From Social Media to Social Action.

January 26th, 2010 by Steve Lawson

NCVO - Campaigns Conference - The New Politics

Image by @benjaminellis

When ‘awareness’ isn’t enough.
(Text by Steve Lawson)

We spend a huge amount of time raising awareness about issues. We’re really good at it. It’s a very British thing to do. We write letters to local newspapers, we write to our MP, we talk to other people about them doing something.

The web makes it so much easier to raise awareness. We can join facebook groups, we can ‘retweet’ quotes and links – we don’t even need to click the link to do it. Actions like the campaign against Jan Moir and her odious writing in the Mail suggest that people can mobilize if they are incensed enough, but did the Mail’s circulation drop? Did anyone continue to hold the Mail to account for the odious writing they publish every other day of the year? Some may have, the vast majority didn’t. They felt justified that Moir was vilified, and were happy that justice was served via twitter.

Were we wrong to retweet the Jam Moir story? Or Trafigura? Of course not – both were instances of genuine outrage at things that more people should know about (though in the case of the Mail there’s perhaps a lesson about the oxygen of publicity). Raising awareness is not a bad thing in an of itself. And it is what the web does best. But the link between that diffuse outrage across a social network – connected only by a hashtag or membership of a facebook group – and action, physical protest, changes in behaviours, habits, conversations with people who don’t already agree with us, boycotts, fund-raising… that’s the tricky bit.

And it’s why, when thinking about the use of social media in a campaign, literacy is WAY more important than policy - have ‘rules’ for twitter usage may end up being counter-productive for your organisation. Understanding the way that your fellow Twitter-users engage with the things they find on there is vital to making your campaign materials usable, shareable, clickable, and to them leading to a higher proportion of actions. Same for facebook groups. I’ve just been listening to an Jackie Schneider of Merton Parents For Better Food In Schools talking about Local activism, and she referenced the power of the ‘easy win’ – of people dipping their toe into the campaigning world seeing the fruits of their labours early on as motivation to keep going. It’s a brilliant and simple observation, and one that’s well learned online. Have a listen to her talking about it:

This is also where information aggregators come in so useful, and where Louder.org.uk can be used to great effect to link Social Media presences and content to actions, both online and off. As a way of integrating email campaigns with contacting MPs, signing petitions and disseminating information about protests and other actions, Louder is designed to make the transition from awareness to action as easy as possible.

5 Responses to “From Social Media to Social Action.”

  1. Change in awareness hardly does much good, does it?

    At the end of the day, while it may be good for us to be aware of more, to think a little differently, to believe a little differently, we really need to ACT.

    Though I don’t know about the politics or the practices you’ve cited, the ache to “change things” is felt across the ocean.

    Trey Pennington on Twitter

  2. [...] Workshops « From Social Media to Social Action. [...]

  3. Marcus Hickman says:

    Hi Trey,

    you are of course completely correct, actions speak louder than words, but before action you need awareness. I think the post agree’s with you here?

    “the link between that diffuse outrage across a social network – connected only by a hashtag or membership of a facebook group – and action, physical protest, changes in behaviours, habits, conversations with people who don’t already agree with us, boycotts, fund-raising… that’s the tricky bit”

  4. [...] “from social media to social action: when awareness isn’t enough.” – remember while social media helps create awareness of issues, awareness does not equal action. No retweeting or sharing on Facebook does not count as action, despite what all the women who posted their bra color might think. [...]

  5. [...] from the Amplified team posted some great content live from the event and his analysis of how Social Media is leading to Social Action is good starter. Steve also gives a good overview of some of the key trends he saw emerging from [...]

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