social media content and what advice they’d share with those new to creating it.

Creating Engaging Content

To create engaging video content for social media, you need to start with a strong hook, provide new information, make viewers feel like they have a stake in the issues, and keep videos short and fast-paced. 

Odeliya described the hook — often a hot-button current event — as “the most crucial part of the video” because “you need to get viewers very excited very quickly” so they keep watching. Kate emphasized that the less time it takes viewers to understand what a video is about, the better the video will perform. She noted that one way to immediately draw the viewers’ attention is to start a video in medias res or in the middle of a narrative. She’s found this makes the viewer somewhat disoriented yet curious about a cool conversation they’ve stumbled upon. Here, Kate says, on-screen text providing context for the video is key to helping viewers understand what the video is about.


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Regarding to content, Kate has found that a key way to engage viewers is to provide them with “fresh” information. People want to learn something new or not widely known, and it’s therefore important to present that “new” information as soon as possible in the video. Similarly, Odeliya has seen that explainer videos, like her December reel, tend to gain traction. 


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In her work with the Federation of American Scientists, Kate has found that videos that resonate with viewers emotionally and make them feel both like they have a stake in the issue and that there is something they can do about it tend to do well and help them tap into new audiences. Echoing research findings from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and ReThink Media, Kate noted that content about nuclear weapons can make viewers upset and desire change, while content about clean energy offers hope for the future


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Both Kate and Odeliya emphasize that keeping the videos short and fast-paced is just as important as the content itself. Odeliya has noticed that “if something is fast-paced, even if it’s tough to understand, that gets people excited […] If we can’t explain a bill in a minute and a half,” she said, “how are we going to get constituents to advocate for it?” Kate added that when developing a video, creators should limit the script as much as possible and further edit down the raw footage before posting.

Odeliya and Kate both advised groups investing in visual platforms to be sure to post videos regularly. Odeliya reflected that creators need to make a lot of content because it’s not always easy to tell what will go viral. But if you create enough content, eventually, something will stick. The key is the willingness to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Kate also recognized that organizations may find posting regularly challenging and suggested that organizations might find it easier to produce content in bulk and then schedule several posts to publish throughout a given time period. 

In addition, Kate emphasized that a social media manager is a professional position that requires a particular skill set and ample time for research. She advised organizations that if they want to be truly successful on social media, they will need to budget for and invest in their social media staff.

Getting Started

When asked what advice they might have for someone brand new to creating video social media content, Odeliya and Kate urged new content creators to embrace authenticity and unique personalities on camera, to avoid overproducing, and to identify and understand their target audience


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Both stressed that, as long as they are not diverging from their organization’s values and goals,  creators should not be afraid to let their personalities and even quirkiness come through—viewers often find that endearing and relatable—or to lead with personal experiences. Humor and a bit of wackiness almost always do well. Odeliya empathized with the discomfort individuals unused to the spotlight might feel in producing such content, noting that “it feels weird at first for those who haven’t been on camera to put their face on a message” but reiterated that video social media content is a powerful enough tool “that it’s worth overcoming the embarrassment.” 


Kate additionally reassured new creators that they don’t need to spend “hours and hours” making a video. In fact, she cautioned that overproducing and overediting make content boring. She’s found that the TikToks and Instagram Reels that go viral tend to look unproduced, authentic, and effortless, and she typically only spends less than an hour on each video from start to finish.

Both Odeliya and Kate also emphasized that an organization’s social media audience is, by nature of the platform, different from its website audience. Social media audiences tend to skew younger—an observation consistent with existing research—and are much less likely to have nuanced policy expertise. Kate encouraged new creators to think about what a social media user would want to share with their friends or post to their timeline (often fresh, exciting, and enlightening content with emotional resonance) and plan the content accordingly. She specified that growing your audience requires that creators post for the audience they want, not the audience they already have. Ultimately, Odeliya said, you’ll learn from experience what your audience responds to. Even if you’re not a social media manager, we encourage you to put Odeliya and Kate’s advice into practice and give creating video social media content a try. If you need additional resources to help you get started, check out previous ReThink blog posts on TikTok best practices, using TikTok’s most popular features and increasing your organization’s engagement on the platform

Rosie Berman is a Communications Fellow for ReThink Media’s Peace and Security Collaborative, focusing on challenging U.S. militarism.

Frank Yuwen Chen is a Senior Associate for ReThink Media’s Peace and Security Collaborative, focusing on nuclear weapons issues.