How Social Media Activism Turns Into Real World Action

While most of our corporate clients understand the impact to a brand from negative social media is related to a slump in sales or falling stock price, many are still attempting to connect the dots when it comes to activist groups or special interest groups opposing or supporting a new mine, landfill, manufacturing plant or similar major project. In addition, many corporations see actions by these groups as a negative risk factor, when they may in fact represent an opportunity. Here we attempt to provide some insight on how a corporation or government department can be directly impacted by social media beyond brand issues in the real world – where it ends up mattering the most.

The Basic Role of Social Media for Grassroots Organising
The use of social media technologies solves three very basic, but critical issues for grassroots organisations; 1) near zero cost to organise people, 2) near zero cost of communication and 3) minimal time lag. In just a few minutes a Facebook group or Google+ Community can be set up and hundreds if not thousands can connect easily. This is where it starts. Within a few hours or a couple of days, an organisation is formed, messaging agreed upon and without ever having to meet physically, they can organise rallies, petitions and other events. Unlike in the past, they do not have to pay for radio, television or print coverage. In fact, if an issue meets a critical mass and it becomes popular in social media, it is likely that news media will pick up on it. At that point, news coverage means a whole new set of issues for a company or government to be concerned with.

Why Social Media Activism Presents Opportunities
Because most of the tools being used are open to the public, they are open to the corporation to see. While some of the inner workings may be in locked-down sections of a social network, the main issues are public. Now, a corporation may better understand what the issues of an activist group may be. They can then enter into dialogue faster and develop a better, more informed strategy of engagement. Rather than be opponents, there is a better chance of working together towards a solution than ever before. As a corporation is seen to be in dialogue with a former opponent, both parties are that much closer to a solution.

Measuring Real World Impact
Once an organisation has rallied to either support or oppose a project, their messaging is in place and they rally the people. It translates to the real world when they start calling their MLA or State Senate rep and emailing or letter writing etc. Whether you support the group tacitly or directly or they are an opponent, this is when it starts to hit the real world. This may be followed up with protests or support rallies, either way, politicians see community engagement and will react accordingly. By using social media technologies, grassroots groups can organise incredibly fast, coordinate messages across State, Provincial and national boundaries and generate mass awareness far cheaper than ever before.

So Where’s The Proof?
In 2012 the Keystone XL Pipeline was a highly coordinated grassroots opposition that leveraged social media to rally groups in Canada and the United States. They ensured their messaging was the same in both countries and they gained serious public and media attention – Obama ended up delaying political support until after the election. In the small Canadian province of Nova Scotia, citizens leveraged social media to push government to support keeping a skating oval in the city of Halifax after the Canada winter games – they won and social media got over 20,000 support names on a petition in less than 24 hours.

Why Not Just Use a Social Media Monitoring Tool?
99% of these tools are designed for brand monitoring, not issues monitoring. They skim only the top services and can’t do the “deep dive”, nor can they assess or provide any intelligence on “groups” or “organisations” at best they are a keyword search tool with some basic text analytics to make pretty graphs – when there is enough volume of conversation. After all, they are tools designed for big brands with lots of consumers chatting about them. In these situations more sophisticated tools are needed and human eyes with sector specific knowledge to make sense of it all.