This is the third and final installment of Your Social Media Revolution, a series by Social Media Chimps 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.
Part 1 of the series was published on Thursday, March 22. Part 2 was published on Monday, March 26. For more information on social media’s impact on social and political movements worldwide, please like us on Facebook, or sign up for email updates.
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 2011, 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.
A Democratization of Voices
Social media means that everyone has a voice. Even if you’re the administrator of your movement’s Facebook page, or if you’re the sole handler of the Twitter account, all of the members in your movement are going to want the right to speak up. This is a good thing. This is the nature of the social media universe.
As the movement’s social media administrator, your role in the nature and tone of your group’s dialogue can be as strong or as weak as you make it.
Wael Ghonim, as the anonymous administrator of “Kullena Khaled Said,” was somewhat of a guiding hand as the page’s administrator, taking care to keep the tone of the Facebook page as peaceful and civil as possible. He wrote stories, such as “Abbas and the Administrator,” in which he attempted to “defeat the impact of the negative voices” and encourage a tone of hope and positivity in the page’s comments. He also regularly conducted polls in order to better understand the sentiment of the group and to get a comprehensive understanding of how the majority wanted to move forward with the movement.
Occupy Wall Street, however, prides and markets itself on being a leaderless movement, functioning on almost a cellular level. The movement’s daily General Assembly meetings involve the anarchic principle of consensus-building, in which each person’s opinion is profoundly important. If someone wants to form a group within the movement (called a ‘working group’), he or she merely brings it forth to the General Assembly for a vote and, with a little bit of work, voila, a group is formed.
The movement is somewhat more organized on the web level, with central Twitter accounts for each city’s occupation, and a central website, occupywallst.org, taken care of by a core group. The ‘We Are the 99 Percent‘ Tumblr is administrated by two people: the anonymous creator, Chris, and co-editor and promoter Priscilla Grim. Occupier Justin Wedes is at least one of the activists associated with Occupy Wall Street’s central @OccupyWallStNYC account. These three young activists attended this year’s Shorty Awards to pick up their trophies for Activism and Microblog of the Year for Tumblr.
But, really, anyone within Occupy Wall Street can create his or her own Twitter account or Facebook group, and that account will end up being as popular or not popular as the user succeeds in making it. No one in the movement will have much of an opinion on its creation either way. It’s Occupy Wall Street. No one leads and everyone leads. The term ‘creative chaos’ gets thrown around a lot.
Inasmuch as the Egyptian revolution was one of the people, Ghonim did play somewhat of a leader’s role as the Facebook page’s administrator. Acting as or having an administrator with more of a guiding hand in a movement has the potential to be either beneficial or detrimental. The administrator holds a particular power in that he or she can shape the culture and tone of the online community. This, to some extent, goes against the nature of the democratized web space, but with a humble, centered administrator, some form of structure can be beneficial.
The strength in a movement setting things up similar to Occupy Wall Street’s almost complete diffusion of power manifests itself in a number of ways. First of all, the free, egalitarian culture allows for fascinating new elements and ideas to pop up on a daily basis. Secondly, it is nearly impossible for a government entity or news organization to assassinate the character of a mob. With no leader, there is no character to assassinate. The movement maintains this lack of spokespersons and leaders as both a badge of honor and a strategy.
The difficulties in a leaderless movement lie in getting things done and in developing a clear, concise message. Frankly, however, these are issues outside of the realm of social media, and don’t particularly apply to this article.
Members of Occupy Wall Street have had dialogue in recent months regarding the need to stay on message. That is to say, they want to maintain the movement’s focus on the inequalities and corrupt practices in the banking system. It will be worth paying attention to their central websites and social media accounts to take note of how they look to succeed in this realm.
A Physical Presence
The Egyptians had Tahrir Square. Wisconsinites had ‘Walkerville’. Occupy Wall Street had, well, a lot of places.
Although this element is often both overlooked and underestimated, the value of maintaining a physical public presence can be the key factor in getting your social media movement’s goals to come to fruition.
A strong physical presence in the public sphere is an assertion that your movement is for real. It’s not just about ‘likes’ on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. It’s about your cause, and the members of your movement are willing to do what it takes to bring your goals to fruition.
Egyptian revolutionaries held fast to Tahrir Square for 18 days in early 2011, refusing to make any concessions until president Hosni Mubarek had stepped down. Inspired by the notion of occupying a public space for an extended period of time, the first members of Occupy Wall Street finished their September 17th march against immoral banking practices and increasing economic inequalities by setting up tents in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. In a matter of weeks, occupiers had completely blanketed the 33,000 square-foot park, and new occupations began popping up in cities all over the nation.
In time, clothing, bedding, food and monetary support began rolling in from supporters all over the United States. News organizations couldn’t stop covering the events at Zuccotti Park. Bankers and politicians had no choice but to pay attention. Occupiers all over the country had the eyes and ears of the nation — until their occupations were systematically and forcefully evicted by police forces in a matter of weeks in late November.
Now, this wasn’t the end of Occupy Wall Street (I certainly don’t recommend asserting that to a New York occupier), but it’s impossible not to note the profound drop in media coverage that took place as the holidays rolled around and occupiers were forced to move their operations to multiple indoor locations.
It looks like the occupiers have understood the importance of a physical presence all along, and that perhaps they were just biding their time in the winter months, organizing and planning for warmer weather to come around before taking to the streets and claiming their next plot of land. After trying to retake Zuccotti Park on the original occupation’s six-month anniversary, the movement has turned its sights to Union Square, while also making a point to disrupt evictions and foreclosure auctions all over the United States.
Now, of course, I’m not saying you need to set up a tent in a public space to get your voice heard. Depending on your movement, having a physical presence can be as simple as handing out fliers to members of your community, selling ribbons to raise awareness, regularly attending town hall meetings or organizing days dedicated to community service.
It’s good if you’re seen. It’s great if you’re seen doing something proactive. Think about your cause, determine some things members in your movement can do to make people see that you’re serious about your case, organize your members, get out and start making things happen. Do this, and you might just get people thinking.