There are a lot of movements taking place today. Then again, with the rise of social media, there are a lot of movements taking place every day.
The majority of us have only been exposed to the most successful causes. But for each one that changes the world, there are thousands that never attain the momentum, the visibility, or the sustainability, to effect any notable impact.
Did you ever wonder why that is? Why do some movements take root and grow wildly while others, just as organized and enthusiastic about their cause, sort of just fizzle away?
The short answer is that there is no simple answer. There are many reasons that some movements succeed while others fail. We could write a book on it. Hell, maybe we will. But not today.
Today, we’re going to begin a series in which Social Media Chimps introduces to you the essential social media elements of modern, successful social movements.
American sociologist, political scientist and historian Charles Tilly says that all social movements consist of three basic elements:
- Campaign – the ongoing public effort of a group of citizens making collective claims on a target audience
- Repertoire – the various ensemble of movement performances, such as vigils, petition drives, rallies and public meetings
- WUNC Displays – public representations of worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment
As we dive into some of the different elements involved in a successful social media movement, it’s important to understand that most, if not all, of the elements in this series fit somewhere into Tilly’s above elements.
Social media activists the world over will agree that social media is to be approached as no more than a tool. And while this can be a source of great power for your cause, it is important to remember that social movements do not take place without living, breathing human beings, and that no successful movement will exist without a mobilized group taking part in the above elements.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Rise of the Social Media Chimps
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.
While I’m sure there are some highly successful local campaigns that have effectively used social media to its potential, I think that it’s best that, in this series, we focus on some of the most famous social media movements around the globe. This way, I hope, more readers will be able to recall and relate to some of the elements listed below from memory.
I hope it can go without saying, but I would like to stress that I do not want to get into politics here. Any movement I list or describe in this series, I do so in the spirit of examination. No description or analysis should be interpreted as endorsement. This series is intended as a tool for anyone — from the youth trying to raise awareness for a cause at his Illinois middle school, to the man who wants to exercise his tenant rights in Brownsville, New York, to the woman fighting to free imprisoned dissidents in Burma — looking to raise awareness and bring their cause’s efforts to fruition with the assistance of social media.
Okay. Let’s begin. This is part one — your first of five essential elements for successfully running your social media movement.
A Branded Cause
If you’re looking to begin a movement – any movement – using social media, you need to be sure that your heart and your head are in the right place. Social media is great in that it provides an amped up forum for public discourse, but this also means that anything you put out there is open for analysis, rigorous scrutiny and, sometimes, heated opposition. Make sure that your cause is worth fighting for, and that you possess at least a working knowledge of the issues related to your cause from the beginning.
The first step in getting your cause underway using a social network is to be able to fully convey your message, both textually and visually. This means writing a coherent statement on what your movement is all about, as well as coming up with an effective title for your cause. You will also need an evocative image of some sort that you can use for your Facebook page and/or Twitter account so that people begin to recognize your cause on sight. Additionally, a pithy, powerful slogan can often go a very long way.
If you don’t yet see where I’m going with this, I’ll just go ahead and spell it out for you: You need to develop your cause’s brand. And then you need to market it.
Now, I know. I know how loaded the terms ‘market’ and ‘brand’ are, especially for the socially aware. But that’s just the reality of movements today — particularly movements on Facebook or Twitter. There may be a lot of people out there who agree with what it is you’re trying to do, but, more often than not, no matter how just the cause, and no matter how pure your intentions, most people are not going to act until someone creates a rallying point, with a concise message, a powerful title and supplemental imagery to go along with it.
The slogan that sparked the Egyptian Revolution was ‘Kullena Khaled Said’ (‘We are all Khaled Said’). Occupy Wall Street’s first powerful image was the dancer on the Wall Street bull with the armored police emerging from a cloud of gas in the background. The image associated with the movement for justice for Trayvon Martin, the teenager shot to death last month in Florida while walking home with a pack of Skittles for his younger brother, is the hooded sweatshirt (see the “Million Hoodie March“).
What’s your message going to be? How do you want to convey it? How are you going to make it stand out? What images do you associate with your cause? Does your message resonate with your community? Answer these questions, and you’ve just taken the first step in making your social media movement a reality.
This is part one of a three-part series dedicated to outlining the essential elements of a successful social media campaign. Join us next Monday, March 26, for part two in the series. If you would like timely and breaking news from Social Media Chimps, please ‘like’ us on Facebook, or sign up for our weekly updates.