A Quick Guide to Using Social Media as an Activist

In our current political climate, with all of the hot-button issues and controversial topics, it seems like everyone has something to say. Everyone has a point to argue, everyone is an activist for their beliefs. It is almost impossible not to get involved. But how can you get your message to stick out in a world with millions of tweets and updates and posts every day?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to activism on social media. What works for you might not work for someone else. However, there is an important outline to consider when launching a campaign, movement, or organization.





Who is your Target Audience?


First, you need to know what or who your target audience is. Who do you want to participate, donate, and interact with your organization? For example, a few years ago the ALS Association launched the #ALSIceBucketChallenge aimed at getting young people aware of and involved with the cause. While the average age of diagnosis for ALS is about fifty-five years old, millions of young adults across the United States and the United Kingdom were participating in the challenge and donating to the organization.

By no means should a movement only appeal to one demographic. However, a campaign that wishes to increase dog adoptions would spend their time more wisely if they were to target animal-lovers than if they were to target people who are not fond of animals. Using this logic, ask yourself who this campaign would speak to and how would they relate to the cause. It is no secret that people feel connected to someone or something they are familiar with. That being said, how can you get people to relate to your content?

How Do I Get People to Engage with my Content?


The answer, like most things in life, is easier said than done. Getting people to engage with content is rooted in the connection someone feels to your message. This is tied so closely to the target audience because the main demographic(s) is going to be the foundation of the community you are building with your organization. For instance, even if someone loves dogs, they won’t feel a connection to a blank graphic with the words “Dog Adoption” written on it. There needs to be something that people can latch onto and form a bond with.

A clear example of this concept is the ASPCA commercials. They depict skinny dogs with puppy eyes and it’s impossible not to want to donate. What are these commercials doing? Other than inducing an array of emotions, ASPCA is illustrating community impact.

Community impact, whether positive or negative, is the cornerstone of a successful campaign. A positive example is 4Ocean. 4Ocean is an ocean conservation organization that amassed a large Twitter following after posting videos of the work they do. In these videos, users can witness groups of people reeling in pounds and pounds of trash, and at the end of the video, there are before and after pictures illustrating the difference 4Ocean has made in that area. People are inspired to donate because they can see exactly what their money does, where it is going, and how it can help.

A negative example of community impact doesn’t mean the campaign is unsuccessful, it means that the content is upsetting or sad. ASPCA is an example of an organization that depicts negative community impact. The commercials, instead of showing what the donated money does to help, show what happens when money isn’t donated. The audience is exposed to the idea of mistreated animals that are in need of help and feel an obligation to assist. On social media, negative community impact can be strongly represented with victim testimonials, statistics, images of the areas affected and many more vessels that summon emotions and incite a call to action.

Choosing between negative or positive community impact is dependent on a few factors like the target audience and how the post affects or connects with the message. An organization with a message tied into family values and involvement would fare better if they were to use positive community impact rather than negative. These types of decisions are usually common sense or play by ear, again, there is no one-size-fits-all.


What Am I Asking of my Audience?


An organization or campaign should have a clear idea of what it is trying to accomplish and how the audience is involved in accomplishing this goal. For the ALS Association, they asked people to participate in the ice bucket challenge and donate upon nomination. For ASPCA, they asked people to become a monthly member. For 4Ocean, they asked people to buy bracelets made out of recycled material they cleared from the ocean.

So, what are you asking your audience to do and how can they do it? Are they donating money or raising awareness? Do they need to dump a bucket of freezing cold water over their heads or do they need to sign a petition? Make this as clear as possible.

One example from earlier this year is the campaign to raise awareness and money for the victims of the war in Sudan. Users were asked to change their profile pictures to a shade of blue to show that they stood in solidarity with the victims of the Sudanese massacres. This campaign took off almost immediately with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook painted blue. Why did it take off so quickly? Partly because people were tasked with such an easy job: changing their profile picture. If they felt so inclined, they could donate to the cause or read more about it, but at that moment, all they had to do was change their profile picture.

The task you ask of your audience could be anything from using a hashtag to reposting an image. It depends on what aligns with the goal and message. Sometimes it’s better to ask for a simple task—like retweeting a post—that easily snowballs. Once a campaign has people’s attention, then it can take that next step and build on their pre-existing foundation. This is called the foot-in-the-door technique and it is fairly useful for smaller organizations.


What is my Message?


Lastly, we have arguably the most important part of any campaign, movement or organization: the message. What is the common goal, what needs to be changed, and what is the plan to change it.


These messages are akin to slogans. They should be short, but impactful. ASPCA’s is “We Are Their Voice”. This is both powerful and easy to remember.

An important part of the message is that it should encompass the goal of the organization the best it can. It helps to have an outline of what an organization, campaign, or movement is doing, what it values, and who it represents. These factors should remain relatively constant. It is hard to keep up with an organization if its mission changes frequently; an audience may see this as the sign of an inauthentic cause.

Another aspect of a message is the way it speaks to people. Do you know those songs that get stuck in your head? They are catchy and repetitive and you can’t stop humming the beat all day long. This is what a message should do. It should be something people can’t stop thinking about, it should be something they can’t forget.

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