Sometimes it takes a tragedy to inspire a movement. Over the past couple weeks, I have been amazed at all the mini-movements happening across our country to protect people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I know that there were always good things happening in our country, but I have been hypersensitive to seeing them recently.
What’s different now, more so than in past movements for social change, is the Internet, and specifically the role of social media. By its very nature, social media is built to rally large groups of people behind a single idea because it is based on word of mouth, it happens almost instantly, and it connects people regardless of geographic location.
One of the most popular social advocacy campaigns in the past couple years is the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This campaign was sparked by social media comments shared by three women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors after the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer. According to the site, “#BlackLivesMatter is an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.”
Let’s take a look three components that make this campaign successful, and should be included in any digital advocacy campaign.
We live in a busy world. People fill their lives with work, family, and other obligations that take up nearly every minute of every day. How often do you think about taking on a new activity only to realize you need to rearrange some part of your life to accommodate it? Brands and campaigns that are successful at engaging people on social media are so because they make use of what Google calls Micromoments: tiny spurts of online activity. Advocacy campaigns need to distil complex issues down to manageable bits that can fit into these micromoments.
How to make it easy: use images and graphics to convey complex information and data, find a catchy phrase or hashtag that applies to all your campaign material and can be repeated each time, like #BlackLivesMatter
Social media is the digital word of mouth. Rather than promote an institutional message on company or organization channels, tap into individual people who can spread the message in their own words to their own networks. Influencers who have a large following and believe in your cause can be tapped, but don’t neglect the grassroots following.
How to make it authentic: Let people absorb your mission and retell it in their own words. #BlackLivesMatter was founded by three women who recognized a problem within their community and wanted to speak out from their hearts.
If all goes well, your campaign will develop into something bigger than what you started with. Be sure to think about what other resources you’ll need to grow the movement beyond social media. The International Justice Mission found that using emails was just as effective at getting their petition signed as social media.
How to make it scalable: Incorporate other digital channels like email and offline programs like events to give your campaign more structure. #BlackLivesMatter holds events across the country and has developed a chapter system to drive engagement in local communities.