In a recent blog post we showed how activist groups are taking the lead against corporations in social media channels and we observed that corporations need to catch up. Here’s why and here’s some of the ways activist groups are using social technologies to win their causes. A client just this week said to us “we’ve ignored this issue for too long, it’s going to cost our industry a fortune to catch up.” He is very much right.
The Objective of Activists Using Social Media
Companies and industry associations often think the activists are railing against them specifically. While the content of their attacks is, the real objective is to get directly to the target audience that will take action with the content. Part of what activists want is for users online to then re-shape the content, turning it into a meme that goes even more viral.
How Social Media Activism Translates to the Real World
The result activist groups want from their social media forays is multifaceted, but one easy way to understand what the result can be? Citizens who see a heart tugging video on YouTube either email or pick up the phone and call their Congressional Representative, Legislative member or Member of Parliament.
Forget About Being Rational. It’s About Emotion.
Corporations tend to rationalize. Issues are analyzed and researched to make viable business decisions. Activists are not concerned with being rational – they want to be emotional. A rational response doesn’t always work…that doesn’t mean coming out ranting. It means understanding how to use perception and emotion in the response to the activists message.
But It’s Just Kids Using This Stuff Isn’t It?
That assumption can prove a fatal error. Very quickly or as death by a thousand cuts. Youth segments are involved, but even if a teenager sees the message, they share, and often share with their parents. But when you also consider that the average age of a Twitter user is 35 to 44 and Facebook is edging higher, you can see it’s about a demographic that has voting power.
Activists Use A Complex Web of Tools
Pun aside, activist groups are very savvy with social technologies. They use multiple services to deliver content, understanding that different channels appeal to and are used by different demographics. A simple social media monitoring tool is often not enough to understand the complexity of a communications strategy; more in-depth research is often required. Such research online also provides context by the research firm that is not available through a social media monitoring tool or online reputation management service.
Organizational Impacts Can Be Multifaceted
It’s not just having a large mass of constituents calling their elected representatives that can cause damage. It may also take the form of a boycott, incrementally lower product sales over time, an investigation by federal authorities, a series of negative media stories. Senior management jobs may be the sacrificial lamb or serious issues with the board and governance. It may also be harder to attract top talent to your company. Sometimes suppliers can become collateral damage. Activists understand this well.
Steps to Be Prepared
Undertaking an in-depth review of your company or industry associations presence on the Web and in social media channels is a critical first step. You can then have a clear insight into the landscape of Cyburbia, identify any threats or existing issues and gain insight into how activists might be using these tools through a mapping exercise.
Understand That Activists Do Not Use Traditional Media Very Often
PETA creates ads that the Superbowl will not air. They place the ads on video sharing sites such as YouTube or Break.com and then everyone goes to see them. Activist groups do not always need to get the attention of mainstream media anymore and often don’t even bother. While you may monitor traditional channels, assuming the Web doesn’t matter, your sales are dropping and an organized lobby may be instrumenting a legislative change that will cut profits or restrict your business operations. And you won’t even realize until it is too late.
Social technologies such as Facebook, Twitter or Ning enable groups both formal and informal to very quickly come together, create and distribute content at essentially no cost. In 2010 Canadians, Americans and Brits spend more time online than watching television. Add in tablet devices like the iPad and smartphones and you have a heady mix of tools anyone can use at anytime. Does your organization have a process in place to understand the potential impacts or at least monitor Cyburbia?