This is part 2 of a three-part series by managing editor Dave Kempa on the five integral factors to any social media movement. Note that any movement listed or described in this series is done so in the spirit of examination. No description or analysis should be interpreted as endorsement. This series is intended as a tool for anyone looking to raise awareness and bring his or her cause’s efforts to fruition with the assistance of social media.
Full disclosure: I took on a somewhat participatory role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Moved by my mom losing her home to foreclosure in late September of 211, I ended up writing a statement of solidarity with the movement, which was published in the first edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal (‘Pushed Out of Our Homes’ – page 2). I also volunteered at the Occupied Wall Street Journal, doing some research, copy editing work written by people more famous than I’ll ever be and acting as one of the administrators of the @OccupiedWSJ Twitter account.
Once you’ve established the look and feel of your cause on your social network of choice, it will be time for you to go out, get yourself seen, and get others excited about what it is you’re trying to do.
This part of the social media campaign — the marketing — is closely linked to the branding portion in the sense that your marketing tactics will be shaped by the tone and message of the Twitter account profile or Facebook group/page you’ve created.
Shortly after a young man named Khaled Said died at the hands of Egyptian police in June of 21, a young Google employee by the name of Wael Ghonim started a Facebook page titled, ‘Kullena Khaled Said’ — ‘We are all Khaled Said’. The name and description resonated so profoundly with the people of Egypt that membership exploded. As soon as Ghonim launched the page, he posted this message:
“Today they killed Khaled. If I don’t act for his sake, tomorrow they will kill me.”
Within two minutes, 3 people had joined the group. After a couple of more posts and one hour’s time, membership reached 3,. By the end of the day, some 36, Egyptians had joined.
In the book Revolution 2., Ghonim goes into much detail regarding the care he put into setting the tone and style of his postings as the administrator of the group. He wrote many of his posts in the first person, speaking as Khaled, and he also made the decision to write in the colloquial Egyptian Arabic which, as he puts it, “is closer to the hearts of young Egyptians.”
When marketing a cause through social media, it is important to determine what tone and style is most fitting to one’s message. Ghonim notes that, when he launched his page, there was already another page in existence that had reached 7, members — ‘My Name Is Khaled Mohamed Said’ — but its aggressive tone did not resonate with him, so he decided to maintain his own page, administrated with a tone of quiet rage and peaceful disapproval.
I think it’s important to also highlight the fact that today’s format of new media dialogue-marketing is different from the monologue-marketing of yesteryear’s traditional media. While both forms demand that the marketer attempt to ignite emotions in the population in order to get them to jump on board with their campaign or product, it’s very important that we remember that social media comes equipped with a highly sensitive bullshit detector.
That is to say, if your product (or, in this case, your cause) goes too far in flaring up your target audience’s emotions, or if it is in any way misleading in its core message — you can be quite sure that people are going to begin to question, comment on, and eventually stand up against what it is you’re putting forth.
Invisible Children’s Kony 212 viral video campaign, one could argue, went too far in embellishing some facts and oversimplifying the complex issue of how to capture the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. As a result of the well-produced video’s unprecedented success in going viral, a number of people began to view Invisible Children under the microscope. Now, not only is this video campaign under intense scrutiny, but so is the nonprofit organization’s entire history and leadership.
So again, be sure that your heart and your mind are in the right place.
Open Calls for Participation/Contribution
In Revolution 2., Ghonim discusses how he employed “sales funnel” marketing in order to mobilize public support in demanding justice for Said’s death. This involved a four-step approach.
- Convince people to join the Facebook page and read the posts
- Convince users to interact with content by ‘liking’ and commenting on posts
- Move them to participate in the page’s online campaigns, and even to contribute their own content
- Take the activism to the streets
This pivotal element for social movements involves putting steps 2 and 3 of Ghonim’s “sales funnel” into action.
I have written in the past in regards to how members in both the Egyptian revolution and Occupy Wall Street employed methods for encouraging participation and contribution by launching campaigns that involved members taking pictures of themselves holding up signs that read a unifying message. The members of the ‘Kullena Khaled Said’ Facebook page sent in photos of themselves holding up signs that read, “I am Khaled Said.” Contributors to the ‘We Are the 99%’ Tumblr send in pictures of themselves with signs telling their personal stories of economic hardship — each ending with the declaration, “I am the 99%.”
Photos in both of these campaigns were met with messages of solidarity and reinforcement by other members of the group. The members of ‘Kullena Khaled Said’ ‘liked’ one another’s photos and left comments applauding each other’s bravery, while Occupy Wall Street activists today ‘like’ and reblog posts on the ‘We are the 99%’ Tumblr. This kind of positive interaction and contribution helps to galvanize a movement, forming a sense of community. It also plants the seed for members to go out and contribute to the movement utilizing their own skills — such as art, music or writing.
I would like to stress the importance of these campaigns sprouting organically. That is to say, it’s important that these campaigns are started by regular citizens who care. Success in something like this is rarely effective if it is launched by an organization — or, say, 2 organizations and about a dozen celebrities.
Take the ‘Unite for Syria‘ campaign as an example. This campaign, launched almost two weeks ago alongside the anniversary of the Syrian revolution, invites people from all over the world to take photos of themselves holding up signs calling for the world to “Unite for Syria” and send them in to the #SyriaMarch15 Facebook group.
It launched with a bit of fanfare, with about 1, members joining on its March 15 launch. People from all over the world, including celebrities, sent in their own photos. My impression, after having studied the effects of the other two photo campaigns, was that this was going to be huge.
But it wasn’t. And here’s why: the campaign was organized and backed by a coalition of activists, celebrities and some 2 NGOs from 27 countries. Today, one week after its launch, the campaign barely has 1,5 members. That’s 1/24 of what “Kullena Khaled Said” gained in one day.
Perhaps a more effective participatory campaign from Syria to look at would be the Twitter Users for Syria campaign, started last August by a group of Syrian and Syrian-American activists. This campaign rallies members and their followers each Friday (and on some special occasions/holidays) to inundate the Twittersphere for two hours with one particular hashtag, so that a topic relating to Syria will trend worldwide.
According to one of the group’s founders, Nora Basha, the group’s Twitter account,@SyriaCampaigns, has over 3,6 followers and, after almost 35 weeks of campaigns, boasts 25 trended hashtags worldwide. In a special campaign launched today to celebrate Mother’s Day in Syria, the Twitter Users for Syria succeeded in getting #MothersInSyria to trend in the United States.
Effective participation in social media movements can only be accomplished with pre-existing sentiment of solidarity and community. This is rarely accomplished when organizations outside of a movement’s core message and population try to launch their own social media campaigns (save for a few outliers).