No, this is not another post about effective social media strategies. Instead, this is about the role of social media in an ever-changing world. It is about the consequences of social media when used to harm or distort. Regardless of your position on the Presidential election, I think it is fair to say that many were surprised by the outcome. The long-shot won despite nearly every poll, pundit prediction, and media commentator saying otherwise. What is, perhaps, most astonishing is the significant role that faux news had on both sides of the aisle. Facebook and Twitter were awash with fake news stories many of which quickly went viral and became gospel. Reputable journalism sources such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal were discarded for the likes of fictional sources such as www.70news.wordpress.com or www.Abcnews.com.co. While fake news isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, social media has increased its bandwidth materially. Moreover, the public’s general disinterest in reading differing opinions coupled with the dubious belief that established journalism is inherently biased created the perfect storm. However, there is still much good that can come from social media and not just as it relates to proposed fake news crackdowns. When I say good, I don’t just mean in providing factual, interesting content. That is a given. I mean the idea of utilizing social media to foster positive change. How can you use social media for good? This article will examine a few key strategies.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that social media has been the impetus for change. Organizations such as Occupy Wall Street started years ago. Back then, they effectively used social media to drive awareness of their cause. Occupy was actually quite successful in fueling a national conversation about income inequality, but their group splintered and eventually petered out. Why? They fell short because they didn’t go beyond the raising awareness stage or the proverbial protest. Rather, they lacked a pensive strategy for achieving major results. They focused on the message instead of the overall aim. Thus, there is little discourse regarding the Occupy movement today and its long-term impact.
Strategy and Tactics Are of Utmost Importance: If one truly hopes to harness the good in social media, strategy and tactics are your greatest allies. A great example of a well thought out strategy and tactics which support the approach can be found in an examination of the Moms Demand Action organization. This group, who is proficient in utilizing social media, entered the national dialogue as a result of the Sandy Hook Massacre. However, MDA, went beyond the goal of creating awareness. To put their approach in marketing terms, they opted for a focus on conversion. They developed a strategy to take their message directly to state legislators. While this is certainly a more daunting approach then addressing at the national level, the organization looked at the end goal as the primary driver. They thoughtfully developed tactics designed to achieve their goal. As a result, MDA has had substantial success at influencing the outcome at the local level which is in alignment with their strategy.
The Unity Component: While there is much divisiveness in social media, the most effective movements are the ones that place unity as a paramount principle. Far too often, otherwise carefully orchestrated organizations fall victim to in-fighting. Individuals within the organization find minor differences between members which are exploited and leveraged for power. The unity or greater good of the organization becomes secondary and is forgotten in the aftermath. The various factions take center stage and the internal crumbling of the organization begins. This is a fool-proof approach to ensure failure. However, it is in many ways a predictable outcome. A group of like-minded individuals originally came together for a purpose higher than themselves. As a result of momentary setbacks, intense passions or both, the group begins to look at portions of the organization as the problem. In social movements, unity becomes your strongest weapon. If the organization can harness a steadfast concentration on the end game, and look at the minor differences as a strength – think two minds are better than one – then the organization will ultimately be better positioned for success. It is the same notion that applies to marketing or business, a cohesive team produces results where as a disconnected team creates dysfunction. The cohesiveness doesn’t come from every member of the team agreeing on every aspect of the strategy. It comes from a willingness to hear different opinions and find the common ground.
Finding Your Voice: One of the hardest elements to overcome is the ability to openly share the organizations vision or mission on social media. We have become a populace of critics, and social media makes it easy to react with force to any idea that challenges our belief system. However, without a clearly defined mission or purpose, your movement will falter. It is crucially important that the mission statement is carefully developed and agreed upon within the group. If there are portions of the group which are in major disagreement with the overarching vision, then they should avoid joining or the group should deny acceptance. There is nothing wrong with having a private or invitation only group. The mission is cornerstone to the group’s success and early, weighty dissent is a sign of troubling waters ahead. Finding your voice is about sharing your mission such that others wish to support your efforts. When the mission is placed at center-stage, this is where a small group can become a massive voice for change.
The Founding Fathers certainly couldn’t anticipate the rise or influence of social media and the misinformation epidemic that has ensued. However, they did understand the importance of the press and free information. They also understood that democracy only works when you participate. If you keep these truths in mind, then social media can, in fact, be used for good. Let us all make a concerted effort to honor the brave men who risked their lives for these fundamental American rights. Let us all be a force for good.