Some 125 million people around the world are running campaigns on petition site Change.org, from issues ranging from supporting those needing emergency healthcare, to requests to the government to change it's policies.
There is now also a growing number of news organisations using the open platform to not only source content from the personal stories of petitioners, but to actually drive campaigns themselves.
"News organisations are waking up to the power of campaigning online," said Tom Bage, communications director at Change.org, speaking at the Digital Editors Network Meeting on Thursday.
Recent examples of media organisations using Change.org include the petition to free imprisoned journalist Mohammed Rasool from Vice News; Press Gazette's petition advocating for freedom of information in the UK; the Daily Mirror's request to the government to intervene to save Britain's steel industry; and The Independent's petition to allow more refugees in the UK, to name just a few.
"There is a rich newspaper tradition of campaigning to get their readers interested about a subject," said Bage.
"Papers, from tabloids through the middle markets all the way up to the broadsheets, have been doing that for years – but that has changed now."
Petitions and campaigns from news organisations used to be run by a 'cut out and send in your details' method, where it would be much harder to inform signatories of the progress of a particular petition, and monitor the audience interest in the story.
"[Now] you can organise and run it all online, which means that you can reach a larger number of people simply because the process is easier," said Bage.
Online campaigns can enable journalists to not only promote engagement with their outlet's stories, but also to help their audience stay informed and updated in an interactive fashion.
"News organisations can effectively have a proper conversation with those people, and take them on the campaign journey, which is much better for both the paper and the supporters.
"They get to really be part of a campaign rather than just posting back a bit of paper or sticking a signature on something and then never hearing about it again."
When The Sun worked with the family of British man Karl Andree on a Change.org petition to stop him receiving 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia, the newspaper was able to upload videos, blog posts and related articles in order to keep the signatories of the campaign updated with its progress.
This approach could also generate more support for the campaign itself. "It's a richer, more interactive way of doing what lots of papers have always done, which is have campaigns on specific issues," said Bage.
He also highlighted the importance of using human interest stories when starting a campaign online. "The campaigns that really take off on Change.org have incredibly moving, funny, worrying or sometimes personal stories right at the heart of them," he said.
"Journalists also have to give it support on print and on social. Typically, social media managers work with one senior journalist in charge of pushing the petition out and making sure that those online audiences are there seeing the campaign and getting involved.
Free daily newsletter
- Newsrewired podcast: Memberships and alternative business models to support local democracy
- Note to Self's latest audience engagement project aims to help listeners regain control of their digital presence
- Journalism behind bars: Vice and Al Jazeera advocating for freedom of the press
- Lessons for newspaper campaigns in the digital age
- Channel 4 News 'No Go Britain' campaign wins award