Social media is a hub for civic engagement. Whether you’re seeing celebrities take to Twitter to express their opinions on current events, brands talking about how their values relate to the issues that matter, or everyday people joining the conversation, social is a powerful platform for activism.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how social media activism works, how it can impact your relationships with your customers and some best practices for weighing in on social media movements.
What is social media activism?
Social media activism is a way for people to talk about—and organize around—the issues that matter to them. Social media activism creates opportunities for grassroots movements to take shape and go further. The Ice Bucket Challenge, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have all been successful social media movements.
How has social become the launch pad for activism? First and foremost, social media is about conversations. Facebook facilitates catch-ups for old friends. Twitter creates global exchanges on of-the-moment topics. Reddit connects groups of people with common interests. TikTok’s stitches and duets bring video content into the chat. With all of the different ways you can have a conversation on social, it’s no surprise that platforms have become a catalyst for social media movements.
Conscious consumers want to see your values
Social media activism gives users a chance to amplify their voices, platform and talents for something bigger than themselves. And for brands, the opportunity is too big to miss out on.
Most consumers (71%) want brands to take a stand on the issues that matter most. Knowing a company aligns with a consumer’s personal values is 74% more influential on purchase decisions in 2022 than it was in 2021. But at the same time, 52% of consumers believe brands express their opinions on sensitive topics for the publicity or increased sales. As a marketer, how do you make sure your message is effective?
Some consumers want to make sure brands are following through with their publicized social impact goals—like increasing DEI or incorporating sustainable practices. Publishing both successes and failures can help consumers feel more at ease about the integrity of a brand’s commitment.
When to weigh in
Consumers want to see internal company values align with external corporate activism. Causes that are directly related to a brand’s product, values or image will always be perceived as more authentic than intermittent posts about a variety of issues.
For instance, brands catering to women might be especially vocal about gender in the workplace, while brands that relate to the outdoors might focus on sustainability. The more natural the connection is, the more authentic consumers perceive the campaign. When it’s time to take a stand, make sure it’s easy to connect the dots between your overall brand and your official position.
Virtual actions with real-world impact
Grassroots social media movements don’t have a central leader. They’re sustained by millions of people posting, commenting, liking and sharing peer-generated content. Social media democratizes activism by giving brands, political figures, influencers and everyday individuals the same platform to get their message across. There are four main types of content social media marketers should consider when they’re joining—or starting—a social media movement.
You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. A major hurdle for social media activists is making sure their audience understands the issues and the solutions. Educational content is a great way to get the word out about a cause and get the ball rolling on a social media movement.
This content might answer user-generated questions, deep-dive into a subtopic of the larger issue, or give a historical overview of the problem. The goal of educational social activism content is to get audiences up to speed so they can start getting involved.
Transit gaps aren’t just a barrier to opportunity. They can also separate communities from their culture.
For #AAPIHeritageMonth, we’re sharing how the Chinatown Transportation Research & Improvement Project (TRIP) fought for transportation equity in San Francisco’s Chinatown.? pic.twitter.com/TnH2E4sVQo
— Zipcar (@Zipcar) May 3, 2022
Zipcar’s Twitter thread is an excellent example of educational content done right. By connecting their lesson to a larger topic—Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month—they ensured that the right people would see their message. The history they highlighted also translates directly to the company mission of transportation accessibility. Zipcar used educational content to position themselves as a natural next step in the fight for equitable transportation.
Think of opinionated social media activism content as a miniature editorial. Not so long ago, if brands or individuals wanted to get their perspective out there, they’d have to find a publication willing to distribute it. Now, social makes it easier than ever for brands and leadership to get their opinions out quickly and efficiently. Publishing point of view-driven content is a great way to start a dialogue with your audience and differentiate your brand’s platform.
At Annie’s, we believe a strong food system starts with prosperous farmers. ?
Dig deeper on how regenerative agriculture can make an impact. ? https://t.co/4zTS1VgXb7
— Annie’s Homegrown (@annieshomegrown) February 19, 2020
Annie’s Homegrown gets straight to the point with this Tweet. By clearly stating their belief and supporting it with an expert opinion, Annie’s Homegrown didn’t leave anything up to interpretation. Once again, farming ties directly back to their organic products, reinforcing the sincerity of their stance.
Social media activism is sometimes criticized as being more talk than action, but many posts are centered around driving a real-world difference. Actionable posts compel audiences to do something, like sign a petition, contact a representative, give a donation or show up to a protest. These types of posts illustrate the true power of a social media movement. The connectivity of social media gives brands the ability to organize more quickly and effectively than ever before.
Did you know that the U.S. and other affluent nations are most responsible for the climate crisis? Or that the most vulnerable people are the ones hit hardest? Learn more about the inequities at the heart of the climate crisis, and what you can do to help: https://t.co/kY1YwZb98O pic.twitter.com/5tBQOeRGM7
— Seventh Generation (@SeventhGen) November 23, 2021
Seventh Generation got straight to the point with this tweet. Given their products, Seventh Generations followers are sticklers for sustainability, making an actionable post the perfect way to reach them. With a clear problem statement and CTA, the audience is primed to pitch in.
As social media movements take off, it’s important to recognize the people who are doing the work. That’s where recognition posts come in. This strategy highlights an individual, brand or organization that’s doing the work to build a better future. These encouraging posts inspire others to take action by showing how it’s been done before while highlighting a key community member. Activism is hard work and it’s important to celebrate the wins and the people facilitating them.
Oh snap! Our customer Kiersten reduced her landfill waste so much that she was able to upgrade to this smaller kitchen trash can! To reduce her trash, she takes her compost to the farmer’s market every weekend. Go Kiersten! #compost pic.twitter.com/XFz0NkGKvh
— Imperfect Foods (@imperfect_foods) April 27, 2022
Imperfect Foods amplified the actions of one customer with this post. User-generated content is an effective way to drive all kinds of engagement, even social change. This motivating post makes everyone feel like they can make a difference. Plus, by highlighting a specific user, Imperfect Foods was able to expand their reach outside of their own followers.
Community is arguably the most important part of social media activism. Without a community of like-minded people boosting engagement, posts get lost in the noise. Finding ways to engage the community around your content is key toward building a long-term movement. Answering audience questions, crowdsourcing ideas and responding to comments directly are all great ways to engage with a social community. Greater engagement levels means more eyes on your content, which means more potential supporters.
UN Women takes education a step further by responding directly to user comments on social. The organization could have easily posted this as an FAQ video, but bringing the audience’s voice into the conversation is a smarter social strategy. Answering this user’s question encourages other users to post their own questions and comments, making UN Women’s feed feel more like a conversation than a lecture hall.
Movements over moments
Social media and activism go hand in hand. The same mechanisms that bring people together over the love of a team, a book or a hobby can also bring people together over social causes. When executed correctly, the impacts of social media movements can be massive.
The opportunity for brands to join these conversations can’t be overlooked. If you’re looking to hear more about how social media can be a force for good, check out this episode of our Social Creatures podcast, where we sit down with Head of Social for UN Women, Anu Hautalampi, to discuss how she uses social media to get the word out about women’s issues.