The number one reason for Nonprofits to use Social Media is the word ‘Social.’ No seriously, Social media can be used for social change. It even sounds right. Doesn’t it? But lets talk about what can our nonprofit brethren actually do in the social media arena. First things first, due to its ‘social’ nature, it can be used by non-profits for effective campaigning. Yes we are talking about an organized effort that seeks to influence the decision making process within a group. Simply because it is possible to bring together a large number of people, get them to rally an even larger group and then talk about a cause, an issue, an idea. This online crowd can create the sort of tsunami of voices that media and eventually the policy makers will take note too. Voila, that’s your social media campaign for social change.
Now this could be a large-scale national campaign like demanding the ‘Right To Food’, or could be a smaller, but equally crucial effort, to get the broken streetlights in your neighborhood repaired. But how does one go about it, what’s that one single most important thing to keep in mind before launching your ship on the World Wide Web? Well to put it very bluntly, the best advise will to be realistic. Be realistic about choosing the accessible stakeholders and setting a realistic goal.
Dear Mr. Hazare proved that the online masses in India are political. They have a perspective and they want it to be heard. People do like to get together on the Internet. And have done so since the days of Arapanet. Social media users like to talk about things that affect them. And things that don’t even bother them, but they still like to rant about them. We all do, don’t be judgmental. Just think of online janta as a community of electrons whom you can give a positive current, in the form of a Facebook causes page, polarizing them. But then life is not that simple. Not every campaign works; in India especially the majority of social media campaigns have gone up in the smoke without anyone even noticing the ashes. Some have indeed made a difference and interestingly the best known campaigns have been around gender issues and even then run by Individuals and not organizations.
So maybe what’s required is a little thought into why do these sometimes well-planned and mostly well-meaning campaigns fail. More often then not, it can be directly connected to lack of understanding of the space. Here a simple checklist to take care of before you actually launch your social change campaign:
1. Is your cause relevant to the online communities, or rather would the social media audiences be excited by it?
Because your target audience should want to connect with you. Maybe it’s something that directly affects them like safe public transport like the good people of Please Mend The Gap did. They just rallied the Delhi Metro users to fight for their rights on Facebook. Or maybe it’s something that would help their community or society as a whole like Breakthrough with its cross media Bell Bajao campaign. Now different people get excited by different issues, but it’s not complex to analyze the demographics that thrive the social networks in India and their collective tastes.
2. How will you convert online activism into real world impact?
Because you have to be clear about the end result of your work. Think how Jagori’s Safe Delhi campaign does physical campaigning, then goes into online dialog but finally goes back to working with communities to ensure safer public spaces. Is your campaign about brining attention to an often neglected issue or is it simply a fitting reply to a current/political situation. A good idea is to follow similar experiments and endeavors. Listen, look and learn.
3. Will you be able to converge the online conversations/noise into a campaign that impacts?
Because bringing people together is easy, the tough part is keeping them glued and building ownership of a shared vision. Must Bol started as a Facebook page, now India’s largest Campaign page, but finally hosted dozens of volunteer-led physical events as well. After all it’s useful to do offline connects. Next, maybe even leverage other media/public spaces, like Nisha Susan did with the Pink Chaddi campaign. Basically you need to make it more real, so as to appeal to the right people and eventually make real impact.
4. Will the target ‘Decision Makers’ be affected by what’s happening online?
Because ultimately we need to clear about our objectives and goals too. So maybe a group of students talking about corruption in North Block may not be taken seriously. But they can get their college authorities to change the college election rules. Or considering creating something overreaching like the Jaago Re campaign that affects the general population and tries to talk to our dear old politicians. Think about the kind of people you want to reach out through the campaign and then analyze if they can be reached through online activism, directly or indirectly.
5. Will your network & ecosystem support the campaign?
Because even a social media campaign can’t be run by a one-person army. Ask Blank Noise Project’s Jasmeen Patheja. She started the project all by herself but was able to scale up only when she got a large bunch of action heroes to work with her. See that your stakeholders; the people you work with, your partner organizations, your friends and your lovers will support you. Also if the media would fall in love with your story and blow it across newsprint and airwaves. You need all the support, so it’s good to start with friends.
6. Do you know enough about social media and more importantly online campaigning?
Because, as Marshall McLuhan said, it’s not about the content, it’s all about the medium. There are two different ways of looking at a social change campaign. It could be a social media campaign for social change. Or it could be a social change campaign using social media. Guess which one works better? But don’t rely on consultants too much. Your core team needs to understand both spaces to be able to develop an effective campaign. Or else, don’t even bother.
So think long and think hard. And then think some more. Social change is definitely possible through social media. And campaigning through social media platforms can be easy. One just needs to figure out how. And lets hope that the power will be with you.