“On July 1st, 2014 a group calling themselves Concerned Ghanaians for Responsible Governance (CGRG) organised the first ever #Occupy protest in Ghana. The protest dubbed #OccupyFlagStaffhouse was to ask government to solve corruption and the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, among other things. This protest which was were organised mainly on Social Media saw about 300 middle class income earners take to the street in protest. #RedFriday is meant to put pressure on government to address issues it raised during the #OccupyFlagStaffhouse protest. Supporters of this cause are supposed to wear something red on Fridays”.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Advocacy groups, Social Marketers etc all need public support and recommendation for their ideas, causes or policies.
One of the aims of advocacy is to ensure that the voices of society, particularly the vulnerable, are heard on issues that are important to them. With regards to influencing public-policy and resource allocation decisions, advocacy groups, CSO’s etc need a platform to communicate. Some of the common means they employ include media campaigns, public speaking, lobbying, research etc.
This article seeks to take a look at how Social Media can be used by advocacy groups as a means to express their views and concerns. Advocacy campaigns can benefit from social media because of the array of tools available for volunteerism, donation, fundraising, crowd sourcing and organising people.
Studies show that social media is growing explosively and people of all ages worldwide are joining the social media bandwagon. This is contrary to the popular perception that Social media is the preserve of young people.
What is social media to the CSOs/Advocacies/Social Marketers etc
Social media includes channels and platforms that facilitate engagement, collaboration, interaction and harnessing collective intelligence and crowd sourcing for communication purposes.
Figure 1 – An example of Social Media being used for advocacy. The Ama K. Abebrese Foundations’ Anti Skin Bleaching Campaign on Facebook.
Why can social media help?
The benefits of using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action via computers, mobile phones or devices that are accessible to consumers anytime and anywhere cannot be overemphasized. Some of the benefits (of Social Media) include the fact that it is:
• Inexpensive – Social Media comes with low or no set-up costs at all. You may pay to promote your ideas/services but the costs are cheap compared to traditional media. Managing social media accounts and generating content will involve some time and effort though.
• Immediate – Social media offers the opportunity for quick, spontaneous delivery and sharing of messages in real time.
• A bigger platform – Advocates/CSO’s/cause-related and social marketers can leverage social media to engage larger numbers of their consumers more intimately than before. Social media platforms give the communicator the ability to gather and segment likeminded people into groups and circles around an issue or a cause. You can contact, inform and mobilize this group easily and incite them to take action.
• Consumer driven – Unlike the traditional means of communication whereby efforts to promote a certain behaviour/action/idea relies heavily on push and consume – communication on social media is consumer-driven. Content generated on these platforms can be created, maintained and shared by and among consumers and communities.
• An avenue for two-way communication – Social Media enables the communicator to get feedback about the needs of the consumer. When a message is delivered, amendments can be made to the message, the communicator can do this by listening, monitoring and engaging with the audience.
• Persuasive – With the growth of social media comes the surge in social proof whereby people are influenced by the actions of their friends and those they follow or subscribe to on social media. Many consumers have stopped believing in what advertisers are saying and started trusting what other people say about products/services/causes etc. Advocacy groups etc. can leverage this trend by cashing in on the trust and credibility peer influence affords.
How can social media help?
The persistent use of these new media/technologies and their capability to put consumers and communicators/advocates in constant contact is bringing a paradigm shift in the way communication is done. How can societal concerns be channeled across to the policy makers and those in charge of governance? How can the marginalized have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives? How can advocates make other people listen to and take their views into account?
A recent noteworthy example of the power of social media to effect social change is the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the overthrow of President Mubarak of Egypt. Social media was used to communicate with the world about the political turmoil as well as being used as a tool to organize protests, Facebook and Twitter being the most used. The Egyptian government could not control social media channels despite their efforts to control information flow in the country. Twitter played a big role in the civil unrest in the Arab Spring in 2011. #Bahrain became one of the most-used hashtags of all time. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is being used by Nigerians and thousands of people worldwide to criticize the Nigerian government’s failure to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram and demand action.
Figure 3 – West Africans in Ebola-ravaged Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia take to Twitter demanding the experimental vaccine. #GiveUsTheSerum.
Figure 4 – An African calling for the ‘experimental serum’. Maybe the whole Africa should join in the call to #GiveUsTheSerum!
A few months ago, the world’s largest beverage maker, Coca Cola, was forced to amend its recipe and remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from its drinks. BVO has been targeted by food activists and drew criticism on social media and online forums such as Change.org. These online campaigns have finally yielded results. Figure 1 and 2 are some snippets of this online campaign against BVO started by Sarah Kavanagh when she was 15. She succeeded in forcing Pepsico to change its formula and now Coca Cola.
Figure 5 – Sarah Kavanagh’s online petition against BVO
Figure 6 – Twitter campaign against BVO
Social Media has become a powerful force in communication. The growing use of the internet and mobile mediated platforms in advocacy is not a farce. Any serious activist should consider using the opportunities this ‘share era’ presents and include it in their communications strategy.
In the next article, we will deal with 5 ways Advocates/CSO’s and Social/Cause Marketers can leverage Social Media.