Social movements 2.0

flickr photo courtesy of racoles

flickr photo courtesy of racoles

The jury is still out on the potential that social media has to facilitate social change. I would argue its widespread prevalence is a major shift in itself at least in person-to-person interaction. I wondered what the world would look like if all of these individual interactions coordinated as a major social movement, linking online and offline activity.

The old way that social movements used to progress: emerge–>coalesce–>bureaucratize–>outcome–>decline

Social media definitely has the possibility to revolutionize this progression, making participation more democratic. I think the new movements start globally and move locally rather than the opposite in the past. There are countless wonderful posts describing what social media does best, so there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel. Here’s what I see as some of the defining characteristics of social media’s effect on social movements.

1) Linkages between offline and online activity are essential.

Armchair activism will not lead to substantive, sustainable change. The danger in social media is that people can mistake these tools as an end, rather than a means to an end. Rather than eliminating face-to-face interaction, social media enables and facilitates communities united behind that may not have otherwise formed, or may have been weaker for lack of social media.

  • Meetup can help coordinate those initial meetings to formulate an action plan or plan events to gain more supporters in a given locality.
  • If your cause starts after a physical meeting, keep in touch by creating your own online social network with Ning and create an online hub to recruit supporters and share news and insights.
  • If your supporters are not all in the same city, which of course is virtually every online community, dopplr will allow you to let people know when you are in town.
  • Don’t forget that call to action while you are online; Social Action’s newest product, the DonorsChoose plugin, allows you to have suggested steps for action alongside your WordPress blog post.

2) Technology facilitates social change by reducing costs of resource mobilization.

Resource mobilization is what allows your newly formed group of supporters to organize your actions into a single coherent message targeted to the individuals and institutions that you are hoping to influence. Usually people think of money, when they see resources but there are a number of other resources related to significant actions including recruitment, advocacy, raising awareness, communication and publicity. One of the best things that social media does is reducing the monetary costs, given that many of the services are free. It also saves resource-poor groups and organizations from things like high printing costs.

  • Need to find a expert and/or mentor? LinkedIn connects professionals worldwide and may help find your cause’s version of a celebrity advocate.
  • Online fundraising? Awareness raising? Showing off your online networking profiles? Sprout allows you to build mini-sites, widgets, etc. to embed on you Web site, blog and several popular social networking sites.
  • Social networks for change such as Care2,, and TakingITGlobal allow people around the world to find out about your cause. Social Actions aggregates several of these platforms together, making it easy for organizations to publicize their causes and calls to action.

3) Supporters have the ability to tell and publicize their cause’s stories, needs, and goals.

Mainstream media in the past presented a tough barrier to getting the word about your cause. Organizations usually had to relay on time-intensive means of publicity like word-of-mouth, which could be slow and impractical. Social media lowers the previously high bar to awareness raising, allowing you to tell and show the emotional side of your cause in words through blogs, audio, photos, and videos. Once your supporters are emotionally engaged, they will be more likely to become more involved in advancing the cause.

  • Microblogging through Twitter gives you 140 characters to talk about anything and aids in community building. Tumblr provides the sense of Twitter with the look of a blogging interface. Posterous is like blogging for dummies, allowing you to email your entries.
  • Got podcasts? Make sure to submit them to podcast search engines like the iTunes directory so the public can hear about your cause. If you want to capture insights immediately auditorially, use your mobile phone to record and publish with Utterz so people can hear what you hear.
  • For those visual learners, photo and video sharing sites can show the impact of your cause in living color. With Flickr, you can share photos; YouTube and Vimeo both facilitate video sharing.

4) Social media enables greater transparency into the political process.

I wouldn’t characterize any government as being open and transparent, but there are some changes afoot that allow you a peek into the inner works of the federal government. Transparency of the political process, or at least substantial knowledge of the process, is key to help secure lasting change related to your cause. I feel that my year living in DC with several friends working on the Hill was a crash course on how the government works on a daily basis. For those who have not had this privilege, you can check out a few of the resources below.

  • Social Butterfly aka Alexandra Rampy created a wonderful list of government agencies and legislators active on Twitter. Hopefully this list will grow even longer in the future. You can also check out the list of blogs and podcasts that the federal government produces.
  • Learn from other activists who have worked in public policy and politics by reading wikis. Wikipedia is of course very popular, but PBWiki and Squidoo are good resources to look at as well. If it is not there yet, you can help build it!
  • Along with wikis, presentations provide a resource about tips related to advocacy. SlideShare is one of the most popular sites to share presentations.


10 comments so far

  1. Beth Kanter on

    What a brilliant post! I stopped by here for another reason while on deadline and I shall return to dig into this further.

  2. Peter Deitz on

    Ditto on Beth Kanter’s remarks. This is an amazing summary of the sector and the tools! Well done.

  3. Vanessa on

    Beth and Peter – Thanks so much for your kind words. I think we’re at the beginning of some big changes ahead.

  4. socialbutterfly4change on

    I already noted it once on BC, but this post deserves another. Nice job!

  5. Vanessa on

    Thanks again!

  6. […] incredibly powerful tools to create social change. Some people have even started talking about social movements 2.0. The examples are all around us. From Kiva to, a simple website can trigger a wave of […]

  7. Milena Thomas on

    Vanessa – points 1-4; yes yes yes and yes.

    I agree about the social media being a MEANS to and end. It is so tempting to sit back and be an armchair activist. However, I do think that armchair activism has its merits. I’m often moved to think much differently reading blogs, and interacting, which induces a direct effect my my decisions in life. So…there is value in both, but I think the face to face element of any social interaction is the most critical.

    Great writing.

  8. Vanessa on

    I agree with you that there is value in both forms of activism. Online activism makes it much easier to seek and publicize information. Having access to this information can lead you to make different decisions, but it is the personal interactions with family and friends that lead you to evangelize about what you have read and encourage them to take part as well.

  9. Beth Kanter on

    Love this post .. and wondering if you might consider letting me republish as a guest post on Beth’s Blog?
    If so, please fill out the form

  10. It’s honestly a decent in addition to usable part facts. What i’m blissful you joint this method useful information and facts with us. You need to vacation american wise along these lines. I appreciate discussing.

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